Fisher Family Genealogy

Riley M. Hoskinson papers. Accession No. 4759-1

Riley M. Hoskinson papers. Accession No. 4759-1

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  • Title Riley M. Hoskinson papers. Accession No. 4759-1 
    Short Title Riley M. Hoskinson papers. Accession No. 4759-1 
    Publisher University of Washington Libraries 
    Repository University of Washington Libraries 
    Source ID S199 
    Text The attached papers are part of the the University of Washington Libraries special Civil War letters Collection. The Riley M. Hoskinson Papers include a letter to his wife Martha (Fisher) Hoskinson from Chattanooga, Tennessee dated Oct. 27, 1863, and two photographs, a portrait of Riley and wife Martha from the 1870's and a portrait of Riley from the 1880's.

    The letter is fascinating. It describes first-hand the Battle of Chickamauga, the horrors of a Civil War field hospital (as commissary sergeant, Riley was often called upon to help the field hospital surgeons), and most importantly the capture, escape and survival of Riley Hoskinson and son Stuart during the battle.

    The complete text of Riley's letter to his wife Martha is reprinted below. Note that Riley begins the letter with the phrase "Journal No. 5" indicating that Riley wrote routinely and compiled at least four journals prior to this letter. The Journal No. 5 letter is the only journal or letter known to still exist. Portions of the letter were included in the ca. 1890 history of the 73rd Illinois Infantry, The Preacher Regiment. The letter may have also been reproduced earlier given Riley's postscript, "If G. W. Scripps desires it let him publish our Escape. But I want this document kept sacredly, I would not loose it for $ 50 dolls, R.M. Hoskinson."

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    Journal No. 5 New Series,
    Chattanooga Tenn. Oct. 27, 1863

    To Mrs. Martha Hoskinson, Rushville Ill.

    Dear Blessed Wife,
    Before you shall have finished reading this journal you will come to the conclusion that it contains a record of some at least of the most eventful periods of my life, or I am mistaken in my judgement of the matter. I shall Preface no further but proceed at once to my narration. In my Last Journal No 4 Sept. 12th I left off in the Chickamauga Valley in the State of Georgia. And now commence at the same spot.

    Mon., Sept. 13th Three O'Clock
    Roused and ordered to up and issue three days rations, Obeyed, again laid me down to sleep. Slept about an hour when we are ordered to march immediately. So we pack up and away, but judge of our chagrin where we find we are marching right back again to the Lookout Mountains just crossed. Arrived at the Mountain foot about 9 O'Clock Mon., and it is now nearly sundown and here we sit in the broiling sun, all day, waiting, for the narrow road to be cleared so we can get up. Genl M Cook & Escort went up about an hour since. And our Brigade are climbing while I write. Stuart is cooking us a little supper. Why we are going back; or where to or what for, no one knows. I shall not cumber this paper with a repetition of our return trip unless some accident. Night x Mail in but nothing for us.

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    The Nashville Union confirming the statement respecting fall of Knoxville, Chattanooga, Cumberland Gap and Morris Island. Blessed be God for such Glorious news.

    Travelled nearly all night getting up the mountain. Finally camped a few hours, then up and away again till just at sundown we reached our old camp at the mountain side. Staid there overnight, Rec'd orders to be ready to march at 5 O'clock in the morning but did not move till about the middle of the afternoon of the 15th, where we were routed all of a sudden and ordered off on the instant. Some of the men had gone foraging, some were sleeping and I was issuing Provisions. So we all had snap judgments taken on us. In less than 20 minutes our Brigade were in line and ready for off. A moment more and away we go along the mountains in a North Easterly direction. Country rough and stony but seemingly pretty good soil, judging from the fine corn and other crops. And if they could live on water only, they need never die, for here it is in rich abundance, and of the purest and best. The mountains here form a circular valley like the letter "U" and we are in the circular bottom. Camped for the night I slept on three rails, rather a rough bed, at least I thought so. Perhaps I was not a good judge. Slept pretty well however till roused this morn of the 16th at 4 O'Clock to be ready for March, up & ready, 3rd Brigade goes ahead of us up the mountain, which is now to be climbed as we are told right in the face of the enemy. The signal lights were working most of the night, from our mountain top to the other.

    Perhaps I had better describe a Signal Corps. It is a company of men who use a Flag in daytime, made of white cloth, and a dark spot in the center. At night they use a lamp, fixed to a flag staff. These men climb to some high prominent mountain peak, and by means of certain motions made with the Flag or Light, which is read, and understood by the other parties who may stand several miles distant, as easily as they can read the signs of a telegraph. These are used very extensively, as from these mountain peaks, the position and movements of an enemy can be seen and noted to any desired point.

    Sun up, and we are still in camp. Perhaps as a rear guard and to assist in case of necessity in getting our cannons and ammunitions up the Mountain. About Eight O'clock we are ordered into line and away for the scene of active strife that is climbing the Mountain. I was correct in my judgement about our delay. We were ordered to assist in getting the wagons up the mountain, whose sides are steepest of any yet seen. But slowly and toilsomely up, up the Poor Mules drag the huge Army wagons and Artillery, sometimes not more than six to ten feet at a time. The Mountain's perpendicular height is not more than 1,000 feet, yet it took Eight hours of the hardest of work to get our Division teams up on the top. The scene was nothing but rugged rough wilds of mountains as far as the eye could reach, Rocks piled on rocks till they seemed to tower to the very Heavens. Finally the top is reached in safety. Rather level, but poor and rocky, several families eking out a miserable existence here for the past 16 to 20 years.

