I have always had a soft spot for Civil War artillery, and it seems to me they are an overlooked branch of service. Although they played a vital role on the battlefield, their contributions are often overshadowed by the infantry and cavalry. Also, now that I think about it, I can count on one hand the number of published reminiscences or books about Mississippi artillery units – one reason for this is simply numbers: a full strength artillery battery had somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 men, whereas an infantry or cavalry unit would be closer to 1,000 (at least they did at the beginning of the war, before battles & disease whittled them down). That means there were simply less artillerymen to write letters, diaries, and reminiscences than their infantry and cavalry counterparts.
While doing some research recently I found this history of Stanford’s Mississippi Battery in the J.L. Power Scrapbook at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Power was named Superintendent of Army Records for the State of Mississippi in the latter stages of the war, and his responsibilities included keeping an historical record of the Mississippi units that served in the war. Power started his scrapbook during the war, and filled it with newspaper accounts of Mississippi units. This history of Stanford’s Battery was clipped from an unnamed newspaper, apparently in 1866, judging from the dateline at the top of the article. Unfortunately, it was a two-part article, and the second part is not present – If I can figure out which newspaper it came from, I will see if I can track down the second part of the history and publish it in a future article.
This history of Stanford’s was written by Corporal Benjamin W.L. Butt, who enlisted in the battery on March 17, 1862, at Corinth, Mississippi. A native of Duck Hill, Mississippi, he served with the unit until the end of the war in 1865.
Carrollton, Mississippi, August 15, 1866
Dr. J.L. McCall, Dear Sir: Yours of the 8th, instant, is at hand, and I send you herewith a historical sketch of Stanford’s Battery carefully compiled from my ‘war journal.’ It could not be made shorter without omitting many items of importance. As it is a narration of soul-stirring events which might easily by expanded into a volume, must necessarily lose much of their interest in being reduced to a few pages of bare facts.
I have left a few blanks in the beginning which you may be able to fill, as to dates &c. If you discover any erroneous statements, correct them. I have indulged in no eulogies, as the facts can testify for themselves. Neither have I complimented individuals where all, or nearly all did so well.
Imperfect as this sketch may be, yet I believe that our boys who see it will testify as to its correctness, and I would therefore like to see it published, that the public may know the part that was acted by Stanford’s Battery in the drama of the ‘Lost Cause.’ Honor to the noble dead, and respect to the gallant survivors demand it. Very respectfully Yours, B.W.L. Butt
This command was organized in the summer of 1861, at Grenada, Mississippi. On the _____ of September it was mustered into the State service – transferred to the Confederate States’ service on the 6th of November, and on the 7th was ordered to Columbus, Kentucky, to report to Major General Polk. The company left Grenada with 64 men rank and file, and four commissioned officers, to-wit: T.J. Stanford, Captain; H.R. McSwine, Senior 1st Lieutenant; A.A. Hardin, Jr., 1st and T.R. Trotter Second Lieutenant.
The command remained at Columbus till that place was evacuated, and then fell back with the army to Corinth, Mississippi, in March, 1862. In March, First Sergeant J.S. McCall was elected 2nd Lieutenant. The company was now fully equipped, and had secured a fine lot of horses, and six brass field pieces – two 12-pound howitzers, three 6-pounders and one 3-inch rifle.
For about three weeks the company was exercised in drilling. On the 3rd of April it moved with the “Army of Mississippi” under command of General A.S. Johnston, towards Pittsburg landing, on the Tennessee River, where the Federal army under Grant was posted.
The company had been considerably strengthened by recruits, and 25 men of the Vaiden, Mississippi, Artillery, (their command having no guns) volunteered to fight with Stanford’s Battery. The command was, at that time, connected with A.P. Stewart’s Brigade, Clark’s Division.
On Sunday morning April 6th, the memorable battle of Shiloh commenced. Stanford’s Battery advanced with the third line of battle, and at 10 A.M., formed under the fire of a Federal Battery, 400 yards distant, which had been twice charged unsuccessfully by our troops. One man and two horses were killed before the command could be wheeled into position. Five or six rounds were fired rapidly when our infantry again charged, and captured the Federal battery. Stanford’s Battery was not again engaged during the day, but was under fire, and when the Federal army had been driven to the Tennessee River in the evening, the company was ordered to advance, and was exposed to a heavy shelling from the gunboats. Bivouacked on the field. Buell’s command arrived during the night, and on the morning of April 7th the battle was renewed.
