Notes of a Private
JOHN MILTON HUBBARD
Company E, 7th Tennessee Regiment
Forrest’s Cavalry Corps, C. S. A.
Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit—VIRGIL.
To those Southern soldiers who, regardless of their sentiments as to the abstract right of secession, whether sleeping in known or unknown graves, hobbling through life on crutches, or trying to meet the demands of the best citizenship, went into the Confederate Army, at the behest of an overwhelming majority of the Southern people, and who remained in the field to the bitter end, this little book is most respectfully inscribed by
Gainesville, Ala., May 11, 1865.
Private J. M. Hubbard of Company E, Seventh Regiment, Tennessee Cavalry, C. S. A., residing in Hardeman County, Tennessee, having been, with the approval of the proper authorities, paroled, is permitted to return to his home, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities, so long as he observes his parole and the laws in force where he may reside.
E. R. S. CANBY,
Major-General, U. S. A.
E. S. DENNIS,
Brig.-Gen. Commanding for U. S.
I certify on honor that the within-named soldier is the rightful owner of one horse.
Lieutenant Commanding Co. E,
7th Tenn. Cavalry, C. S. A.
|Chapter I||—Mustering in—“Good-Bye Sweethearts”||9|
|Chapter II||—Service in Five States—The Armstrong Raid||21|
|Chapter III||—Davis’ Bridge and Corinth||36|
|Chapter IV||—Van Dorn at Holly Springs||46|
|Chapter V||—Some Personals and Portraitures||63|
|Chapter VI||—Organization of “Forrest’s Cavalry Corps”—The Sooy Smith Raid—Fort Pillow||86|
|Chapter VII||—Brices’ Cross Roads||103|
|Chapter IX||—The Memphis Raid||135|
|Chapter X||—Incidents of the Middle Tennessee Raid||150|
|Chapter XI||—Hood’s Expedition—The Wilson Raid to Selma||178|
|Forrest’s Farewell Address||201|
|The Forrest Equestrian Statue||200|
|A Kindly Remembrance||206|
In writing this book the author has relied almost entirely on his own memory for such reminiscences, sketches and portraitures of character as are printed on its pages. He served the entire period of the Civil War in Company E, Seventh Tennessee Cavalry, which regiment was commanded successively by Colonels W. H. Jackson, J. G. Stocks and W. L. Duckworth, assisted by Lieutenant-Colonel W. F. Taylor and Major C. C. Clay. Few private soldiers saw more of the war, or had better opportunities for observation. His company served in parts of five States, and traveled thousands of miles under the orders of many different generals. He believes that a careful perusal of these pages will afford entertainment to people who admire Southern valor, and amusement and instruction to girls and boys who will, perhaps, be stimulated thereby to read more pretentious books concerning the greatest war of modern times. This belief and a keen desire to preserve in permanent form some sort of memento for his own and the descendants of the members of the old company have chiefly prompted him in undertaking a task which, while a work of love, has required much labor to accomplish. He trusts that in the form and style of the book and in the manner of presentation of the varied list of subjects, even the partiality of friends will find little to excuse.
378 South Lauderdale Street,
June 1, 1909. Memphis, Tenn.
On the first day of June, 1909, the first copies of this book were placed upon the market, and within the first thirty days my personal sales paid the entire cost of the edition, which was exhausted within a few months. Its success may be said to have been immediate, and for this I am greatly indebted to those who bought the book, read it, and gave me personally many a kindly expression of the pleasure they had derived from its perusal. Many of the expressions came from capable men and women, here and elsewhere, whose favorable opinion of a literary production I would always be willing to take as a flattering compliment to an author. In truth, the assurances that I have contributed to the pleasure of so many good people have been far more gratifying to me than the ready sales of the book.
The comments of scholarly friends, too partial perhaps, which I cover with the words that the book is as meritorious as a literary performance as it is interesting as an authentic history will abide with me.
But why call this a “Souvenir Edition”? Candidly, a mere conceit, an ephemeral fancy, or the want of a better name. And yet, I shall continue to hope that all my readers, when looking upon these pages, will have at least one happy remembrance of him who has here attempted to instruct and please them.
J. M. H.,
May 30th, 1911. Memphis, Tenn.
I am to write here of men with whom I was associated in a great war, and of things in which I was a participant. To do even and exact justice shall be my aim, and there shall be no motive other than to give truthful accounts of men and events as they came under my personal observation.
