John Bell Hood and his rebel Army of Tennessee, after escaping from General Sherman near Atlanta, was rumored
to be driving north toward Nashville. Mustering loyal forces to hunt down and crush the marauding Rebels, General Mark
Dolive ordered the 77th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry to report to him at Spring Hill, Tennessee, October 1-3.
Captain Danny Hill, Lt. Claude Lamoreux, Sgts. Wayne Frisby, Rex Griffin and John Miller, Cpl. Cleon Plunk, Pvts. Andrew
Erickson, Wayne Hood, Devon Woodruff, Tim Mountford, Daniel Lamoreux, Gordon Huneck (all the way from British Columbia), Dennis
Capitelli and Musician Calvin Lamoreux represented the 77th Pa. Those men combined with Capt. Errick Weiser
and members of the 15th Missouri, and a few soldiers from other companies, all melded together to form a single company.
We had no more than raised our half shelters and set up camp when the Johnnies were spotted. The bugle called us
to formation as the Second Company of the First Battalion, Frontier Brigade. Col. Stan Prater was in command
of the brigade, Capt. Mike "Mahone" Kirk his aide and Major Kip Bassett in charge of our battalion.
The weather was warm and the sky a clear Union blue as we drilled in anticipation of meeting up with the soldiers of
We knew the Secesh would try to cut the road from Spring Hill to Franklin, and we would have to pay in blood to keep
it open. Forming on the downhill corner of an open field, we could see the glint of a sea of bayonets near the treeline
across the way. The order of, "Forward, March," caused many a veteran's stomach to squirm and throat to tighten as we
peered at the vast numbers of the enemy. A quick glance down the line of our men showed every jaw set and the steely
glint of determination in every eye.
Suddenly explosions boomed, rocking the battlefield from one end to the other. Another explosive wave showed our
artillery was getting the range of the Rebs.
We marched to within firing range, stopped and delivered a savage volley into the ranks of the Johnnies. Their
men, screaming and squirming in agony as our murderous iron took its toll, piled up in front of us like wood stacked for winter.
Concentrating on our lethal work, we were only vaguely aware of the swirl of noise around us. A sharp "thud" nearby
suddenly woke us up to the cacophony of screams, explosions and the angry hum of flying lead. But we never stopped loading
and firing even as our barrels warmed with every successive shot.
Outnumbered and fighting for our lives, we were stunned to see the Secesh pull back, leaving the road to Franklin open
to us. We took advantage of the opportunity offered us by a kind Providence and opiated Southern command to move past
the burning campfires of the Rebs. We could hear the murmurs of their conversation and smell their tobacco smoke as
we trudged onward until reaching the safety of Franklin and camp.
A difficult and hard fought day, slep crept quickly over us as soon as cartridge boxes were refilled and muskets cleaned.
Some slept heavily while others were keyed up in anticipation, aware the Johnnies were close by.
Well before dawn, our officers awakened us. Rebellious forces had viciously attacked one of our sister brigades
and we had to go to their aid.
The sky was overcast with an ominous Rebel gray as we once again formed to the sound of bugles. A thunderstorm
approached, but turned out to be a benevolent shower, just enough to cool us down for a long road march. Stopping and
starting, hurry up and wait, our delivering Union Army snaked through the mists of field and forest until gaining the long
Friendly local constables aided our march by screening our advance from both curious locals and dangerous spies.
Our spirits soared with the eagle as the long road march was punctuated with singing and joviality. But our muscles
tensed and our minds focused as we neared the battlefield and heard the unmistakeable rattle and roar of artillery just over
Entering the field we got a grand view of both armies. Across the way the butternut hordes were lined up, completely
encompassing that side of the enormous field. Our cavalry was thick on the near side of the field, in support of a line
of Union entrenchments held by a relatively thin shield of infantry. Our artillery, at the far end of the Union line,
continually belched ominous smoke and violent iron at the Rebs, keeping them at bay.
