Burns, Robert – August 28, 1864

Michigan Civil War Collection Rare and Notable

Click here for this soldier’s biography:

Regiment: 4th Michigan Cavalry

Battles Mentioned:

Historical Figures: Edward M. McCook, Eli Long, George Stoneman, Hugh J. Kilpatrick, Robert H. Minty, Samuel W. Ferguson

Head-Quarters 1st Brig., 2d Cavalry Division,
Near Sand Town, GA
August 28 1864.
My dear Davidson
A few days ago I wrote you a few
lines announcing my safe return from one of these raids
which leave generally been so unfortunate in this Department
On the 18th at 1 AM our and Col Long’s Brig-
ades the 1st + 2d all under Col Minty left our Peach
Tree Creek Camp on the left of our army and at 7
the next morning reported to Genl Kilpatrick at Sand
Town, having during the night passed in the rear of our
army to its right. We remained quietly at Sand
town during the 21st and at sundown started to
cut the rebel communications south of Atlanta. Two
well equipped expeditions Stoneman’s and McCook’s
had been totally ruined in attempting the same thing.
We however imagined we were made of sterner stuff and
started off in good spirits. The command consisted
of the 3d Cavalry Division (Kilpatrick’s) under Col Mur-
ray of the 3d Ky Cav’y, being 5th Iowa, 3d Inda 8th Inda
2d Ky 3Ky 5 Ky 10th Ohio + 92d Ill about 2400 men
and our brigade the 4 U.S. 7 Pa + 4th Mich and

Col Long’s the 1st Ohio 3d Ohio + 4th Ohio. the two latter
Brigades being under the command of Col Minty. We knew
that all the fighting would have to be done by us and
Long’s men before we started and so it turned out. We
had about 2400 men with us too. The whole was
commanded by Genl Kilpatrick and a good deal of a little
man he is too, not at all afraid to be in the fight himself.
Away we went Col Murray’s Division being in the advance
it was a bright beautiful moon light night and we should have en-
joyed it [ ? ] if we had not been up all the right preceding. We
enemy’s pickets. When we had to go slowly driving them before us
dis[   ?   ] to feel the woods in both sides be, so that it was
moving before we reached the Atlanta and west Point RR near
Fair burn at Red Oak. We had torn up about a half mile of the track and were
moving on when the rear battalion of the 7th Penna near suddenly attackenby
a force of dismounted men and artillery (The column, you must
know, was 4 or 5 miles long and the rear or front might be
fighting briskly and the other end knew nothing about it ex-
cept when the artillery was opened) just back of where the rebels
struck our column were the ambulences and the darkies Cading
officer horses pack mules +c They of course skedaddled each
nigger and ambulance driver bolted for the woods. Several shell
exploded among the colored brethren and they thought the kingdom
had come. Three ambulances were swashed to pieces and about
50 or the sueaks who hang around the doctors shape were scattered
contraband came crawling out of the woods scared almost while.
The 4th Mich which was in rear of the ambulances now came
up and drove the rebels back to their haunts. All this time the
head of the column was kept moving on as time was precious
and we could not halt for slight “scrimmages”
Genl Kilpatrick not being satisfied with the progress Col
Murray was making, ordered our Brigades to come to the front and
Murray to take the rear. Long’s Brigade had the advance and
had not gone more than half a mile when he found a strong force
of rebs in his front. He had to dismount his men drive
them from the rails must works they had thrown up. weren’t

