These three letters capture the details of engagements and troops movements by the 111th Illinois in May and June 1864 while participating in the Atlanta Campaign. The letters were penned by Sgt. Robert Gibson Ardrey (spelled Ardry in military records) of Co. B, 111th Illinois. Descriptions of his unit’s hard fought actions at Resaca, Dallas, and Kennesaw Mountain are included.
Robert Gibson Ardrey (1834-1922)—a 27 year-old farmer from Lively Grove, Washington county, Illinois—mustered into the 111th Illinois as a sergeant in September 1862. According to his enlistment records, he stood 5’7″ tall and had sandy hair and blue eyes. He gave his birth place as [Norwich] Muckingum county, Ohio. His parents were William Ardrey (1809-1893) and Elizabeth McClurkin (1810-Aft1850). The brother to whom he wrote one of these three letters was Thomas S. Artry (1840-1918).
[Note: These letters are from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and are published by express consent.]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
May 22, 1864
Dear Father, Mother & all the rest,
We are still here at this place but expect to resume the chase tomorrow. We are about 45 miles south of Dalton. I should [think] 75 from Chattanooga. It is yet 50 to Atlanta. The supplies in the wagons gave out here & it was deemed necessary to stop two or three days that they might be brought up on the railroad. There is now trains coming in from Chattanooga almost every hour of the day. I wrote you a few lines when we first got here. I told you of our fight. We struck south from Chattanooga & left Dalton to the east & took possession of a gap [Snake Creek Gap] in the mountains near Resaca on the railroad. This expedition was under command of McPherson & John A. Logan & the object was to flank the rebs & either compel them to retreat or else cut the railroad & make them surrender.
Skirmishing commenced on the 9th. This day Gen. Thomas was to commence the fight in front of Dalton & we were to commence on the rear. We had to stop back 5 miles of Resaca & it took till the 13th to work up close to the reb fort. At 4 o’clock P. M. of the 13th, we got within 1¼ miles of the fort & in plain view of the place. The rebs had three trains of cars there which they ran south. One of our batteries took position & fired several rounds at the locomotives but did not hit them. The rebs had a large body of sharpshooters that lay behind logs & in the brush who made it rather unhealthy for our artillery men. They had to be drove off & for this purpose Co’s A, B, C, & G of the 111th were ordered to charge them. They lay in a hollow & to charge them we had to run down a hill which was cleared off with the exception of here & there an old stump. Well at 5 [P. M.] we charged. As we ran down the hill, they poured in a volley of shot that was terrific. Six of our men were killed before they got to the foot of the hill & 10 wounded. Two of Co. B are dead. S[amuel] T. Walker, nephew of the captain, was killed on the spot. E[phraim] Furby was mortally & died the next day. D[avid] Wilson had a thumb shot off & D. C. Seawall received a flesh wound in the arm. One or two others were struck with spent balls but were not hurt much. ¹
We drove them back & took their position. They were now so far off that they could not hurt our artillery men. We held our ground & kept up a continual fire till after dark. I shot 38 rounds. I do not know whether I killed any or not but I know they kept pretty close behind logs & trees after we got at them. The next day we took some of the same chaps prisoners. They said we made the best shooting they ever seen & wanted to know what kind of guns we had.
On the 14th at sundown, a general charge was made on them in order to gain the other side of the hollow. The remaining 6 companies of our regiment were in it. The first of our companies were left to support the batteries. It was a hard fight & lasted till after 9 o’clock at night but the rebs were beaten & we held the hill. That night the troops made three lines of breastworks.
The next day—Sabbath—we lay in the trenches all day waiting for the rebs to charge on us but they did not try it. That night they evacuated [Resaca] & fled south burning the railroad bridge over the Poosa [Oostanaula] river. Monday morning at 8 we marched into their works. They left many of their dead on the field & quite a number of cannon. The army was then started in pursuit. Johnson tried to make a fight at Calhoun & at Adair, but Gen. Thomas flaxed him good & sent him skiving. — R. S. Arbry
¹ Sgt. Artry is describing the Battle of Resaca. During this part of the battle, four companies of the 111th Illinois were engaged in taking the ridge overlooking the town of Resaca and, in the evening of the 14th May, to drive the rebels from their fortifications near a small stream at the foot of the ridge and push them over the hill beyond it. During this part of the fight, the four companies lost seven killed and 28 wounded.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Big Shanty, Georgia
June 12, 1864
Mr. T. S. Artry
At last I will try and answer your letter which I received some time ago. I am still well for which I should be thankful. The rest of the boys are well also. Since I last wrote home, we have been in another battle. We were under fire 4 days & 5 nights near Dallas & strange to tell, none of Co. B were hurt although we were on the skirmish line 24 hours & the rest of the time were in the first line of works.
We came on the rebs on the 16 of May & formed in line of battle while the rebs bullets were whistling around us. We formed three lines deep—that is, one line about 100 yards to rear of the one before it. That night we dug ditches. On the evening of the 28th, the rebs made a charge all along our lines but were badly repulsed with a loss it was estimated at 2500, prisoners included—very few of them. ¹ But when I think if it, I told this in my last letter.
