letter excerpt The Dix Family Archive
The Tennilles

Francis Tennille (1747)
William A. Tennille (1792)
Francis T. Tennille (1799)
William A. Tennille (1840)
Mary A. Tennille (1870)
George F. Tennille (1873)
William A. Tennille, Jr. (1877)

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Letter From W.A. Tennille to George Hillyer

[carbon copy of seven-page typed letter:]

East Orange, N.J. 1900.

My Dear Judge Hillyer,

I have many times, within the past few years, thought of writing to you. Why I have not done so I hardly know, unless I was afraid that after nearly forty years a letter from me would fail to be of interest to you. You are among the prominent figures that arise in my mind when it goes back to the exciting times of 1861-5, and I have often wished that I could talk over the experiences of those days with you. Living, as I have, in the North since 1870, I have not had the privilege of association with old army friends, and I sometimes feel it a great privation. As we grow older and less immersed in the active affairs of life, we tend more to live in the past, and as the years go by, I find myself dwelling more and more frequently on the old days and old friends. I did not allow myself to think much of the war and its serious results, nor did I even read the history of our share in it for years after its close, but of late I have wished to renew my memory of it, and now my recollections are rather vague as to details, even of the great battles in which we were engaged. I recall Gettysburg with more distinctness, I believe, than any other, and whenever I think of that battle, I always think of you, of General Anderson, General Hood, General Paul Semmes, Col. Frank Little, and many more of our brave comrades. But few incidents of this Pennsylvania campaign - apart from the battles - remain with me, but I have always remembered with pride, General Lee's order as to how our soldiers should treat the citizens of the country; and I know it was not a mere formality either, for when it was suspected that some of the men were going out of camp at night, our guards were at once doubled, and the order enforced. Just before the campaign began, I requested that I be relieved from the position of Acting Adjutant of the Regiment, and be allowed to return to my Company (D). I had for many months been occupying this position in the absence of Adjutant Bacon, but now marched with my Company to Gettysburg. We took no part in the first day's fight at Gettysburg, being some distance from the field. I think we were aware that a battle was progressing in front, while we waited for our immense wagon train to pass us. The next morning we were at the front and in line of battle. Here we lay sometime and then began to move by the right flank. This movement was slow and long continued with many halts. We were, I suppose, being lead by a route hidden from the enemy by the hills and forests. Occasionally a nearly spent cannon ball would come bounding along, the ranks opening for it to pass through, and now and then a shell would burst near at hand; one I remember exploded just over the head of a big soldier, named Wood, and I can now see the poor fellow hopping about with pain. He was not seriously hurt, but little spots of blood appeared all over his face and neck where the powder had punctured the skin. This was too much for a soldier in one of the companies, who was not mentally "all there", and he ran like a hare directly to the rear and disappeared over a hill, paying no attention to the calls of his officers. On to the right again we go, and now comes the order to throw off knapsacks and we knew that matters were becoming serious. Still further to the right and now we are drawn up in line of battle in the edge of a wood. In front we can see the open fields for a half mile, and we will find the enemy just beyond. While we wait the order to go forward, General Hood supported by two officers comes in from the front where he had been badly wounded. As he passed through our Regiment (9th Ga.) he said "Boys I shall expect to hear a good account of you." And now General Andersons voice rings out, "Attention forward march", and we go forward as if on parade. As soon as we emerge from the wood a battery to the left of our front begins firing at us. The Brigade moves steadily forward the alignment broken occasionally by the stone fences which we cross. As we are passing over one of these a shell passes through my company, knocking out four men, two are dead and two wounded. The rank closed and on we go. As we come to the wood, we receive the fire of the infantry of the enemy, and we, halting, return it with all possible interest and then there ensues what you will remember better than can be described, the most deadly thing in war, a battle between two armies of infantry. The bursting shells, the hissing minnie balls, the din of the musketry, the falling men, dead and wounded, and the cries of battle all will come back to you as you recall this first encounter. Having in mind the fact that there were no troops on the left of our regiment, which was the left of the Brigade, and noting that as we came forward we were more and more subject to an enfilading fire and a possible attack on that flank. I went to Maj. Jones, commanding the Regiment, and suggested that one or two companies be disposed, so as to protect the flank. He started to the left to attend to the matter, but was wounded, and being familiar with rank of the regimental officers, I at once notified you of the fact that the Major was wounded, and that you were in command. Going back to my Company, I met General Anderson, and as he was alone, without courier or staff officer, and my company was fully officered, I offered him my services, which he gladly accepted. (While we were talking, I had a fourth of the brim of my hat carried away by a minnie ball, cutting it close up to the band) The General at once sent me to Co. Jack Brown, commanding the 59th Ga. On the extreme right of the Brigade, with instructions to notify him that we were going to move forward, and that he must look out carefully for his flank, as we had no troops an our right. On my return I filled my canteen with muddy - and I suspect bloody - water of the little brook in the valley. When I got back to the point where I had left the General, I