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    Somebody stole Stuart's quart cup that we made our coffee in. I went to one of these houses and bought another and as much good sweet milk as I could drink for a quarter of a dollar. The woman wanted to give me the cup, saying she wanted to do all she could for the soldiers but I thought they looked too needy and would not take it. Thus, she said she was the mother of eleven children, all born on this miserable hill top. I told her of the beauties of Illinois compared with this rocky region and how much more they could raise with the same labor, etc. etc. She said they would try and get north as soon as quiet was restored to the country. Her husband is used by our men as a guide. Heaven bless them.

    Up and away across the Mountain to its eastern side. Here it is almost perpendicular, topped with a margin of rock. Here we stopped and gazed upon the handsomest scene yet presented since in the service. Farm after Farm rose upon the view till lost in the long [?] distance, and shut out by a small mountain called "Pigeon Mountain." From this onward (we are told) commences the great cotton growing region of the state and just beyond this mountain and nearly straight East of us, the Rebs, are entrenched waiting for our approach.

    Down we go very steep but quite smoother, large numbers of Pioneers making us a good road. Bottom reached, soil excellent in some places but very poor in others. Camped near an immense spring, drew & issued beef to the men. Cook and ate some supper, pulled some Ragweeds and made a bed of them, used our canteens and boots for a pillow, covered with our oil blanket, slept soundly and sweetly, under the calm blue Heavens till morning.

    Sept. 17. Still all well here. Negley's Division gone before us towards the enemy. Gen. Thomas Army Corps are also gone in front of us and we (for the first time since in the service) left in the rear. Just at sunrise, boom goes a cannon, its fearful sound reverberating from mountain to mountain. Our men raise one long loud shout of joy. Soon several more followed in quick succession, then all silence for over an hour. Orders were then received for our men to put 40 rounds of ammunition in their cartridge boxes and 20 more in their pockets and be ready to move at a moment's warning as the enemy were evidently massing directly in front of us, and on our left several miles distant. Now nine o'clock, all is quiet suspense. Just at noon, ordered to march on the instant. Out we go, march to an open space, some half mile distant, full of little hills. Here men and artillery were halted in one seemingly inextricable mass. Gens McCook & Sheridan presided and in a few moments the mass began to unfold itself and order was soon restored by each party marching to their several destinations so that in a few moments a Battery stood here, another there. The men were placed in little bands of not more than a Regiment in a place, some in the woods, others supporting the Batteries, etc. etc. In less than a quarter of an hour but very few men could be seen where only a few moments before all was seeming confusion. Now again came the stillness of Death as each one momentarily expected to hear the thunder of the opening contest. But it came not only from the distance some five miles in front and still nearer the sharp crack of musquetry, as the skirmishes would fire at each other. Here all remained quiet till about one o'clock at night. Where we were roused to draw and issue

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    two days rations.

    Morn of the 18th
    Quite an important change of front takes place. The 8th Brigade is sent to the NE while we of the second remain in peace as before. Several cannon shots have been heard to the NE of us but all is still quiet here as late as eight o'clock. Weather dark & cloudy, quite cool. 9 o'clock, ordered to march, up and away in a south easterly direction. We are told we are to go into camp to rest and wash our clothes, etc. The country we are passing over is remarkably poor, scarcely any soil at all. Little broken pieces of limestone and small flint gravel, with some little sand and clay mixed constitutes the most of the surface of this region. The timber is mostly of scrubby beach oak mixed among pines. 3 o'clock afternoon went into camp near a fine spring of water – on a pretty good farm – made ourselves as comfortable as possible supposing we were to remain here for some time. Where about seven o'clock in the evening we were again ordered to march. This went very much against the grain but must be obeyed so we packed up our little budgets and sat down to wait for marching orders. Here we sat till tired out, where most of us laid down round a fire made of secesh rails taken from the ground where only two days since rebeldom reigned supreme and where the little fights before referred to had taken place. Several men were killed and wounded on both sides. Not till half past Eleven o'Clock at night did the (now wished for) marching orders come. Then the men got to work and piled the rails they had collected on the several fires, and had a beautiful illumination at secesh expense. Started out, went a few rods and again stopped, wind high and chilly. Which made fire quite an object. So our men again collected rails and piles them on fires already kindled or kindled others till the whole Heavens were illuminated with the conflagration of secesh fencing. Started on, and at some little distance from the road, a Brigade ahead of us had fired a large log house which was burning furiously as we passed. Slowly and wearily on we go, start and stop, start, stop, stop and start, sometimes only four or five steps at a time. A regular funeral march, quite dark and entirely strange road. The men invented all sorts of funny jokes, xc xc to keep up their spirits. For some time we could not discover the North Star, in consequence of the smoke and dust, at last I observed if I could only see the Dipper, I could from it tell our course. One of the men remarked "They have thrown away the Dipper and substituted a Gourd, and turned the North Star over to the Southern Confederacy." This caused us a fine laugh, many such little jokes were played off during this tedious march. Till at last about 3 O'Clock of Saturday morning Sept. 19, we turned into camp, 15 miles south of Chattanooga in the valley of the Chickamauga, Georgia. I was too tired to hunt wood or make a fire so I tumbled myself down in some brush covered with my oil blanket and fell asleep for the balance of the night, although it was cold & frosty, was only awakened by our bugle calling for us to up and away. Ate a hasty breakfast and just as we expected to roll out, orders came that ours and the 1st Brigade would stay in camp till about Noon. While I sit penciling these lines the constant roar of cannon & musquetry are distinctly heard in our front only a few miles distant. We expect our turn will soon come to join the deadly fray, as we are told, the Rebels are in great force just a little in front of us. About 10 O'Clock we slowly move forward, About X O'Clock in the afternoon we come to the battleground of the morning and still the sound is far to the front.

