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Bringing the Body Home From Stones River

Updated: May 9, 2022

Nineteen year old Private Allen M. Patton was a licensed schoolteacher from Palestine, Illinois. When the war erupted, he enlisted into Company I, 21st Illinois Infantry. By all accounts, A very bright and respected young man, Patton was not only the son of the beloved local doctor, Ebenezer Patton, but also the young man who gave an oration entitled "Patriotism" at the Palestine Academy in March 1860.

Allen kept a diary that began on the first day of his enlistment. December 24, 1862, Christmas Eve, recorded the final entry.

"Camp near Nashville:

The 21st is now in the 1st Division; 2nd Brigade, Army of the Cumberland. The army has been making reconnaissance in force today, and we were ordered to be ready with three day rations in haversacks and tents on our backs, I suppose it was to support the reconnaissance party; we marched about 3 miles in a kind of circle and arrived in camp again. I do not think the army will advance for some time. Tomorrow is Christmas and I hear tonight we will get to spend ours on the march. I understand the reason we came back today was because we started too late. A.M. Patton"

Fortunately for us, another soldier in the same company, Samuel Broughton, also kept a journal.

"Winter 1862-Nashville area:

A few days after we were ordered to move, we followed the enemy to Stone River, where we opened the fight on the 29th of December by attacking their lines. Here, the regiment suffered the greatest loss that we sustained during the war. After driving back their skirmishers, we came to an open space when a battery opened up on us at about two hundred yard distance. There was a fence to cross and two lines of infantry supporting it, but we thought there was one. The colonel pointed his sword, saying, "men we must have those guns Charge."

Private Samuel Broughton

"We charged, but a line of infantry laying behind the fence poured a volley into our ranks. A line laying down on the side of the hill above them fired their volleys into us while two batteries poured forth grape and canister. In two minutes half of our regiment were killed and wounded, and we had been compelled to fall back to the edge of the clearing where we held our position till the next morning."

Colonel John W.S. Alexander, 21st Illinois, wounded at Stones River and killed at Chickamauga.

An unknown Kentucky soldier wrote, "The 21st Illinois charged a battery and got worsted."

In a letter to Allen Patton's brother, Rush, Private William F. Dills informs wrote the details of Allen's death.

"Camp near Murfreesboro

Jan 10, 1863

You have heard the sad news of your brothers death. He was killed in the evening of the 30th of Dec. by a musket ball [On December 29 and 30, the Union army made several thrusts toward Confederate defenses. This was before the Confederate attack of the 31st.]. He was struck above the waist. At that time we we charging a battery. Allen fell about 125 yards from the battery. We advanced but a rod or two further till the order to fall back. We fell back about 200 yards. By this time Hotchkiss' battery was planted then and or regiment supported it the balance of the evening. Alfred Harrison, Henry Longenecker, John Martin and Henry Hardy were killed by one grape shot. I was lying close to Hardy when he was killed. As soon as the battery on the right of us, which was so destructive to the left wing our regiment was silenced, I went to where we turned back hoping to find Allen alive.

"On the morning of the 5th we attended to the burial of the boys in our Co. Their bodies were in good condition. Allen looked very natural; Alfred Harrison's head was much disfigured. We buried Allen and Alfred in one grave. It is about one and one half miles northwest of this place. Murfreesboro is the best way to go from this place. I think I would cross the railroad bridge or about it. Go up the river about a mile and a quarter, and go one-half mile north. It is in a woods with a good many cedars; pasture, tall grass and timber about 100 yards east. A branch of the river is about 300 yards west. There is a fine frame house burnt, but the chimney is standing with a large black oak tree standing almost in front of it. All are plainly marked by head boards. It could easily be found by asking citizens and negroes in the neighborhood where the battle commenced. Allen had $11 in money and a pocket knife. John T. Cobb has it.

"The second day the cause of the right wing giving way was almost the cause of General Johnson (Richard W. Johnson) His division was on the extreme right, ours was next. He allowed himself to be completely surprised. There was artillery horses gone to water and men in their beds, fires a burning, Our division had no fires during the night. They were called in line of battle at two o'clock. The consequences was that the enemy massed their forces and attacked ours. Early Johnson's Division gave way. Some of them never got to their arms. Some of them rallied on our division. We were flanked. You could see the rebel flags three or four back of each other

Our division held the ground till it was necessary to fall back. They would fall back a short distance till the batteries could get a position, which they would leave for another. The infantry would contend till they would get close and then fall back to the new position.

