In 1898 Charles Swett of Vicksburg, Mississippi, faced the prospect of watching his son, Louie Chase Swett, go off to fight in the Spanish American War. The elder Swett knew from first hand experience the horrors of war. A veteran of the Civil War, Charles Swett had raised an artillery company in 1861, the Warren Light Artillery (Better known as Swett’s Battery), and served with it until promoted to adjutant and inspector general of artillery for the Army of Tennessee in the spring of 1864.
To try and prepare his son for military service, Swett sent the boy a letter in which he laid down his “Rules for Government of a Soldier’s Action.” The following are the 10 rules that Swett counseled his son to follow while serving in the military:
1st. Always obey every command, and show at all times, proper respect for your officers, from the President down to the lowest Corporal in the company. No one can ever know how to command, until he knows how to obey.
2nd. Always be ‘slow to anger’, and ever be cheerful and considerate for the feelings of others; remembering that a company ‘divided against itself’ like a house mentioned in the bible, cannot stand.
3rd. Never turn your back on an enemy unless you are ordered to do so, and in that case give a parting shot if you can, as it may put someone out of the ranks.
4th. Never complain if it can possibly be avoided; and should you have to eat rations cooked 24 hours before, remember that your father, during four years of war, often had to eat corn bread that had been cooked for three days, and at times, beef without bread or salt, and was glad to get it.
5th. Never fire your gun without being satisfied your shot will effect, and not for the purpose of scaring someone, as the Chinese do. The stocks of all army guns [are] nearer straight than the guns you have used, therefore [have] the liability to shoot high.
6th. The primary object is not to kill in war, but to disable; the reason being, if a man is badly wounded, two will be required to carry him off; whereas, if he is killed, you get rid of only one man.
7th. Always aim low, as it will be better for your shot to strike the ground in front of an enemy, than to pass over his head. a ball striking the ground twenty yards in front of the line-of-battle will ricochet and may hit someone not above his shoulders, because of the fact that the angles of incidence and reflection are equal.
8th. When an order is given to you, never reply in order to discuss the case, but go, making every effort to succeed; dying in the effort if necessary.
9th. Never unnecessarily expose yourself, as it would be foolish to do so. If you are ordered to an exposed position, and one of great danger, go in your entire strength, and go in to win, without thinking of the consequences.
10th. Always ‘do unto others as you would that others should do unto you’ in your association with comrades, and be sure to do your duty to your God, your country, and your name, never failing as you go into battle, to invoke Divine protection in the little prayer I used on many fields of blood – ‘HEAVENLY FATHER, WATCH OVER, BLESS AND PRESERVE US FROM HARM, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, Amen.’ Then go in, not only believing but knowing you are under the protection of ‘One who doeth all things well’.
To Louie Chase Swett
Note: The information for this article came from “A Brief Narrative of Warren Light Artillery,” written by Charles Swett. It can be found online here: http://www.genealogy.com/users/s/w/e/Mike-Sweet-/
In the spring of 1889, a hopeful group of job seekers wanting to join the Atlanta, Georgia, police force waited to be inspected by the Police Board of Commissioners. The men were marched into the room in two squads, and in the second group was a man who immediately caught the attention of the board. A reporter who was covering the meeting wrote this account:
“In the second squad was a gentleman with but one arm. He gave his name as H.K.W. Childers. ‘How did you lose that arm?’ he was asked. ‘In the second days fight of the seven days fighting around Richmond,’ he answered. ‘ ‘What command?’ ‘Nineteenth Mississippi.’ After the second squad had been retired, there was a general expression of sympathy for the veteran. ‘I wish I could vote for him,’ said the chairman. ‘So do I,’ said Mr. Brown.”
The soldier in question was named Harrison K.W. Childress, but in the grammatically flexible 19th century, he often spelled his name Childers. Sympathy he got from the Board of Commissioners, but little else; there was no room on the Atlanta Police force for a one-armed veteran.
Harrison K.W. Childress was just one of the approximately 78,000 Mississippians who served in the Confederate army during the Civil War. He left no diary or letters about his wartime service that have survived to the present day, and if I had not found this brief article in the March 31, 1889, edition of The Atlanta Constitution, his story, like those of so many other Mississippians, would be lost to history.
But this little tidbit, this one brief article, only gives us a quick glimpse into the life of a disabled Confederate soldier who was struggling to support himself and his family in the postwar South. If only the rest of his story could be told… and fortunately it can. I was intrigued enough by the story of Private Childress to do a little looking, in the off chance that there might be more to his story – and there is! I plugged his name into the search engine at newsinhistory.com, a newspaper archive site that I have a subscription to, and I found a second, more detailed article about Childress written in the April 1, 1906 edition of The Atlanta Constitution.
Before I go into this second article, however, a little background on Harrison K.W. Childress is needed. He was born on May 9, 1838, in Mississippi, probably in Marshall County, which is where the Childress family was recorded as living in the 1850 United States Census. Harrison’s father, Gowen Childress, was a small farmer who reported to the census taker that he owned $1,200 in real estate. By the time of the 1860 census, 21-year-old Harrison and his older brother George were living with a Betsey Waldrip, perhaps as boarders, in Tyro, Marshall County, Mississippi. Harrison listed his occupation as laborer, and reported that he had a personal estate worth $200.00.
When the Civil War started, Childress joined the “Marshall Rifles” from Marshall County, on May 25, 1861. The company went to Richmond, Virginia, where they were called into the service of the Confederate States as Company I of the 19th Mississippi Infantry.
Childress survived the 19th Mississippi’s baptism of fire at the battle of Williamsburg, Virginia, on May 5, 1862, and made it through the regiment’s second battle at Seven Pines, Virginia, on May 31 – June 1, 1862. But Childress’ luck ran out in his third battle, at Gaines’ Mill, Virginia, on June 27, 1862. The 19th Mississippi was part of General Winfield Scott Featherston’s brigade, (12th, 16th, 19th Mississippi regiments and 2nd Mississippi battalion) of General James Longstreet’s corps. Featherston’s brigade was engaged in very heavy fighting at Gaines’ Mill, and the 19th Mississippi in particular took extremely heavy casualties in forcing the Union troops out of their prepared positions. A newspaper reporter for the Macon Telegraph (Macon, GA) wrote on July 4, 1862 of the attack at Gaines’ Mill: “The attack of our men on this position was impetuous and daring, but the loss was great, for the foe were so screened by their position that it was impossible to get at them properly. Their loss was severe…The 19th Mississippi went into action with 521, had 31 killed, 150 wounded.”
In the bloody fighting at Gaines’ Mill, Childress was hit by a bullet in the left arm, and a Confederate surgeon had to remove the limb above the elbow to save the desperately wounded private’s life. Childress was sent to St. Charles Hospital in Richmond where he slowly recovered from his devastating wound. On August 6, 1862, his service record notes that he was returned to duty. Given the nature of his wounds, Childress doubtless could have asked for, and would have received, a discharge from the army. But the young man did not do that – he remained in uniform, and his service record for January – February 1863 showed that he was “detailed for hospital duties.”
Childress’s wound must have been giving him trouble, for on February 20, 1863, he was admitted to Winder Hospital in Richmond for treatment. His condition made it impossible for him to return to the 19th Mississippi, and on April 23, 1863, he was transferred to an army hospital near his home in Grenada, Mississippi. Again, Childress would have been perfectly justified in seeking a discharge from the army. He had suffered a terrible disfiguring wound in service of the Confederacy, and no one would have thought the worse of him for wanting to go home. But this young man decided to continue to serve his state as best he could. His records for July – August 1864 noted that he
was “Detailed as Hospital Guard in Mississippi.” The final notation in Childress’ service record noted in January 1865 he was on a 30 day furlough, and that the recommendation that his furlough be extended was approved.
