William Decatur Mintz, known as Dee, was born in Randolph County, North Carolina, to a respectable farming family, but like many young me, he saw opportunity on the frontier. Dee ended up in Little Rock, Arkansas, when the Secession Crisis began, and when Arkansas called for troops, he enlisted in what became Company C of the 5th Arkansas Infantry. He proved to be popular and a good soldier, being elected as corporal and then lieutenant in his company, experiencing combat with the Army of Tennessee in all of its campaigns. He was wounded at the Battle of Ringgold Gap, but returned in time to fight in the Atlanta Campaign.
On November 30th, 1864, his command marched up the Columbia Turnpike and formed into line along the lower slopes of Breezy Hill, just a few miles south of the little town of Franklin, Tennessee.
The 5th Arkansas was no longer an independent unit, having been consolidated several times over, but his company still remained the color company, and they still carried a tattered blue and white banner that was now the hallmark of Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s hard-hitting division. The flag that now flapped in the Indian summer breeze was a tattered thing, bearing the names of all of the engagements of the 5th and 13th Arkansas Regiments, though they now represented other units from that state as well. The banner had been the only one from Brig. Gen. Daniel Govan’s Arkansas brigade to escape capture in the battle of Jonesboro, Georgia, and now served as the lone representative of the bloody fields of the Atlanta Campaign.
A stillness and ominous silence pervaded over the field as other elements of the army formed to the right and left of the Arkansans, broken only when the moment for the advance began. Bands began to play and officers began to shout—and the Army of Tennessee advanced forward. Dee Mintz, described what followed:
“When our division took its position on the line, Gen. Cleburne’s order was for the men to load, fix bayonets, and carry their pieces at right shoulder shift, and not stop to fire a shot but move on in quick time and attack . . . with the bayonet . . . . In case the Yankees would leave the (first line of) works the Confederates (were) to discharge their pieces into the . . . retreating Yankees, rush to the evacuated works and reform our line.
“Waiting for the rest of the troops to take their place in line . . . I walked to the crest of the highlands where I could see the ground over which we had to pass. In front of it was open land and mostly level. We had to pass through a stalk field first, then it seemed to be a stubble field to the Yankees’ line.
“The sun looked red and was sinking behind the western hills. I walked hurriedly back to rejoin my company before the advance order was given. . . .
“The . . . bugler sounded the forward command. Our colonel gave the command – ‘Right shoulder, shift arms. Forward. Quick time. March.’ On we went up the hill. When we reached the cleared land the command ‘Right dress’ was given. . . . The line seemed in perfect order. I could see the line the full lengths of our division . . . the men . . . keeping in step, bayonets fixed, carrying their pieces at right shoulder shift. . . .
“Soon as we came in range of the Yankees opened fire on us from behind their entrenchments and were first killing and wounded our men. My color bearer was shot and the flag fell. . . . Col. V.P. Greene . . . grasped the flag staff and said . . . ‘Damn, I’ll carry the flag. Look after your own company.’ Col. Greene carried the flag through the fight without a scratch. They were killing and wounding our men so fast from the breast-works the order ‘Charge!’ was given. We raised the Rebel Yell and moved in double quick time but before we reached the works the Yankees fled in disorder.
“Our boys emptied their . . . guns into the . . . fleeing troops and rushed to the . . . works to reform our line. Just then I noticed General Cleburne on a little gray horse that belonged to one of his couriers. Cleburne’s horse (had been) shot from under him. . . . [Cleburne], with hat in hand and waving it above his head, scaled the works. . . . I could not hear what he was saying, but knew he meant to go forward. . . . Again we raised the Rebel Yell and renewed the charge to storm the enemy’s last line of works.
“In our front was an obstruction of brush and stakes. . . . I saw a break in it [and turned] to the left to pass through. . . . Just at that instant a sheet of flame and smoke rose from . . . the . . . breastworks and . . . I [was] . . . shot, the ball entering the outer corner of the right eye, passing through the left eyeball and fracturing the left cheek. . . .
“When I regained consciousness, I was lying in a ditch . . . of running water, [and] could feel the loose dirt fall in on me when the Yankee bullets would strike the top of the ditch-bank. . . . I became thirsty, but had fallen on my canteen, but could not get to it. I drank of the water in the ditch. The water was cold and good. . . . I . . . knew then my sight was destroyed. I placed my hands under my forehead to keep my face above water. . . . I fell asleep, and did not awake till aroused by the jar and heavy report of the artillery.
“I heard a man moaning in the ditch below me. I asked him who held the battlefield. He said, ‘We hold the field, and that is our artillery firing after the retreating Yankees. . . .’ As well as he could judge from the stars it was then about two o’clock.
“I could hear the wounded calling for help in every direction. I again wanted water and thought I would again drink of the water in the ditch, but this time it tasted of blood and I managed to get my canteen from under me and drank from it.
“About one hour before daylight a man passed near me. I spoke to him, and he very kindly helped me out of the ditch. He was a Georgian and belonged to Stovall’s Brigade. (He) said they had good fires about 200 yards down the pike and if I could walk he would assist me to a fire.
“The next day I was taken to a private house, where I remained till I was sent to Fort Delaware, the latter part of January, 1865. . . .”
For Mintz, the war was over. He would survive, but the last things he ever saw was the destruction of his brigade and division.