again and he would find them in the same position
a half mile farther on. This was tried two or three times when
it was determined to march on foot altogether and drive the
rebels steadily having men behind to lead the horses from
which the riders had dismounted. I was up at the front
all the time with Col’s Long and Minty. We drove them steadily
until we came to the valley through which Flint River runs
when the rebels were reinforced by Fergusons Brigade of
Cavalry (We had been fighting Russ’ Brigade thus far) and opened
on us sharply with artillery when we commenced descending
the hill the shells and bullets settled merrily around us
knocking the hark and dirt in close proximity to our heads.
Two guns of our battery (We had with us guns of the
Chicago Board of Trade Battery, which belongs to our Division,
and Murray had with him four guns of the 11th Wisconsin Battery)
Were soon brought up and succeeded in silencing the rebel
Artillery. The very first shot struck a rebel Artillery man, burst in
live and blew him to atoms. Our men were all then dis-
mounted and went forward at the double quick under fire
of our eight guns and drove the rebels clear into and through
Jonesboro. Our regiment had the advance being deployed as skir-
mishers. We then seized the Rail Road for which we had been
aiming since we started, and commenced to swash it gener-
ally, The track was Torn up, the depot and public build-
ings [   ?   ] and destruction was let loose. We destroyed
about two miles of the track. While this was going on the
rebels returned to the attack. Our command was sent
to melt them while Col Murrays tuned over rails. The
rebs had been driven southward and our forces were
pushed that way to shove them farther. Before us, was
darkness and rebels, behind the burning buildings and
smoking ruins. It also commenced to thunder lighter
and pour down rain. All this time while we were
skimirshing with the rebels Genl Kilpatrick had
one of his hands close behind us playing Yankee
Doodle. Hail Columbia and other airs very provok-
ing to rebel ears. It appeared as if Chaos had come
again. Soon the whistle fot the cars could be heard in

front of us and we knew by the sounds that the enemy were
receiving reinforcements from bellows. It was then determined to
“flank” them. So about midnight our brigade followed by Col
Murray’s Division moved in a South Easterly direction about 7 miles
Col Long’s Brigade being left to cover the rear. I stayed with Col.
L command. While waiting for the command to move out. I fell
asleep on the ground and came very near being left. However we
all got away clear. About seven miles out we found our Brig-
ade and Col Murray’s command feeding by the side of the road
Our Brigade was on a hill about a mile in front of Col Murray
rode over to our Brigade and sat down to get a bit. Col Long
halted just in rear of Col Murray (this was about 6 A.M. of the 20th)
Our Brigade had just been ordered to mount and move forward
when Col Long was attacked by the rebel cavalry which had followed
us from Jonesboro. It now consisted of Russ Ferguson’s and
Armstrong’s Brigades about 45oo men. Our brigade moved on
and turned sharply to the right in a South Westerly direction
for the purpose of striking the Rail road again about eight miles
below Jonesboro. I stayed on the hill to witness the skirmish-
ing for a little while. From where I was all the [     ?     ] of our new
could be distinctly seen. It was a beautiful sight. The rebels could
be perceived moving towards our men and were driven back
whenever seen by them. It was the best chance ofseeing the
whole of a skirmish I ever had. I remained as long as I could
and then galloped after our column. Col Long had orders to
follow as quickly as possible and Col Murray was to come after
him. We in the mean time pushed for Sinejoy’s Station.
When within a mile and a half if the R.R. we halted for Cols
Murray and Long to join us. This they soon did having driven
back the enemy. About a mile from the rail road
the road forked. the two prongs striking it about a half
mile apart. A few hundred feet in front of and parallel to
the R.R. another road [   ?   ]. The 4th Michigan was
sent by the right hand road to the R.R. which it reached
without any difficulty and commenced tearing up the tracks
they sent word to us by the parallel road mentioned what
they were doing. Our column the 7th Penna in advance
moved down the left hand road having for the last mile
or two been driving about a dozen rebel cavalry men. As we
hoped the parallel road the firing became hotter and [   ?   ]

I had been with the advance urging them forward
as it was extremely necessary to reach the rail road as soon
as possible and rode hack to have more men sent to
reinforce the advance quard when a devil of a fusil-
ade took place. The 7th Penna was immediately dismounted
and seat forward into the woods (one battalion of it had
been the advance quard) Hatter grew the firing and the cares of the ad-
vance who had dismounted began to [   ?   ] hacks. The 4th
regulars who were next were dismounted and sent in and
I was told to go back and hurry up two of Long’s reiments have
them dismount and husle in. Before that could be done
the 7th PA and 4th Regular had been driven from the woods
in confusion the former leaving two Captains and one Lieut +
the latter one capt dead or wounded in the bands of the enemy
the field was like this