After the war Childress returned home to Marshall County to begin a new life. In the 1870 census he listed his occupation as farmer, but it must have been a modest operation: he listed the value of the real estate he owned at $640, and his personal estate was worth $560. In 1873 Childress married Martha Bell, and in 1880 the couple decided to move to Georgia with their four children, settling on a farm in the town of Douglas. The family remained there until sometime in the mid to late 1880s, when they gave up the farm and moved to the city of Atlanta. In 1887 Martha died, and two years later Harrison Childress applied to the state of Georgia for a Confederate veteran’s pension. His application was approved, and the old soldier was granted a pension of $100 per year. This amount, generous as it was, could not sustain his family, and in the 1890 Atlanta city directory, Childress was listed as making his living as a peddler.
In 1891, the widower married Mary Julia Gay, and about 1905 the couple purchased a house at 299 Jones Avenue in Atlanta. With only modest means, they put down $25 on the $900 house, and paid notes of $10 per month. Even this small amount must have strained the family finances to the limit, for in April 1906, a dejected Harrison Childress walked into the offices of The Atlanta Constitution and related to reporter Alan Rogers his sad story. The newspaperman took down the tale that the old veteran told him, and on April 1, 1906, he published the following article:
VETERAN FIGHTING BATTLE TO SAVE HIS THREE COWS
Struggle of a One-Armed Soldier to Meet the Payment of a $10 Note Which He Must Pay Monday Morning
This is the true story of a battle for three cows and the home of H. K. W. Childress, and the victory seems to lie mostly with the public and the loss of the battle with the 1st of April, when a note for $10 comes due.
H. K. W. Childress, one of the old veterans who was among the first to answer the call of the confederacy, marched in to the office of The Atlanta Constitution yesterday with a story of his last and hardest fight which occurred in a commonplace prosaic battle field on a street in Atlanta in this present time of piping peace.
Comrade Childress for almost a year has been fighting the fight of a brave man, and the cause for which he fought has been the saving of his three cows, which represent the saving of a lifetime. Not a very large capital, perhaps, but there came a time in that other struggle when the Nineteenth Mississippi, C.S.A., was ordered to a charge at Gaines’ Mill, Va. Colonel L. Q. C. Lamar commanded the regiment, and the corps was commanded by Longstreet. To those who know, that tells the whole story, so far as the charge was concerned, although it does not suggest such details as the loss of an arm on the part of Private Childress of Company I, one of the fighting men of the line.
The loss of that army mustered Private Childress out of the army, all soldiers being expected to carry two arms of their own in addition to all ordnance in the way of fighting machinery. But when Private Childress had gone to his old home in Marshall county, Mississippi, and had recuperated at least part of his old-time strength, one of his arms having been buried with a miscellaneous collection of confederate limbs and other members of the body at the field hospital dump behind the old church at Gaines’ Mill this same old soldier reported for duty and the cause he loved at the nearest army hospital as an orderly. He trotted around through the wards, being fortunate in having saving both of his pair of legs while fighting as one of Longstreet’s corps in Virginia, and helped in the dressing of surgical cases as much as a one-armed man could. This was all very well until the surgeons left the hospital and took the field, and then it was found that the requirements were more than any one-armed orderly could meet, and Private Childress was again mustered out and returned to his home in Mississippi.
But all these things are a part of the unwritten history that does not find its way between the covers of handsomely bound covers, where there is no room for the mention of the fighting men of the line, perhaps because there were so many of them. At any rate, it has nothing to do with the battle that was fought in the little barn yard in the rear of 299 Jones avenue, and the hope of saving the three cows that represent the entire assets of the Childress family. Really, this last campaign, this long struggle in the times of peace, began in 1880 when Civilian Childress came to Georgia and rented a farm in the western portion of Fulton County. There were children to raise and educate. These things were attended to. The children grew up, got married and had little troubles of their own. They moved away, and so it is that Mr. Childress is alone with his wife, the only two members of the regiment now waging a gallant fight for saving of the three cows.
It was about a year ago that this Childress regiment of two came to Atlanta. They started to buy the little home at 299 Jones avenue with a payment of $25 down and notes for the remainder at $10 a month until $900 without interest, should be paid. These payments were kept up until now. Then one of the cows went dry. Other complications set in, and now the note is due and the Childress treasury is empty.
Ex-private Childress was far from the fighting man of the ’60’s as he marched into the Constitution office, forty years by the calendar and twice that far because of disabilities that forced themselves in on this one-armed struggle in eking out a living from the rest of the world that hurried by so rapidly that most men with two arms and the full quota of physical members had to double-quick to keep up with the procession. Probably these disabilities were responsible for the hobble rather than the march which with much leaning on a stout cane, made possible his advance to the desk of a reporter. His story was told simply, and his mission was one of information. He wanted to know if there was any way of saving his home, on which he has already paid more than $100, which is a large sum when earned with one arm, and most of all he wanted to know if there was any way in which he could save the cows, which would be little use to him without a place where he and the other member of his little home regiment could milk them.
This note which threatens the loss of the $100, the loss of his home and, most of all, the loss of the three cows which have done so much and which have been such good friends to the Childresses in their struggle against the battles that belong to these piping times of peace.
I wish I could tell you how the story ended – but I simply do not know. I searched the following issues of the paper, but I could not find any mention of Childress. I like to think that someone came forward and helped the old veteran, but that’s just wishful thinking on my part. I am an historian, and I have to stick to the facts. I did find one more piece of information about Childress, however, in the February 8, 1907 edition of The Atlanta Constitution. Listed under the title “MORTUARY,” it simply stated: “H. K. W. Childress, aged 67 years, died yesterday morning at 2 o’clock at the residence of his daughter, Mrs. W. F. Cassells, 80 Belgrade avenue. He was a brave confederate soldier and is survived by his wife, four daughters and three sons.”
Childress may not have been able to leave his family riches of the material sort, but he did pass on to them a rich legacy of honorable service to his country. His son, Albert Wylie Childress, served 30 years in the United States army, retiring as a captain. When he died in 1953 he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Albert’s son, Albert Wylie Childress II, attended the United States Military Academy, graduating with the Class of 1945. After a long and honorable career he retired as a lieutenant colonel in the army.
Harrison K. W. Childress is buried in the Ramah Church Cemetery in Palmetto, Georgia.
He has both civilian and military markers on his grave, but the marble stone denoting his military service has a mistake: his unit is listed as the 19th Georgia Infantry instead of the 19th Mississippi Infantry. It’s a small thing, but it should be corrected; Childress was a proud son of Mississippi, who fought along side his fellow Mississippians, shed his blood among his fellow Mississippians, and he will always be counted among the Mississippians who served their state so well during the terrible Civil War.
On Saturday, October 1, 2011, I will be at the Old Court House Flea Market in Vicksburg, Mississippi, selling copies of my book, AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO THE VICKSBURG CAMPAIGN AND NATIONAL MILITARY PARK. If you are going to be at the Flea Market, please stop by and introduce yourself, as I would love to meet some of my readers. I will be in space #181, which is in front of the new Warren County Courthouse, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
One of the great things about doing historical research is the things you find purely by accident; little gems of information that few (if any) people have seen in decades. A great example is this article written by Frank H. Foote about the Rebel Yell. I found it purely by accident while looking for information on an entirely different Mississippi unit in the newspaper archive newsinhistory.com. (It’s a pay site, but the $9.95 per month is well worth the cost).
Frank H. Foote was born in Port Gibson, Mississippi, on January 27, 1843. His father, Julian Foote, was a prosperous carpenter, and at the time the war started, 18-year-old Frank was still living in his household. On September 3, 1861, Foote joined the “Claiborne Volunteers,” which became part of the 2nd Mississippi Infantry Battalion. In time the battalion was increased in size and renamed the 48th Mississippi Infantry.
