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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

A Letter from Chickamauga

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

by Gordon Thorsby

The second largest Battle of the Civil War, Chickamauga, had just completed on September 21, 1863. For the the Union Army of the Cumberland, they had strengthened the defenses around Chattanooga but the morale in the army was at its lowest. Supplies were cut to a small trickle for all types but the worst, rations were cut. This letter was written from a Union Hospital where a hospital steward James Vernor, Age 20 of the 4th Michigan Cavalry of Minty's Saber Brigade worked night and day to aid the thousands of wounded and dying soldiers.

Chattanooga, Tenn.

September 23, 1863

To Charlie

Dear Brother

I have a few minutes to spare this morning before we go to the front & I will use it to let you know that I am still alive & kicking. This will be the 6th day of the fight & so far we have been driven back 9 miles. We are expecting reinforcements every hour. This will probably be the worst day in the 6. We have got as far back as we can go & hold our line on this side of the Tennessee River. The infantry have been digging all night in the rifle pits. Rosecrans has been all around the lines & thinks he can hold the place. Our horses are faring very hard as we can get no corn on this side of the river.

Our brigade was the first one engaged & held the whole rebel army at check for most of the morning [Reed’s Bridge] & just got out of the gap where they were fighting on time to save themselves. We were flanked on both sides before we gave up the position.

Our brigade lost between 150 & 200 killed, wounded & missing. So was the report, but it is cut down a great deal since. The loss in our regiment are 2 killed, 7 wounded & 1 missing. I was to Stevenson on the first day of the fight but returned the next day. Has Ed Owen got home yet? I left him at Stevenson on his way home. George Clark came very near being captured on the first day. He was 2 miles from the regiment when they began falling back * before he knew it, the rebs were between him & his regt, so he took it cross lots & through woods until he reached the regt.

The ball has opened. There goes the first gun this morning, so I will stop & get this into the mail before we are ordered to move out.

Love to all


As James Vernor finished his writing, distant artillery fire had begun with no knowledge if the Confederate Army of the Tennessee was attacking the weakened Union army or if it was just more annoying artillery duels commencing in the distance.

Up on Missionary Ridge, there were the beginnings of another kind of war. It was another internal war within the command structure with Braxton Bragg and the Army of Tennessee and nobody was happy about it.

Reference: “If I am Found Dead, Michigan Voices From the Civil War”, Edited by Poremba, David Lea, 200

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