All during the Civil War, Emerson Opdycke kept up a regular correspondence with his wife, Lucy Stevens Opdycke, in Warren. She preserved his letters in letterbooks thus giving us an informative and candid look back at the events of 150 years ago. The Opdycke Collection is housed in the Archives-Library of the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus.
In order to offer clarification of the people Opdycke is writing about, their full names have been annotated and textual comments have been added where appropriate.
These letters were written this week:
Under a Pine Tree, in Georgia, Sept. 7, 1863:
My Dear Wife,
The mail goes in ten minutes, they are yours. Yesterday we bivouaced within six miles of Chattanooga. When eight miles off we could see the rebel signal corps, vigorously at work in Lookout Mountain (200 feet high); and at night a deserter came; the result was we retired at 10 PM to a strong position. Our pickets (Capt. Edward P. Bates was out) heard the movement of Artillery and the rebels giving commands. We learn there is a strong force in Chattanooga. General Joseph E. Johnston in command, and Braxton Bragg second to him.
At 1 our brigade was ordered to make a reconnaissance, the 125th in advance. We skirmished briskly a few miles, took one prisoner, killed one horse, and got up within four and a half miles of Chattanooga when a battery opened upon us, from old Lookout (Mountain), at one thousand yards. Fragments flew among us briskly, but none of my regiment were hurt: a man belonging to the 65th Ohio was killed. We got valuable information, and having gone as far as permitted by orders, returned. Colonel Harker (Charles G. Harker) directed me to present his compliments to my skirmishers (three companies), saying "they did not act like new troops, but like veterans." They did do finely, but were over eager.
I hope you will be brave and heroic as every American wife and mother should be now. Be cheerful. I am, and brimful of hope. We will not be in Chattanooga for some time yet, are nine miles from there. I wish I had time to write you in detail, but I cannot.
NOTE: Following the Battle of Stones River at the end of 1862, Gen. Braxton Bragg had withdrawn his Confederate Army to a defensive position in southeast Tennessee. In mid-June, Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans and the Union Army of the Cumberland had begun maneuvers which caused Bragg's Army of Tennessee to retreat to Chattanooga. Now in September, Bragg was planning to abandon the strategic city under growing pressure from the Union Army. Withdrawal had started as Opdycke was writing on the 7th and two days later the 125th OVI was of the first Union regiments to enter Chattanooga, without a fight.
Opdycke wrote the following letter from Chattanooga, Tenn., with the dateline Sept. 9, 1863:
My Dear Wife,
The enemy completed their evacuation this morning, and our division entered this stronghold at noon. Our Corps is the only one near here. The rebs report they are going down to Rome, Georgia to thrash the Feds there, then return and crush us. I am not in the least surprised at the evacuation, as I have believed for four weeks that this place could not be successfully defended because of the insufficiency of the communications and exposure to our power in the rear. I have maintained this view to Colonel Harker and General Thomas J. Wood, they would admit the force of the argument, but still thought we must fight for the place. It would be difficult to subdue by a direct attack as the mountain passes by which it is approached are almost impregnable. With five hundred men, and some artillery, I could detain a whole corps for an indefinite period of time, by the road we came in on today.
If I had time, I could give you three or four sheets of details, but I have not seen my wagon since leaving Shellmound: this is all the paper I have, and my last envelope. I hope the wagons will soon be up, for I have not had a chance of clothes for fifteen days, and have been constantly in a terrible dust. Have just had a most luxurious bath in the Tennessee River, five hundred yards to our rear."
One of my boys brought in a Mississippian as prisoner, he had got tired of the service and desired me to take him. I asked him how many had left this morning. He replied, "Two hundred thousand." I then pointed him to my regiment and said, "They had better leave if they had no more than that."
Colonel Harker gave me command of the brigade until after we arrived in town. Some think it is a great honor to get their flag up first, but I do not think the entrance of a deserted city is anything worthy of strife. I am sorry of the evacuation for the overthrow of their force is necessary to peace. I want peace and hence am anxious for battle.
P.S. I send you a copy of Colonel Harker's order on our reconnaissance.
Tell Mrs. Ezra B. Taylor (Harriet M. Taylor) her brother-in-law, Lieutenant Ephraim P. Evans, won great praise by making a gallant charge with some skirmishers.
NOTE: Ezra B. and Harriet M. Taylor are the parents of Harriet Taylor Upton. Ephraim P. Evans had married Mrs. Taylor's sister, Eliza Frazer, in Portage County in 1854. He was commissioned an officer and mustered in Company D, 125th Ohio Infantry Regiment on November 22, 1862. Lt. Evans was wounded on June 27, 1864, during the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia. He died of his wounds at Chattanooga on July 8, 1864, and was buried there. In 1866 Lt. Evans' remains were reinterred in Maple Grove Cemetery in Ravenna.
Compiled by members of the CW150 Committee of Warren's Sutliff Museum.