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    We halt at what is called Crawfish Spring, 13 miles South East of Chattanooga. This is a spring in the full sense of the word. Nearly on the top of a hill flowing out from under some rocks. It's bottom of white slate and white pebbles gives it the appearance of being clear as air. It's volume is sufficient to run an ironworks or mill of almost any desired power. You can form some idea of its vastness when I tell you it is about the size of Tubmill Creek at Covodesville, Penna., at an ordinary stage of water, and its waters are good as they are pure. It far exceeds any spring yet seen. Here we halted a few moments & ate some dinner, that is raw "Sowbelly" bread and water. Were then ordered into line and marched about a mile north on the Chattanooga Road, here lines of battle are formed in a skirt of woods. But soon Gen. Sheridan rode up and ordered our Brigade to go double quick to Lee & Gordon's Mill about a Mile East, to hold a ford of some importance. I and Stuart were ordered back to the Field Hospital at the spring to assist the surgeons. By the time we got back we had no lack of work, for by this time the wounded were coming in by scores, wounded in all parts of their bodies from the top of the head to ends of the toes. There were not less than fifty wounded in the feet & ankles, and at least twice as many wounded in the hands &* arms, several shot in the mouth, one right through [erased text] into the groin. One had his right leg shot off just below the knee and so on to the end of this fearful chapter. Stuart and I helped to carry them from the ambulances to places of safety, then made fires to help keep them warm as the Houses were now all full. We made fires in the yard, in the Garden, and in the woods outside the premises. In short, every where we could find a place to put a man for comfort. While some carried wounded, some made fires, others made & distributed coffee to the poor chilled fellows, others temporarily bound up wounds xc, so all had their hands full to the letter. The conflict lasted till near 9 o'clock at night. I shall not attempt its description. I am not equal to the task. Language can't do it. Sabbath Morn of the 20th Still all in line of battle, just sunrise the work of death begins again. Stuart & I knowing our Brigade & Regiment to be out of Provisions start in search of them. Found them on the Chattanooga road about three miles distant lying on a hillside in a small orchard, in line of battle. Although none of them as yet had been called into action, the 3rd Brigade of our Division was in the fight of yesterday and badly cut up. Some Rebel Prisoners told us this morning they intend to give us the severest fight yet given as they have come prepared to meet 115,000 men. How much of this is truth remains to be seen. We of course know not. 9 o'clock and still the battle lays in front of us but our men not yet called. At 10 O' Clock the cannonade becomes terrific in the Extreme, mixed with the incessant crash of musquetry. The work of death goes fearfully on. Our Brigade still not called, some few of them have lain down to sleep, some are writing letters to loved ones at home while scores of others are buying & reading the daily Newspapers and a general calm & seriousness pervades the rank & file. Just at half past ten O'clock orders come for our Brigade to rush to the combat, away they go on double quick down the hill and into the woods, out of sight, which is the last

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    I saw of the Regiment, or ever will of many of them, "till Heaven's last thunder shakes the world below." Mine & Stuart's place was to stay on the point of the hill above the road and overlooking the contest till needed to assist the surgeons. In a few moments more the combat deepened into (if possible) tenfold terrific proportions. Thus it raged and thus we stood about 10 steps behind of our batteries till about half past one o'clock. The cannon shots were so rapid as to be (most of the time) too frequent to count, and the musquetry resembled the crackling of a handful of salt thrown into the fire, add to this the constant screaming of officers and men, various bayonette charges. Men marching at doublequick in all directions trying to get better positions. Cannons & caissons being hauled at full gallop in every conceivable direction, couriers going at the topmost speed of their best horses. Then add the fearful wounds, bruises, cuts, slashes, groans & cries, bloodshed & death in all its forms, then imagine as much more as you can and then you will fall far short of a description of this Awful contest. I forgot to be afraid, and became so vengeful as to pray God that the whole southern Confederacy might be annihilated, for causing so much needless suffering and death. Our doctors never made their appearance so we of course stood idle spectators, at last up came a poor fellow that had been struck on his left thigh by a piece of shell, and about half size of my hand of flesh entirely carried away. I took his handkerchief and bound it up to staunch the blood, in a few moments more many wounded passed by us and one a tall handsome young man, the blood streaming from his mouth, Stuart asked him if he were wounded in the mouth, he simply pointed to his left side, where his clothes were all tattered by a stroke from a piece of shell. About this time I noticed our men were falling back out of the woods and we were about being surrounded, so Stuart & I went still higher up the hill, but here also we were chased, and we then went back into a pine woods behind us and sat down to eat a bite and rest. While thus engaged two big shells came over us singing Boo-o-o-o-o-o, as they went, another shot cut off a limb from a tree close in front of us. 3 o'clock afternoon the storm of battle has somewhat abated, and Stuart & I now start forward to hunt for our Regiment. Got on some half way, and were met by an officer who yelled to us not to dare go on the battlefield as our men had fallen back toward Chattanooga and the rebels had full possession of the field. We went on however, till in sight of where we first stood, when bang went a rifle and a ball whizzed close past our heads. We now began to think some little about personal safety, and turned in the direction the Officer had told us to go. We had only gotten about half a mile till we came to a small log house where our wounded had been carried till the floor was literally covered with bleeding, dying men. It looked much like a slaughter house, and the two women who lived there scared almost to death, so much so as to be of no use at all. Just at this moment three of our ambulances came along, so Stuart and I helped load them with wounded, & concluded to go back to the Hospital and help take care of them and hunt the Regiment in the morning.

