Letter – Chester Ellis, 4 January 1864

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Letter written by Sergeant Chester C. Ellis of Company H, 80th IL Volunteer Infantry, to his uncle from Whitesides, TN. Ellis says that his regiment has left the 11th Corps, and are now attached to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 4th Corps, under the command of Colonel Grose of the 36th IN. He writes disparagingly of the “Potomackers,” with whom they fought at Lookout Mountain. Ellis describes the battle as the “grandest” and “coolest” thing he ever saw, and writes how the Army of the Cumberland and the Army of the Potomac stood side by side with General Joseph Hooker and the Eastern Corps. Ellis goes into great detail about the fighting, which lasted a few days. The day after Hooker stormed Lookout Mountain, his regiment marched to support Sherman. They were marching to Knoxville when they heard that Ambrose Burnside had defeated James Longstreet. Ellis describes a difficult march back to camp, beleaguered by cold weather and a lack of provisions. Some men marched barefoot when they wore out their shoes.


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Whitesides Tenn

Jan 4 1864

Dear Unkle

I received your kind letter when we got back to camp after the fight and was glad to hear from you again And I was glad but somewhat surprised to hear that you had been to Ill I did not get [Pru?]’s letter that you spoke of for 2 weeks after I recd yours. I am in good health and we are all in fine spirits the health of our regiment is excellent. We have left the 11th Corps and are permanently attached to the 3rd Brigade 1st Division 4th Corps. The Brigade is commanded by Col Gross of the 36th Ind. that regiment is here and I saw Mr Turner (I believe his name is) the other day. He has left the hospital &

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is with his Reg; We are are all well pleased with our situation for we did not like the Potomackers a bit but they fought like dogs at Lookout Mountain

We were all through the fight at Chattanooga but it happened to be our luck not to be engaged as a Reg: Althought we lost 7 men on our skirmish line ie wounded one (Lieut)

To take the battle from beginning to end it was the grandest as well as the coolest thing I ever saw We left our camp at Lookout Valley about 9 AM of the 22″ and went over to Chattanooga got there after dark the next morning we got up and found the town full of troops: We all knew what was to be done and it was plain to be seen for down on the plain not a mile distant the rebel picket lines

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and back of them were their camp in full view although they had moved a great many the night before. Their lines and ours were from 150 to 200 yds apart

We lay here until noon: And if a stranger had been along and seen us laughing and talking he would have said that we did not know that we were agoing into a fight that day

About 12, the troops were all brought out on to an open field of some 80 or 100 acres & there was about enough to cover it the different divisions were assigned their places, that was prettiest sight I ever saw. There the glorious Old Army of the Cumberland stood with one Corp of the Army of the Potomac side by side while still further on the right was Hooker with the other Eastern Corp and we all well knew

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that Sherman had gone 8 miles up the river to cross with 2 as good corps as ever shouldered a rifle. such determination I dont believe was ever expressed on the countenances of men as were there shown. you could look over that vast army and see men from almost every state & territory from Maine to California. And judgeing from the flags which waved there they were men of the true blue style for some of their flags had been so cut up in former battles, that had every shred been fastened together there would not have made 1/4 yard of cloth. the staffs were in some places almost cut in two by balls – yet they dared to carry them into another perhaps fiercer contest than ever before. About 1 PM some 8 or 10 Regiments commenced filing off down the hill to form a skirmish line Each regiment followed by 8 or 10 men carrying stretchers to bring back the wounded on. They had not been gone long until the cannon from Ft. Wood opened and then the sharp rattle of musketry announced that the ball was opened. in 20 minutes from the time the firing commenced back came the stretchers loaded with wounded

The men went off down the hill as cool as if they were going

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down there to cut wood: every man had when he started, the flaps of his cartridge box raised and buttoned on his coat so that his pills would be handy after they had been fighting some time we started and double quicked it down to the once rebel picket lines 7 found that our skirmishers had driven them from the first line of rifle pits we formed a line of battle & after maneuvering there some time night came on and we lay down and slept sound

The next morning (24″) we were aroused at 2 and after standing around sometime we again lay down and slept until 5. It was today that they shot so many of our skirmishers Sergt Millburn of our Co: was on

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the line at noon I got his dinner and took it down to him. I got up to within 60 yds of him he says “be careful Ellis theyll shoot you sure” he was standing behind a large tree, he came back and while he was eating his dinner I took his post And poked my head around the tree to see if they’d shoot. I was soon satisfied that they would by seeing the smoke of a gun & drawing my head back the ball came whistling past me And concluding that turn about was fair play I levelled my piece and took a pull at them and we had it turn about there for some time. It was playing Ante over on a pretty rough scale but there was some fun in it. While I was there they shot at the man on my right now “says he “you tried me a pull

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poke your skull a little further around the tree and I’ll try you a shot”. They would stand there & tell each other where they shot whether too high too low of too far to the right or left. If it had been me I would have left it to their own judgement & perhaps they would not have hit so often

About 3 oclock Hooker commenced storming Lookout. I thought I had head cannonading before but this surpassed anything I had ever before heard & they kept it up until 12 that night

The next day we marched 8 or 9 miles to the left to support Sherman who was giving them fits up there, we built rifle pits and lay there until next day when after the fog blew away rebs were gone. but for three days we

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here firing from different quarters as they were retreating towards Atlanta. We then struck out for Knoxville and got to within 15 miles of there when we found that Burnside had whipped Longstreet and the latter was retreating. We then turned back & got to our old camp on the 17″ Dec after the hardest marching we ever done. some of our boys marched 3 days barefooted their shoes being worn out & almost every morning the ground would be froze until 10 oclock yet you scarcely ever here a murmur from them. We marched 250 miles in 15 days counting every day that we marched and some we did not go over 8 miles. We had to forage nearly all our provision and when it comes to foraging for 3 army corps you can guess that it makes food scarce If we had went to Knoxville which I was in hopes we would I would have found Hubbard had he been there

Well Uncle I have strung this out about long enough and will quit by asking you to write soon

your Nephiew

Chet C. Ellis


Chester C. Ellis, from Rome, IL, enlisted on August 12, 1862 as a sergeant in Company H, 80th IL Infantry. After losing heavily at Perryville, KY, the regiment was mounted as infantry in April 1863. Ellis was captured with his regiment at Blount’s Farm, AL on May 3, 1863 by Nathan Bedford Forrest’s command, but was soon paroled. The regiment was exchanged that fall, and Ellis and the 80th IL participated in the Chattanooga Campaign as part of the 11th Corps. In 1864, having been assigned to the 4th Corps, they fought throughout the Atlanta Campaign, but on September 2, 1864 Sergeant Ellis was killed in action at Lovejoy Station, GA.

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