found that the command had moved forward and that the General had been wounded a few minutes after I left him. Seated on one of the rocks which crop out here, I saw one of our Captains who had been desperately wounded, and at his request, I gave him my canteen which he eagerly emptied. In going to the front, to rejoin the Regiment, I met General Semmes (whom I had known before the war) whose Brigade had come up on our left. The General had on a beautiful new uniform, and was as fine a specimen of a soldier as I have seen. He had the leg of his trousers turned up and a tourniquet on his leg. He had just been wounded. He asked me if I knew where a surgeon could be found but I could give him no information and left him. Later on I saw him charging with his men, and have ever since thought that this may have been fatal, as he bled to death within a day or two I think. I met the command being pushed back by a reinforced enemy. I do not remember how often we forced each other back and forth in the bloody valley, but the last time I know that our regiment had been reduced to companies and there seemed to me to be not more than seventy five men about each flag. When we came to the edge of the wood where the fight with musketry had begun and were about to be compelled to emerge into the open fields, I found Col. Little who was now in command of the Brigade, and told him that it would be disastrous if we left the woods and the enemy discovered our weakness, and suggested a charge. The gallant fellow caught the idea at once, grasped the colors of his regiment (the 11th Ga.), and led us forward with a "rebel yell". The enemy thinking we were heavily reinforced immediately gave back and we actually drove them by fine bluff to the foot of the mountain, and held the battle field. They did not attack again and as night approached we put out our pickets and withdrew to the crest of the hill where the infantry fighting first began and bivouacked for the night. I was mortally weary, but before resting, I went over to Semmes Brigade, on our left, and persuaded some officers I met there (in an orchard I think) to join their picket line with ours. On my way back I talked with a wounded Yankee prisoner. He was not of the whining kind, he bore himself bravely and said that we would not have held the field if we had not been reinforced three times while they had been reinforced only twice. I told him that we had not been reinforced at all, and except that troops had come up on our flanks, this was true. Rejoining my company now I remember nothing more, and in spite of the horrible noises of the field after a fight, I slept the sleep of exhaustion. The next day, the third day of the battle, you requested me to resume my place as Acting Adjutant of the regiment, and sent me with a file of men back to the wagon train to bring up any stragglers that might be there. This was a tedious business, and when we did find the wagons, there was not a single unauthorized man there. While on this trip, I heard the terrible cannonade which preceded "Pickett's charge"[.] The rapidity of fire was like that of a hotly engaged picket line. On my way back, I came to a field hospital, which had been established in and around a farm house. Learning that General Anderson was here, I went in to see him. He received me very cheerfully, making light of his wound (a minnie ball through the thigh missing the bone) and talked over the battle of the previous day, etc[.] As I left him, he called out, "Take care of yourself Tennille and don't let the d--d Yankees kill you, I have a use for you". I did not know what he meant then, but not long after, I received an order to report to Brigade headquarters for duty, and sometime later received from the Secretary of War, my commission as Captain, Adjutant Generals Department in Provisional Army of the Confederate States with assignment to duty with Anderson's Brigade, (where I served until the last months of the war when my health failing I was retired from field service and ordered to duty with Maj. General Howell Cobb, at Macon, Ga.) On coming near the point at which I had left you earlier in the day, I learned that you had been ordered off to the right, and I followed as best I could in the rain and darkness. When I at last reached the command, I found the boys exulting in having given some Yankee Cavalry a good thrashing. We remained in bivouac here a day or two, and then began the march back to Virginia. When we reached the little place in Maryland called Funkstown, we were ordered in line of battle, out into some wheat fields, to hold off some of the enemy's cavalry which threatened the line of march. Here we lay in the wheat "sniped" by the enemy who were concealed in the woods in our front. The position was anything but pleasant, we could not see the other fellows, nor were we allowed to charge them, while they were doing us considerable damage. After a time, you and I saw the other Regiment retire from the field. As we had received no orders we did not understand the movement, and you sent me over to the right to make inquiries. I learned that orders had been received by the regiment to the right of us, but by some blunder had not reached us. While I was standing making my report a bullet took away the cloth and padding from the top of my shoulder, and I very quickly adopted your advice to lie down to finish my report. After consultation as to the best way to do so with as little loss as possible, we retired in good order and rejoined the Brigade on the march. I had been quite unwell for a day or so, and now became so ill, that I could no longer ride horseback. My good friend Capt. J.W. Sutlive, the Regimental Quartermaster put me in an ambulance, and beyond a faint remembrance of being delayed by the high water at the Potomac River, I have no further recollection of the Pennsylvania Campaign.

The egotism of this narrative will, I know, be excused by an old friend and comrade who remembers some of the incidents, and who, knowing the writer, will believe that the others are at least given here, as they are remembered by him.

Your friend,
(Signed) W.A. Tennille

To Judge George Hillyer,
8-1/2 West Alabama St
Atlanta, Ga



Copyright 2002 Gabriel Brooke, (website). Transcription and editing: John Thomas, (website). Design and production: Marc Kundmann, (website).