Foote began the war a private and ended it a private four years later, surrendering at
Appomattox in 1865. A faithful soldier, his service record shows him as “present for duty” throughout the war. In later years, Foote began writing about his war experiences, and his articles were picked up by newspapers throughout the South. A prolific author, I have found close to a dozen newspaper articles written by Foote, and I suspect there are many more out there waiting to be found. The following article, published in the Macon Telegraph (Macon, GA) on May 1, 1912, is one of my favorites.
The Rebel Yell at Its Best
At the Reunion of Confederate Veterans, in the published reports thereof, we see it reported “that they gave the old rebel yell,” etc. If a band plays “Dixie” it is perfectly natural that not only the old soldiers, but every one else give vent to their feelings by shouts and yells. But that yell is no more a Confederate battle yell than it is a sermon, and for the sake of our sacred cause don’t any one claim an outburst a rebel yell. That yell is no more – dead as Hector’s pup and cannot be resurrected again, for the reason that there was a component part that greatly contributed to its effectiveness, and that was a battle field. One was essential to the other, and without either it becomes simply noise. That’s all.
“That yell was born in strife, amid the crash of bursting shells, crash of cannon; roll of musketry, the ping of the minie ball and the speed of a bullet as it found a human mark. The savage smell of exploding gunpowder, the scream of agony of the maimed, the dashing charge, the rout and pursuit,” these all contributed to the making of the yell now so closely identified to Confederate annals.
On many occasions I have heard it and helped it on the above conditions, but not once since the South surrendered. Since then it is only imitation, and flat at that. In the Wilderness, May 6, 1864, I heard it at its best. I will try to describe my impressions of it, as roughly written in 1912 and my memory still clings to it and its awful surroundings.
After the mantle of darkness had veiled the scene of so much woe, we were kept busy for a short time in rearranging our lines for the morrows conflict. It was between 9 and 10 o’clock when there suddenly arose a mighty yell from our lines. It was one of loud ringing triumph emanating from thousands of Confederate throats that drowned the sobs and wails of the sorely stricken in our sombre fronts of both armies. That historic yell arose from an excited state of consciousness of superior valor on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, who believed their foe crushed, that Gettysburg was avenged, and the confidence that in another day’s action would sweep Grant’s army out of the way and leave the way open for operations elsewhere.
This all-pervading spirit was enhanced when Gen. Harry Heath, a division commander of our corps, came dashing by in exciting careen exclaiming: “Grant is killed, the Yankees are whipped and are recrossing the Rapid Ann.” Then each individual took up the glad tidings and the dismal depths of the wilds of Spottsylvania re-echoed the joyous refrain. Thus it passed down the line, denoting its position and for the only time in the fluctuations of that remarkable battle was Gen. Lee’s lines definitely defined; it came surging now from the far right and rear, then deflecting toward the front, increasing in volume as it neared us of the center, its swelling cadences reverberating, now seemingly backward, then acutely to the front, then in a serious and distorted alignment passed away to the left until it was lost at the end of the line.
Many of that host of Union soldiers and men of the Army of Northern Virginia now alive recall that midnight yell, and here is what a Northern soldier remembers of it:
“The rebel yell was in the high falsetto voice, much like the scream of Indians or women. Ours was simply a grand hurrah in bass or baritone voice, not at all like the other shrill scream. In the evening of the second day at the battle of the Wilderness, perhaps about 9 o’clock, the rebels began a yell on the right of their line, which ran all the way up to their left, which from the sound appeared to be on somewhat higher ground. By this we could locate them exactly. The line seemed to be about three miles long. When they finished our boys took it up, and passed it down, good and strong all the way to our left. I never heard anything like it before or since.”
The sequel of that yell tells how several regiments of Federals gave way in confusion and sought safety in the rear, how others not so affected braced themselves for the fray and were only relieved of apprehension when the dying echoes of elated hearts ceased and quietness as a pall hung over both armies soon sleeping beneath the swaying pines.
I heard that yell again at Spottsylvania Court House when Harris’ Mississippi brigade went into that deadly salient and made good, and Confederates everywhere echoed that glorious charge by ringing yells of elation. Some of Mahone’s men at the last Reunion at Richmond told me how well they remembered that charge and recapture of the angle – taken that morning, and their terrible yells as they drove out the Federals. One said: “We were less than a mile on your right and knew your brigade had been sent for for desperate work, and we knew, too, if any command could retake the lost work it was Harris’ men. We heard you go in, we heard the awful roar of musketry, the cheers and huzzas of the enemy as he made charge after charge, and we listened with bated breath for news from Harris. It came in a great roar of yells that told that Harris had repulsed the attack and made good. He also said that his brigade simply went wild when after a most determined and obstinate assault the yell told of victory. Under such conditions the yell was genuine; under any other it is a fraud and imitation, and does the reporter who uses the phrase no good.
Late of 48th Mississippi Infantry, Harris Brigade, A. N. Va.
Vicksburg, Miss., April 30
After surrendering at Appomattox, Frank H. Foote returned home to Port Gibson. He
eventually married Bettie A. Cole, and had two daughters: Enola and Nora. Foote died on May 18, 1920, and is buried in Wintergreen Cemetery in Port Gibson.
Note: There has been much discussion among historians about what the Rebel Yell actually sounded like. Fortunately there are at least two recordings of Confederate veterans giving the yell, and in recent years the Museum of the Confederacy has used these recordings and some modern computer magic to recreate what a company of Confederate infantry probably sounded like while giving the Rebel Yell. It sent chills up my spine when I heard it, and if you would care to experience it as well, you can find it here: http://cwmemory.com/2010/02/28/exploring-the-rebel-yell-with-waite-rawls/.
Although the Army of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana (better known as the Army of Vicksburg) was not officially created until October 1862, it had its origins in the armies left in Mississippi after General Braxton Bragg transferred the Army of Mississippi (soon to be renamed the Army of Tennessee) from Tupelo, Mississippi, to Chattanooga, Tennessee in July 1862.
With Bragg’s departure, there were only two organized Confederate armies left in
Mississippi: the Army of the District of the Mississippi, commanded by Major General Earl Van Dorn, who had 16,000 men spread out along the Mississippi River from Vicksburg to Port Hudson, Louisiana; and the Army of the West commanded by Major General Sterling Price, who had 17,000 men in northeast Mississippi.
On September 19, 1862 Sterling Price fought the battle of Iuka and after a bloody but indecisive engagement, was forced to retreat to avoid having his entire command surrounded and destroyed. The Mississippi infantry units that fought at Iuka were the 7th Mississippi Battalion and the 36th, 37th, 38th, 40th, and 43rd regiments. In addition, Wirt Adams regiment of Mississippi Cavalry, the 1st Mississippi Partisan Rangers, 2nd Mississippi Cavalry and the 4th Mississippi Cavalry fought in the battle as well. The casualty reports are incomplete, but the Mississippi units that did list their casualties had a combined 20 killed, 91 wounded, and 21 missing.
For many of the Mississippians, Iuka was the first battle in which they “saw the elephant,” and the reality of war conflicted with the romantic notions of war that many inexperienced soldiers had. In a letter written just days after the battle, Captain James M. Fulghum of Company K, 36th Mississippi Infantry, wrote this heartfelt account of the horrors he witnessed: “I reckon we must have driven the Yankees about a quarter of a mile back when night closed in and put an end to the conflict. They fought until pitch dark and worse of all, we had to stay all night in the battlefield. That was a night of horror to us, to hear the cries of the wounded as they lay bleeding on the ground. I never want to spend another night in that manner. I will never forget it as long as I live. I never will forget it as long as I live.”
