Down the River on a Boat
Chapter 46 (April 12, 1864 – April 13, 1864)
A regiment of colored troops camped a little distance from us and Company G boys (at least some of them) always liked to tease the smoked Yankees as we called them. In the cane brakes along the river and just above our camp was a good place for duck shooting, in which sport our boys were just delighted. General Geary finally sent one of his staff officers to find out who did the shooting and as a matter of course poor darky got the blame. A colored sergeant told the inquiring officer that his men did no shooting. And further said, “Cappen, I luff dar men alone and I want dem to luff my men alone.” After trying hard to find out who did the shooting the officer, after giving orders not to shoot any more, left.
At Bridgeport there was a good sized boatyard where mechanics were put to work on an old boat lying in the Tennessee River. This was planked with portholes in its sides to shoot thru, and then painted black to imitate an ironclad. This boat was to make a reconnaissance down the river.
On April 12, all being in readiness, 450 men with eight pieces of artillery having been detailed to make the trip down the river were loaded on this boat, and sometime in the afternoon we left with General Geary in command. Two flats were lashed to the boat, one on each side and these were filled with cavalrymen of some Alabama regiment, Union, I think the Fourth. About 35 Negroes with an Irish overseer, were taken along and as we had no coal to burn, fence rails were used and all went fine until we reached Larkin’s Landing, about 30 miles down the river. Here a regiment of western army was encamped and it was dark when we arrived. It was something new to see a steamer on the river. After a little while some one on shore asked what is the name of your boat? Chickamauga came from a score of throats, when curses and other vile things were cast into our teeth, until General Geary interfered and quieted the mob on shore. The western men thought we were taunting them on account of our coming west after the battle of Chickamauga to help them. But the name of our boat was Chickamauga and when we were fully understood and that we did nothing wrong all was peace and joy.
Thursday, April 13. We proceeded down the river until Guntersville was reached, where our boat entered the mouth of a small creek. A building on the bank of the creek interfered with the free use of artillery and Geary ordered it torn down. J. A. Lumbard came nearly losing his life for while bumping against the weatherboarding. His gun broke thru and in pulling it out the hammer caught, placing it full set with the muzzle at Lumbard’s breast. Certainly was a narrow escape.
Companies B and G, under command of Lieutenant Parks moved towards the town, a half-mile inland, which we entered, captured the mail from the post office, drove out of town a number of Rebel Cavalry, and returned to the boat. The writer has in his possession a large knife or dagger, which we captured and which had been used by the Rebels. We proceeded on down the river until the pilot spied a brigade of infantry and a battery of artillery, Rebel General Forrest’s command. Then General Geary at once ordered the captain of the boat to about face and go up the river as fast as he could. We had been down about 120 miles. Soon on our return trip a scout came aboard the boat and told the General that unless the boat could pass Guntersville before two o’clock A. M. that he would likely be captured as the Rebels would have a division of infantry and a battery of artillery there by that time. By pouring oil on the fire and doing his best the captain of the boat passed Guntersville about one A. M. only one hour to spare and all glad of it.
Steaming along the next day the Darkies off the plantations would come down to the river and yell and cheer saying “Hoorah fur de Union three cheers fur Linkum.” Some one asked the General to let him shoot to scare. When he gave his consent and about a dozen shots were fired into the trees and such a scrambling and getting away you never saw. The more the boys on the boat yelled the faster the Darkies ran over stumps fallen trees thru bushes, over fences like so many wild animals.
Going on up the river we saw a Rebel cavalryman on muleback and a Southern planter talking with him. Geary ordered the boat to the shore when the cavalryman rode off toward the mountain about a half-mile away. The General said to the planter: “Who was that Rebel soldier?” The planter motioned to his mouth and ears indicating that he was deaf and dumb. The General said: “Give me a gun” and in a moment a half dozen were handed to him, when the General took one, and the planter, to our surprise, said he did not know. One of Geary’s staff officers standing nearby said he believed the General could make a piano talk. The planter was ordered on the boat and taken to Bridgeport and we don’t know what became of him.