[hand drawn map]                          We had run on a brigade of
rebel infantry who were lying in the woods
by the side of the R.R. behind barricades
a Division was also hushing in on our right
near the print where the 4th Mich were
at winks. Longs men were immedi-
ately put in position to check the advance-
ing rebels and our Battery brought up.
The woods in front and on our left
was swarming with rebels. The 4th
Regulars and 7th PA were gathered together
and made to support the battery. Poor
fellows they were badly cut up. One
of Longs Regiments was formed near the
fork of the road the 4th Mich was
send for and placed there too. the
rebels tried again and again to take our battery. It fought magnificent
ly. It was a glorious sight to see it sweep those woods with grape
and canister sending marry a howling rebel to eternity. The guns
men supported them well. One of the guns by the rebound had broken
it trail short off so that it could not be drawn from the field.
When the next of the pieces had been withdrawn Col Minty called
for some volunteers to drag off that gun try hand. I collected about 20
of the 4th Michigan men went down there and helped pull it off

The rebs were then very close to us. While this was going on
we could hear musketry and artillery firing directly in our rear
The Cavalry with which we had been skirmishing early in morn-
ing had followed us and had attacked us from “behind”
Thus you see we were in a pretty tight box, a brigade of
infantry in our front and partly on our left. A division moving
to hit us on the right and but a little distance off; and three
Brigades of Cavalry in our rear. Stoneman and McCook
caved in under just such circumstances. It was quickly
decided what to do. We must leave the R.R. alone for the present
and [ ? ] the rebel cavalry. We were withdrawn from fight-
ing the infantry who now had become very quiet probably because
effecting some combinations with their cavalry and expecting con-
fidently to “gobble” us all whole. The whole command was faced
to the rear as follows

[hand drawn map]                          Our Brigade was formed on
the right hand side of the road each
regiment in a column of fours four
men abreast or the whole regiment in a
column presenting a front of [ ? ] four even
The 4th U.S. were on the left the 4th Mich
in center and 7th Penna on right.
Long’s Brigade formed in close column
with regimental front I.E. each
regiment formed in live the man side
side. [   ?   ]

[hand drawn map]
The last regiment was deployed in rear
of the others 20 as to cover a large [   ?   ]
of ground and pick of prisoners and [ ? ]
[   ?   ]. You see we were to break
through the rebels, smash them, and
Long was to sweep the ground and
gather them in. This was very quickly
decided and acted on as we had not
much time to lose. I happened to be near
Genl Kilpatrick before to determined
what to do. Our Brigade was then drawn
up in line in front of the 2d Brigade
He turned to me and asked “Capt
can you r men charge through and break
those rebels in front of us?” “Yes
sir they can” What would be
the best formation do you think!

In line or in column”? In column of fours. I think each
regiment to form a column and then the rebels attention
would be distarted” “We will have them so how do they gen-
erally charge? with sabre or firing?” “With sabre Sir”
“Good! so tell Col Minty to have them charge in that way and
drive the              rebels   to            “              at this moment
Col Minty rode up and the regiments were quickly formed as
I have marked. Afew of our men were in front of us
dismounted skirmishing with the rebels. They were told to thrown
down the fence behind which they were. The rebel skirmish
as were keeping them engaged as much as possible while a large
force of them were throwing up rail breast works where I have marked
Barricades. We were formed just behind the brow of a hill. Our
skirmishers were on the crest of it. The rebel artillery to our left and
front was playing over us Bullets and shot were flying thick over
our heads. We drew sabres trotted until we came to the top of
the hill and then with sheer upon cheer started at the gallop.
What a sight it was! I rode at the head of the 4th Mich
or centre column. Capt Thompson our Inspector of whom I have
written you, on my right and Col Minty on the right of Thompson
Down the hill we went the rebels turning their batteries of canister and
grape upon us. While the bullets of the skirmishers and dismounted
men whistled fiercely. The battery away on our right threw shells.
We leaped fences, ditches, barricades and were among them. Their
skirmish line did not attempt to stand and the men behind the barri-
cades turned to run just before we reached them. It was too late.
Our fellows were mounted and on the gallop, and we did cut them
down right and left. I was just about to strike two when they threw
up their hands and surrendered I passed them by leaving someone in the
rear to take care of them. A third who did not surrender quick enough. I
struck full on the top of the head, felt my sabre sink in, saw him fall
and dashed on. I think I killed him, but did not wait to see. The
rebel artillery was very hot at this time. I could almost feel the balls as
they swept by. Col Minty’s horse was shot. Poor Thompson was hit
close by my side and fell. He is yet missing and we do not know
what has become of him. The last seen of him he was dismounted, wounded
trying to rally some men to take the rebel battery. I hope he is not dead.
Our column and the 7th Penna dashed straight forward into the woods. The field
over which we passed was at least a half mile wide with three fences. One
partially built barricade and a half dozen ditches or fullies washed out
by the rain from two to six feet deep and from 5 to 12 feet wide
we no sooner would leap one of them when we would have to go flying
over another. Our horses went kiting over the fences some of them they
[   ?   ] down. Of course a good many of our men were dismounted
Upon reaching the woods we could not go so fast and could not
keep in column. They were full of flying rebels. We soon struck
a path or [   ?   ] which I have marked and turning to the right
followed it about a mile and a half when we turned to the left