"So you can see the way it was. We were fighting about four to one and flanked at that. We fell back about two and a half miles and were relieved in force by fresh troops about two o'clock who in turn drove the enemy with good slaughter.

"Wm. H. Sears was killed on the evening of the thirtieth while standing at a fire. Solomon Jones died in the hospital of his wounds. John Mushiness (Meskimen) is missing, I expect a prisoner. Jacob Livingston, Hiram Wood, Leander Pagit were wounded and retained as prisoners by the enemy. Our hospital was taken and the remainder of the wounded were paroled from the Company except Charley Howe and P. Dorset. They have all been sent to Nashville and are doing well.

"The friends of those who were killed have the true sympathy of Co. I.

Wm F. Dills"

Another soldier friend of Rush Patton, J.T. Cobb, wrote a sympathetic letter concerning Allen's death.

"Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Jan 17, 1863

Friend Rush: In sorrow and grief I endeavor to write you a few lines to express my feeling in regard for the dead.

"Alan is gone. No more will we hear his voice again. His presence is fading away and they that knew him will know no more. He died as we all should be proud to die--striking for his country and his God. In the last agonies of death, he smiled and quietly fell to sleep in the arms of death. We buried him and Alf Harrison so they can be taken up if you decide to come after him. He and Alf are both in one grave.


Sergeant Charley Howe wrote a letter to his brother, Ed. Howe also served in Company I and was a family friend of the Pattons.

"Murphysboro, Tenn.

Jan 19, 1863

"Dear Brother: I will write you a few lines this morning and let you know how I am getting along. I suppose you have already heard of the hard fought battle we had here. Nine of our best boys were killed and 15 wounded. I will give you a list of the killed, Alfred Harrison, Allen Patton, Henry Longnecker, Henry Hardy, John Martin, Hughie Phillips, Harrison Dean, Joseph Maxwell, Solomon Jones and James Gillmore. O, God, Ed! It was the most terrible battle of the war. Our regiment was all cut to pieces. We don't number half as many as we did before the fight. The first day's fight, which was on the 30th of December, 1862, we drove the enemy about a half mile. Our Division, Gen Davis (Jefferson C. Davis) Commanding, belongs to the right wing. The enemy on the night of the 30th took their force from the right and massed them on our right; so early in the morning they opened up their artillery on us and came in about five to our one and drove us back about three miles with terrible slaughter. Our men lay dead in heaps all over the ground where we retreated. But the next day got reinforcements from Nashville and killed about as many of them as they did us the day before. On the evening of the 30th, about 4 o'clock, there was a cannon ball struck a tee within three feet of me, and a slab flew off and struck me in the left side and back, which knocked me whirling. I was carried to the hospital and there I found Capt. Knight (Chester K. Knight age 28 Robinson, Illinois) wounded in the thigh. When our men fell back, the rebels came in and captured the hospital and took every one of us prisoner. They held us for three days, I happened to have on privates clothes, which saved me from being paroled. They paroled every officer in the house but me. Capt. Knight had on his uniform and he was the first man sworn.

"Our men recaptured the hospital and you better believe we were glad to see them coming for we had been three days without a morsel to eat. The rebels were very kind to us. The reason they didn't give us anything to eat was because they did not have it to give. Their own men were nearly starved. I was taken to Nashville and stayed there eight days in Hospital No. 9. They took good care of us, and I soon got so I could hop around a little. I had a chance of coming to the regiment and rolled out as I am not much on army hospitals. I am getting along very well, but I do not think I will report for duty for some time yet. I am black and blue from the shoulder down to the small of my back and feel pretty sore all over. Our company was left on the first day's fight without a commissioned officer, but Lieut Cox (2/Lt Joel Cox) only got a slight wound in the shoulder and went back and took command of the company

