This week marks the 150th anniversary of the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, two very important battles of the Civil War which helped to seal the fate of the Confederacy.
I had known for years that two of my great-great grandfathers, Jonathan Hamilton (99th OVI) and Oliver Brown (15th OVI), had fought in the Battle of Chickamauga. At the very least, their units are listed as having been active in that battle, I am unsure of how much action they may have seen. What I did not know until recently that another great-great grandfather, Nicholas Kimble (101st OVI) not only fought at Chickamauga, but was captured and held in a Confederate prison.
The Battle of Chickamauga was fought on September 19 and 20, 1863 and was the worst Union defeat of all of the battles fought in the Western Theater. This was also the first battle to be fought on Georgia soil and one of the bloodiest battles waged during the Civil War. It’s difficult for me to imagine that I actually had three ancestors fighting during this terrible battle.
According to Nicholas Kimble’s military papers that are available through the National Archives, Nicholas received a wound to his left shoulder on September 19, 1863 and was taken prisoner by Confederates. After being captured, Nicholas was taken to Pemberton Prison in Richmond, Virginia which is 553 miles away. Newspaper accounts indicate that the prisoners were marched into Richmond. It’s hard to imagine being wounded and having to march 553 miles, not knowing what lay in store for you at your final destination.
The most famous prison in Richmond was Libby Prison which housed the captured Union Officers. There were several other prisons in Richmond, all with a horrible reputation for the living conditions that the inmates had to endure. Pemberton Prison appears to have been the “hospital” prison where perhaps inmates received some form of “medical” care. In saying that, probably not much was actually done to care for these men. Since these prisoners were wounded, they were probably kept from working as many of the other prisoners were made to do.
Nicholas spent about a month behind the walls of Pemberton. There is not much information available in regards to what the living conditions were like within the confines of Pemberton. According to a statement issued by the Confederate Government on November 10, 1863, there were 1, 421 men being held in Pemberton at that time.
This would have been shortly after Nicholas would have been released. An article found in a December 9, 1863 Xenia Torchlight describes the deplorable conditions inside the Richmond, Virginia prisons. All of the prisons were over crowded and forced men to share small spaces where they were nearly stacked on top of each other. According to the Xenia Torchlight article, “none of the privates in prison…are furnished with bedding of any kind.” The article goes on to quote a letter written from one of the prisoners in the prison opposite of Libby [this could very well be Pemberton], “Dr. Weber, Will you try to get us something, either clothes or blankets to keep us warm? We have no fires in the buildings to warm us, have nothing either to lie on or cover us, and suffer greatly from the cold.” I can’t even imagine having received a terrible gunshot wound to the shoulder and being thrown in a room full of other men with no beds or blankets. This same newspaper article reported that the daily rations at Libby prison included, “…three fourths of a pound of wheat bread, a fourth of a pound of fresh beef, two ounces of beans, and a small quantity of vinegar and salt.” Again, can you imagine trying to recover from a wound and not have adequate nutrition to keep up your energy? The article goes on to report that many prisoners reported brutal beatings from prison guards and there was at least one report of a soldier being fatally shot because he dared to look out the window.
I am sure that Nicholas had to suffer through conditions very similar to those reported in the Xenia Torchlight, but we’ll never know exactly what he experienced. There are no written records that can tell us exactly what Nicholas experienced or how he felt during this horrible ordeal. However awful the experience was, at least he only spent a month within Pemberton Prison. On October 28, 1863 Nicholas was moved to City Point, Virginia and paroled with ninety-nine other men. Upon parole, he was transferred to Annapolis Maryland, Madison, Indiana, Columbus, Ohio and eventually ended up at Camp Douglas in Illinois, where he served in Company B of the 8th Veterans Reserve Corps. According to a surgeon’s report written on June 1, 1864, Nicholas’ wounds were so extensive on his left shoulder that “caused immobility”. This would explain his being transferred into the Veterans Reserve Corps.
The main photo that I’ve attached to this post is said to be a photograph of Nicholas Kimble in his uniform. I have not been able to verify the validity of that claim. Among the military papers that I received from the National Archives is a page out of the Company Descriptive Book. This page describes Nicholas Kimble as being age 35, standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall, with blue eyes and sandy hair. Based on that description, the man in this photograph could very well be Nicholas Kimble. It’s amazing to me to look at this photograph (whether it is really him or not) and realize how much Nicholas had to endure during his life. One thing is for sure, Nicholas must have been a very resilient man. He survived the Battle of Chickamauga, his experience at Pemberton Prison, he went on to join the Veterans Reserve Corps, and finally made it back to his family who were waiting for him in Crawford County, Ohio! I am very honored to know that I am descended from Nicholas and wish that I could personally thank him for all of the sacrifices he made!