After Iuka, the two Confederate armies in Mississippi combined under the leadership of senior general Earl Van Dorn for an attack on Corinth, Mississippi. This new Rebel force was known as the Army of West Tennessee, and in the battle of Corinth on October 3-4 1862, the Confederates were given a bloody repulse and Van Dorn forced to retreat.
Mississippi was well represented at Corinth. The infantry units that fought in the battle were the 1st Battalion Mississippi Sharpshooters, 7th Mississippi Infantry Battalion, and the 6th, 15th, 22nd, 33rd, 35th, 36th, 37th, 38th, 39th, 40th, 43rd infantry regiments. In addition, the 2nd Confederate Infantry regiment fought at Corinth, and this unit had three companies from Mississippi. Four cavalry units from the state participated in the battle: the 1st Mississippi cavalry, 1st Mississippi Partisan Rangers, 2nd Mississippi Cavalry and Wirt Adams regiment of Mississippi cavalry. There was also one artillery unit of Mississippians on the battlefield – Hudson’s Mississippi Battery. The soldiers from the Magnolia State suffered very heavily in the battle: casualty reports are incomplete, but the units that did list their killed and wounded had a combined 91 killed and 399 wounded.
In 1909, W.B. Brack, the captain of Company F, 35th Mississippi Infantry, wrote an account for the Dallas Morning News of the attack on Battery Robinett at Corinth. In the article he stated: “Rushing in with my company to within a few yards of the gun, a soldier attempted to fire. If he did it meant the ruin of our company, who were packed in the road directly in front of the gun. Checking up a moment, I fired my pistol at the man at the gun. He fell, whether killed or not I do not know. When within a few feet of the gun, another tried to fire it. I fired upon him with the same result. Then with a few more steps I was on the cannon. My men and others came on pell mell, and for a time it was close fighting.”
In the wake of the Confederate defeat at Corinth, President Jefferson Davis sent Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton to take charge of all the Confederate forces in Mississippi as part of his new command, the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana in October 1862. Pemberton’s command is usually referred to simply as the Army of Vicksburg.
Mississippians made up a large portion of the Army of Vicksburg. In a departmental return dated March 31, 1863, the state had twenty infantry regiments, three infantry battalions of regular troops and three infantry regiments, three battalions, and one brigade of state troops serving in the Army of Vicksburg. There was also a considerable number of Mississippi artillerymen attached to the army: during the siege of Vicksburg in 1863, there were eleven batteries from the state serving in the Army of Vicksburg.
After taking command Pemberton kept the bulk his army in north Mississippi, awaiting any move south by the Union forces in Tennessee, and he did not have long to wait. On October 16, 1862, Major General Ulysses S. Grant assumed command of the Department of the Tennessee and began making plans to invade Mississippi and capture Vicksburg. In late November he advanced into the Magnolia state with 40,000 men, moving south along the Mississippi Central Railroad. In response to the Union advance Pemberton retreated and eventually established a defensive position behind the Yalabusha River at Grenada.
When Grant reached the Yalabusha opposite Grenada, the Union general came up with a plan to quickly take Vicksburg. He decided to use his army to pin Pemberton at Grenada while Major General William T. Sherman took 32,000 men from Memphis and steamed down the Mississippi River to assault lightly defended Vicksburg.
Grant’s plan went awry very quickly; a Confederate cavalry raid led by General Earl Van Dorn destroyed the Union supply depot at Holly Springs, Mississippi, on December 20. With no way to support his army, Grant was forced to retreat back into Tennessee; this allowed Pemberton to send reinforcements to defend Vicksburg from Sherman’s assault.
Even with the reinforcements, the Confederate commander at Vicksburg, Brigadier General Stephen D. Lee, was terribly outnumbered, having only 6,000 men to face over 32,000 Federals. Fortunately for the Rebels, they were entrenched in a strong position at Chickasaw Bayou, and when the Federals made their main attack on December 29, 1862, they were repulsed with heavy losses. The Yankees had 208 men killed, 1,005 wounded, and 563 missing. Confederate casualties amounted to only 207 killed, wounded, and missing. Sherman’s defeat at Chickasaw Bayou ended the 1862 campaign for Vicksburg.
In the battle of Chickasaw Bayou the following infantry regiments took part: 3rd Mississippi Infantry, 3rd Battalion Mississippi State Troops, 4th Mississippi Infantry, 35th Mississippi Infantry and the 46th Mississippi Infantry. Mississippi artillerymen were represented in the fight as well: Company A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery (section), Company D, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, Company E, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, Company I, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, and Companies A & B, 14th Battalion Mississippi Light Artillery. There was one cavalry unit from Mississippi at Chickasaw Bayou: Johnson’s Mississippi Cavalry Company.
In a newspaper article about Chickasaw Bayou published in January 1863, the writer noted the part played by the 14th Battalion Mississippi Artillery in the battle: “Companies A and B, of Major Ward’s Artillery Battalion, took part in the fights, and are deserving of notice. They arrived here on Friday, and were ordered to the battle field immediately. On Sunday afternoon Company A, under the command of Major Ward, took position at the foot of the hill, in front of General Bartou’s brigade, and opened upon a battery of the enemy. They were under fire for two hours, and behaved well. No one was hurt but Major Ward, who received a slight wound on the side of the head. They were assisted in silencing the battery by Lieut. Stowers, of Company B, in charge of three siege guns, on the crest of the hill. At night one section of Company A, in charge of Lieut. Tarleton, went up the lines of General Lee, and were all day Monday in the hottest of the fight. A shell exploded one of their caissons, killing Captain Hamilton of General Lee’s staff, a most excellent officer. He had just rode up to deliver an order to Lieutenant Tarleton. They shot away all their ammunition twice during the day.”
After Chickasaw Bayou campaigning ended for the winter, and Pemberton had time to build up his forces to protect Vicksburg. By the end of March 1863, he had 57,000 troops available for the defense of Vicksburg and the only other Rebel bastion on the Mississippi, Port Hudson, Louisiana.
After retreating back to Tennessee, Grant moved his army to camps in Louisiana opposite Vicksburg, and spent the winter formulating a plan to put his men on dry ground in Mississippi from which to operate against Vicksburg. He eventually came up with the plan to march his troops down the Louisiana side of the river to a point below Vicksburg. His transports and gunboats would run past the Vicksburg water batteries, meet up with the army, and ferry them across into Mississippi.
On April 30, 1863, Grant began ferrying his army to a landing near Bruinsburg, Mississippi. On May 1, the vanguard of the Union army, about 23,000 men, met 6,800 Confederates under Brigadier General John Bowen in the battle of Port Gibson. There were only four Mississippi units engaged at Port Gibson: the 4th, 6th, and 46th infantry regiments and the Pettus Flying Artillery, and all of these commands were heavily engaged in the battle. The 4th and 46th had a forced march just to reach the battlefield, leaving Vicksburg after dark on April 29 and arriving outside Port Gibson at midnight before May 1. At daylight they resumed their march with the sounds of the battle having already begun, and the men went into action after having walked over 40 miles to reach the battlefield. The 6th Mississippi Infantry particularly distinguished itself in the fighting, capturing a battery of artillery, but at the cost of over 100 casualties.