Forming into an outstretched line of battle, we expected to hit the Johnnies immediately. But Major Bassett called
us aside, explaining that the original battle plan had been foiled. On our right, the First Company, made up fo the
valiant and brave men of the 1st US Infantry, was ordered forward as skirmishers. We of the Second Company
were held in reserve in case a second company of skirmishers was required. As the First Company made contact, the rest
of the battalion was ordered into the entrenchments.
Our company now on the far right flank of the battalion, the Army of the Pacific filed in beside us. The
sharp, sudden crack of musketry alerted us to the advance of the Rebels. Our First Company fell back rapidly as the
vast hordes of the disloyal marched toward us. A rapid glance across the battlefield revealed a cavalry charge toward
our big guns, while at the same time another force of Confederate infantry assaulted the works further down the line.
When the First Company finally reached our entrenchments, our whole battleline exploded in a single blast of murderous
minie balls. Whole ranks of Secesh fell in one motion as our crisp volley took its lethal toll. Alive with the
fight, both sides exchanged at will. With their vast numbers it was hard not to hit a target, while our battlements
protected us from the worst of their killing fire.
The sky had once again turned Union blue. Lead filled the air, swirling around us like a tremendous cloud of angry
hornets. Screams and cries of torn men, both blue and gray, added their high-pitched notes to the Song of War.
Showers of dirt, thrown up by confederate lead striking the berms to our front, rained down on us. At times smoke covered
the battlefield, obscuring the enemy. The scent of goldenrod and gunpowder permeated the nostrils.
To our surprise, the order to, "Cease Fire," rang out in the midst of the hailstorm of battle. An unfortunate emergency
had arisen. Our lines, both blue and gray, quieted as a truce set in. We stared across the killing field at our
Secessionist foes. Taunts in lieu of minie balls passed back and forth across the lines.
As the cease fire lengthened, the Rebs slowly and deliberately backed off the field. Our battalion was called out
of the trenches and reformed.
Back the way we had come, we marched down the same road to head off the disloyal army. While the early morning
march had been cool and foggy, this later march was warm and sunny. Seemingly, surprisingly, we actually made better
time on the way back.
We stepped raidly along the road until reaching Rippaville, a plantation along our route. Stopping to forage at
the elegant estate, we were captivated by a bevy of beautiful women prettily waving their handkerchiefs from the balcony.
We ceased our depredations, reformed and marched past under the gaze of the beauties.
Inspired but tired, we trudged back through the forests, back through the fields and down a treelined dirt road into
an undulating open field. We were greeted with another long line of entrenchments. With the whole Secesh army
at our backs, we worked hard to improve them with breastwords and firing steps. They were to be our shield of defense
against the oncoming Rebels.
The men of the Second Company, side-by-side with the men of the First, worked hard and long carrying and stabilizing
logs, building breastwords, digging firing steps and cutting firing slits. Though all pitched in and worked hard, Cpl.
Plunk and Pvts. Woodruff, Mountford, Erickson, Cappitelli and Huneck deserve special recognition. An added benefit of
the exercise was increased comraderie with the brave and hard-working men of the 1st US. Often regulars look
askance at volunteers while volunteers reciprocate with jealousy. The pettiness was replaced with newfound respect as
both sides shared both the work and the dangers in this instance and throughout the weekend.
In front of our entrenchments, another blue unit erected abatis, while behind us the artillery set up beside a second
line of entrenchments. Nearby stood a building in which extra ammunition had been strategically placed.
Slightly surprised that the Johnnies had not attacked, we took advantage of the delay to replenish canteens and eat a
bite, some even visiting the sutlers.
If I may interject a personal anecdote: My musket sling having come apart the previous day, I had decided to purchase
a new sling at the earliest opportunity. The lull afforded me a chance to visit a sutler and purchase a new one.
I slipped it in my pocket and went back to our works, crossing the second line of entrenchments by leaping over it.
When I arrived at my station, I discovered the sling had fallen out of my pocket. Cursing myself for my foolishness,
I considered that the sling was lost for good. I was pondering the situation when Cpl. Plunk and Pvt. Woodruff returned.