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    As we went to the Hospital, we noticed in some woods at about a quarter of a mile distant from the road, several Secesh cavalry skulking in the timber. As soon as we came opposite them they would step out and shoot, then dodge back and hide, then come out and shoot again, this was repeated several times, as much as twenty or more, when a cavalry man of our own galloped up to us and said "don't you know these fellows are shooting at you: Get out of the way, as rapidly as you can." I replied, if they are shooting at us I would not be afraid to bare my breast and let them shoot at it all the afternoon if they could do no better than they had been doing. Just at that moment some of them who had a long ranged gun, let slip and the ball said, "sleo, o,o,o" as it passed in a few feet of my head. We now went a little faster, and were soon out of their range. [Pencil markings and corrections made later by Hoskinson begin to appear in the following passages of the letter.] Reached the Hospital in safety but had only time to unload our wounded when the whole premises, six Hospitals in number, were surrounded by two Brigades of Wheeler's Cavalry and a Regiment of Infantry, yelling at the top of their voices as if Hell had suddenly erupted itself of all its contents. In a few moments, seeing we made no resistance, a tall fine-looking Texan rode up and told us we were all

    Prisoners of War.

    This important Event took place around half past four O'clock Sabbath evening, Sept. 20th 1863. As we were perfectly powerless for resistance, we made the best we could of a bad bargain. The men now came up in squads and demanded our gun blankets, canteens, knives, guns, xc., xc. I dropped my pocket book, knife and Gold pen into my bootleg and hid my gun blanket & canteen while they were occupied with the others. Stuart was stubborn and would not mind me to hide his blanket & canteen, so he lost them both. This was fun for me because he was sulky and would not mind me. After a little while one of the men died, leaving an excellent blanket & canteen so I got the blanket, washed the blood out of it and gave it to Stuart. There was no wrong in this as all of them would be taken away by the secesh. After awhile he got another canteen in the same way. When they came to me and wanted my knife, I offered them a case knife I had found in the road coming from the battlefield. Then supposing it was all I had, afterward let me alone. The officers did not mistreat us in any way but were very nice & polite; but whenever they went away the scalawags would come and pick the men of all the little comforts they could. The Officers asked us many questions, and we asked as many in return. They took away some of our Hospital stores, all our Ambulances, Doctor's Horses, All our fine Band of Musical Instruments, that cost us $600 in [illeg] and all the guns they could find. The men had hid away several fine Enfield Rifles, and after the others were taken away, I advised them to break them so they could not be any use to the Secesh. They did so. General Wheeler on Tuesday sent in his medical director who allowed us one man to cook for 20 and 4 more to wait on them. This was very liberal.

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    I will now leave off a regular narration and treat of variety. The first duties assigned to me were to go around and take the names of all the wounded, their Co., Rank & Regiment. I found we had 146 then living, beside 19 that were so badly wounded as to die soon after coming in. One of these is shot through the Gullet, so that when he tries to drink, it runs out at the wound, another shot in the right eye and out at the ear. Two others shot through the hip and out through the Privates. Two others directly through the right Leg and yet able to walk unsupported. Many of the balance have fearful wounds in their thighs, and different parts of their bodies that will more than likely cause their death. Where separation takes place, 9 of these have died since [?] the above. Strange as it may seem to you, I can now stand and hold one of a man's legs while the other is cut off and not feel the least particle of that faintish disposition that troubled me so much in former life. Helping the Doctors cut off limbs and bind up wounds is now my daily duty.

    Sept. 22nd, Still occupied as before stated. We have almost hourly visits from our captors, yet none of us have been taken away or parolled. How soon we shall be no one can tell. I suffer considerable at night from severe cold, as I have to live out in the open air and only a gun blanket to cover me. It has frosted the past four nights till all the cotton plants are killed and most of the Tobacco. Stuart does not seem to mind the cold as much as I do.

    Sept. 23rd Calm, cold morning. Two more men died last night, some of the men are digging one vast grave for all at once, as we have not to date had time to bury any of them. We stored them in the cellar till we had our room almost covered. While I write a long cherished leg, belonging to a Capt. McIntire of the 51st, Ill. Now lies before me a catch for the flies as we cut it off yesterday. So it goes. It is much more easy to kill than make alive. Stuart & several others were sent with a Flag of truce over to the battle ground, and found not only all our dead (at least 500) unburied and near 100 more variously wounded but still living, lying right where they fell. They collected them together in little groups, gave them bread & water - all we could raise at this time, for our provisions were all out and those of us at the Hospital had to live on boiled wheat. There they had to leave them, as we had no means to get them away, but sent on Thursday morning, 24th, a detail to dress their wounds and do for them all they could. I will now try and describe some little of the sufferings.

    Sufferings of a Hospital

    The sound is very much like that of a lively revival meeting, where many pray in a low tone at the same time, mixed with loud exclamations, such as "O Lord" "O My God" "Lord Save" "Lord Help" "Lord Have Mercy", xc. Xc. Commingled with incoherent cries & groans. This is our doleful music, day and night, with the addition of the wants; such as "I want up" "I want down" "I want a drink" "I want the pot" "I want some medicine" "I want my wound dressed" "My wound is too tight" "Mine is too loose" "I am too hot" "I am too cold" "Doctor, how long can I live?" "How long must I lie thus?" "How long will it take to get well? "xc, xc, xc, xc. Then stretch imagination to its utmost and can form some faint idea of the reality.

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    Sept. 24th. Nothing special, only General Wheeler sent Capt. Reisz, his chief of staff, to parole as many as he thought were necessary to be left as Hospital attendants. I was requested to assist him write them, which I did. He is a shrewd, keen looking young man & very polite. I wrote the first one for myself, the second for Stuart, then several for others. When the men were called to sign them, he took Stuart's and had it signed by another man, so it was spoiled. By this time I had discovered a mistake in mine so tore it up and commenced another, and completely spoiled it, so by this time the blanks were all filled, and Stuart and I left out. He would not suffer any more written so I thought the matter over carefully, and came to this conclusion: It is the Will of God that you escape and you ought to do it. I told Stuart, but he would not hear to it, he said we would be recaptured, and then treated much worse in consequence.