About 10 A.M., Stanford’s Battery again became engaged with a battery of the enemy some 500 yards distant. The firing for half an hour was terrible. Our infantry support then charged, but were quickly repulsed and badly scattered. General Breckinridge ordered Captain Stanford to hold his position until the infantry could be reformed. The Battery was now without support. Soon a column of Federal troops appeared about 300 yards distant. A destructive fire of canister was poured into their ranks. They immediately charged the battery. So many horses in each team were killed or wounded that the company, in order to avoid capture, was compelled to retreat with the loss of four guns.
The entire loss of the command in the two days’ action was 4 guns. 6 men killed or mortally wounded (Of these one killed and two wounded belonged to the Vaiden Artillery.) 15 slightly or severely wounded, 2 captured and 64 horses killed or captured. The guns were afterwards recaptured, but for want of horses could not be brought off the field, and the company with the remainder of the army fell back to Corinth, a toilsome march through mud nearly six inches deep.
No blame was attached to Captain Stanford for the loss of his guns since he was acting under orders. Two were brought off, and after reaching Corinth the command was again equipped with horses, and a battery of four brass rifled pieces.
General Polk, in his official report of the battle of Shiloh, complimented Stanford’s Battery as ‘volunteers who never having heard the sound of their own guns, formed under a galling fire and gallantly held their ground.’
The company remained at Corinth until that place was evacuated by the army in May, 1862. There had been much sickness in the command, and some 20 or 25 had died, but it had been kept up by recruits so that the guns were always manned. From Corinth the army fell back to Tupelo where its health greatly improved.
On the 23rd of July, Stanford’s Battery, with most of the artillery of the army took up its line of march by way of Columbus, Mississippi, Tuscaloosa, and Montevallo, Alabama, and Rome, Georgia, to Chattanooga, the infantry having gone by railroad. Arrived at Chattanooga on the 14th August, having marched 420 miles in 22 days. The company at this time numbered 107 men present.
Rested a few days near Chattanooga, and then marched with the army under Bragg across Tennessee into Kentucky, via Sparta, Gainesboro and Glasgow. Arrived at Mumfordsville, Kentucky, September 17th, just as the garrison there of 4800 men had surrendered to General Bragg. Marched through central Kentucky, via New Haven, Bardstown, Springfield, and Perryville.
On the 8th of October the battle of Perryville was fought, commencing at noon, and ending soon after dark. Our forces engaged portions of three divisions, numbered about 15,000 men. The Federal force according to General Buell’s official report, ‘58,000 effective men.’
Stanford’s Battery was engaged early in the action and fought an artillery duel with a Federal rifle battery for an hour and a half, at a distance of a mile. Three of our men were killed by a single shot. At length our infantry charged and the Federal forces were driven back. The battery advanced and by a few well directed shots drove the Federal infantry from a strong position which was immediately occupied by our troops and the enemy pursued.
Bivouacked on the field. The Federal left wing had been driven back four or five miles. Heavy reinforcements were not coming to General Buell. On the morning after the battle our army fell back towards ‘Camp Dick Robinson.’ On the 13th of October it commenced its retreat from Kentucky via Cumberland Gap. The march was arduous. Rations reduced first to one half and then to one fourth pound of flour per diem with beef without salt. Soldiers offered a dollar for a ear of corn.
Arrived at Knoxville, Tennessee, on the 24th of October. On the 25th snow fell five inches deep. Suffering great, as the troops were almost destitute of clothing, tents and blankets. Army left Knoxville on the 31st. Infantry went by rail, and Stanford’s Battery with the most of the artillery across the mountains to Tullahoma. Arrived at the latter place on the 10th of November.
The distance marched by the artillery from Tupelo, Mississippi, to Tullahoma, Tennessee, in this campaign of three and a half months was 1260 miles. During that time Stanford’s Battery was attached to Stewart’s Brigade, Cheatham’s Division, Polk’s Corps.
END OF PART ONE