Before they had a chance to speak, I greeted them with a loud, "Where's my musket sling?" Baffled, they looked at each
other for a moment. I repeated, "Where's my sling? Give it to me." Shaking their heads in bewilderment,
Pvt. Woodruff pulled it from his pocket (the exact sling--the packaging and notations were the same) and handed it to me,
with a confused, "How did you know?" I explained, "First Sergeants are like mothers, they know everything." The
words may not be exact, but the story is absolutely true.
John Bell Hood would not wait for long. After the bugle sounded, we could see a disorganized Union unit come into
view practically running in our direction. Right behind them, fierce with rage, the traitorous Army of Tennessee
surged forward. covering the wide field from end to end, the Reb army tore at the loyal unit like a maddened grizzly
swiping with its paws.
Decimated by the Reb fire and running for their very lives, the vastly outnumbered Unionists charged through the abatis
to our lines. We helped them over the breastworks until the last of them were safe. The Johnnies were right behind.
Shaking the very earth, our artillery opened up mightily, blasting the Secesh at close range. Their lines wavered and
halted, then fell back under the thunderous, murderous onslaught.
Regrouping, they came on, charging our works. That strange high-pitched banshee squall of the Rebel Yell tormented
the air. Hearts pounding as loud as the artillery, we waited for the order to fire until they were close enough to count
the threads in their butternut uniforms. Practically upon us, we opened up with one tremendous volley of lethal lead.
They wavered again, their men falling in droves. We fired fast and furious, the second line passing loaded weapons forward
so the men in front could fire continuously.
Mauled by our fire, the Rebs fell back once more. Disloyal though they may be, their courage was impressive as
they regrouped and came on again, even more determined.
Our faces smeared with dirt, sweat and powder, we held our positions with a grim resolution.
Johnnies, right at our very works, attacked with a savage ferocity. Suddenly a few broke through the breastwords
on our left. Like the breach in a dam, in an instant more poured into our works, and the fighting was hand-to-hand.
Finally they forced us to abandon the entrenchments and fall back.
We didn't go far. A terrible rage flashed through us, enlivening us with a fiery, berserk spirit. Badly outnumbered,
we turned and charged back into our trenches, fighting like demons, driving the Secesh out and over the breastworks.
Once over the top, the Johnnies stayed wehre they were. Union on one side, Confederate on the other with only a
couple of feet of dirt and wood in between, the fighting grew ever more desperate. Much like the days of Rome, the battle
now degenerated into thousands of deadly personal quarrels between you and the man on the other side. Grenades were
hurled back and forth. Screams, blasts, cries, explosions, the angry buzz of the minie ball, the dull thud of metal
into flesh and the sharp crack of lead against bone permeated the air. Some men on both sides, driven to madness, suicidally
jumped to the top of the wall and fired repeatedly into their enemy, loaded muskets passed forward, until they were dropped.
Death knew no limits as the mangled bodies piled up on both sides. The bottom of the trench first grew sticky, then
muddy, then wet as the blood mingled and pooled with the earth. The savagery seemed to go on forever.
Suddenly, from the far side of the field, a bugle called to the Rebels. Both sides totally exhuausted, the Secesh
began to steal away. We were inclined to let them go, but the artillery behind us gave them one last, long, loud, lethal
We had survived. We held the ground. Johnny was gone.
Every last ounce of energy spent, we were called into formation. Capt. Hill volunteered us, along with Third Company,
to stay in the works until dark to make sure the Secesh didn't return. It was a relief as we sat in the trenches, recovering
our strength and our wits.
Back in camp after this incredibly long and hard-fought day, our bodies weary, our bones tired, our feet sore, every
man was fast asleep. Precious, replenishing sleep. More work lay ahead.
After a cool night, the next morning broke fresh and clear. Biscuits and gravy from the noble men and women of
the US Sanitation Commission was a warm welcome to the day. Those staunch Unionists and benevolent, hard-working
saints fed us all weekend--even loading our haversacks before Saturday's march. Their contribution to the war effort
is most deeply and humbly appreciated.
After morning roll call Second Company broke ranks to attend worship services and visit the sutlers. An unfortunate
oversight caused the company to miss a morning formation. But when the battalion fell in for the Battle of Nashville,
all juskets were present.