    This afternoon I was sent with a squad of men, to Lee & Gordon's Mill to remove a lot of rubbish from its head race. While performing this duty, two Brigades of Rebel Cavalry rode up to water their horses, and rest awhile. These would gather around us and ask questions of us. Most of them treated us quite respectable while others were very insulting, would come up close and peer into our eyes and ask, "What do you think of us now? Ha? Guess we whipped you good, didn't we? Ha? Guess we made you run this time, didn't we? Ha? You came to subjugate the South did you, ha? You came to free our Niggers did you? Ha? Guess old Rosa couldn't make Longstreet run" xc. xc. Much of the talk too profane and indecent to write.

    25th Noon, Stuart and I sent back to the mill to finish repairs and get some wheat ground, found first one thing, then another out of order. These we righted piece by piece and finally got the thing to run, which proved to be a pretty good mill. While putting it in repair we were again insulted as before, with such expressions as, you folks broke up this mill, and now you want to grind on it, Damn you, don't you think you deserve to be starved to death? Why did you not put a coal in it, as you have done in all of the others? Xc, xc. We got our wheat ground, but not bolted as the bolt was cut to pieces, and started to our Hospital Prison. One the way back I again spoke to Stuart about running away from the infernal set. He still objected. In the afternoon I built a brick oven for the men to bake some bread. This afternoon, the secesh brought some meat, flour, bacon, a little rice & salt, to last us two days, and took from one of the other Hospitals as many slightly wounded men as could be hauled in the two wagons, and said they intended the next day to march off all that could walk and remove all the men not Paroled, to Atlanta, Georgia. I now went to the Pine Woods, knelt down and asked God to instruct me how to act in the case. I came to the conclusion it were best, to Escape as my conscience was clear in the matter.

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    Stuart, in the meantime, had wandered into an old camp at some distance and found about two pounds of pieces of hard bread that had lain there for two weeks or more in the dew & sun. He gathered it carefully up and put into his haversack. I told him it was God's will that we should get away, and I was determined to try it that night & should like to have him along. So he now consented, and went and laid himself down by a fire and fell asleep. Here I let him stay while I made ready as he had worked hard all day and must be tired. I went and informed our Chief Physician and asked his advice. He said he would not advise in the matter but if it were his case, he would go very quickly. I took from him a message to his Col. In case I should be able to reach the Regiment, took an affectionate adieu and left him to go to his rest. His name is [Thomas] Magee of the 51st Ill. At half past 9 o clock, I roused Stuart, and told him it was now our time to be off, as to stay later would only increase the vigilance of the Guards. We had that day killed a small beef and the cook had stowed the meat in an open box in the cellar. I sent Stuart to get about two pounds of this beef, which he did, of steak. Now all was ready to make the fearful plunge for

    Our Escape

    We rolled up our gun blankets, put our Haversacks and took our canteens in our hands and went to the big spring (Crawfish) as if we only wanted water. I talked out loud, coughed, xc as though nothing unusual was passing. Got some water, went back till near our Hospital, then crossed the road westward toward another in the woods, at some little distance went along the line of tents as though we were going to the most distant one, then slipped off into the darkest shade we could find, momentarily expecting to hear the word "halt" or the still more fearful crack of the mini rifle and perhaps one or both of us lain low in the dust. But our God sent His Angel and we passed unseen and unharmed the dry leaves and little twigs seemed to crash with fearful noise. About 3/4 of a mile out we came to the regular Picket line, the path was in the edge of an open field and beaten to powder so thoroughly had it been marched. Here also we passed unseen and darted into some high corn that was nearby, passed through this into a thick dark wood of much underbrush, moon shining almost bright enough to read by. We now rested for some time, then arose and went on in a direct line Westward toward the Lookout Mountain, about six miles distant. The first four miles of this, was thick woods, then we came to some farms. These we passed through, carefully avoiding the Houses. Finally we came to the great thoroughfare of the Chickamauga Valley. A road that runs its whole length at the foot of the Mountains. Here are posted what are called Videtz [videttes] Cavalry men, who go in squads of four, to six, and traverse the road constantly at all hours, day and night. These also we passed in safety, reached the tall dark Pines at the mountain sides and were safe, thanks p.11

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    be to God for such a deliverance. Here we sat down and rested, ate a little bread & water. Then up and commenced climbing the rugged steeps of the mountain, whose top we reached at half past two, on the morn of the 26th.