Lieutenant Simeon R. Martin of Company I, 46th Mississippi Infantry, wrote this account of his regiment’s service at Port Gibson: “We were advanced about a quarter mile to the front, down the Bruinsburg Road, and took position in an open field in full view of the enemy, and exposed to an open fire from both artillery and small arms. Many blunders are made in war, and this was one of them, and a fatal one for many of our men. This field was not more than two hundred yards wide, with timber on both sides of it, in which we could have had good shelter from the enemy’s fire, and yet we were kept there for a full half hour, in a bare level field, with not a tree, stump or anything else to shelter us, exposed to a merciless fire of shells, grape, canister and minnie balls. It was here that Sam Smith was killed and John Campbell wounded, and where I had another narrow escape myself. After we had suffered severe loss, in killed and wounded, we were finally withdrawn into the road where we were sheltered by the high banks. We were then deployed as skirmishers and advanced to the front through the timber till we were in sight of the enemy, when we began firing, and kept it up till night pretty much in the same position.”
The Confederates fought well at Port Gibson, but the Yankee numbers made the difference, and Bowen was forced to retreat. Grant knew precisely what he wanted to do next: “…cut lose from my base, destroy the rebel force in rear of Vicksburg and invest or capture the city.” – Portraits of Conflict, pg. 217.
On May 7, Grant began to move inland towards Jackson, and on May 12 a portion of his force under Major General James B. McPherson met a Rebel force commanded by Brigadier General John Gregg in the battle of Raymond. Once again the Confederates were heavily outnumbered, and after putting up a fierce defense were compelled by numbers to retreat back to Jackson. Confederate casualties were 73 killed, 252 wounded, and 190 missing. Only a few Mississippi cavalry and mounted infantry were involved in the battle of Raymond, and their losses were negligible.
The battle of Raymond convinced Grant to deal with the Confederates at Jackson first before turning west to deal with Vicksburg. On May 13, Pemberton’s superior, General Joseph E. Johnston, arrived in Jackson to assume direct command of the effort to defeat Grant. With only a small force in the town and Grant advancing on the city, Johnston called for the evacuation of the city on May 14, and ordered General Gregg to fight a delaying action to give the Rebels time to retreat. Gregg’s small command engaged approximately 11,500 Yankees in the battle of Jackson, buying the time Johnston needed to evacuate the city. Confederate casualties in the battle were 17 killed, 64 wounded, and 118 missing. The involvement of Mississippi units in the battle was minor; the 14th Mississippi Infantry, 1st Battalion Mississippi State Troops, and Brookhaven Light Artillery were all lightly engaged and suffered few casualties.
After the battle of Jackson, Grant left Major General William T. Sherman with his troops to wreck Jackson while the rest of the army began moving west towards Vicksburg. On May 16, Grant’s army met Pemberton’s at Champion Hill between Bolton and Edwards. In the largest battle of the campaign, 32,000 Federals met 22,000 Confederates. After very intense fighting, Pemberton was forced to retreat to avoid having his army captured or destroyed. Confederate casualties in the battle were 3,840 against Federal losses of 2,441.
There were a number of Mississippi units at the battle of Champion Hill, including the following infantry regiments: 3rd, 6th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd, 26th, 31st, 33rd, and the 1st Mississippi Sharpshooter battalion. The artillery units that took part in the battle were Company A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, Company D, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, Company G, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, Company C, 14th Battalion Mississippi Light Artillery, and Company G, 14th Battalion Mississippi Light Artillery. The only cavalry unit from the state that participated in the battle was Wirt Adams regiment of Mississippi cavalry.
Strangely enough, very few of the Mississippi units that fought at Champion Hill were heavily engaged, and losses for the most part were very light. One exception was Company A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, commanded by Captain Samuel J. Ridley. In the fighting
his battery was assaulted by an overpowering wave of Federal infantry, and all of his men either shot down or forced to flee. Ridley however continued working one gun alone until shot down and killed. Major General Carter L. Stevenson later wrote, “Here, too, the gallant Ridley, refusing to leave his guns, single handed and alone fought until he fell, pierced with six shots, winning even from his enemies the highest tribute of admiration.” – Military History of Mississippi, pg. 469.
In the retreat from Champion Hill, the Confederate Division commanded by Major General William W. Loring, approximately 7,800 men, was cut off and forced to skirt around the Federal army before eventually reaching Jackson and safety.
After the battle of Champion Hill, Pemberton fell back to the Big Black River and put about 5,000 of his men into the defenses on the east side of the river to hold open the retreat route for Loring’s Division, whom he thought was bringing up the rear. On May 17 however it was the Federals who appeared at the Big Black, and they quickly attacked, smashing the Rebel line and forcing the Confederates to flee across the river. Federal casualties were only 279; Confederate casualties were not reported, but approximately 1,751 men were taken prisoner.
Only two Mississippi units were involved in the fighting at the Big Black River; the 4th Mississippi Infantry and Company A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery. Both units fought well in the battle and the 4th Mississippi was commended by Brigadier General William E. Baldwin, who wrote that the regiment “…gallantly held its place until left alone, when the remnant escaped by swimming the river.” – Military History of Mississippi, pg. 160.
After the disaster at the Big Black River, Pemberton pulled his army back into the Vicksburg defenses, and his army endured a 47-day siege of the city from May 18 – July 4, 1863. Mississippians were involved in the siege of Vicksburg in large numbers. The following infantry regiments from the state took part in the siege: 4th, 35th, 36th, 37th, 38th, 40th, 43rd, and 46th. In addition the 7th Mississippi Infantry battalion and the 3rd Mississippi Infantry battalion, state troops, and the 5th Mississippi Infantry, state troops, fought at Vicksburg. There was also a detachment of the 6th Mississippi Infantry at Vicksburg that had been cut off from their unit during the battle of Champion Hill and had retreated into the city with the rest of the army. Mississippi was also well represented by artillery units at Vicksburg: Batteries A, C, D, E, G, I, and L of the 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, the 14th Battalion Mississippi Light Artillery and the Pettus Flying Artillery served during the siege. The only Mississippi cavalry to serve in the siege lines was Smyth’s Company, Mississippi Partisan Rangers.
During the siege the Mississippians suffered terribly from lack of food, exposure to the elements, and the constant threat of death from Union artillery and muskets. But the men in the trenches held out for 47 terrible days. In his diary Captain William L. Faulk of Company B, 38th Mississippi Infantry, spelled out why he was willing to endure such hardship: “All worried and tired, but still determined to endure all for what we believe to be our rights, and confident that an over-ruling providence will work all for our good. The enemy may be a superior force, overcome us for a short time, but God will never favor the persecutors of innocent women and children. They have passed by my home and I cried to hear the condition in which I fear they have left my wife and children. God will certainly visit them with a terrible vengeance.”
Not all of the Mississippi units that fought during the siege listed their casualties, but those that did had combined losses of 160 men killed, 392 wounded, and 12 missing. The men from the Magnolia State had paid a very high price in blood trying to defend their homeland from the invader.
While the siege of Vicksburg was underway, General Joseph E. Johnston returned to Jackson after the Union forces left, and began assembling an army to relieve Pemberton’s army. Units from all over the Confederacy flooded into Jackson, and among the troops were those of General William W. Loring’s Division that had been cut off after the battle of Champion Hill. The army that Johnston assembled was simply known as the Army of Relief. There were a number of Mississippi units in this army, many of them in Loring’s Division. In all the army had from the state 12 infantry regiments or battalions, one section of artillery, and six regiments or battalions of cavalry.
By early June 1863 Johnston had over 31,000 men in the Army of Relief, along with 78 cannon. Although Pemberton’s and Johnston’s combined forces now outnumbered those Grant had besieging Vicksburg, the Confederate forces in Jackson made no move towards Vicksburg. Johnston kept making excuses not to move while thousands of reinforcements were being sent to Grant, giving him the advantage in numbers once again.
Johnston finally began a slow advance towards Vicksburg on July 1, but before his troops could reach the city, Pemberton surrendered Vicksburg to Grant on July 4. With his troops now freed up to go elsewhere, Grant ordered Sherman to go after Johnston’s army. The Confederate commander quickly pulled his force back to Jackson where it underwent a partial siege by Sherman’s men from July 9-16, 1863. On the night of the 16th, Johnston withdrew from the city and moved off to the west, crossing the Pearl River. The Federals did not pursue for long because of the summer heat, and soon went back to Vicksburg, officially ending the 1863 Vicksburg Campaign.
