Account of the Battle of Wartrace, by Lt. Col. Shanklin

Account of the Battle of Wartrace, Tenn., April 11, 1862
By Lt. Col. James M. Shanklin, 42nd Indiana

Source: The Soldier of Indiana in the War for the Union, Vol. 1.  
Published by Merrill and Company, Indianapolis, IN, 1866.  pp 405-407.

April 13th, the Forty-Second was at Shelbyville, from which place (then) Major Shanklin writes:
"At last I have been in a battle, not large, but an exceedingly desperate and bloody contest, where the killed and wounded, in proportion to the numbers engaged, fall but little, if any, short of the great battles lately fought. One week ago tomorrow General Mitchell ordered three regiments of our brigade, under Colonel Lytle, to march, and our regiment to remain behind, part at this place to guard Government stores, to be forwarded to his division by the Rilla road, and the balance at a little place called War-Trace. The object in occupying War-Trace was to guard two bridges about three miles apart, on the railroad, which, if destroyed, would endanger the transmission of supplies.
    "The General ordered that two hundred, under a field officer, should guard the bridges, and Colonel Jones deputized me with four companies, I, K, B and C, amounting to one hundred and ninety-seven men, to go to War-Trace which is about eight miles from Shelbyville. We started on Monday, and arrived about nine P.M., the roads being exceedingly rough and stony. War-Trace has three or four hundred inhabitants. We encamped between the bridges half-way, and sent out men to guard each bridge, so that my force in camp was not one hundred and twenty-five. The first three days were delightful. We found good Union citizens, who kept us supplied with fresh butter, eggs, bread and turkeys, and at the cheapest figures. We were on a high piece of ground, covered with largo timber, but open and clear of brush. Right in front ran a swift creek, called the War-Trace, from a tradition that the Indians traced their way along its banks in early times, when on the war-path, to attack the whites at Nashville. The ground descends a little towards the creek, then, abruptly and with rocky banks twenty feet or more perpendicularly to the water's edge, making it impossible for a man to ascend. A road runs on the left of the position to the creek, and is cut out so that a bridge is thrown over the stream. On the left of the road, going to the creek, is a large field. We were encamped on the right of the road, in an open woods extending far back to the right for a mile or more. It is a wild spot, well suited for guerilla fighting. I picketed my camp as carefully as possible, but having no cavalry could send out no scouts. Thursday night, about midnight, I was roused by a sentinel, who told me that a man wanted to speak to me immediately. I struck a light, and John Douglass, a good Union man, who lives in the neighborhood, entered the tent. He stated that four or five hundred Rebel cavalry had encamped near his house, only four miles from our camp, that he had seen their fires, and that a faithful, intelligent negro had been close to the camp and estimated their numbers. I rose and dressed myself, aroused the men, had them load their guns and retire sleeping on their arms, sent out Captain McIntyre with Douglass to reconnoiter, and roused the officers. We all sat round a camp-fire and passed away the small hours. After a while I heard through the darkness a sentinel challenge, 'Who comes there?' and the answer, 'Friends.' Who should appear but Captains Atchison, Cooper and one or two others. The down train had run off the track between War-Trace and Shelbyville, and they had come out to see if we knew why. They said that Colonel Denby had sent out Sanders and his company on horses as scouts, and that the men we had taken for Rebel cavalry were undoubtedly our own scouts. I thought it might be true; still I sat up and watched. The officers one by one went back to bed, and finally, about four, I went to bed. Cooper and the rest of our visitors went back to Shelbyville. I took off my clothes and put on my double-wrapper, fearing no danger whatever. I was partly awakened at daylight by reveille, and by hearing the boys, as usual, call 'Turn out,' 'Turn out.' Suddenly the noise seemed to grow louder, and I heard a shout, 'They are coming, boys! They are coming!' and at the same time the crack of the sentinel's gun in the rear of my tent. The confusion grew rapidly. I sprang out of bed, pulled on my pantaloons, and ran out in my stocking feet. The bullets pierced my tent in more than forty places. I turned to see which way they were coming, and saw their whole line not fifty yards off, running at full speed towards our tents, (officers' tents are always in the rear of an encampment) I had a pistol in each hand, fired immediately at them, and running down to the quarters of the men I shouted for them to fall in. They ran out, some not more than half dressed, others not more than half awake, nearly all more or less bewildered. I shouted to the men to fall in behind some timber, which a cavalry company that had left us had cut down to protect themselves. They rapidly took their places and began firing. I then began to feel assured. The men brought their guns to bear with accuracy, and the effect was tremendous. The horses of the enemy became frantic. Three men were almost instantly killed, and many were wounded. Seeing their disorder, I, together with all the officers, who acted most manfully, urged our men forward. They advanced, cheering and shouting, from tree to tree, keeping up an almost incessant fire. The Rebels rallied, fighting close. After about thirty minutes they gave way, retreating in every direction. Our loss was four killed, five dangerously, thirty severely and slightly wounded. The attacking party said along the road, as we afterwards heard, that we were fifteen hundred strong, that they had killed one hundred and lost thirteen, besides many wounded. We knew of seven of their men being dead. It was a complete surprise, they having noiselessly let down the fences and got between our pickets and camp. My long wrapper with its fancy figures and red lining made me very conspicuous. One man says I looked forty feet high, and was the object of frequent shots, especially when coming from my tent between the two parties. One soldier says that I called to him as he was standing by a tree, and told him to shoot the man that was firing at me. I sent to Jones next day, and he to Dumont, for reinforcements, but there were none to spare, and Jones ordered me back to Shelbyville. I am very proud, from the bottom of my heart, of the noble conduct of the men."



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