Burns, Robert – May 8, 1865

Michigan Civil War Collection

Click here for this soldier’s biography:

Regiment: 4th Michigan Calvary

Battles Mentioned: Selma, Alabama

Historical Figures: Edward M. McCook, Eli Long, Emory Upton, General Johnson (Confederate), James H. Wilson, Jefferson Davis, John F. Miller, Nathan B. Forrest, Robert E. Lee, Robert H. Minty

[twocolumns]Head Quarters 2d Brigade 2d Division C. C.,
Military Division of the Mississippi
Near Macon Ga May 8 1865.
My dear Davidson
I have been intending for a
long while to write you and give an account of our
doings in this part of the country but have heretofore
had no opportunity of sending a letter off. In fact I
do not know when this will be started, but I will
try to have it ready for the first opportunity.  I
suppose you have seen in the papers some account
of our doings if they will allow us a column or two
in the same sheet which contains the surrender
of Lee & Johnsons.
On the 22nd and 29th ult I wrote you short notes
telling of my health and safety. It is doubtful whe-
ther you have received them, as they were to travel
by an unsafe road to reach you.
March 22nd we left Chickasaw the extreme North West
corner of Alabama to see what we could do in the
smashing line. We were about 10000 cavalry and con-
sisted of the 1st 2nd & 4th Divisions commanded respectively
by Genl McCook, Long & Upton all under Genl Wilson
We had the usual luck of a marching column until
the 1st of April, starting out of and getting into camp at
most unreasonable hours wading through swamps and

bogs you would think impassable. We had until
then met no enemy.     On the 1st Millers (the 1st)
Brigade which was some 12 miles in front of us
had a severe fight with Forrest, capturing three pieces
of Artillery and about 300 prisoners. We were not engaged
that day but marched 46 miles and during the night
joined Miller Brigade at Plantersville about 20 miles
from Selma.     There had been skirmishing all along
the road and we saw many a dead reb and horses
lying in the dust.         On the 2nd we started again
at 6 ½ A.M. one Brigade in the advance followed by
Millers and that followed by Upton’s Division.   A few
miles out we ran across a few scouts but they quickly re-
tired and we pushed on to Selma. About 6 miles
from there we turned from the main Plantersville Road
to the right and approached the city by the Summer
field Road.      We were looking for a fight. All pack
mules sneaks, cooks & cowards were ordered to the rear
and none but effective men allowed in the column.
By the road on which we came there was a hill which
partially over looked the city and from that we could see
what we had to do.      Between a half & three fourths
of a mile in front of us was a line of small forts con
nected by heavy embankments in front of the latter was
a deep ditch come half filled with mud & water and
in front of the ditch was a line of strong [   ?   ]
or posts about ten feet long driven firmly into the ground
as firmly a near to each others as they could be placed

In side of the forts and embankments were Genl Forrest
and 7000 men.  All there I could myself see from the
hill on which we were.            There were fully twice as many
rebs in sight as there were in our two Brigades (Genl
Upton had continued on the Plantersville Road and approach-
ed the city in that direction)    We had in the
Division on the hill about 3500 men. Our skir-
mishers were immediately pushed forward part way down
the hill which part of the business Genl Long directed
me to attend to. so I moved down with them. We
had no sooner showed ourselves than the reb skir-
mishers opened on us. They were lying a short
way in front of the palisades concealed behind
weeds & stumps.         We made a rush for a fence
in front of us where we could be a little under
cover, and there for nearly an hour we lay popping
away at each other. The bullets would strike into
the rails in front of us with a suggestive thug.
Pretty soon Col Minty and afterwards Genl Long and
Wilson came down.    After a short consultation
between them it was decided that we must assault
and carry the works.   It looked like a pretty tough
thing to attempt to drive such a number of men from
so strong a position but it must be done that right,
or we might find it still more difficult in the morning.
The main body of our men were lying behind the
hill our skirmishers only in front of it.           We went
back to where they were dodging the bullets the rebs

sent after us.    Our command war formed thus or
rather it had got into this position when the order to charge
was given.

[Hand-drawn map]

We were to have started at the signal of a gun being fired by Genl Up-
ton, but we had no sooner showed ourselves alone the hill than the rebs
opened on us with their Artillery, and it was difficult to distinguish
any particular gun in the [  ?  ].           Genl Long gave the order for us
to go in, directing that the 4th Michigan should remain where it was
to protect our Battery (the Chicago Board of Trade) and the 37 Ohio
should look out for our flank & rear.  So the 4th Ohio, 7th Penna
and three of Millers Regiments were all that were actually engaged in the charge.
We were all dismounted.        Just as we started Col Minty directed me to go to
the 7th Penna and see that they “left abligued” and hurried forward so that
they might be on a line with the 4th Ohio by the time they struck