At the same time that Vicksburg was under siege in Mississippi, a second, lesser known siege was going on at Port Hudson, Louisiana. The southern stronghold at Port Hudson consisted of a force of about 6,800 men, commanded by Major General Franklin Gardner. This garrison was the southern counterpart to Vicksburg, and the Confederate artillery commanding the river at Port Hudson could deny the use of the lower river to Union civilian shipping.
Union Major General Nathaniel P. Banks moved against Port Hudson with a force of more than 30,000 men, and on May 23, 1863, his forces were in position to besiege Port Hudson and reduce the Rebel garrison. Banks launched attacks on the Confederate works on May 27 and again on June 14, but both attacks were repulsed with heavy casualties for the Yankees. Banks then settled in to starve the Confederates out. Starvation, exposure, and constant danger from Union infantry and artillery made conditions for the soldiers at Port Hudson even worse than those for Vicksburg’s defenders. Still the small garrison managed to hold out until July 9, 1863, when they surrendered, ending a siege that lasted 48 days.
In his after action report, Colonel Winchester B. Shelby, commander of the 39th Mississippi infantry, wrote this tribute to the conduct of his men at Port Hudson: “I trust I may be pardoned for saying a few words with reference to my own regiment. The conduct of officers & men alike meets my unqualified approbation. They evinced that spirit which ever activates men fighting for the holiest of causes, freedom & their homes.”
Among the Mississippi troops that fought at Port Hudson was the 1st Mississippi Infantry, 39th Mississippi Infantry, and Claiborne’s Mississippi Light Infantry Company. The Mississippi artillery units that participated in the siege were batteries B, F, & K of the 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, English’s Mississippi battery, and the Seven Stars Mississippi Light Artillery. There were no cavalry units from Mississippi inside the Port Hudson siege lines, but there were several units from the state outside the siege lines operating against isolated units of the Union army. The most prominent of the Mississippi cavalry units that took part in the Port Hudson campaign was Garland’s Mississippi cavalry battalion and Stockdale’s Mississippi cavalry battalion.
“The Battle at Vicksburg.” Charleston Mercury, Charleston, SC: 13 January 1863.
Bearss, Edwin C. “The Campaign For Vicksburg.” Volumes II & III. Dayton, OH: Morningside House, 1986.
_____. “The Armed Conflict: 1861-1865.” In “A History of Mississippi,” Volume 1. Richard A. McLemore, ed. Jackson, MS: University and College Press of Mississippi, 1973.
Boatner, Mark Mayo III. “The Civil War Dictionary.” New York: David McKay Company, 1959.
Brack, William B. “Death of Col. Rogers.” Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX: 18 May 1909.
Cozzens, Peter. “The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth.” Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
Faulk, William L. Diary, 18 May 1863 – 9 July 1863. Mississippi File, Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg, MS.
Fulghum, James M. Letter, 24 September 1862. Located in the Old Court House Museum Collections, Vicksburg, MS.
Howell, H. Grady. “Going to Meet the Yankees.” Jackson, MS: Chickasaw Bayou Press, 1981.
Martin, Simeon R. “Recollections of the War Between the States.” Privately published, no date. A copy is in the collections of the Old Court House Museum, Vicksburg, MS.
Moneyhon, Carl and Bobby Roberts. “Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Mississippi in the Civil War.” Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1993.
Rowland, Dunbar. “Military History of Mississippi 1803-1898.” Spartanburg, SC: The Reprint Company, 1978.
Shelby, Winchester B. “Report of the Conduct & Operations of the 39th Mississippi Volunteers During the Siege of Port Hudson.” 8 August 1863. Located in the Tulane University Library, New Orleans, LA.
The Army of Tennessee was one of over two-dozen independent field armies created by the Confederate States of America. Although the Army of Tennessee was not formally so named until November 1862, its history dates from the first days of the war when its predecessor units came into being. Upon leaving the Union, each seceding state created its own army, and eventually these state-organized military forces were absorbed into Confederate service. The Army of Tennessee evolved from these forces that had been raised by the Western states of the Confederacy.
The force that became the Army of Tennessee had its origins in the summer of 1861 when
President Jefferson Davis sent General Albert Sidney Johnston to command all the Confederate forces between the Appalachian Mountains on the east and the Ozark Mountains on the west, with the exception of the troops defending the coastline along the Gulf of Mexico.
By the winter of 1861 – 1862, Johnston had his 40,000-man army spread thin trying to defend a very long line running from Columbus, Kentucky, to the Cumberland Gap in Tennessee. Among the troops holding this line were 12 regiments of Mississippi infantry.
Johnston’s defensive line was fatally ruptured on February 16, 1862, when a Union army under Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant captured 11,500 Confederates at Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River in Tennessee. Among the prisoners were approximately 3,000 Mississippians.
Among the men from the Magnolia State that fought at Fort Donelson was George E. Estes, a 2nd Lieutenant in the 14th Mississippi Infantry. In a post-war reminiscence for the book Reminiscences of the Boys in Gray he wrote: “I started out in May, 1861, from home with the expressed intention of cleaning up all Yankeedom. I had been taught by demagogues and politicians to believe that I could whip a ‘cowpen full’ of common Yankees. I lived and acted under this delusion till Gen. Grant and his army met us at Fort Donelson. I soon found that the Yankees could shoot as far and as accurately as I could, and from then until the end of the war I was fully of the opinion that the United States Army was fully prepared to give me all the fight I wanted.”
After his line was breached, Johnston pulled his army back to Corinth, Mississippi, where he united his command with new reinforcements to create the Army of Mississippi in March 1862.
The Army of Mississippi was made up in large part of men from the western half of the Confederacy. The largest part of them hailed from the states of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, And Tennessee. Almost all the others came from Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky and Missouri. In this army were eight Mississippi infantry regiments: the 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 15th, and 22nd Infantry regiments, plus the 3rd Mississippi Infantry Battalion.
The Army of Mississippi suffered from a lack of qualified officers to lead its soldiers. The majority of southerners with pre-war military experience came mostly from the eastern states of the Confederacy, very few of whom served in the Western theater. To make matters worse, most of the few experienced men living in the western states joined units in 1861 that were rushed to Virginia where the early fighting was expected to take place. This lack of qualified military leadership plagued the Army of Mississippi, and it successor, the Army of Tennessee, and the western army never had the strength of command enjoyed by the Army of Northern Virginia.
Johnston had 40,000 men in and around Corinth, and he decided to attack General Ulysses S. Grant’s army at Pittsburg, Landing, Tennessee, just 20 miles away, while the two forces were about equal in numbers. On April 6, 1862, Johnston surprised the Union army at Shiloh, driving the Yankees back to the Tennessee River and threatening to trap and destroy it. In savage fighting on the first day of the battle the 6th Mississippi Infantry had 300 out of 425 men killed or wounded, a 70% casualty rate. During the remainder of the war only three Confederate regiments had more casualties in a single battle.
After darkness ended the first day’s fighting at Shiloh, the Union army was reinforced, and this infusion of fresh troops allowed the Federals to go on the offensive on April 7. Unable to stop the surging blue tide, the Rebel army was forced to retreat. In two days of fighting, the Confederates suffered nearly 11,000 casualties, including army commander Albert S. Johnston, who was killed on the first day. The Mississippi Brigade commanded by Colonel James R. Chalmers, consisting of the 5th, 7th, 9th, and 10th infantry regiments was especially hard hit at Shiloh, taking 445 casualties out of 1,739 men engaged.
