A Touching Incident of Union General McPherson

John Scruggs, Clerk & Master, Altamont TN
submitted by: Greg Curtis

      Under the new law creating the War History Committee of TN, said John Trotwood Moore, Chairman “I am constantly receiving stories of the Civil War as well as the World War, to be preserved in our dept of Archives, some of which are to good and too full of human interest to be filed away without first being published. Among them lately received for our dept is the following vouched for as true in every particular by Mr. John Scruggs, a gallant old Confederate Soldier and for many years Clerk and Master of Altamont, TN. Mr. Scruggs is a very modest man and it was only at the earnest solicitation of Hon. Foster V. Brown of Chattanooga, TN, who heard Clerk an master Scruggs relate this incident while Judge Brown was on legal business in Altamont, that I was able to obtain it. At his request that it be submitted to me with such pruning as I thought necessary for its permanent preservation. I will add that I found very little pruning necessary.”

      I will state in the beginning however, that Mr. Scruggs was born in Marion County, TN Feb 19, 1844 and when six years of age moved with his father to Altamont, Grundy County, TN, his present home. He entered the Civil War as a Confederate Soldier on Sept 6, 1861, when he was only7 1l7 years old, and became a private in the regiment of Col. BJ Hill, known as the 35th TN Vol. Inf., serving throughout the entire war in company D of Hill’s old regiment and surrendered together with his command to Gen. Sherman at Greensboro, NC on Apr. 26,1865. Gen Joseph N. Johnston commanding.

      “After the Battle of Missionary Ridge,” writes Mr. Scruggs, “our army fell back on Dalton and Tunnel Hill, GA. for the winter of 63-4. At the reorganization of the army at the beginning of the year 1864 or the latter part of 1863, Gen Joseph E. Johnston who succeeded Gen Braxton Bragg as Commander, appointed our Colonel B J Hill Provost Marshal of the Army which necessitated our regiment, the 35th to being detailed for general Provost guard duty, I was especially detailed by Co. Hill to assist Lt. Bright son of the late Hon. John M. Bright of Fayetteville, TN, who was an officer of the passenger train guard form Dalton to Atlanta. It was our duty to keep a complete registry of all persons traveling on the train, all citizens being, required to exhibit a Provost Marshal pass and soldiers a furlough or military order showing train destination. I was engaged in this train guard duty something like four months, our army leaving Dalton in May 1864, and gradually retreating South toward Atlanta, We reached the south band of the Chattahoochee River, six miles north of Atlanta, about the 7th or 8th of July, at which time General Johnston was succeeded in command in the army by General John B. Hood. Our army at this time was occupying the south bank of the Chattahoochee River while the Federal Army was on the northern bank, and although the distance was short from Atlanta to our front on the river, yet we made regular trips about every two hours too the ----- and returned, and as I was still on my job on the passenger train, I performed many trips to and fro."

      “By some kind of prearranged understanding between the commander and officers of both armies, it was understood on both sides that we be permitted for recreation and diversion to visit each other across the river, which was taken advantage of in a most liberal way by both yanks and Johnny-rebs, and both sides always returning

Unmolested to there respective commands. The river at this point was only about 150-200 yards wide and shallow that it was easily waded without trouble. There was a gentleman’s agreement that there should be no firing on either side of the skirmish line, and the boys of both armies could be constantly seen passing back and forth and friendly traffic and friendly visits that at one time, to a stranger, looked like if it went on, the two armies would make peace without consent of their commanding Generals”

      "One morning when about to start on my regular trip to Atlanta, a comrade came up to my train, and fishing out a Yankee canteen which would hold about three pits of whisky Said: “ Say John you goin’ to Atlanta now?” I told him I was.“ Well, I’ve got an awful sick comrade down with fever and the Doctor wants this canteen full of whisky to mix up some quinine for him. I believe they’ll bury him if he don’t get it, and that quick. Buy it in Atlanta and rush it through to me and I’ll refund you for whatever you pay out.”

