Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"Actually He'd Rather Not Have A Hole In The Head"


(Dedicated to my cousin, Tammy, who aroused my curiosity)

An Indiana boy named Jacob Miller awoke on the hill just above Chicamauga Creek on the morning of September 19th, 1863.  The boy was tired.  As an Infantryman with General Rosecrans' Union troops, Jacob was just one of thousands who had been tromping up and down hills for days...all the way from Tennessee, into Georgia, in pursuit of the Confederacy's General Bragg's boys.

The day before General Bragg had dispatched his cavalry against Jacob and his Union comrades, but Rosecran's cavalry, armed with repeating rifles had held them in check.  Jacob's Infantry Unit held the line there at Chicamauga until the last shot was fired on the evening of the 18th.

On the 19th Jacob rolled out of his nap sack and moseyed over to the campfire, grabbed a piece of hard tack, slapped some fat back over it to soften it a bit, then sat down to breakfast, washed down with hickory coffee.

Before long the trumpets sounded and Jacob and his boys were commanded to charge down the hill, down there to Chicamauga Creek and roust them some "Johnny Rebs".  Jacob grabbed his rifle and joined the line as they headed down that hill, muskets blazing.

Alas, that was the last thing young Jacob Miller remembered for awhile.  He took a musket ball right between the eyes, then collapsed like an ironing board.  Jacob's comrades took one look at the blood burbling out of Jacob Miller's face and left him for one takes a shot from 20 feet right between the eyes and lives to tell about it.

Except Jacob did.  Private Miller "came to his senses", as he described it, later that day...sometime after his Union boys had suffered the biggest Union loss of the war...leaving some 10,000 of them killed or wounded, another five thousand of them captured as prisoners of war.

So when Jacob awoke, with a big ole giant headache, he found that he was now behind the Confederate lines.  Stumbling to his feet, determined not to be taken prisoner, Private Joseph Miller set out to see if he might find whomever was left of his Union comrades.

Problem was Jacob couldn't see a lick out of either eye.   His head had swelled up so bad from internal bleeding that his eyes were just slits in a bloody face.   That musket ball in his forehead had pretty much blinded him.  After stumbling about blindly for a time, Jacob found that if he used his hand to lift his right eyelid, he could see a bit.  So off he set, the fingers of his right hand used to jack up one eyelid, he was able to see where he was going.  

At one point a massive headache flared once again, so that Joseph had to stumble over to a tree, plop down and lean against it, until the headache subsided, at which time he rose up and stumbled on.  Luckily, Jacob found the end of the Confederate line, then moved toward where he reckoned his comrades would be.  Just then two union body bearers came by, took one look at Jacob Miller and carried him up to the medical aid station.

The station was busy that day, dealing with some 8,000 wounded Union troops.  When the medics finally got around to looking at Jacob the next day they wrote him off as near dead, then went on to tend to those they might save.  Mercifully, an army nurse came by, washed Jacob's face and gave him some water, then called the surgeon over.  When the surgeon arrived Jacob begged him to operate.  The surgeon said "I can't operate on you, soon as I stuck a knife in there, you'd be cold stone dead!"

They did move Jacob into a nearby cabin where he sat around waiting to learn his fate.  When two other boys from his unit, also there awaiting treatment, saw Joseph they thought they were seeing a ghost.  "We thought you were dead, Jacob!  Your face was all bloody and your blood was bubbling up out of your head like that there Vesuvius!"  "And here you are still kicking".

The next day the medical troops stuck Jacob and his buddies into a wagon heading to Nashville where they might get some medical treatment.  Except, as the wagon bounced and jounced down those muddy roads, Jacob's head pounded fiercely with every bounce of the wagon.  So Jacob got out of the back of the wagon, and started walking, his two buddies hanging on to him and guiding him blindly down the road.  Jacob and his buddies walked sixty miles to Nashville, covering the distance in four days.

When they got to the Union Hospital at Nashville Jacob didn't even remember how he got there.  He found himself coming to as they placed him in a bathtub to wash his bloody and bruised body.  But the surgeons again refused to operate on Jacob and take out that musket ball.  One daring medic finally did remove a little of the shrapnel and wash his head wound.  But they didn't know what to do with this "dead man walking", and shuffled him off the Louisville, then finally up to New Albany, Indiana, closer to his home.

By this time ole Jacob was getting mighty tired of being told no.  So, after nine months of blinding headaches, he took leave and walked all the way home to Logansport and talked his home town country doctor to "do the deed".  Well, the country doc did the best he could.  He prodded and poked and finally nudged as much of the head shrapnel out as he could, then sent Jacob on his way.  Joseph then rejoined his outfit and was finally mustered out in September 1864, a full year since they had left him for dead at Chacamauga.  

Well, seventeen years after he mustered out, ole Jacob was just sitting around, sipping coffee, and when he leaned his head down to stir a little sugar in his coffee a piece of musket ball fell out of that hole in his head.  And fifteen years after that another hunk of lead fell out of that hole in his head.

So on June 4th, 1911, Jacob got word that his old unit was staging a reunion.  By this time ole Jake was living up in Braidwood, Illinois.  When a newspaper man from the Joliet Daily News came to call, to interview old Jake, and he got a bigger scoop than he had hoped for......a story of a man that should have been dead, but wasn't.

Before the reporter left, Jacob cautioned him "Now don't be writing any of this as if I'm complaining!"  "The Grand Ole Army has been good to me with that $40 dollar pension they send me every month!"

Proof positive that Jacob Miller was a kindly and reasonable man.  All in all Jacob considered himself lucky....even with that hole in his head.    He lived to the ripe old age of 74....and there was always that $40 dollar pension after all!


Jerry Carlin said...

nice story thanks!

A Modest Scribler said...

You're welcome, Jerry. Have a great Wednesday!