Private Augustus H. Mecklin of the 15th Mississippi Infantry never forgot the horrible
sights that he witnessed on the retreat from Shiloh: “Then it was when the veil of night was rent and the curtain of darkness was lifted, that sickening sights fell before my eyes. Near me at one time lay a dead man, his bloated, ghastly, bloody face turned up to the pattering rain drops. Not far off another flare revealed a body half covered up in a pool of water. At another flash I saw one of our men stumble over a corpse that lay in the road and again as the light of heaven flashed across this scene of blood I saw a large piece of ground literally covered with dead, heaped and piled upon each other.”
After Shiloh, the Confederates retreated to Corinth under the direction of their new commander, General P.G.T. Beauregard. The Yankees did not pursue immediately, and for the next six weeks Beauregard was given a respite to strengthen the defenses of Corinth and bring in reinforcements. By late May 1862, 11 more Mississippi infantry regiments had joined his army, and with reinforcements received from other states, the southern army at Corinth had grown to 66,000 men.
By late May a huge Union army numbering some 110,000 men had finally advanced to the outskirts of Corinth. Faced with such a disparity in numbers, Beauregard withdrew from the city on the night of May 29 and retreated with his army to Tupelo, Mississippi.
Beauregard was replaced as army commander soon after the retreat to Tupelo by Confederate president Jefferson Davis. He named General Braxton Bragg as the new army commander, and soon after taking over the general transferred four Mississippi infantry regiments out of his army, leaving 14 Mississippi regiments in the Army of Mississippi.
Bragg decided to strike first with his army before the Federals in north Mississippi resumed their advance. Leaving 30,000 men in Mississippi, he transported the remainder of the army to Chattanooga, Tennessee. From there Bragg launched an invasion of Kentucky that he hoped would draw the Federals after him.
Advancing from Chattanooga on August 28, 1862, with 30,000 men, the initial battle of the campaign took place at Munfordville, Kentucky, on September 14. Chalmer’s Mississippi brigade made the attack on the fortified garrison of the town, and they were repulsed with heavy losses, suffering 288 men killed or wounded. The 10th Mississippi Infantry was particularly hard hit, having 13 killed and 95 wounded in the battle.
Bragg’s march into Kentucky culminated with the battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862. The battle produced lots of casualties but no clear winner, and Bragg retreated back into Tennessee after the battle which ended the campaign. The Confederate casualties in the battle were 510 killed, 2,635 wounded, and 251 missing. A number of Mississippi units were engaged in the fight, and among the hardest hit was the 34th Mississippi Infantry. The regiment had all three of its field officers wounded, and one company in the unit only had seven men left after the battle.
During a lull after the battle of Perryville, the Army of Mississippi merged with the Army of Kentucky on November 20, 1862, creating the Army of Tennessee. The newly established army was camped at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, about 27 miles from Nashville.
In late December 1862, the Federal army at Nashville under Major General William S. Rosecrans advanced on Murfreesboro to attack Bragg’s army. The Confederate commander beat him to the punch, however, attacking on December 31, and driving back the surprised Federals, but failing the make a decisive breakthrough.
On January 2, 1863, Bragg launched a second attack, but it was repulsed with heavy losses. The Confederate army had 10,000 casualties at Murfreesboro, and the Mississippians in the army were particularly hard hit, suffering more than 1,513 killed, wounded, or missing. Many of these men became casualties while trying to storm a strong Federal position known as the Round Forest. So many Mississippians died trying to take this small patch of woods that the area was later christened “Mississippi’s Half-Acre.” The 29th Mississippi Infantry probably had the highest casualties of any unit from the state at Murfreesboro, having 34 men killed and 202 wounded.
Private John W. Simmons served in the 27th Mississippi Infantry and fought at Murfreesboro. Reflecting on the battle after the war he wrote: “I believe I saw as much war as any man in it, never being absent, but I never in all the war saw as many dead men of one single command in so small a place, as I did there on the plains of Murfreesboro. Attala County ought to erect a monument on the spot to mark the place where her gallant sons fell.”
After the battle of Murfreesboro the Army of Tennessee went into winter quarters, and even after spring made campaigning possible, the Confederates remained on the defensive. This was because the Confederate army at Vicksburg, Mississippi, had priority on reinforcements in the spring of 1863. In mid-June, the Union army under General Rosecrans advanced on Chattanooga, and over the next few months Bragg was outmaneuvered and had to abandon the city on September 9, 1863, and retreat back into the mountains south of the city.
Rosecrans pursued the Rebels into the mountains, and about this time Bragg was reinforced with troops from the Army of Northern Virginia, bringing his army up to 60,000 men. Among Bragg’s army were 18 regiments and three battalions of Mississippi infantry.
On September 19, 1863, Bragg attacked Rosecrans at Chickamauga, Georgia, in one of the few battles where the Confederates actually had a numerical superiority. The first day of fighting ended in a bloody draw, but the next day the Confederates broke through the Union right and the Yankees were forced to retreat back to Chattanooga to avoid being destroyed.
Colonel William F. Tucker, commander of the 41st Mississippi Infantry at Chickamauga, wrote in his after action report on the battle: “The Forty-First Mississippi was advancing at a double-quick through the woods when it was met by Manigault’s men,
and for a moment was thrown into confusion as they burst through its ranks; but the men responded with a regular Mississippi yell to the command forward, and dashed at the enemy, who immediately fled.”
The battle of Chickamauga was the bloodiest battle in the western theater of the war, costing the Confederates over 18,000 casualties. For Mississippi, Chickamauga was costliest battle of the Civil War. Combined losses among the Mississippi infantry regiments probably exceeded 1,900 men.
Colonel Jacob H. Sharp of the 44th Mississippi Infantry wrote in his official report on the battle of Chickamauga: “We went into action with 272 officers and enlisted men and lost 81 killed and wounded. Among the killed was Major John C. Thompson, fearless among the fearless. He fell as he had wished to fall, fighting the foe that had invaded his home.”
After the bloodletting at Chickamauga, Bragg followed the Union army to Chattanooga and laid siege, placing his forces on the mountains surrounding the city. The north poured reinforcements into Chattanooga, and during the battle of Missionary Ridge on November 24-25, 1863, the Confederates were driven from the heights overlooking Chattanooga and forced to retreat into north Georgia. During the fighting the Mississippi brigade commanded by Brigadier General Edward C. Walthall particularly distinguished itself at Lookout Mountain, suffering 972 casualties in the process. On the second day of the battle the Mississippi brigade of Brigadier General Mark P. Lowrey played an important role in the fighting at Tunnel Hill, holding open the retreat route for the Army of Tennessee after their defeat.
The Army of Tennessee retreated to Ringgold, Georgia, where Lowrey’s brigade was part of a force called on to delay the Union pursuit force while the rest of the army made good their escape. On November 27, 1863, the Mississippians were heavily engaged at Taylor’s Ridge, Georgia, outside of Ringgold. In his after action report, General Lowrey wrote that “When my ammunition was nearly exhausted and I had sent for more, my men and officers gave me assurance with great enthusiasm that they would hold the position at the point of the bayonet and with clubbed muskets if the enemy dared to charge them.”
After the Confederate rout at Missionary Ridge, Braxton Bragg resigned as commander of the Army of Tennessee on December 27, 1863. Jefferson Davis appointed General Joseph E. Johnston as the new commander of the army.
In the spring of 1864 it was evident to the Mississippians in Johnston’s army that heavy fighting was about to take place, as Union General William T. Sherman was poised to advance into Georgia. On April 24, 1864, Lieutenant Louis G. Sleeper of the 44th Mississippi Infantry wrote “The enemy has doubtless concentrated his entire force in our front…Johnston seems to be making every preparation to welcome them to hospitable graves beneath the clod of good old Georgia.”
