It wasn’t unusual for soldiers in the Civil War to think they would be killed in a battle. This was understandable considering the high number of casualties in the war and the close calls many of them experienced when they were on a battlefield. But for some, it was more than just thinking it could happen. Some men truly believed they would be killed in a particular action, and those who had these premonitions of death could not be convinced otherwise. Sometimes they did indeed survive the fighting, but for others, the premonition was true.
Private George Miles of Reedsburg, Wisconsin enlisted in Company A of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry on May 10th, 1861. The 6th, 7th, and 2nd Wisconsin Infantry regiments plus the 19th Indiana Infantry were brigaded together and would eventually be called the Iron Brigade. The brigade was seriously engaged at the Battles of Brawner’s Farm and Second Bull Run in August of 1862. Miles made it though both those actions, but as the brigade prepared to go into action at the Battle of South Mountain, Maryland on September 14th, Miles was sure he would not survive this time. Two of Miles’ fellow soldiers in Company A, Mair Pointon and Philip Cheek , recalled how Miles had a premonition of his death at South Mountain:
It took us until the next Sunday to get to Middleton, Md., where we stopped at noon to make coffee. Geo. Miles, who was as brave a man as ever lived and wore the blue, was for him very serious, not his usual jolly self at all. We all noticed it. We asked him why he was so quiet, so unusual for him who was generally the life of the company. He replied: “You fellows would be quiet too, if you knew you would be killed tonight.” We all laughed at him and told him we had been chasing Rebels for a week now, and had seen none and that there was about as much of a chance of a fight as there was of going home then. March resumed and late in the afternoon we came in sight of the South Mountain range of mountains and saw a line of battle being formed at the base thereof. The Hagerstown turnpike went up a gap over the mountains, Turner’s Gap. When the lines were being formed, one of the boys went up to Capt. Noyes and asked him not to let Miles go into the fight, detail him for some duty elsewhere, and as Miles was as well liked by the Captain as he was by the rest of us, the Captain ordered him to go off on some detail, but George Miles was on to the situation and positively refused to obey the order, saying, “I came here to do my duty and although I know I shall be killed I shall go in,” and went right along. When about half way up the side of the mountain in hot fighting he was struck by a minnie bullet and his rear rank man heard him exclaim as he fell, “Tell my father I died doing my duty.” A braver or better soldier never gave his life for his country and his prediction of the noon of that day that he would be killed that night came true.
–Philip Cheek and Mair Pointon, History of the Sauk County Riflemen Company A Sixth Wisconsin Veteran Volunteer Infantry
The brigade sustained 318 total casualties at the Battle of South Mountain, and Miles was one of 37 who were killed.