CIVIL WAR STORY
By Robert G. Nunn, Branch 6 Captain
Margaret Fredonia Latta (1844-1916) was the daughter of William Harvey Latta and Pernetta Gordon Stokes (1819-1904). Margaret was born in Graves County, Kentucky on September 27, 1844. At the age of 20, on November 6, 1864, Margaret married William Franklin Chambers and thus began the Chambers genealogy. William Chambers and Margaret Latta had five children, Monnette Proctor, Thomas Walter, Willie Jane, Cora Elizabeth, and Nellie Gordon Chambers.
Cora Chambers married Charles Ruff and these stories are about her life as a young girl and other family members. She corresponded a great deal with Robert Latta of Denver, Colorado after moving to San Jose, California in her later life, thus developing much of the information for Branch Six for the Latta Genealogy.
The following are sketches she wrote of some of the experiences of William Franklin Chambers, her father, a private soldier during the Civil War, covering the years of 1861 to 1862.
Cora Elizabeth Latta Chambers, 1868-1957 writes:
It was the great ambition of William Harvey Chambers, the father of William Franklin Chambers to give his on, Franklin as he was called at home, a more liberal education. It was at this stormy pint in time the war between the North and South that preparations were being made to send their son away to school. Franklin was ordained to be a lawyer but there was a call in another direction. His country needed him and he cheerfully responded, his country being the Southern Confederate States.
It was a great day in 1861 for the twenty-one-year old lad along with many others, some older and many younger, as their mothers, fathers, sisters, and friends and sweethearts gathered at the train station in Fulton, Kentucky. With tears mingled between them, they wished the boys success, bidding them goodbye, and not knowing what fate was before them.
The subject of this sketch enlisted in Company E. 12th Tennessee Regiment on June 2nd, 1861 at Jackson Tennessee, because at that time there was no regiment being formed in his home state of Kentucky. The regiment was immediately moved to Union, Tennessee where he was stationed for three months for training under Colonel R. M. Russell. At the expiration of this time he was moved to Columbus, Kentucky.
Here was William's first introduction to General Polk, whose sister after the war, I knew quite intimately.
William says "It was here that I beheld Lady Polk, the great cannon which was named in honor of General Polk's mother, and I as there when Lady Polk, the cannon, exploded."
The cannon had been crammed full of grape shot, then left for several days. Grape shot are lead and steel pellets, used for shrapnel, which is used to wound or kill the enemy. When it was attempted to empty her, she refused to be unloaded. The next morning General Polk gave orders for her to be fired. When the cannon fired, she was under too much pressure because of the jammed grape shot so that she exploded. The experience cost the lives of six men and General Polk himself, came near being another victim.
General Polk was wearing a Prince Albert coat which had more goods below the waist than above it. The tail of the coat was almost blown to shreds. The tragedy was awful to witness and the excitement was a paramount experience. After the excitement was over, we could not refrain from seeing the humorist side of it as the General was dancing with his coat tail popping and burning behind him.
Just across the great Mississippi River on the Missouri side was Belmont, Missouri. I had my first experience of real was and my first and only fright during the war. At that time my fright seemed great enough to last me all the rest of my days. Truly, I do not recall preparation for the battle. We had thrown up barricades by falling large timbers across gulches and ditches.
The battle was long and severe beginning at half past ten in the morning of the seventh of November and it did not end until sunset, renewing the next morning. The first day while we were gaining fast on the enemy we were suddenly commanded to retreat. I was so busy fighting that I failed to hear the command to retreat. Then I was yelled at by my commanding officer which brought me to consciousness. I suddenly became frightened almost to death. In a moments time I had a thousand thoughts. I felt that my feet could not carry me fast enough as I retreated. The time seemed like ages to me as I rolled over logs and under logs escaping from the bullets that seemed as mere grains of sand falling all around me only an instant before.
April 6th and 7th in 1862 found me in the battle of Shiloh where I was wounded after fighting hard and long. Much suffering encountered on both sides and to add to the already existing hardship, during the night and the streams were swollen. The circumstances were such that it made it necessary to wade in mud and slush up to our knees at times. It was a hard and bloody fight. After a seeming victory on the close of the 6th when General Grant had fallen back and left the Confederates master of the field, many of the boys went over the battle ground robbing the dead and bringing back with them gold watches. I thought I would like to have one also so I started out to procure one. I found a nice looking man who was an officer lying on his face. When I turned him over, I discovered that he was lying in a puddle of blood. He had a handsome watch on his person but it had no attraction for me, I was faint. Rolling him back over I started back to our side empty handed.
As I was going back, moans and groaning were audible on every side. I turned to one young handsome youth and offered to do what I could to alleviate his suffering. He was begging for his mother and I wish I could bring her to him. I lifted his head and gave him a drink, then I placed the canteen within his reach and said goodbye. I presume he would die. As I was leaving him, I encountered another soldier who seemed to need my attention. With the same zeal, I administered to him, filling his canteen with water from the river and leaving it within his reach. I never thought to remove his gun which was lying by his side and as I was going away he picked it up and shot at me. I felt like going back and killing him but I did not.
During the night General Grant had been reinforced by the arrival of General Buell. Early the next morning the fight was renewed, waging fiercely all day. In the afternoon, about three o'clock, General Albert Sidney Johnson appeared in front of the line only to be mortally wounded. I was near by and saw the General taken off the field of battle. I lost courage and said to the boys "boys we are whipped." It was a mistake for him to have appeared in the front but he was so anxious. It has always been my firm belief, had General Johnson not been disabled that the Confederates would have been victorious in the war. I learned from authorities afterwards that General Grant had papers ready to sign on the independency of the Confederacy.
In 1862 on the 3rd and 4th of October, my third experience was the battle of Corinth. It is needless to comment the results are well known. I was wounded here and lay in the hospital for a while. In December of that year I was captured and held as a prisoner of war for six months at Granada, Mississippi. While there I was ill with the German measles for many weeks. I received my parole card here which was signed by Colonel Richard Evans.