"I think it a great wonder that any of us got out alive for bullets could not be any thicker than they were around us all the time. Before I got hurt we undertook to charge a battery and got repulsed. There is where all of our boys were killed but one. Alfred Harrison and three others were killed by one cannon ball. Alf Hrrison's he'd was blown clear off. Our wounded were all taken to Louisville as soon as they are able to be removed. I think they will be able to go home until they get well. Capt Knight has gone home. George McDowell (appears to be a good samaritan) from Hutsonville, left here yesterday for home. He came out to look after the wounded. I think it was very kind in him. He did all he could for the boys; He stayed with us a week. I got on a horse and took him all over the battlefield. I wish you could be here to see the field; it looks awful. The trees are torn tp pieces by the artillery. The rebels left their dead by thousands for our men to bury, and a scantly burial they got-not over three inches of dirt over them.

"The 98th (Illinois Companies D & E were from same county) is camped three miles from us. Tom (Charley & Ed's brother) comes over quite often. They did not get here until after the fight, and I am glad of it. I think we will have this fight over again before long, I almost dread it; I can't say I am afraid, but somehow I hate to go in. It don't scare me a particle to be in battle. Our men fought like tigers. Men could not stand up and fight harder than they did. When a cannon ball would open our ranks they would close up and go on as if nothing happened. But the thing of it was, our generals let Bragg out general them, in the night the enemy massed his force on our right and charged our flank, which took our generals by surprise. Gen. Johnson is a traitor, I think, from the way he acted in this fight. I will tell you of some of his actions.

"To my certain knowledge, on the 29th of December he knew we were going to have a fight. The next day he never gave his men any orders to be ready in the morning. In place of being up in the morning at 3 o'clock he left his men lie and sleep until after daylight. By the time they got breakfast the fight had begun, and in place of his getting ready for battle, he sent his artillery horses three miles to the rear to be watered. His officers went to him and wanted him to get the men in line, but he cursed them and said he was commanding that division and could attend to his own business. So while the men were gone to the creek to water, the rebels came in and took every bit of his artillery and they never fired a gun.

"After he lost all his artillery his men fell back on a grand skedaddle, leaving our division exposed to all their infantry and artillery fire. Had he held his position on our right, we could have held our position, but he ran and they made a swing around our position. If they let such men stay in the service unpunished I do not fell like exposing my life under such men. He was the cause of thousands of men losing their lives.

"Well, Ed, I fear you are tired of war talk, so I shall change the subject. George McDowell said Dr. Patton was buried the day before he left home (In a strange coincidence Allen Patton's father, Dr. Ebenezer Patton, died on the same day as Allen on December 30, 1862.). Day before yesterday we had about two inches of snow. The weather is very cool to live in thin white houses like we soldier have here. I saw Dr. Hamilton at Nashville. He is QM of the 22nd regiment. Write soon and I will keep you advised as to our whereabouts. Respectfully your brother


In March, over two months after Allen's death, Joseph McDonald sent Rush a pass that would allow him to collect his brother's body.

"MARCH 1, 1863

Friend Rush: Enclosed find a pass from General Rosecrans. You will have no difficulty in getting through. You had better get a permit there, and bring a burial case with you.

Your friend,


Patton's other brother, Cullen, eventually received instructions from Rush.

"MARCH 9, 1963

Write by Josh P. McDonald:

New Albany, Ind. March 9, 1863

"Sir: Rush requested me to write and inform you of the cause of delay. The reasons are as follows:

He arrived at Nashville on Feb 22nd, and telegraphed to me I procure him a pass to Murfreesboro, which place he reached on the 4th of March. He remained there until the 6th when he had the body of Allen taken up and put on the train for Nashville. He supposed that all was right, as he procured transportation for the body from the Quartermaster and had it put on the train by order of the conductor. He took his seat in the passenger car, but when he arrived at Nashville he found that someone had taken the body off at Murfreesboro before the train started from the latter place. He had to get Mr. Cornelius, the undertaker, to go down after the body again. He will leave Nashville today and be at Merom (Indiana) Wednesday night with the body.

"I am on my way to Alton, Ill., with some prisoners. I will stop in Palestine and Hutsonville on my return.



JULY 22, 1862

"It is astonishing that so greatly and Christianized a people as ours should at once raise in international strife and fall to butchering one another as though to destroy life was a pleasure."

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