    Tired almost to death, scarcely able to drag our weary bodies another rod, crept into the top of a fallen hickory tree, laid us down on the bare ground and covered with our gun blankets. Would have slept pretty well only it was so chilly, the wind was high and very cold, so we had to turn repeatedly to keep warm. At length the beautiful sun rose in his might and commenced dispelling the chilly air. We now arose and tried to kindle a fire, but our matches were all spoiled by sweating in my vest pocket. Stuart was much vexed at this, as he wanted some warm coffee so badly. This we could not have now. So we for the first time in our lives had to eat fresh beef raw. This, with some of our sunburnt bread and water, constituted our breakfast. We are now able to eat anything that turns up, even to Tadpole Soup, made of muddy water. We now came to the conclusion that we would climb "High Point" one of the highest peaks of the mountains at whose foot we had slept. It is a mountain of rocks upon the top of the range, and is at least 200 feet higher than the balance of the mountain and is in many places perpendicular. We commenced winding up its fearful sides till at last we came to a pretty good path, so we now soon reached the top. Now a scene of unparalleled grandeur is presented, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina & Mississippi. All in sight of one view, from this dizzy cliff. We are here above the flight of the Buzzards, as they flew beneath us in flocks and at times flew nearly in our faces. Here we could see all over the rout of the past night, and look upon our watchful enemy, now many hundreds of feet below us. Feeling quite safe, I sat down and commenced penning these notes, and Stuart amused himself gathering dwarf chestnuts and sweet birch, when all of a sudden we are startled by the sound of human voices, and looking at our pathway, behold two secesh upon us within ten steps. Providentially both men unarmed, one an old mountaineer, the other a young soldier of the 3rd Confederate regulars. Both parties were scared of us and us of them. They now commenced asking us who we were, where we came from, and how we came there. I told them we were a part of a large body of Gen. Grant's men, who were posed at Cooper's Gap, some few miles south of this point. They then asked how many of them. I said several thousand, but could not tell exactly how many, and that they were in charge of a vast supply train. Part of this was truth, and the balance fabrication. Grant has a large body of men at or near the Gap spoken of and the secesh are trying to keep them from coming down. They now asked us how we got through the (blank) pickets, as they had a strong guard posted this side of that force. I told them I had seen any pickets at all. I now took the offensive and asked them questions to keep them from quizzing us. I asked about the great battle, about their resources, about the state of society, country, productions, xc. Together with the Lay of the mountain, roads and water, whose hands it was in, xc, xc. They strongly advised us to go down on the West side and travel the Summertown road, which they said led direct to Chattanooga, now 16 miles distant, right at the end of the mountain. That this route was perfectly safe, xc. Stuart took this bait readily, "but the old fish" would not bite. So we shouldered up our little traps and started. I asked them if we could not get down in a diagonal to the road spoken of. "Yes" they said, "and strike it about three miles distant." We now started and as soon as I got safely away from them, I told Stuart our only hope of safety
    Page 12
    was on the top of the mountain and I would go no other way, that those fellows had set a trap for us, which subsequently proved true to the letter, as it proved afterward to be a grand secesh thoroughfare. Stuart did not like this, as he was so tired of the brush and rocks, but we kept directly on the top of the highest part of the mountain, sometimes it was fine, smooth and grassy, at other times it was rocks, piled on rocks, so that the road was fearful to travel. Occasionally we had to cross a small miserable farm. Carefully we avoided all roads, paths & houses till about the middle of the afternoon we began to suffer for water.

    At length we came to a deep Gulch in the Eastern side of the mountain. I told Stuart I felt satisfied there was water in there near the bottom, but it would be a hazardous trip to get it. We consented to risk it and go down, found a fine spring, got all the water we wanted, and again commenced climbing the mountain in a diagonal, or slanting, direction. After a time we came to a path beaten to fine dust with horses' feet. I told Stuart this was quite likely a picket line and the quicker we got away from it the better. So we made good our retreat from its presence but had only gotten about one hundred yards when we heard low talking above us and in front. Judge of our dismay, when we looked and saw a large company of secesh cavalry climbing the mountain in the opposite direction to us, and only a few yards from us. We laid us down in the weeds and grass quietly as scared chickens, and this danger also passed away & we unharmed. Again I thanked God for His deliverance. We must now cross this road, and as it lay at least 50 feet higher than we, and it must be passed at least 100 feet more before we could hide again. As the ground was of a blue slaty formation and very steep it took a great effort to climb it in time, as we did not know what moment another set would come along. When we reached a place where a large tree had torn out of root, I tumbled myself into the hole, nearly exhausted, with the effort of climbing. Here we rested a little and again mounted up the mountain side out of sight of the road.

    We again took up our line of march directly on the mountain top, frequently crossing paths that were much worn, but saw no one to molest us. Nearly night we came to a low place on the mountain, and a considerable farm and a house. Here we concluded to get a little fire and make us some coffee. Disappointed again, for on nearing the house we found we were at the place where the aforementioned "summertown road" came up to the mountain top, and here was a regular pickets stations. Horses had stood here by scores and here were the fresh beds of men. We got away from this place as rapidly as we could. Now had we gone this road as directed we should still have been in Dixie, no doubt of it as the road was dusted to powder at from two to six inches deep. We soon came to a thick clump of underbrush and found an old hollow chestnut stump with one of its sides gone. In this we concluded to make our nest for the night. Commended ourselves to God and laid us down to sleep, and was only awakened by the noise of the birds on Sabbath morning of the 27th and the last Eventful day of our captivity. On lying down at this place Stuart remarked for the first time as following: "Pap, I am sure the Lord is directing us, or we could never have come this far without being captured or shot at." I replied I was confident of it, for this scripture was constantly before my mind "The heart of man deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps."