In May 1864 Sherman moved into north Georgia, his objective being the city of Atlanta, Georgia. Johnston retreated to Resaca, Georgia, where he was reinforced with troops from Mississippi. Included in this force were three brigades of Mississippians serving under Brigadier General Winfield S. Featherston, Brigadier General John Adams, and Brigadier General Claudius W. Sears. With these additions, there were at least 33 Mississippi infantry units serving with the Army of Tennessee, making this the largest concentration of Mississippi commands to ever serve in one Confederate army.
For the next three months Sherman flanked the Army of Tennessee out of one position after another, all the while moving ever closer to Atlanta. During the campaign Mississippians saw action at places such as Resaca, New Hope Church, Moore’s Mill, and Kennesaw Mountain. The Rebels fought bravely, but Johnston was unable to stop the relentless Union march on Atlanta.
During the constant marching and retreating, Sergeant Major John T. Kern of the 45th Mississippi Infantry took time to write this note in his diary on May 22, 1864: “We have passed through some of the prettiest country on this move that I have ever seen, it is hard to give up so much of our Dixie to the vandal hordes of Lincoln. God will surely aid us in driving them back to their bleak north & give us our goodly land in his own good time when he finds we have suffered enough & are worthy.”
By mid-July the Federals were almost within sight of the city, and Jefferson Davis removed Johnston from command and replaced him with General John B. Hood. General Hood immediately took the offensive, assaulting the Federals on July 20th and the 22nd. In the fighting on the 20th, Featherston’s brigade suffered 616 casualties out of 1,230 men engaged, and on the 22nd Lowrey’s Mississippi brigade had 276 casualties. In another assault on July 28 at Ezra Church, the Mississippi brigades of Brigadier General William Brantley and Brigadier General Jacob Sharp suffered a combined 340 casualties.
Hood’s attacks were all defeated with heavy casualties for the Confederates, and the fighting settled down into siege warfare, with both sides sheltering in extensive trench lines. In late August Sherman sent some of his forces on a flanking march to cut the railroad line below the city to cut the flow of supplies to the Confederate army at Atlanta. Hood attempted to block this flanking movement at the battle of Jonesborough, Georgia, on August 31, 1864. After bloody fighting the Rebel attack was repulsed, and Hood was forced to evacuate Atlanta.
The 1864 Atlanta Campaign cost the Confederates thousands of men they could ill afford to lose: there were over 27,000 casualties, many of them Mississippians. The Mississippi regiments in the Army of Tennessee were so depleted in numbers from the fighting that many of them had to be consolidated with other units to give them enough men to be combat effective.
Having lost Atlanta, Hood took his 40,000 man army north to Tennessee in November 1864, hoping Sherman would pursue. Marching with the Confederate army were 31 infantry regiments and three battalions from Mississippi. Hood’s plan to lure the Federals out of Georgia failed, as Sherman only detached a portion of his men under the command of Major General George H. Thomas to deal with the Rebels in Tennessee, while the remainder of his army marched from Atlanta to the sea.
On the evening of November 30, 1864, Hood threw almost 16,000 of his infantry against a very strong Union position at Franklin, Tennessee. By the end of the battle all he had to show for his effort was a huge casualty list – 1,750 dead, and 4,500 wounded. The Mississippians who fought at Franklin pressed the attack, showing a suicidal bravery as they repeatedly charged the Federal entrenchments. They suffered terribly for their gallantry, having 1,277 men killed or wounded. 423 of the Mississippians killed at Franklin are buried in the Confederate cemetery at Carnton Plantation, the greatest number from any southern state that fought in the battle. Corporal Abner J. Wilkes of the 46th Mississippi Infantry simply said of the battle, “Then we made an attack on Franklin. Oh! My God from Heaven, it rained fire and brimstone for some time if it ever did in the world.”
Hood bled his army white at Franklin, but when the Union army retreated to Nashville, he blindly pursued with the Army of Tennessee, now reduced to only 24,000 men. The Mississippi units in the army were mere shells of their former selves – the largest command was Lowrey’s Mississippi brigade, which numbered only 1,047 men, the size of a single regiment at the beginning of the war.
On December 15-16, 1864, Union General George Thomas attacked Hood with 55,000 men, and the Army of Tennessee shattered like a pane of glass. During the retreat back to Mississippi the army came undone as individual groups of men struggled to survive the terrible winter storms in their ragged clothing. Many of the men had worn out their shoes and were barefoot: James R. Binford of the 15th Mississippi Infantry noted that on the march “My heart almost bled as I saw traces of blood in the icy slush, that came from the barefeet of our brave soldiers.”
Eventually 13,000 exhausted, half-starved survivors of the Army of Tennessee limped into Tupelo, Mississippi. The physical condition of the men could only be described as deplorable. William P. Chambers, a sergeant in the 46th Mississippi Infantry, wrote in his diary “The regiment numbers about 150 men, about half of whom are barefooted. All are ragged and dirty and covered in vermin. There are, perhaps, twenty guns, but not a single cartridge box in the regiment.”
Despite the terrible conditions that caused many men to desert the army and go home, many Mississippians resolved to stay with their units and fight until the bitter end. About 5,000 men from the Army of Tennessee were sent as reinforcements to General Joseph E. Johnston, who was operating in the Carolinas. Among these troops were four very depleted brigades of Mississippi infantry: the exact number of men in these units is not known, but they probably numbered less than 1,000 souls.
The Mississippians sent to Johnston saw their last action of the war in the battle of Bentonville, North Carolina, on March 19, 1865. Johnston attempted to stop General Sherman’s march through North Carolina by attacking the Union army, but he was repulsed and forced to retreat. On April 26, 1865, Johnston surrendered to Sherman at Durham Station, North Carolina. After signing their paroles, the Mississippians were left to make their way home as best they could across a desolate southern landscape.
Historian Stanley F. Horn, in his history of the Army of Tennessee, wrote a fitting epitaph for these brave men: “On foot, or astride the bony army horses, or piled in the patched-up, creaking army wagons, they started home over the mountains. They had fought a good fight, they had finished their course, they had kept the faith.”
Binford, James R. Recollections of the Fifteenth Regiment of Mississippi Infantry, C.S.A. Patrick Henry Papers, Z/0215.000, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Connelly, Thomas L. Army of the Heartland: The Army of Tennessee, 1861 – 1862. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1997.
Current, Richard N., Ed. Encyclopedia of the Confederacy, Volume III. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
_____. Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1991.
Horn, Stanley F. The Army of Tennessee. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1952.
Howell, H. Grady. Going to Meet the Yankees. Jackson, MS: Chickasaw Bayou Press, 1981.
Kern, John T. Diary, 1 January 1864 – 20 August 1864. Old Court House Museum Collections, Vicksburg, MS.
Mecklin, Augustus Hervey. “The Battle of Shiloh.” Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN: 8 May 1921.
Moneyhon, Carl and Bobby Roberts. Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Mississippi in the Civil War. Fayetteville, AK: University of Arkansas Press, 1993.
Rowland, Dunbar. Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898. Spartanburg, SC: The Reprint Company, 1978.
Simmons, John W. “Recollections of the War.” The Attala Ledger, Kosciusko, MS: 17 May 1897.
Swann, Francis, Ed. The Markham Letters. Privately Published, 1987.
United States War Department, Compiler. War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. 73 Volumes, 128 Parts; Washington, DC: 1880-1902.
Wilkes, Abner J. A Short History of My Life in the Late War Between the North and the South. Published 1957. A copy of this book is available on microfiche at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Yeary, Mamie. Reminiscences of the Boys in Gray 1861-1865. McGregor, TX: Reprint by Morningside Books, 1986.