On the Chickamauga Battlefield the gravel Vittetoe Road, now closed to vehicle traffic, runs along the base of the hill complex now known as Horseshoe Ridge. Near its western terminus on Wilder Road, the Vittetoe Road intersects a trail. If one turns north, the trail heads up the hill to the site of the Federal flank on Sept. 20, 1863. If one turns south, he or she will quickly encounter a large, stone memorial cross, dedicated to the memory of Lt. George W. Landrum, a Kentucky-born Ohio soldier who was mortally wounded on the spot on that same September day.
Landrum was born in Augusta, Kentucky, on July 3, 1830, the descendant of Revolutionary War soldiers. When he was young, after his father's death, his mother moved him and his younger sisters to Cincinnati. He worked as a deputy court clerk to help support his family and the education of his younger sisters. When the Civil War came the next year, he enthusiastically joined a local company for three months of service.
Contrary to early expectations, the war was not over in three months. Landrum therefore helped raise another company, enlisted for three years, and was elected one of its two lieutenants. The company joined the 2nd Ohio Infantry, but, giving "evidence of superior ability as a solider," Landrum was assigned to the Signal Corps. As such, he served at the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky, where he and fellow Signal Corps officers voluntarily served with their general "in the thickest of the fight," even though it was "not their place to do so."
In early 1863, Landrum was attached to the staff of Maj. Gen. George Thomas, commander of the 14th Corps of the Army of the Cumberland. It was in that capacity on Sept. 20, 1863, that he was dispatched to carry a message from Thomas to Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans during the thick of the Battle of Chickamauga. He never arrived. After the battle, Landrum was reported missing, his superiors lamenting the loss of "a valuable and efficient officer."
Finally, in the spring of 1864, near Decatur, Alabama, Federal forces captured J.T.S. Thompson, a Confederate surgeon. Captured for the second time in the war, the unlucky Thompson discovered that one of his captors was from Cincinnati. From Thompson, and much later from the accounts of other Confederates, it was learned that during his ride from Thomas to Rosecrans, Landrum encountered Confederate skirmishers, and attempted to gallop through them. He was shot in the pelvis, and endured significant suffering. Dr. Thompson gave him a "small dose of morphine" that gave him some relief. Landrum inquired as to his condition and was told that his wound was mortal. Landrum bravely replied that he was not afraid to die, that he had the consolation of dying in a glorious cause. He survived about two hours after his wound and was "decently buried the next day."
Many of Landrum's letters to his sisters survive, and are a valuable resource to historians today. In January 1863, soon after the Battle of Stones River, he wrote his sister Minnie of his experiences in that terrible struggle, noting that a letter could not adequately convey "the terrible reality" of the battlefield, which was strewn with dead and wounded men and animals. Given his later demise at Chickamauga, Landrum ironically observed, "I have been through one more battle, and am unhurt. Men have been shot down behind me, on the right of me and on the left, and before me. It is strange how one escapes and another is stricken."
Returning Landrum's dedication to them, his family placed the monument on the battlefield. In 1894, C.B. Bagley, the skirmisher from the Confederate 41st Tennessee who may very well have shot Landrum, and who was himself wounded later that day at Chickamauga, traveled from his home in Fayetteville, Tennessee, to Chattanooga to meet one of the sisters and her husband. Praying that he would remember the spot, Bagley located it for them and found it to be "perfectly familiar."
Landrum's family obtained permission from the secretary of war to erect a monument to their brother, but it was stipulated that the dedication read "by his family," so that none would conclude the government was erecting monuments to individuals.
Sam Elliott, an attorney with Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott and Cannon, has written several books and essays on the Civil War, the latest being an award-winning biography of Gen. John C. Brown. For more information, visit Chattahistoricalassoc.org.