Well, on the night of June 2d, the rebs fell back & we started the next day for the railroad. Got to Acworth on the 4th & lay there till the 9th. It is said Sherman is in no hurry. He does not want to take Atlanta till after Grant gets Richmond. This is to keep Johnson from going to Richmond.
On the 9th we started again. Marched 6 miles & came on reb skirmishers. They were about 2 miles in front of their main force. They have made a stand on what is called the Lost Hills. Their last stand was made on the Altoona Mountains. Our division is left back as reserve. Fighting has been going on most of the time since we came here between skirmishers. Yesterday the train came up. The locomotive was run out to the skirmish line & done some tall whistling at the rebs. I expect it made them mad to think that they burnt all the bridges & that we built hem up so quick & brought the cars along with us. This was done to bore & taunt them. But enough of this.
Yesterday & today it has been raining heavy. This does not stop skirmishing. The rebs say that the reason that they had to fall back was we did not fight them fair. Sherman always flanked them & fought them on the end (as they say). They say there is no danger of Sherman going to Hell for he will outflank the Devil & go to Heaven.² But enough of this.
In my last I told you that our lines extended from Marietta to Dallas but this was a mistake. It should have been Ackworth. Marietta is still in reb hands.
I wish you would send me a sheet of paper & envelope when you write to me as I lost all mine & there is none to buy. I have not heard from home since I left Kingston. Write soon & a long letter. I am stout & hearty. Have stood the tramp first rate. Give my love to all the rest. So goodbye. From your brother, — R. G. Ardry
¹ Sgt. Artry is describing the fighting near Dallas, Georgia, in which the rebels tried to break through the Union lines, the heart of the attack being on the Division in which the 111th Illinois belonged. The rebels came with fixed bayonets and advanced to the Union lines before being repulsed with heavy losses. In this engagement on the 28th of May, the 111th Illinois lost 5 killed and fifteen wounded though none, apparently, in Co. B. One of the wounded was Lt. Colonel J. F. Black.
² In this campaign, Sherman wrote the textbook on the principle of the flank. Said one rebel soldier on surrendering to the 103rd Illinois, “Sherman will never go to hell; he will flank the devil and make heaven in spite of the guards.” [Sherman and the Principle of the Flank by Stuart Rosenlatt, printed in the American Almanac, March 1997]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia
June 28, 1864
As we were in a heavy engagement yesterday (27th) & as I will have a chance to mail this today, I will write you a few lines that you may know that I am still safe & well although we were in the worst place yesterday that we have been in. Five of our company are wounded & are missing—Capt. [William H.] Walker seriously & perhaps mortally wounded. John Piper is shot through the right foot—not a very bad wound. The ball struck about inch back of his great toe & on the inside of his foot, cutting into the bone & perhaps fracturing it. The same ball struck G[eorge] Mearns on the back, inflicting a wound skin deep. [Lewis] Jack Land was struck [by a] spent ball on the neck. It did not cut the skin but bruised his wind pipe. He will be alright in a few days. James Rogers was struck in the ankle joint, the ball coming out through his heel. He will likely lose his foot [died on 29 August of wounds] & G[eorge] A. Cox is missing—supposed killed. Well, you will want to know what we we were doing. You will likely get it in the papers & a more full account sooner than you get this so I will not tell you much.
We charged on a reb fort on a hill. ¹ We had to drive the reb skirmishers near one mile through a dense brush before we came in view of the fort. Then there was a swamp or slough & for next 100 yards the timber & brush were piled down making an almost impenetrable barrier. This was all to cross under a dreadful fire & uphill at that. Well on we went, men dropping at every step. Our regiment was supporting the 55th so they were ahead of us. There was only places here and there that we could get through. Many of the men got to the breastwork but here another obstacle interposed it. It was sharp stakes set in so that a man could not get through. The lines did not all come up together & as our brigade was ahead, the rebs got a cross fire on us. Giles A. Smith seeing this, ordered us back. So we fell back 200 yards & went to digging ditches. We were soon burrowed in the ground enough to hold our position. We had a heavy line of skirmishers within 100 yards of the reb fort that lay behind logs & trees picking off every reb that showed his head. Most of our men were wounded while lying on their faces but enough. We were relieved last night after dark. Are now in the rear. Goodbye. — R. S. Ardry
¹ Sgt. Artry is describing the Union assault of the rebel entrenchments on the side of Little Kennesaw Mountain. This assault began at 8 o’clock A. M. on 27 June. The entire division in which the 111th Illinois belonged made the assault on the rebel works that were located well up the side of the mountain and heavily guarded by abattis. The works were not taken and the regiments losses were 1 killed [Capt. J. V. Andrews of Co. A] and 16 wounded. Sherman later wrote that this was the “hardest fight of the campaign.”