the works. I did so and went in with them. We
gave a cheer and made a rush. The rebels opened on
us with Artillery and small arms, but could not stop
us. Our battery from behind was pitching the shell
& shot over our heads. our men cheering, [   ?   ]
firing & running.         I never shouted so. It was a
perfect pandemonium.                        Our men were falling wounded
and dead on every side. No one cared; all went for-
ward, we must take the works or we should be
awfully cut up.            My own sensations were those of
perfect recklessness.    I expected to be shot, but really
did not care. A shell bursting close in front would not
even make one wink.  On we went got through or
climbed over the palisades how I dont know waded
through the ditch and were over the embankment
among the rebs.           As they saw us jumping in
among them they fled, the most of them towards the
left our men pursued driving them from their forst and
capturing their artillery.          In this charge Genl Long
Com’d’g Div. Col Miller Comd’g 1st Brig. Col McCormick Com’d’g 7 PA
Col Biggs 125 Illinois were wounded & Col Dobb of 4th Ohio Killed
so you see the leading officers were not behind the men.
Out of 33 officers of our Brigade who went in, 9 were killed & wounded
Shortly after entering the works, I was directed to return to
the hill and order up the led horses. I did so passing over
the ground on which our poor fellows were lying dying

On arriving at the hill, I ordered forward the horse, and then
joined the 4th Regulars who had just come on the field with
Genl Wilson. (Genl W. had before we charged gone back to Genl
Upton)             The 5 Ohio & 4th Mich were also ordered up
to the front. and followed at a little distance the
4th Regulars. We again entered the works and
moved over to the right to cut off the retreat of the
rebs. Our men had driven thrm over to the left towards
the Planterville Road and captured everything there. When
Genl Upton came in with his Division and struck
them in flank & rear driving them [  ?  ] well to the
right again.      We had reached to near the forts
marked & when a perfect storm of bullets & [  ?  ] opened
on us.   Genl Wilson then ordered the 4th Regulars
and to draw sabre and charge and directed me to have
the 3 Ohio suport them (the 4th Mich had not yet
come up.) I gave Genl W’s orders to Col Howland, and
then started for the head of the 4th Regular column We
were all then going on the full run.     Our artillery by
that time was then up near our right and blazing mer-
rily away.        The rebel artillery from the fort in front war
answering too briskly for safety.        The bullets were fal-
ling in the road about & in front of us, just as the
first drops of a heavy storm, knocking up little clouds
of dust in the same way.         I remember noticing the
same thing when we were coming down the hill in the
first charge.     I had nearly reached the head of
the 4th Regular column, being on a very fast horse, and

riding a little to one side, when they were driven back in
the wildest confusion. They had run on to a deep
ditch, orver which their horses could neither climb
nor leap. From the fort on the other side the rebs were
firing wickedly with all the weapons known to civil-
ized warfare.   They (our men) might have by turning a little
distance to the right (as we afterward discovered)
have gone around the ditch. As it was around they
came on the run. I was nearly knocked off my horse, run-
ning full against one of them. For a moment there was a
horrible confusion. The 3 Ohio which was following on the
jump was nearly run over.      Then Genl Wilson or-
dered the 3 Ohio & 4th Mich (which had just come up)
to dismount and storm the fort on foot.          This
we done as quickly as possible.          I went in with
them again though this time I kept my horse. We
approached the fort and made a rush over the
ditch and embankments, but the rebels had left [   ?   ],
excepting a few stragglers. leaving their artillery in our
hands.  I with two or three others, who hap-
pened to be mounted, rode into the city firing it
and capturing a few rebels who had not taken their
departure speadily enough.     We then went to the other
side of the town which was already in possession of
that portion of one men who had turned to the left
and Genl Upton’s Division. There Hell had brok-
en loose. The darkies were standing in the
streets with pitchers and pails of whiskey

which they were distributing to the men (at this time it was
just dark). Our men, half drunk were breaking open stores
plundering, robbin, firing buildings, and conducting them-
selves like devils.        They had made a glorious fight
it, and thought themselves entitled to a full swing. We
had captured 2300 prisoners. 26 pieces of artillery in the
works, and about 70 in the arsenal. Forrest himself escaped
with about 200 men and the rest of his command was
scattered all over the country. He told one of our Surgeons after-
wards that he never had been so whipped.
About midnight we got into some sort of a camp. Our quar-
ters were in a house filled with rebel wounded. Their
groans however did not prevent our sleeping.            Nothing could
we were completely tired out.            The men could sleep any where.
One instance while on the skirmish live in the afternoon with
the bullets whistling in all directions. I saw on man lying
[                              ?                              ]
in the corner of the fence, snoring vigorously.
May 9. Must stop for the present. Jeff Davis
is said to be trying to cross the Ocumlgee
below here, and we are ordered to guard
the river for a hundred miles, and catch
the illustrious & notorious fugitive.   When
I get the $100000 offered by the President for
his apprehension I will visit you. I
leave this to be forwarded the first opportunity
Yours Affecly R. B.

Give my love to Mother & Madge

[On Envelope:]

May 27, 1865

J. Davidson Burns Esq