Historical letters from German soldier enlightening

Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal, December 3, 2018

The Hazen Monument, Old Nashville Hwy., 1869 (Library of Congress)

German immigrant Private Daniel Miller held Federal guard duty on Fortress Rosecrans for a year and a half (Oct. 1863-April 1864) following the Stones River battle.

With incredible detective work by Dr. Homer and Mable Pittard, a startling discovery was made on a boulder (near present-day Stones River Country Club) bearing a carving from this little-known soldier.  With intricate research, the Pittards were able to secure over 30 insightful letters scribed in German that Miller had written home during his sojourn in Murfreesboro.

Miller was born in Germany in 1838 and had only arrived to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1857.  His name of Meuller was changed to the American version of Miller.  With the war looming near, Miller, an experienced marble cutter, was 23 years old and immediately drafted into the 115th Ohio Infantry, Company B, on August 11, 1862.  In Murfreesboro, he writes home that he is under the command of a French general of the 4th Army Corp, 3rd Division, and 4th Reserve.

Miller was a strong advocate of the president and corresponded in 1864: “If you love freedom, vote again for our old Abraham Lincoln. Hurrah for old Abe.”

Miller had the task of carving inscriptions on the four sides of Hazen’s Brigade on the Stones River Battlefield in 1864.  The monument was built from June until October 1863.  His letters indicate he was treated well by Col. William B. Hazen.  The memorial is the oldest Civil War monument in the United States and pays homage to 55 comrades who fell to Confederates in a clump of cedars known as Round Forest.

Within his descriptive correspondence, Miller states Murfreesboro had brick walls with five big cannons, Moreover, he conveys there were 1,300 free slaves in the vicinity of Rutherford County.

He was assigned to build 8-foot railroad ties in Nashville.  In four months, his unit had completed the task with 16,000 ties.  Miller described Nashville as “narrow streets by the Cumberland River and heavy Union fortifications surrounding the Capitol.”

In June 1864, he was sent to Stockade No. 6 at Stewart’s Creek to guard a railroad bridge.

Miller was thrilled with the mild weather and abundant river of Murfreesboro and described his walk through the woods where the hottest battle ever (Stones River) was fought.

His lieutenant borrowed a net from a farmer and caught 30 fish for an entire company in Stones River.  Miller said “we live like lords and are getting fat.”

In reality, he was a healthy 166 pounds.  He also refers to picking apples in the region to cook apple sauce and bake pies.  During his stay in Murfreesboro, he shot 50 hares and one pig for meals.  He was relatively able-bodied, keeping warm on cold winter nights with ovens under his tent.  When he had a cold, he healed himself through red pepper, vinegar and the spring water of Stones River.

On Christmas Day, a Rebel farmer gave Miller a turkey and 16 chickens.  Miller states in his letter “I would have forced the issue had he not freely handed them over.”

He also found 50 bushels of cottonseed in an old barn and mailed home seed to his parents.  Miller was trained to be alert and use his weapon for defense.  When confronted by bushwhackers in Shelbyville, his unit killed two Rebels.

Miller shared work duty on the monument with a comrade J. Christian Bauhof, whom he describedas “best of friends.”  They guarded Fortress Rosecrans (completed in 1863) that was stockpiled with stores of food.  Their pay was $15 a month.

Miller was tight knit with his family and wrote letters specific to siblings and parents, whom he addressed with a “thousand greetings.”  He refers to his family sending him a silken cord to keep warm and his insistence to send a portion of his pay home.

With a background as a stone cutter, Miller was artistically talented with his hands.  He mailed his mother a “pretty ring” that was made of dimes and sent her an exquisite crest pin.  He also sold dime-encrusted rings for $3.50 to soldiers for their brides.

He relates to his family: “There is constant activity taking place in Murfreesboro (1864), as large bands of soldiers are traveling south with a great battle coming (Atlanta). Long railroad trains are snaking through the city transporting 6,000 new soldiers from Indiana to head south.”

Miller also indicates he has no plans to re-enlist for the war but has been informed he cannot go home until the sick and wounded are released from the hospitals.

Miller was a poetic man who referred to the “wild doves flying over Rutherford County, while the birds are singing their praise songs each morning.  There will be peace soon in this country Bluecoats cannot destroy.”

Hazen’s Monument is a 10-foot memorial to commemorate 1,600 soldiers who defended Old Nashville Pike. Hell’s Half Acre encompassed heavy fighting near the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad tracks on December 31, 1862.  The Rebels attacked Hazen’s soldiers on four attempts and were turned back, as the ground was saturated with the blood of Confederates and Union troops.

Miller’s inscription reads “their faces toward heaven, their feet to the foe.”  The east side of the monument is carved with inscription “the veterans of Shiloh have left a deathless heritage of fame upon the field of Stone River.”

Miller remained in Rutherford County until the end of the war and was sent home on June 22, 1865.  We then lose record of his life in Cleveland other than he perished in 1902 at age 64.

This solitary man recorded his innermost thoughts on paper to be chronicled for our country today.  A young immigrant with no military experience arrived to Rutherford County to make a difference.  His priceless words are a testament to the reality of a war that created a new Rutherford County forever changed.

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