      “I told him I was only too glad to do it, and as soon as I reached the city I got it filled by a one-armed Texas soldier who had been wounded at the first battle of Manassas, discharged from the army and was making a living running a saloon in Atlanta. The one-armed soldier from whom I bought it chipped in his part for the sick man also, giving me three pints for which he only charged me for one quart at the rate of $30 a quart. I took the canteen and hurried back with the whisky for the sick man, but before I got there and army friend requested that I take his gun and hold his position on the edge of the river in his place, and permit him to make the trip back to Atlanta on equally as important business. Here was the chance to help two friends, and not thinking that I would be there over two hours, I took his gun and began to watch the stream of blue and gray crossing and re crossing the shallow river. To me this was a beautiful sight and indicative of what I knew would have happened at the very beginning had these same brave boys in blue and gray had a chance to mingle with and know each other, and that they were all American and kindred and imbedded with the same ideas of patriotism and loyalty.

      While I was standing there enjoying the scene I saw a blue soldier across the river waving and hailing me, and we soon got into a bantering conversation.

“What you got there in that canteen Johnny-reb?” he called out,

“Good rebel whisky,” I called back, holding the canteen up to my mouth, and pretending to take a long drink, smacking my lips and asking him “if he wouldn’t like to have some.”

“You bet I would,” he called back. “What state are you from, anyway?”

“I’m from old Tennessee,” I called back, “and this is good old TN whisky.”

“Say you come over here,” he said “an’ give me a good swig an I’ll give you some late Nashville papers an throw in some coffee and sugar to boot.”

This was too much for me, and I place my gun under a tree on the bank and waded across to give my Yankee friend a good drink, and right here and where I dropped my candy. ‘What state do you hail from?” I asked as soon as I reached the bank.

“O, I’m from Michigan,’ He said seizing my canteen and taking such a swig, that I began to fear there would be nothing left for the quinine and the sick soldier. He was about twenty years old, a big square-looking rough lumberjack of a fellow, and he drank like he

had not had a drink since the war began. I did not like the way his eyes looked and the way he spoke to me, and almost immediately he picked up his gun with bayonet on it, pushed me between me and my comrades on the other side and said brutally “Now march you damn rebel, or I’ll run you through.”

I tried to remonstrate _____ _____ the whiskey was effecting his brain and he was liable to commit murder of do any other crime.”

“Yes, damn you,” he said as he pricked me in the back with his bayonet, “I’ve captured on damned rebel, and I’ll march you right in to General McPherson’s tent, now march.”

“And that was one time I marched.”

“I shall never forget how General McPherson looked, I had never seen so handsome an officer in my life. He was setting in an office chair beside a writing table, in full dress uniform, the personification of dignity and martial splendor, and yet with the kindest bearing and most gracious smile on his handsome face. An army pistol lay on the desk before him. He looked up with a smile as I entered and said: “Take a seat, my son, I shall be through writing in a few minutes and shall talk to you.” A small boy, 6 or 7 years old, whom I took to be the General’s son, was also in the tent, dressed in the uniform of an officer, and looked almost as handsome as his father. He took great interest in all that was going on. Finally, the General ceased writing, turned toward me and asked in a soft, even voice: “What command do you belong to?”

“The 35th TN Vol. Infantry, sir” I said “commanded by Col. B.J. Hill”

“Who is your Brigade Commander?” he asked.

"General Polk” I said “And my Division commander is General Pat Cleburne,” I added.

“They are splendid, brave officers,” he said, “I know them both, and your Corp Commander is General W.J. Hardee, no more gallant soldier lives, and our whole army will testify how well they can fight. I am proud to claim all of these men as my friends. Now tell me, my son, how you happened to be captured and why you were brought here?”

      There was something so kindly and so fatherly in his voice that I was not long telling him the whole story, all about my trip to Atlanta after the whisky, how I had brought it across the river to give the Michigan soldier a drink. When I had finished the General looked quickly around for the soldier, but he had gone. He beckoned the little boy to him and whispered something, which I did not hear. The little fellow already every inch a soldier saluted and went hurriedly out, soon returning in company with a staff officer whom I saw ranked as a Lieutenant. The General conversed in a low tone with this officer for several minutes and he also went out, but returned in a short while with the Michigan soldier who had pretended to capture me. This fellow slouched in and stood facing the General but unable to meet his eyes, for had arisen and all the kindness and calmness was gone. His eyes flashed in scorn and hatred.”