and joined the [   ?   ] column on the road. The 4th Regulars in-
stead of keeping parallel with us as was intended seeing an opening in
the fence by the side of the road, and finding very high fences in
front of them, turned to the left and struck out on the main road
(as I have noted in sketch) They ran on to the rebels in the road near
the battery and sent them flying and were soon among the led hones
of the dismounted men in the rear and among the ambulances which
were collected together in a disorganized body in the road. A perfect stam-
pede took place. The bone holders did not attempt to hold the animals
and a general “skedaddle” took place. Riderless bones and driverless ambulance
were scattered in all directions. Our men were in the midst of them
shooting and cutting. As the rear of the 4th Regulars was passing the
battery a part of them with scattered men from the other regiments
dashed on to it drove the gunner from their pieces and captured three
of the guns. One of our orderlies shot the captain. We brought away
one of the pieces with us. The other two were as injured about their
running gear that they could not be hauled off as they were spiked and
left. The charge continued for about two miles when the command
was collected together again. Col Long’s Brigade did not charge
in line as was intended but finding the ground impracticable for it formed
in column and followed the 4th Regulars. Col Murrays command in-
stead of sweeping all to the left of the road as we supposed they would
do turned to the right and filed in after Col Long. Had he done as
was expected both sides of road would have been cleaned out. As it
was a good worry rebels escaped off to the left. Immediately after
the charge and while are were pushing through the woods it commenced to
rain. It came down in torrents. I had lost both hat and rubber over coat
in the brush and in just five seconds was soaked saturated, even my
boots were so filled that the water ran out of the tobs. The command
pushed on for McDonogah. Before the whole of it had moved
fiercely attacked by the Division of Rebel Infantry, which I have men-
tioned was moving in on our right as we fared the R.R. our left
and rear as we were now going. Col Long fought them for about two
hours when his ammunition began to give out. He was obliged to retire (Here Col
Long was wounded twice) and the 4th Mich and 7th Penna were found
to hastily throw up. The 4th Regulars had been sent on, their ammunition [ ? ]
been all expended. We borrowed one of Long’s regiments to assist the 4th Mich + 7th Pa.
Long passed his men through when the rebels came on to us. There we
had it hot and heavy. The rebels charged two or three times but

