The Boys From Atlanta, the 42nd Georgia Infantry
by Gordon Thorsby
The 42nd Regiment of the Georgia Volunteers assembled at Camp McDonald, Georgia, in March, 1862. The recruits came from Gwinnett, De Kalb, Newton, Walton, Fulton, and Calhoun counties, from the Atlanta area. Shortened training lasted through March and they departed for Vicksburg, Mississippi. During the regiment's three year existence, the 42nd was commanded by Colonel Robert Henderson. In December, 1863, the unit had declined to 444 men and 394 effectives and by t the surrender at Bennett Place on April 15, 1865,only 5 officers and 126 men answered the role call.
They engaged at Tazewell and Cumberland Gap but Chickasaw Bluffs was their first heavy action. The 42nd fought bravely at Champion's Hill where Federal forces overwhelmed the Confederate defenders. Baker’s Creek at Black River followed and this was arguably their most “conspicuous” piece of work as they were the rear guard for Lt. General John Pemberton's scattered army reassembled in Vicksburg and ultimately surrendered. The 42nd fought 47 days in the trenches until they were taken prisoner. The regiment was exchanged, they resumed their fighting in various battles from Missionary Ridge in November, 1863 and and beyond through Bentonville, NC in 1865. After Missionary Ridge, TN one private in the 42nd described the war as “500 days of retreat” because the army fought and retreated and fought and retreated and finally surrendered at Bennett Place. It was at Resaca in May, 1864, that the 42nd incurred its greatest losses; over 130 casualties and almost 30% of the regiment. At Nashville, half of the regiment was captured in their rearguard action when they attempted to retreat fighting off Wilson’s pursuing cavalry.
There was Pvt. Norton Williams who took a minie ball in the thigh at Resaca on May 15. Surgeons resected the muscle tissue but Norton died from the effect of the wound five years later in 1869.
There was Pvt. James Freeman of Co. B who marched through the war and in North Carolina when he took a bullet to the right breast on March19, 1865, and died that night.
There was Pvt. John Lawson (left) who enlisted at 14. His father of 39 and his sixteen-year old brother enlisted in the 22nd Georgia. John was taken prisoner in the chaos of the retreat of Nashville and he spent the rest of the war at Camp Chase, OH. He had difficulty coping with life. He attempted to a start one farm after another to support a young family but could not make a steady go of it. His mental stability declined and his brother eventually took him to a mental hospital in Mississippi where he died in 1887 at the age of 39.
Then, there was John’s fighting comrade, Joe Bogle, who was wounded in the trenches of Vicksburg. He rejoined them later in1863, was captured again at Atlanta and sat out the rest of the war where John and Joe reunited at Camp Chase, OH.
It was after Nashville in December, 1864, the 42d Georgia did not disintegrate and go home as many regiments did. In January, the 42nd departed Tupelo, MS as part of Stovall’s Brigade, of Stevenson’s Division and S.D. Lee’s Corps. They traveled via a series of routes, several methods of travel, until they reformed on February 5 with Johnston’s reorganizing force in South Carolina. In its final major action, almost 200 boys from Atlanta prevented Mower’s Federal division from completely cutting off the entire Army from its line of retreat. On that day in March, when the war would be over in just over twenty days, a regiment of 186 men risked everyone in the regiment one more time. It was another day the boys could be proud of.
Calhoun, William L., Captain and Regimental Historian, History of the 42nd Georgia, University of California, 7/22/1900.
American Civil War Research Data, American Civil War Research Database (civilwardata.com) .
Bentonville, Hughes, Nathaniel, Jr, University of Noirth Carolina Press, 1996.