Encounters with Grant at Chattanooga
One of the great firsthand accounts of Texas troops in the Civil War is Val C. Giles’ Rags and Hope: Four Years with Hood’s Brigade, Fourth Texas Infantry, 1861-1865 (Mary Lasswell, ed.). The account of Sergeant Valerius Cincinnatus Giles is important to me personally because he served in the same regiment, the Fourth Texas, as one of my relatives. More significant still, Giles’ time is the unit matches my uncle’s almost exactly, from the formation of the unit to each man’s being taken prisoner during the Chattanooga campaign — Giles in late October 1863; my uncle about three weeks later. It seems likely that much of what Giles saw and did and heard was shared by other men in the regiment, including my relative.
Giles was captured during a confused skirmish in the early morning hours of October 29. After running smack into a big, burly German private of the 136th New York in the dark, Giles and about twenty of his comrades were rounded up and marched back behind Union lines.
We were marched back and halted near General Hooker’s headquarters. By that time it was daylight, and the whole earth appeared covered with bluecoats. I was a Sergeant at that time, and the only noncommissioned officer in our squad. I was ordered to report to General Hooker, and was escorted to headquarters, between two muskets. Hooker was rather a pleasant-looking man, and returned my salute like a soldier. Then he began to interrogate me. He asked me a hundred questions and wound up by saying that I was the most complete know-nothing for my size he had ever seen.
That evening we started to Chattanooga under a heavy guard. We crossed the Tennessee River about four miles below Lookout Mountain. Near the middle of the bridge we were halted and formed in one rank on each side, to let some General Officers and their escorts pass. General Grant and General Thomas rode in front, followed by along train of staff officers and couriers. When General Grant reached the line of ragged, filthy, bloody, starveling, despairing prisoners strung out on each side of the bridge, he lifted his hat hat and held it over his head until he passed the last man of that living funeral cortege. He was the only officer in that whole train who recognized us as being on the face of the earth. Grant alone paid military honor to a fallen foe.
Grant doesn’t mention this encounter with Giles and his fellows in his memoirs, but he does mention encountering Confederate troops in the field, apparently that same day:
In securing possession of Lookout Valley, Smith lost one man killed and four or five wounded. The enemy lost most of his pickets at the ferry, captured. In the night engagement of the 28th-9th Hooker lost 416 killed and wounded. I never knew the loss of the enemy, but our troops buried over one hundred and fifty of his dead and captured more than a hundred.
After we had secured the opening of a line over which to bring our supplies to the army, I made a personal inspection to see the situation of the pickets of the two armies. As I have stated, Chattanooga Creek comes down the centre of the valley to within a mile or such a matter of the town of Chattanooga, then bears off westerly, then north-westerly, and enters the Tennessee River at the foot of Lookout Mountain. This creek, from its mouth up to where it bears off west, lay between the two lines of pickets, and the guards of both armies drew their water from the same stream. As I would be under short-range fire and in an open country, I took nobody with me, except, I believe, a bugler, who stayed some distance to the rear. I rode from our right around to our left. When I came to the camp of the picket guard of our side, I heard the call, “Turn out the guard for the commanding general.” I replied, “Never mind the guard,” and they were dismissed and went back to their tents. Just back of these, and about equally distant from the creek, were the guards of the Confederate pickets. The sentinel on their post called out in like manner, “Turn out the guard for the commanding general,” and, I believe, added, “General Grant.” Their line in a moment front-faced to the north, facing me, and gave a salute, which I returned.
The most friendly relations seemed to exist between the pickets of the two armies. At one place there was a tree which had fallen across the stream, and which was used by the soldiers of both armies in drawing water for their camps. General Longstreet’s corps was stationed there at the time, and wore blue of a little different shade from our uniform. Seeing a soldier in blue on this log, I rode up to him, commenced conversing with him, and asked whose corps he belonged to. He was very polite, and, touching his hat to me, said he belonged to General Longstreet’s corps. I asked him a few questions—but not with a view of gaining any particular information—all of which he answered, and I rode off.