Peach Tree Creek

Alexander loses a dear friend – Cobham – in battle

Times Observer photos by Josh Cotton/Photo from the Pa. Capital Preservation Committee William J. Alexander, inset in a photo on display at the Warren County Register & Recorder’s office, served as Captain in the 111th. He served from late 1861 until April 1865. Below is a signature of Alexander’s discovered on a document at the Warren County Historical Society. The flag is what remains of one of two state flags issued to the 111th during the Civil War.

This is the fifth in a series of stories on the life and service of William J. Alexander, a captain in the 111th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

June 1864

The first two weeks of June resulted in little movement and less fighting. Alexander makes mention of numerous storms that slowed, or completely changed, their orders.

On June 12, Alexander had – and took – the time to write a lengthy letter home to his parents.

“You undoubtedly think I have neglected you in my long delay in writing but I haven’t found the time to write to anyone save to Alice and I knew you would hear of me through her,” he wrote. “We have had a hard campaign since we left Chattanooga and have had a number of hard fought battles and as usual we have done our share.”

He told his parents that the 111th had lost 94 men in the campaign, 13 of which came from his company.

“We have beaten the enemy at every place they undertook to make a stand and we expect to fight them again in a few days…. We are now about Twenty miles from Atlanta.”

He said that the weather and climate have resulted in many men being sent back to the hospital sick.

“My health has been pretty good,” he reassured them, “and I think that I have been lucky. Any man was lucky that came through all the battles without being hit.”

He told them that Cobham had been promoted to brigade command for a time and that he served on his staff but that they have since returned to the 111th.

Alexander said he met family – two cousins serving in the Kentucky cavalry – while in Georgia.

He also lamented his personal effects.

“I haven’t had but one shirt and one suit of clothes since we started on the campaign from Chattanooga (on May 1), all our baggage is back on the road and thus far not to be got at. I have had to go without shirt and undercloths at night, while my black servant washed them and dryed them by the camp fire, so you see, I am not troubled with a surplus of baggage.

“The story that goes that when Genl Grant started out to take Vicksburg, his baggage consisted only of a tooth brush. I think I can out do him, I lost my tooth brush two days ago.”

In the 111th, two men were killed and 10 wounded in fighting on June 15 and three more killed and six wounded on June 17.

On the 26th, Alexander notes that their baggage finally arrived but added that “late in the afternoon we had orders that we would attack the enemy the next morning and but few slept in camp that night. We all knew the enemys position was a strong one and many a brave fellow would fall even if we were successful in carrying their works.”

The next day was the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.

“Soon after day light we began to prepare to move,” Alexander wrote. While it wasn’t the 111th responsibility to take the mountain, he notes that they were able to “drive the enemy in our immediate front back to their main line of the mountain.”

I had one soldier of Co. D Peter N. Stanferd shot through the head and instantly killed – and two more wounded. Peter was a good soldier, had been before wounded. Had a wife living in Philidelpha.

I layed him with my own hands in his narrow grave raped (wrapped) in his blanket for a schroud.”

Then came another responsibility of an officer – Alexander sent Stanferd’s personal effects – a pocket book, $9.80, a memorandum book, a Bible and some letters to his wife.

July 1864

Skirmishing was the most significant threat to the men of the 111th during the early days of July.

After forming his line on the continued drive for Atlanta, Alexander laid down to sleep on the night of the first.

“I had but just laid down by the side of the Colonel (Cobham) when I was struck in the side with a ball fired from the enemies skirmish line, but owing to the long range, and my thick overcoat and blanket, it did not damage me much, only bruising my side and for a little time nocked the breath out of ime. But after finding I was not much hit, and knowing it was only a chance shot, I concluded to lay still and was soon fast a sleep.”

The next day, a similar shot found Cobham.

The ball “passed through the breast of his coat,” Alexander wrote. “It was a narrow escape.”

Though he felt ill on the morning of the 4th, the day brought a muted celebration.

“We have prospects of a little rest this morning, all the brass bands in the DW are playing the national airs on our left there is cannonaiding which shows the enemy are not all over the river. Oh! how beautiful the bands played the Star Spangled Banner. I wish I was at home to day. I should love to be with my wife.”

The regiment marched out the next day and finally got their first glimpse of Atlanta, just 10 miles distant.

Alexander was appointed brigade officer on the 10th and recalled what he thought to be a “quear sight.”

“I soon made an atreement with the officer in command of the rebel pickets to seace firing, and soon after not a shot was to be heard along the line…. As I neared the extreme end of my line, I heard loud shouting and as I came up where I could overlook a smoothe piece of river, I saw a good number of my soldiers, and the rebels also in swimming. It was a quear sight to see them, they, who had been firing at each other, before the day would close, now enjoying a swim together like a merry lot of school boys.

“But such is soldier’s life.”

The next day, he noted that coffee for tobacco trades were happening across the lines.

July 19-20, 1864

The Soldiers & Sailors Monument in Warren lists many of the major campaigns and battles that men from Warren County were involved in – Antietam, Gettysburg, Bull Run, Appomattox.

Included in that list is – by Civil War standards – a minor battle, Peach Tree Creek, that left an indelible mark on Alexander and the 111th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

The fight started on the 19th.

“Soon after day light we advanced on the Atlanta road, our brigade being in the advance we met the enemy on the opposite bank of Peachtree Creek strongly posted about six o’clock p.m. Our bridage was ordered to cross the creek – the 149 NY ahead and 111th PV came close after the 149 crosst before the enemy discovered them, they opened brick on our boys…. We drove the enemies line of sharpshooters out of their works capturing about 30 and held our ground after taking a good position on a high ridge. The whole division moved over and we threw up works and all became quiet.”

The fight continued on the 20th and Alexander recorded the following:

“The whole army advanced up in line with us & some gained more advanced points. Brick skirmishing until 3:30 p.m. when our brigade was moved forward about half mile and was going into position when the enemy was discovered to be advancing through the woods in our front. Our regiment was moved forward a short distance and soon became engaged. The woods was terrible thick, we steadily drove the enemy in our front, but a heavy collumn moved down our right flank and opend and merderous fire on us at a distance of thirty yds.

“No human being could stand the shower of leaden hail and our right gave way and soon the regiment fell back a short distance to a crest of a hill. I was informed that Col. Cobham was mortaly wounded and the command devolved on me.”

Alexander reformed the regiment and was ordered behind a breastwork, a position it held until dark.

“About 10:30 p.m. after the works was done and all quiet, I went back to the hospital to see Colonel Cobham and got there too late. He had been dead about half an hour. Oh, the sadness that fills my heart when I think of our loss. My best, and dearest friend the Colonel has gone. His loss can never be replaced, a more galient officer, and truer friend, never lived. I did not sleep all night but made arrangements to send his body home. Dr. Dunn imbalmed his body.”

The next day, Alexander took Cobham’s horse, had a coffin made for him and fathered his personal effects all the while burying the dead of his company. He gathered his books and paper together on July 22 and put them in his trunk for shipment back to Warren County.

He noted that he wrote to his wife the next day.