L i f e   S t o r i e s   o f   C i v i l   W a r   H e r o e s

July 21,1862
McMinnville, Tennessee

Dear D,

I am writing to let you know that I am still well and now in Tennessee. After our fight at Pittsburgh Landing we returned to Corinth, then were sent to Chattanooga and brigaded under Colonel Forrest. We had only been there a few days when we were then sent to McMinnville. It took three days to cross the Tennessee River and go over the Cumberland Mountains. The country around there was still green and pretty, and our ride was not so hard. We spent one day in McMinnville and were told to fill our bags with three days of food and forty rounds. The talk was that we were riding to Murfreesboro.

Late in the afternoon we rode out and never halted once except in Woodbury, on a lane in the outskirts of town. While Swede and I were making a little coffee during this stop, a young lady and her mother came out of their house to see us and the boys. They said the yankees had been through there just the night before and had taken some of the men from town back to Murfreesboro as prisoners. The little girl gave Swede a flower that he put in his jacket to make her smile. They were glad to see us and gave us some cornbread and apple butter that was so good it must have been made in heaven. The cornbread was soft and moist and didn't taste dry and full of gravel like the kind we are used to. We ate it all on the spot and wiped the last of the butter out of the crock with our fingers, licking them clean. After that we had just enough time to burn our throats with the coffee before we thanked them, remounted and continued the ride which took the rest of the night.

We were dead tired when we got outside of Murfreesboro, but there was no rest waiting for us there. Some of the yankee pickets had been captured and we found out from them that they had no idea we were upon them. We were ordered to split up into three groups. There were several companies of Rangers in the front of each group to lead the attacks. Somehow our troopers got mixed up in the dark and different companies of the regiments got in such a mess that nobody had the right men with them when they started out on the advance. Our company was supposed to lead the charge on a camp of yankees along the Liberty Pike but we ended up riding through town. It was still dark as we rode along, and every jangle from my rig and each snort of my mount sounded so loud to me that I figured it must have roused even the hardest sleeping yankee. As we approached the town we chased off their pickets with a few shots and rode on in. Some yankees had holed up in the courthouse and started firing at us furiously as we rode down the streets. This noise woke up the people who lived there who, until now, had been mostly unaware of our presence.

I then beheld a spectacle I have never before witnessed. The women of the town came out onto their porches in all various stages of undress. Some wore richly colored dressing gowns over their night garments, while others looked like pure angels in their simple white linen shifts with their hair let down and streaming in long tresses at their sides. They were all shouting "Hurrah!" and urging us to take the courthouse, as it was full of yankees and their prisoners. They were completely unmindful of the lead balls hissing down the streets as they cheered us on. Under any other circumstances I would have lingered to fully enjoy the view they presented. Several companies of the Georgians bravely rushed the courthouse and captured all inside, but I understand it was done at a great loss. I heard that the yankees tried to burn the jail before the rescue could be made. What kind of people could they be to attempt such a deed?

We continued riding on with Capt. Ferrel and Col. Forrest, trying to locate the rest of the troopers who got separated from us in the dark. We rode to the outskirts of town and turned north, passing by a large cornfield. With an abrupt roar and blinding flash the field exploded into flames. My mount reared back and wheeled, nearly throwing me into a ditch. The cornfield had contained a battery of yankee artillery that was firing directly into us at close range. Through the smoke and dust I could see horses and men staggering under the fierce fire. With every blast great gaps were blown in our column, and I saw man and animal alike thrown into the air like rag dolls.

I hesitate to tell you, but a most grisly thing happened that I have not yet been able to remove from my thoughts. Bill Skull was astride his mule not ten feet from me and I watched a solid shot from their battery hit him square. It took his mule broadside right in the middle, knocking off one of Bill's legs right below the knee, passing all the way through the flank of the mule and coming out the other side, knocking off Bill's other leg. I was sprayed with blood and gore; I know not if it was from Bill, the mule, or both, but I became sick from it. Bill and his mule dropped to the ground in a heap. His eyes were wide open with the same expression fixed on his face as before the shell struck him. I don't think he ever knew it happened. God rest his soul.

The terrible roar of the cannon so close at hand had made me all but deaf after the first shot. My ears were ringing, and all the shouts and screams that were so close seemed very faint and distant to me. The air was thick with smoke and in all the confusion I had no idea which way to turn. I saw our men running and riding back to a line of trees on the far side of the field. I rode that way, trying to make myself as small as possible to the yankees who were shooting at us. Once in the trees, I dismounted and lay down in the dirt and stayed put. Branches and splinters were flying out of the trees with great force, and the shells made a terrible shrieking sound as they tore by us. I am ashamed to say I did not think to raise my gun and fire it once. I was very intent on preserving myself. We pulled back a little more, and some of the Georgians were sent out on a ride back behind the yankees to find their camp and burn it while they were attacking us from the cornfield.

We stayed where we were, and after a short while we heard that Crittendon had been captured in town while still wearing his nightshirt. Forrest sent a message to the yankees in front of us telling them that they were the last to hold out and that he meant to show no mercy unless they surrendered. He threatened to send in the Rangers under the black flag (though I later found out that it was a bluff by Forrest and the rest of the yankees had not yet surrendered). Hearing that, they put up the white flag and we took the whole bunch prisoner. We rounded them all up and marched them back to McMinnville that evening. I was ordered to ride guard. We formed a hollow square with the yankees in the middle, and made them walk and carry some of their supplies, which were now our supplies, while we rode on all sides of them.

I passed back down the road where we had been attacked and it was hard to look at the sights there. The wounded had been taken away, but the dead still remained. Animals and men were strewn and scattered about and I saw poor Bill still lying there. He was as white as a cracker and looked so terrible to me. I was very tired. We had been in saddle for nearly two days and nights without sleep and we couldn't stay awake. Believe me when I tell you that the jarring gait of a mule can actually be as relaxing and soothing as the rocking of the softest cradle when you are tired. On the ride back, the Sgt. had to keep riding by us and giving us a kick or punch to wake us up. It had little effect other than to rouse us momentarily. We stopped once to rest and Ranger and yank alike fell to the ground like dead men and slept. We were too tired to guard them and they were too tired to run away. The next day we were back in McMinnville and that's where I am now. We have had some rain so the dust is not too bad and we are dining regally on Crittendon's rations.

I hope you and your family are doing well. Please send me some news and tell me what is happening where you are. Do you have word of any of my friends? Bob, Jess or Little Dave? I don't know if they are still alive or have perished. I have not gotten a letter for nearly three months and know nothing of what is happening at home. God bless you and write me as often as you can.

Yours truly,

Dutch Hoffmann


Dutch's Index | Previous Page | Next Page
Back | Home

Copyright 2001 - 2009 1st Dragoon's Civil War Site. All rights reserved.

Spider Map Index