Having been ordered to assist Gen. Dolive at headquarters, Capt. Hill turned over command for the battle to Lt. Lamoreux.
The brigade left camp, marching down a dusty road and stacked arms in a nearby forest, eager for the chance to get another
shot at the Secesh. Another brigade marched, then countermarched past us on the way to the battle. Taking arms,
we entered the battlefield from the northeast. We faced the bottom of a steep hill, the Confederates entrenched on top.
To our right was a battery of artillery. On another hill to the north was more artillery, large guns that could rain
destruction and death on our enemies.
Neaby Gen. Dolive's staff rode rapidly to and fro, quickly delivering the messages that would bring us victory.
It was the first time all weekend we were near enough to see the functioning of headquarters.
Peering up at our objective, our hearts pounded and our blood raced in anticipation. It was to be a long trip up
a steep hill into the teeth of entrenched enemy fire. Every man, his jaws taut with grim resolve, knew his duty.
Major Bassett, after explaining our explicit goals, gave the order to load, then kneel. With a tremendous bellow
that quaked the earth and threatened to tear the very air asunder, the artillery made its presence known to the enemy.
To our right and across the northern horizon, blast after blast from the cannons lit up the sky. We could feel the vibrations
reverberate through the air, the earth--through our very hearts.
though they might be the enemy, it was hard not to feel pity for the men on the receiving end of that barrage.
Fleeting thoughts were rapidly discarded when the order came to, "Rise Up!" the hill was much too steep and long
to charge up at the double quick, so the battle line strove at a slower, steady pace up the incline.
Once within range, we could see a forward position far in front of the Rebel entrenchments. Those men couldn't
last long. the Johnnies were firing furiously. Minie balls, thick as a swarm of flies, buzzed viciously around
us. We halted, leveled our muskets and, the whole battalion firing by file, delivered our own storm of hot metal into
Unloosing maybe three more rounds apiece, we stopped firing and charged the works. Our first charge was bloodily
repulsed, but the Reb cheers infuriated us as we recovered.
More savage volleys were angrily exchanged. Union dismounted cavalry had come up on the battalion's right flank
to assist as we were ordered to make a second assault on their works.
We gained their breastworks and momentarily drove them away, but their numbers forced us out. We fell back a short
distance. By this time the dead of both sides were piling up; mangled bodies both blue and gray lying together in bloody
Inside their works we could see Federal mounted cavalry circle behind the Secesh. We could hardly wait for the
order as we charged the entrenchments a third time, because we knew the enemy to our front was in a bad fix.
They knew it, too, and many held their muskets aloft, upturned, signally surrender. Treacherously, others amont
them continued shooting. We were forced to return fire, killing many who wanted to give up. Cruelty is one of
the sad facts of war.
We ceased fire as soon as they did. Second Company was detached to guard the prisoners while the rest of the battalion
moved forward. Our brothers of the First Company wished us luck as they continued to battle forward.
Once the firing ceased, we tried to take care of the downed Rebs, offering medical attention and sips from our own canteens.
We formed a semicircle, surrounding the prisoners, with the entrenchments to their back. A few prisoners thought they
could run away. To their everlasting regret, Pennsylvania boys don't miss. every single one was shot down.
But after repeated attempts we extended the semicircle to a complete circle, stopping their escapes entirely.
Some of the prisoners asked for food. A few were parolled, after signing the Loyalty Oath. Others threatened
vengeance on those who did. One Reb threatened his own brother, who had signed the oath, warning that the family would
hunt him down.
Once relieved of our duties, we joined the battalion on the march back into camp. Thus ended the Battle of Nashville,
the last great battle of the Civil War. Hood's Army of Tennessee had been crushed for good, and we eventually
followed their remnants all the way to Alabama. But the war was about over. The Rebellion was gasping its last
breaths. The Union has been saved.
I have the honor to remain your most humble and obedient servant,
First Sgt. Rex Griffin,
Coy. E, 77th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry
The Bell Guards