    Sept. 27. We now arose thanked the Lord for His Goodness, ate
    Page 13
    some more raw meat, took a little bread and water, and resumed our perilous journey. Had considerable trouble keeping away from the road, as it wound many times so close to the cliff that it was difficult for us to keep hid. We could often see it and see the dust rise as the secesh cavalry rode along. At length however when we thought we were getting along finely, Stuart stopped all of a sudden and whispered "Pap, this mountain runs out here, look how it falls off" I looked and within fifty yards of us were four horses, with saddles on tied to some bushes directly in front of us. We dare not risk an approach so we retreated some 150 yards, and tumbled us down the almost perpendicular rocks on the West side of the mountain. A large stream was now visible and a Rail Road so we were quite sure that Chattanooga was not far off, and that this stream was the Tennessee River, and the Rail Road the Nashville and Chattanooga. The trouble now was to know who held possession. So on we jumped, crawled and fell till some 200 feet down the precipice we ventured to look back and saw two secesh standing on a huge rock looking down in an opposite direction. Still on down, down, we tumbled till we came to a smoother place with some underbrush. Here we halted within about a quarter of a mile of the rail road and waited about an hour for some one to pass that we might find out whose hands we were in, but none passed. We now crept to within about thirty yards of the Rail Road and sat for about another hour in a thicket, on the edge of an old camp, still no one passed. So I got tired waiting, and got up and crept softly out, where I could see, and found we were in the immediate vicinity of three inhabited houses. Whose knew not, so dare not approach the. We now crept softly back to the mountain foot and passed along the rocks and & brush to the foot of the steep mountain we had left, here the Rail Road came close to the river, and we climbed up on some rocks and hid among the bushes, where we could watch both road and river. In a few moments Stuart whispered "Pap, I see one of our men in a field, beyond the river." I crept to him and we soon discovered several of them. We now determined to get down and hail them. We went as near them as could get for a creek that put into the River at this point and hailed them. They answered with "Who are you, and where do you belong" I answered them and they began to holler foolishness at us, such as "say rebs, have you any whiskey over there, do you see any rebs, come over and get some coffee, xc, xc. I did not answer them any more, but went up the stream some distance till it looked shallow enough to wade, where we pulled off our clothes and waded over, then redressed in part and went to the river again, lower down where it looked as though we could wade it with some effort, and no small danger. Here we concluded that there was only one way of safety left us, and that was to cross the river, and no time to be lost at that as it was now almost sundown. So we got six pieces of light rails, some small grape vines and constructed a raft of sufficient size to carry our clothes, and we would wade and push it over, as I knew Stuart could swim but little I instructed him, in case he got beyond his depth to hang fast to the raft with all his might, so we tied our clothes up in our oil blankets, set them on the little raft and launched it out. We had only gone 20 feet from shore when both of us were beyond our reach in water and our raft carrying us down with fearful rapidity. I now told Stuart not to get frightened

    Page 14
    but lie on his belly and kick slowly but firmly toward the shore we were leaving. I crept to the opposite side and threw myself on my back with my feet under so I could kick in the same direction using my right hand for a steering oar. We soon found we were making fine headway although rapidly floating down the stream. Every little while I would let myself down and feel for bottom, but it was "nicht da" (not there). After we got out about 150 yards from shore I touched bottom but could not stand in the sweeping current, so we kicked on about 50 yards more, when we could easily touch but could not check the raft. It dragged us "[illeg]" down the river. We held on to it however till a still more shallow place was reached where we held it firmly and waded steadily to shore. By this time some hundreds of men lined the shore, while our hearts swelled with joy that we were again with our own "blue jackets." I was so much chilled, I could not talk, or stand to put on my clothes. Some of the men held me up and helped me dress. The men were the 40th Ohio on picket duty and their Col. told us he had to give his men express orders not to fire on us, till he could determine who or what we were, as for two days past and up to an hour or so before we came to the river, secesh by scores had stood at the same ground and fired over at our men, many of them dressed in our uniforms. This accounts for the men treating us to foolish talk, and exposes another fearful danger that we were not aware of.

    The Col. now ordered us some warm coffee, and then that we be taken to Gen. Whitacre who must hear our story immediately, so we drank some coffee & went to the Gen, who was rejoiced to see us, he asked numerous questions about the battle, the secesh, what we saw & heard, xc. He now gave us an excellent supper, bread, beef, potatoes & tea. Then ordered up two of his horses and two Orderlies to accompany us, and sent us forthwith three miles into Chattanooga to Gen Rosecrans, who he said, must hear our story at once, it was of too much importance to wait till morning. Crossed the River on a Pontoon Bridge, and arrived at the Headquarters of the Gen, at about half past nine o'clock. He was very busy, and set us up with one of his principal aides to a tent at some distance, where we were taken separately and questioned as before and our testimony taken down in writing, and then read to us to see if it were correct. We were now thanked and dismissed, just at this moment a brisk skirmish took place in the outskirts of the city, and Stuart and I climbed up a sharp steep to try and see the fight but could not for the smoke & dust. Here we fell in with some of the Signal Corps, who when they heard our story, I heard told their own marvelous escape from the same mountain heights, took us with them and gave us a good place to sleep and some of their blankets to sleep on, slept soundly without fear, until sun up on the morn of the 28th. They now gave us some breakfast, and we set out to find our Regiment. Now, as usual in the very front of the Army and in the face of the Enemy. At least half the Regt dead, wounded & missing. The last time I drew rations for 417 men and now it is only 233 officers and all our noble Major Smith, Adjutant Winget and Capt. Rice among the slain. Capt. Rice is the noble Tennessean, who captured the six men on the retreat from Tullahoma. He carried his Exccentricities to the very last, for

    Page 15
    when the men tried to carry him from the field, (the blood gushing from both his sides, as he was shot quite through) he said "Law me down boys and save yourselves, it is now all over with old Jim" He called himself "Jim Rice." He was a most gallant soldier. But I can't detail here.

    I told Col's Jaquess and Davidson my story and was then sent to Col. Laibold commanding our brigade. The col heard us out and praised us highly for our soldierly conduct and sent us to Gen. Sheridan commanding our division. The Gen asked me a great many questions and then praised us for our soldierly conduct and thanked us for the information we had given, ordered us a pass over the river to hunt our wagon train & dismissed us. We now went to the Col of the 51st Ill. And delivered the message from his Doctor at Our Prison Hospital. Told him our adventure xc, He gave us an excellent dinner. We now crossed over the river and hunted our Train but could not find it nor anybody who could tell us where to go to hunt it. We found out in the meantime that we were in the vicinity of the 115th Ill. So we struck out to find Co D of that regmt. Capt. Huckstep. Found them after some tedious hunting. Capt Huckstep badly wounded in the thigh, George A Gillett of Bainbridge & Francis M. Dupee dead and several others of our noble Schuyler Co, boys more or less badly wounded. Their regiment lost just about half its members. It was their first fight since in the service. Lieut Samuel Hymer is in command of Co D. We staid with these noble men till morning who divided with us their scanty store. Told him our story received the necessary directions how to find our Train, saw & conversed with George Frisby & Doctor Hobart both will again start in search of our Train. Found it and our Little Quartermaster & Sergeant in fine health & spirits. He had a letter for me from wife dated Sept 8th to 10th & was on the verge of writing to her that I and Stuart were prisoners.

