A surgeon in the 124th Indiana, William King’s Civil War service was at its most intense during the Atlanta Campaign, when his regiment was almost continuously engaged. Five of the ten letters that survive document that campaign in serial fashion, beginning with a letter mentioning the rough field hospitals that dotted Tennessee in 1864 and 1865, a harbinger of things to come. The letters that follow document the mechanical, unstoppable force that was Sherman’s army.
May 21, 1864: “Two weeks ago the great fight commenced and we have been in line of battle or on the march guarding trains ever since… We have driven the rebels from their fortifications and have been all this week following them up and fighting them as we go. They will probably make a stand twenty miles from here and give us another battle. The boys have marched hard… We are encamped in the most beautiful country but is desolated by an immense army. The most of the people have gone and left their splendid homes to be ransacked by soldiers. The little village of Cassville near which we are encamped is a beautiful town but the houses are torn down, fences destroyed, and everything laid waste. I have seen enough of war to make me ardently hope for a final close to it.”
June 15, near Dallas, Ga.: “We are gradually passing down into the open country pushing the rebels before us. We are all anxious that they shall make a final stand and let us fight it through, but they do not seem disposed to do so. They get into their strong holds in the mountains and we have to flank them and then they fall back again and so it has been for weeks fighting more or less every day… There has been almost continual skirmishing amounting to considerable fights at times. Killed and wounded are brought in every day. We have field hospitals and hospitals back six miles on the rail road but these are miserable places and a sick man stands a poor chance here…”
June 23: “The rebel prisoners that I have seen are all large fine looking and healthy men. They don’t look much like being starved. I think what starving is done is on our side. Our boys are nearly all the time on short rations and they would give any thing almost for sow belly as they call it, as they draw none of it, but get fresh beef instead. I do not eat the beef as it is poor and badly butchered…”
July 25: “We are laying in front of Atlanta throwing shells into the city occasionally and expecting to attack it. We crossed the Chattahoochie River on the 8th of the month and have after the Rebs ever since. Our Regiment are now in fortifications immediately in front and in sight of the town. We are continually exchanging artillery shots and skirmishing, although neither party are loosing many men for several days… I was in our breastworks day before yesterday on Co. I of our Regiment when one of the boys was shot by a sharp shooter through the breast and killed immediately. I was standing near enough to touch him when he was killed…”
Oct. 17: “We have had a lively campaign so far, with short rations and no baggage. We started from Decatur on the 5th of this month and having been going ever since except two days… We were sent with our Brigade to reinforce the garrison at Altoona, but got there just after the fight was over. The fight there was one of the brightest pages in the history of this war. The garrison lost 33 per cent of their whole number. They killed and wounded more than their whole number. We had to take in the wounded and dead rebs for several days after the fight. The rebs have left the railroad here and it is supposed have gone south again… we have been chasing them for ten weeks. We caught up with them near Rome and our Corps was sent after them. We captured two cannon & a lot of butternuts. I dressed the wounds of four that were badly wounded. We had about thirty prisoners all together. These are all we have had the pleasure of seeing yet. They were only a brigade that had been left to match our army…”