Tuesday, February 26, 2008


By Charlie Wells
Ex-Sheriff Charlie Wells tells a remarkable story of what occurred while the Seventh Georgia Regiment was campaigning in the Valley of Virginia. The hero of the wonderful feat is Capt. James L. Bell, a popular conductor who daily takes his train in and out of Atlanta on the West Point road. The story is strictly true, and is known to all the surviving members 'of the Seventh Georgia regiment. It illustrates how whole bodies of well-disciplined men are liable to sudden and uncontrollable panics.
During Gen. Grant's advance on Richmond the Seventh Georgia regiment, after a day of hard and almost incessant fighting, found itself on the confines of a large field, across the center of which ran a straight deep ravine. The exigencies of the battle had, in a measure, separated the regiment from other commands on either flank, and, although the firing was incessant about them, no enemy was visible in their front. They had just repulsed an attack made by the Nineteenth Wisconsin regiment and a portion of a New York regiment. The latter had fallen back through the field and were lost to view. Dusk was fast gathering. The men of the Seventh were weary with a long day's fighting and were taking a needed rest. It was with these surroundings that Sergt. Bell thought he would reconnoiter, and, climbing over the works, he moved stealthily across the field and obliqued so as to meet the ravine at its head. Here he beheld a sight which almost paralyzed him. The ravine was full of Federals, and he had run full upon them. To retreat would have been dangerous. It was one man against hundreds, and Sergt. Bell determined in a moment to capture the regiment and take the colors with his own hands. Without a moment's pause he dashed boldly forward, firing his musket full into the ranks of the enemy, crying: "Surrender! Throw down your arms!" The Seventh Georgia heard the cries and shot, and dashed across the field, but too late to rob the gallant Bell of the honor achieved by his daring act. Bell had captured them single-handed, and had in his possession the colors of the Nineteenth Wisconsin Regiment. The captured regiment was sent to the rear amid great laughter, and Sergt. Bell became the hero of the hour.
It was the opinion of many that had the regiment appeared across the field it would have been saluted with a volley and an obstinate fight would have ensued; but the sudden apparition of a single wild figure darting out of the gloom, yelling and firing into their midst, so disconcerted them that they yielded to a genuine panic and were prisoners almost before they knew it. When Sergt. Bell dashed at them at the end of the ravine one man arose up and surrendered, then another and another, and in less than two minutes they were all prisoners.
Capt. Bell is a hale, handsome man of about fifty-five, with grizzled hair and mustache. He is as modest as he is brave, and this story comes from the lips of his comrades who were with him and who witnessed the remarkable feat on that October day. In 1884, in conversation with a friend, Capt. Bell expressed a great desire to know the fate of the gallant color bearer whom he had met on the field of battle so long ago.
The friend, without informing him of his intention, inserted in a Wisconsin paper a little notice to the effect that the color bearer of the Nineteenth Wisconsin regiment, if still alive, would please confer with James L. Bell, Atlanta, Ga. The notice brought from Barraboo, Wis., the following, by Phillips Cheek, Jr.:
"Your card received, and I should have replied ere this, but was at Minneapolis at the National Encampment of the G. A. R., in command of the Department of Wisconsin; hence the delay. John Fallen, sometimes called Fowler, was color bearer of Company A, Nineteenth Wisconsin Infantry. He was captured with his regiment at Fair Oaks, Va, From there he was sent to Libby and Belle Isle, afterwards to Salisbury, N. C., where he remained until they were all released. By the aid of comrades he got home, but was so reduced that his friends did not recognize him, and was mentally an imbecile. He remained so for two months before he was able to recognize his mother. From that time, as a farmer, he did what he could to support his family. The people were very kind to him, and elected him Treasurer of the town of Freedom, Wis., each year for five years, which helped him financially. In May, 1881, he was attacked by a disease which carried him to the other shore. As evidence that he was esteemed, the G. A. R. post of Freedom, Wis., is called 'John Fallen Post.' His early death was the result of imprisonment in the Confederacy. My only brother was a member of this company, and was killed in August, 1864, in the trenches before Petersburg. It is a source of gratification to us, his relatives and friends, to have testimony of his gallant foe of the Seventh Georgia regiment to his gallantry as a soldier. His officers all speak of him as one that could be trusted under the most trying circumstances. I have often heard him tell of the capture of his regiment, and that 'there was no getting out of it.'"
Capt. Bell, whose feelings were deeply aroused by this unexpected reminder of the thrilling episode of Fair Oaks, replied from Atlanta, Ga, August 30, 1884, to Mr. Cheek as follows:
'The bravery of John Fallen is indelibly stamped on my memory. I met him once and spoke to him only to learn his name, but the flight of years can never efface the gallantry he displayed at his capture. He says 'there was no getting out of it,' which was true; but that made no difference; he was game all the same. I never doubted but that John Fallen would come to the front, for he was made of the right kind of stuff. To the Western soldiers credit belongs for the hardest and best fighting of the war. . . . It is with pleasure that I learn that his name is to be perpetuated by having a G. A. R. post named for him. Please tell the members of that post of a Confederate soldier's admiration for the bravery of their honored namesake."
Application was made for a furlough for Sergt. James L. Bell, Company K, Seventh Georgia Regiment, dated at Fair Oaks, Va., November 30, 1864, in the following language:
"This is to ask leave of absence for thirty days on behalf of Sergt. James L. Bell, Company K, Seventh Georgia Regiment, to visit his home in Atlanta, Ga, because of his having advanced four hundred yards in front of his command, capturing the colors of the Nineteenth Wisconsin regiment, and causing the surrender of many officers and men. For this and other acts of gallantry I respectfully ask that this application be granted.
"THOMAS WILSON, Lieut. Commanding Co. K.
This application was indorsed as follows: "J. F. Kiser, Major Commanding Seventh Georgia Regiment; G. T. Anderson, Brigadier General; C. W. Fields, Major General Commanding Division; Respectfully approved and forwarded for special gallantry-James B. Longstreet, General Commanding Corps."
"Respectfully approved and returned."
Confederate Veteran, Vol. VII, No. 1 Nashville, Tenn., January, 1899.

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