“And you pretend to be a soldier.” He said with raethering sarcasm,” you wear the uniform of a federal soldier and so a dishonorable, dastardly and cowardly trick like this!”

      His eyes fairly blazed, He towered over 6’ high a giant in his strength and to me he looked like he were ready to hurl a thunderbolt. Deliberately reaching over, he picked up his revolver, cocked it turned on the man, and I could see he was biting his lips to hold

down his wrath. The next instant I believe he would have shot the man dead in his tracks.” I rose up quickly and said, “Don’t kill him, General. I hold no grudge against him.”

      “No, Not you, my son,” he said. “You are an honorable enemy, but this dastardly coward is a dishonor to our whole army. He has disgraced us and humiliated me, as I have never been before. My firs impulse was to kill him on the spot.” He lowered his pistol point, and for, twenty minutes he stood and talked as I had never heard a man talk. It was the greatest talk on honor, courage, patriotism and standing to one’s word to the death, even if it were an enemy, that I ever heard fall from the lips of a man.

      “You have betrayed the confidence of our entire army.” He said, “and you ought to be shot like any dog that would do it. You knew both the officers and the whole army understood this agreement that we had it and yet you have violated it in the most ignorable way of all the betraying of a confidence and friendship!” As I said, I never before heard such a withering, eloquent talk, and thought he was very angry and excited, yet in it all, he did not use one profane word.

      In the end, he called in two soldiers from Indiana and gave orders, in my presence, that the erring soldier be bicled and gagged for six hours every day for four days, at the end of which time he ordered that he should be drummed out of the army to receive a dishonorable discharge. "And now, take him out of my sight before I kill him,” he said as he waved him out.

      By this time a considerable number of soldiers had gathered around the tent listening to the talk. He picked out two young soldiers whom I subsequently learned were from Indiana, and he said to them: “Take a flag of truce and carry this soldier back to the Confederate lines, and bring me receipt from the Confederate officer that he has been delivered faithfully.”

      He was standing in full uniform, his fine face shining, his long hair falling like a like a lions mane. He turned and with a most captivating smile, said to me. “Now go, my boy, and God be with you.”

      I was too overpowered to speak. I grasped his hand and under the influence of his kindly smile, I remembered my whisky. “General” I said, “if you will excuse me, but that Michigan fellow took my canteen and drunk up nearly all my whisky and I wont have a drop for that sick friend that I promised it to.”

      “Ah I see,” and he laughed heartily, “now wait a minute, and he strode quickly out of the tent. In a few minutes he came back with a bright new canteen which afterwards turned out so said the sick man to be a whole lot better than any he had ever got in Atlanta.

      With another hearty handshake, I left this great man and great General and saw him no more alive, for in the battle of Atlanta, July 22nd, 1864, this greatest, handsomest, most gallant and most beloved of all of Sherman’s army fell in a desperate fight in which he led his men against our line, and becoming separated charged into our line alone, mistaking them for his own, and when ordered to surrender wheeled his charges, threw himself flat in the saddle and made a dash for safety only to meet his death.

      It looked like all our army had heard how he had treated me, as well as his gallantry and bravery on all other occasions and there was down right mourning in the

rebel army when they heard that McPherson was dead. No one mourned his departure more than the little Tennessee rebel boy whom he had graciously defended and sent back in honor to his own friends.”

      November 1895, while attending the cotton state Exposition in Atlanta, I went out on the old battlefield to go roam again over the ground on which we had fought, and if possible to see the marker which I heard had been place where General McPherson had been killed. For all these years I had remembered my thrilling experience with him, and I wished to do honor at his grave. Instead of a marker, I found on the spot where he had fallen, a stately and magnificent monument before which I bowed my head in humble reverence. Returning to the city, I purchased a large bouquet of beautiful flowers and placed them, on the monument with the following inscription:

      In memory of Gen. J.B. McPherson of New Jersey

      An Person, Peerless, In Battle, Brave, In Honor,

      Impregnable, In Life, Noble, From A Rebel Soldier

      Whom He Befriended.

      “No more shall the war cry sever, or the winding rivers be rid;

      We Banish our hatred forever When we laurel the graves of our dead Under the sod and the dew Waiting the Judgment day Tanne? And love for the Blue, Love and tears for the Gray.”