In his letter/diary of his first actions after becoming Captain of Company D of the 56th Illinois Infantry, J.F. McCartney wrote: The organization of the Company being completed on May 2nd 1864 I received orders to report to Huntsville Ala. With my Company, and at 4 Oclock P.M. we went on the cars assigned to us with Sixty nine men and two commissioned Officers and made Steam progress over the Great Western Rail Road for the front.
On the Morning of the 4th we crossed the Ohio river on Ferry Boat and being unable to get transportation remained at soldiers home through the day. We reached Nashville in the evening and Set out on the road leading to Chatanooga, near night we reached Stepheson Ala on the 6th. Here I learned that the Regiment was Scattered out along the Rail Road leading from Stepheson to Huntsville Ala and in the morning after breakfast at the Soldiers Home we Set out on foot and marched 8 miles to Mud Creek Bridge. There we went in camp and commenced actual duty as soldiers.
On the morning of the 18th I was awake early, about one Oclock and learned that the Rebels had torne up the road about mid way between this place and Belfont Station and going farther from us lay in weight for the train. As it passed they fired. The engineer increased its speed and in a few moments the Locomotove and Seven cars were laying on their side. The train guards defended the train so that the rebels could take nothing until our men got there and drove them away. They took one prisoner from us who afterwards made his escape. We blundered wonderfully in the dark but the excitement woke us to a sense of our danger. Our work on the block house was prosecuted with vigor and nothing occurred save work, work, either at the desk or with the axe, until the 30th when we commenced drilling and on the 31st we were paid off. Of course all were made happy, but as we were out in the woods far from Stores or any way of spending money most of this draw was sent home and I was saved all trouble with drunk men.
We were relieved during the night by the arrival of other troops and after the Regiment was all collected we started for Stepheson marching on the dirt road a distance of 16 miles. The day was very warm and many of the men did not get in to camp till very late. . . . On the 28th we got on the cars and went over a very mountaneous country to Chatanooga which place we reached about noon, losing Joshua Finchur by him falling over board and breaking his foot from being drunk. We only stopped here long enough to change cars and pushed on our way taking a good look at the celebrated hights known as Missionary Ridge and Look Out Mountain. We reached Kingston Ga early on the morning of the 9th. All along the road from Chatanooga so far as our army had advanced were breast works every little way and the whole seemed to be one extensive battle field.