    Now the gauntlet is run and our story told until we can get back to the regiment and learn the particulars. 30th - All well staid in camp with Bill, Stuart out gathering chestnuts. Afternoon went back to Regt. [Here perhaps it is well to remark, the Regt. is in the city of Chattanooga within a mile of where Stuart & I came to the hilltop, and the Wagon train are some three miles distant on the North side of the Tennessee River, for greater safety & comfort.] Found our Regt in a deplorable condition, many of the men entirely missing, among them John M. Baker of Browning, Joseph M. Derrickson, Absalom R. Lawless, James Hagle & Jeremiah E Bailey of Rushville & vicinity. Jasper Hooker (son of the old man north of town) badly wounded. Little Cunningham is safe and sound, I will now again refer to the


    The rebs have just refused a Flag of truce sent out to bury our dead who lie rotting on the field, or to let us bring away our wounded who still lie where they fell. Such Hellish brutality is seldom witnessed, Oct 3rd Another is more successful, and several hundred wounded men have come in, but the dead are still unburied.

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    Oct. 3 Afternoon we are ordered to pack up and skedaddle at our utmost speed as the rebels had gotten across the river and captured several of our supply wagons and several of the teamsters. We obey and move back to the river bottom under the guns of the Chattanooga forts. Stuart had just made up a little rig to make some rings, xc, and only worked about an hour on a breast pin for Col. Davidson when we had to tear up and quit. This is the way it goes in war times.

    Sept. 4 [He's written Sept but the sequence of dates in the letter indicate October] I will now tell you something about how we get along & how the city looks, xc. For the past two nights Each of us slept where and as he best could, Stuart and I slept on the ground on our oil blankets covered with woolen blankets, boards, iron, chains, pots, skillets, muss pans, camp kettles, [illeg], knapsacks, some clothing, guns & ammunition + many other things too tedious to mention. That is we slept under a Loaded Wagon. A big corral is a great place to sleep, with more than a thousand wags, six or more thousand mules, at least two thousand men and several hundred horses, mules bawling, horses neighing, chains rattling, wagons jerked by the restless animals, men cursing, xc. xc all in one grand concert, combine to form the pleasures of a carol. I will now say a few words about

    The City of Chattanooga

    It lies on the south side of the Tennessee River, is a very poor looking place some few of its houses are good but the great majority are poor. It is a remarkably rough place cut up with sharp round hills and deep gullies, all these hills are now fortified so that it is deemed impossible to drive us out of it. How this may be, God only knows. The river is crossed by two pontoon bridges and a third is being built.

    Stuart & I are in the very best of health, blessed be God for His mercies toward us, and for His great deliverance from the dangers just passed through.

    As to coming home I do not think of trying to get away in the present great excitement, at least not till our Railroad communication is restored to safety. Tell our Noble little boys that I will send them some money as soon as it is safe to do so. Tell Miss Barber we will make a Breast Pin for her, and send it as soon as we get safely to work again, unless our stock is captured or destroyed. All is safe yet, we have lost nothing.

    Now dearest Wife & Children all of you, and any who may be interested in this journal, my best respects to all of you, your Riley M. Hoskinson.

    P.S. If G. W. Scripps desires it let him publish our Escape. But I want this document kept sacredly, I would not loose it for $ 50 dolls, R.M. Hoskinson. 
    Linked to (1) HOSKINSON, Riley M 

  • Photos
    Portrait: Hoskinson, Riley
    Portrait: Hoskinson, Riley
    Portrait of Riley taken by his son Stewart Hoskinson per imprint on stamped on verso: S.F. Hoskinson, Photos. Hoopeston, IL.
    Riley M. Hoskinson and his wife, Martha (Fisher), ca. 1870
    Riley M. Hoskinson and his wife, Martha (Fisher), ca. 1870

    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863. p. 1
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863. p. 1
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 2
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 2
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 3
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 3
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 4
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 4
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 5
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 5
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 6
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 6
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 7
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 7
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863. p. 8
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863. p. 8
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 9
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 9
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 10
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 10
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 11
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 11
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 12
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 12
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863,  p. 13
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 13
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 14
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 14
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 15
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 15
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 16
    Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863, p. 16

  •  Notes 
    • Part of Civil War Letters collection.

      Catalog description:
      Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863. (Riley Hoskinson papers. Accession No. 4759-1)

      This letter, dated Oct. 27, 1863, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, describes first-hand the Battle of Chickamauga, the horrors of a Civil War field hospital, and most surprisingly, the capture, escape and survival of Riley Hoskinson and his young son Stuart, who enlisted with him. Hoskinson's journal of these adventures captures both the harsh conditions of this mountainous region as well as the more gruesome realities of war (as provisions master, he was often called upon to help the field hospital's surgeons).

      Editing marks and a postscript indicate that Hoskinson might have allowed his story to be published in his hometown newspaper; it is not known if his accounts were in fact published there. Both Riley and Stuart Hoskinson survived the war - Stuart later opened a photography business in Illinois, while Hoskinson moved to Puget Sound, became a weather observer on Bainbridge Island and was one of the first white settlers to record earthquake activity in the region.