was bloodily repulsed. All this fighting was done dismounted and
was for the purpose of holding back the rebels until our main column
could get out of the road. Our battery of three guns now, during
this fight hunt one gun and wedged another got a shell half way down into
it, so that it could neither be fired nor pushed down so that we had
but one to use but that was used with effect. The rebels were playing
with their artillery into our column along the road. You see our
two Brigades had to do all the fighting obliged to lead the charge and
cover the retreat.            As soon as all the column had got
into the road and moved about a mile our regiments were withdrawn
and followed it.                The rebels did not attempt to pursue much
farther. Their infantry could not keep up with us and their cav-
alry was too thoroughly scattered to be gathered together again. We pushed
slowly on to McDonaugh crossed
[Hand drawn map]                            Walnut Creek and about 2 oclock
in the morning lay down by the side
of the road for a few hours rest.
How terribly tired we were. Men would
be almost impossible to awaken them
two or three men would fall asleep
together upon their horses their [   ?   ]
would stop and the whole column
behind them would halt too sup-
posing that there were some obstruct-
tions ahead. Hundreds of men were
sometimes asleep in that way on their
horses and in the mud for one or two
hours at a time. Once during one of
the halts, I fell asleep on my horses
for two hours during which time we
had a terrible storm of rain, which
drenched me more, if possible than I
was. I knew nothing of it until I
awoke, and then found myself
in a stange crowd, the column
in the [   ?   ] time having moved
on. It was raining and pitch
dark and in fine we had a terribly
disagreeable time of it. About 2
o’clock we found a place to halt.
The head of the column had been
in since 8, but the tail was de-
layed by the causes I have mentioned.
You never yet have known what fa-
tigue is. We had not slept a wink
for the nights of the 17th 18th 19th and
until 2 o’clock of the morning of the 21st
except what we could [ ? ] riding
along. We had not had but three
meals and but little time to eat
them in. Had fought seven
Red line is our route. Camp Marked “Aug 17”
is where we started rom and returned to.

pretty tough fights besides skirmishing +c.+c. Oh, how tired and
sleepy I was!      At day break the next morning we started
on again. At Colton River the Brigade was gone and the
stream terribly swollen by the rains. It could not be forded
and the horses was obliged to swim it. The current was
very swift. We had a terrible time crossing it. One man
and about 50 horses were drowned in the attempt. We
were obliged to leave behind the disabled cannon we had
brought thus for in a wagon. A good many men who had
gone through the fighting bravely dreaded to enter that stream
we lost also two wagons and one ambulance. It was almost
heart rending to see the poor wounded fellows carried across
Some were fastened on to horses, while others were car-
ried over in the ambulances. I saw one with three in
t[ ? ] over, fill with water and go down the stream. However
the men were rescued. I shall never forget crossing Cot-
ton river. We all finally got over. If we had
been attacked by a large force before we had succeeded
in crossing a great number of us would have been cap-
tured. We were almost wholly out of ammunition and
many an anxious glance was cast to the rear. We ex-
pected every moment to hear the roar of Artillery. It
was a relief when the rear of the column was on the North
side. We then crossed South River burning the bridge

behind us and all the bridges on each side for ten miles.
During the day we marched slowly and encamped that
night at Sithonia. The next day we returned to our
camp on Peach Tree Creek having made a circuit
around the the two great armies of Hood and Sher-
man. We did not do all that we had hoped to do
when we started but we did all we could.             On the
25th we marched to Vinierg’s Bridge having crossed the
Chattahoochie River and yesterday came here where
we hope to recruit for a few days. Our horses
are in the vulgar heat expressive style, “played out”
The army now is on another flanking enterprise
We could not get Atlanta from the front and we are
now pushing west and south of Atlanta towards Fairburn
and Jonesboro. The rebels must leave Atlanta if they
want to save their rail road. The one through De-
catur we thoroughly destroyed some time ago. We are
now at the rear and our brigade is temporarily de-
tached from the Division. The army is about ten
miles in front of us. We probably will be ordered to the
front again in a few days.             Thin is a long campaign
and a very trying one. We are almost worn out but
are determined to see the thing through. We are beginning
to be disappointed in regard to the Virginia Campaign. Did

hope that we would be in Richmond[ ? ]this
I see on looking this over that I have written a very lengthy
and somewhat egotistical letter. I suppose you want to know
what I did and saw and you will probably see accounts
of the raid and “vary” mention of my name. “Full many
a flower” +c. I sent a sketch to Harper’s Weekly. You will see
accounts in NY Tribune N.Y. Times and a good one in Cincinnatti commercial
I have not heard from you in some time. Do
not recollect when now but not since your July 28th
Still look for Willy. Have every day reports that
he is at such and such places on the way here.
Do hope be he may come. I have not heard from
Mother in a few weeks. All are well in Greene I
trust. Give my love to Madge. I wish I could
drop in and take breakfast with you. Good by
God bless you both.       Your affect brother
J. Davidson Burns Esq
Kalamazoo Mich