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Christian Saalmann in Union Army uniform - painting from photo

Reinhard Gottfried Christian Saalmann

25 Jan 1829 - Jul or Aug, 1864

In the Army

Christian enlisted on September 29, 1861, a week after Confederate forces invaded Kentucky and occupied the city of Bowling Green, less than a hundred miles from his home in Branchville. He joined Company "D" of the 35th Indiana Infantry Regiment, which was mustered in for federal service at Camp Morton, Indiana on October 8, 1861. Commanded by an Irishman named Mullen, the regiment contained so many men of Irish heritage that it was unofficially called the "1st Irish Regiment".

At the time of his enlistment Christian was six feet tall and weighed 180 pounds. He had short black hair, dark eyes, and wore a neatly trimmed moustache which covered the full length of his upper lip. He wore a small chin beard, without sideburns, which he kept trimmed to about an inch in length.

After being mustered in, his regiment was ordered to Bardstown, Kentucky, where it received its initial training. At the same time it assisted in the defense of Kentucky by blocking a possible Confederate attack towards Louisville. When their training was completed the regiment was assigned to occupy the Confederate city of Nashville, Tennessee, which had just been captured by Union forces. While stationed at Nashville, in June of 1862, Christian was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

This is a typical pattern. In those days, when a regiment was formed the enlisted men elected their Corporals, Sergeants and junior officers by popular vote. After the organization had been together long enough for the officers to get to know their men, they replaced inadequate personnel with other individuals who had demonstrated competence for the jobs. The German Christian must have shown considerable ability to be selected as Sergeant in an almost solidly Irish regiment.

In the summer of 1862 a Confederate Army, commanded by General Braxton Bragg, again invaded Kentucky. The Union Army to which the 35th Indiana regiment was assigned was ordered in pursuit, fighting several skirmishes with isolated Confederate units until Bragg was finally caught on October 8, 1862, near Perryville, Kentucky. Although Christian and his regiment participated in the Battle of Perryville, which forced Bragg's retreat from Kentucky, they arrived on the field late in the battle and saw only minor action.

During the Civil War it was common for one soldier, upon meeting another, to ask "have you seen the elephant?" This slang expression, and reference to an animal then considered rare, wondrous and exotic, meant "have you actually experienced combat?". While Christian may have participated in earlier skirmishes, including a sharp little fight his regiment was involved in at La Vergne, in Tennessee, he certainly "saw the elephant" in late 1862, when Bragg attempted yet another invasion. This time Bragg was trying to regain control of Nashville and all of central Tennessee. The Union Army, including the 35th Indiana, met Bragg's army near the town of Murfreesboro, on Stone's River, southeast of Nashville.

The Battle of Stones River

The great Battle of Stones River, called Murfreesboro in the south, was fought between December 31, 1862 and January 2, 1863, in a cold drenching rain which turned the ground to soft mud. 56,000 Federals and 51,000 Confederates fought what one of Christian's Generals later called "one of the most fiercely contested and bloody conflicts of the war". Each side sustained about 15,000 casualties.

The Battle of Stones River

The 35th Indiana was in the thick of the fighting, defending a hill on the Union extreme left flank against a desperate Confederate charge which, if successful, would have won the battle. His regiment fought well and bravely, and defeated the attack, doing more than its share to secure the victory. The cost was high, and more than a third of his regiment was lost. Bragg was forced to retreat again and, licking its wounds, the Union Army pursued. Bragg was driven from Tennessee and was forced to abandon the city of Chattanooga, which was captured by the Federals.

When Bragg's army retreated into Georgia, the Union Army continued in pursuit, but now in the deep south Bragg was able to quickly gather strong reinforcements. The Union general, Rosecrans, recklessly blundered ahead, and allowed large gaps to develop between his units.

They ran into a stronger and better positioned Confederate force defending Chickamauga Creek, just north and west of Atlanta. There, on September 19 and 20, 1863, amid heavily wooded terrain which hampered movement and visibility, the two armies fought a great battle, one of the most significant of the war.

The Battle of Chickamauga

At the Battle of Chickamauga the Union Army of 57,000 was defeated by 71,000 rebels, who were able to penetrate those gaps and attack Union units from three sides at once. As shattered Federal forces broke and ran a Union General, George Thomas, massed a force to block the Confederate advance and prevent a disaster. Sometimes finding themselves surrounded, Thomas and his force, which included the 35th Indiana, held firmly. They somehow stopped the rebel advance in its tracks, prevented a Union rout, and earned a place in history for Thomas that day, along with the nickname "The Rock of Chickamauga". Union losses of 17,000, actually less than the Confederate loss of over 18,000, were a tribute to their tenacious defense.

Already depleted at Stone's River, the 35th Indiana was virtually destroyed at Chickamauga. After the battle the regiment had to be pulled out of the Federal line and reconstituted by combining it with the remnants of other Indiana units.

A remarkably high proportion of the Union losses, about 6,500, were soldiers who were captured by the Confederates. Christian was one of that number. According to an affidavit submitted by his company commander, Christian was captured the day after the battle, while he was engaged in removing and bringing to safety some of his wounded comrades.

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