When we mounted our horses at the Bills Corner, in Bolivar, Tennessee, and started for the war, there were one hundred and one of us. This company was composed largely of a jolly, rollicking set of young men from the farms of Hardeman County, who knew little of restraint and less of discipline. Like any other hundred and one men, promiscuously enlisted, some of these in time became fine soldiers, others fairly so, while still others dropped out of the ranks and abandoned the cause. One hundred and eighty-nine names were finally carried on the rolls, but from these a large company could have been taken which added nothing to the renown acquired by our regiment before the close of the war. Considering the fierce political contest through which the country had just passed and the thorough discussion of the questions at issue, the rapid enlistment of volunteers was surprising. It was evident that the election of a President by a party entirely sectional, and the open threats of a radical press in regard to slavery, had aroused an exuberance of Southern sentiment which the conservative element could not withstand. There was a strong feeling for preserving the Union in our community, but on that bright morning in May, 1861, the sentiment for war seemed to be in the ascendant. There were the usual extravagant talk and nonsense, but all were patriotic and meant well. I was of the conservatives who had voted steadily against secession and was prepared to maintain my mental equilibrium in almost any kind of political revulsion. Some of the more enthusiastic women threatened to put petticoats on the young fellows who did not enter the ranks promptly. These same women worked till their fingers were sore in getting the soldiers ready for service. We knew nothing about war and had a problem in deciding just what to carry along. No page in the old school histories had told us how little a soldier must get along on, and there was no experienced campaigner present to tell us. Some of us thought that a white shirt or two would be essential. Razors, combs, brushes and hand glasses were in our outfits. It bothered us to reduce these things to a small package that we could handle easily. We had many details to settle. Saddle-bags? They had all been appropriated by the “early birds”—the fellows who were afraid the war would be over before they could get to it. We resorted to the use of the old-fashioned wallet, an article fashioned after the similitude of a pillow-slip, closed at both ends and with a slit in the middle. Made of stout osnaburgs, it proved to be a sufficient receptacle. But the “wallet” was not tidy enough for the “trim soldier,” and in case of rain the contents were drenched. All this was remedied afterward by experience in packing, necessity for economy, and by spoils captured on the field. We, too, got to using McClellan saddles with large pockets, rubber cloths and regulation blankets. Indeed, later on, if Grant had met one of us, he would have pronounced us “correct” from halter to spur, if only he could have been blinded to the suit of gray or butternut. There came a time when we had new Yankee guns and were constantly on the lookout for cartridges of the right caliber. You see, we “paid some attention to details,” if we did sometimes leave in a hurry.
But we are off for Jackson to be mustered in. At Medon the good people who had that day given a farewell dinner to their home company had a bountiful spread for us. As Company E of the Seventh Cavalry we advanced in line of battle over this very spot at the old brick church on the “Armstrong raid,” and here we had the first real taste of heavy firing. Our gallant young Captain Tate here used his favorite word, “Steady,” which we had heard so often on drill, and reproached us for trying to dodge the balls.
Our mustering officer was A. W. Campbell, who rose to the rank of Brigadier-General, and it was another coincidence that Company E was in his brigade at the surrender. Like Chalmers, he carried his good breeding into camp, and even in the woods there was an air of refinement in all his ways. We had six weeks of hot weather and strenuous drill on the Jackson Fair Grounds. Plentiful rations and boxes from home, but in these fifty years I haven’t forgotten the Jackson flies. I remember that a Bolivar girl said they were “the laziest flies she had ever seen.” This depended upon the point of view. They came on with a rush, but were a little slow in getting out of the way.
Orders came to march to Randolph by way of Bolivar. We were all happy in the prospect of spending a few days at home. We were now soldiers sure enough—in the estimation of our friends. Hadn’t we been in camp six long, hot weeks? Pleasures incident to such occasions are sufficiently sweet to last a long time. Alas! they never do.
“Boots and saddles” for Randolph. At the “old factory” on Clear Creek the people of the Whiteville country prepared a dinner for us that was simply above criticism, except to say that it was perfect in every particular. We had our first bivouac at Stanton. Moving under a July sun and along miles and miles of dusty road, we reached the vicinity of Randolph tired and hungry. We reverted to the “flesh pots” and dreamed of Medon and Whiteville, and other good things that we had seen. The hills and valleys were covered with the tents of the Provisional Army of Tennessee, under General John L. T. Sneed. We certainly got the impression here that the war was a fixed fact. Preparations went forward day and night. It was time for serious reflection. Some of us, though young men, had been thinking over the grave questions for some time, particularly during the exciting political canvass of the previous year. Many who admitted the abstract right of secession but had voted against it as wrong under the circumstances, if not impracticable, were yet hoping that a wicked war would somehow be averted. All the elements of opposition to the Republicans had a popular majority in the election of 1860 of over one million votes, and a majority of eight in the Senate and twenty-one in the House. They could have contested Republican measures or even blocked legislation for two more years. Lincoln had always protested against the policy of interfering with slavery in the States. Was there not here food for reflection on the part of the thoughtful soldier, who was about to stake everything, even life itself, upon the result of a war in which he knew the chances of success were against him? He could reason that wise and patriotic statesmanship could change the whole policy of government in less than two years.
But here comes the battle of Bull Run, in which the Federal Army was scattered to the four winds. Oh, yes, we just knew now that we could whip three or four to one! How easy it was to conclude that the very best thing to do was to present a united front and, if not our independence, we could at least get liberal concessions in regard to slavery in the territories. But this is merely a reminiscence, and I am not an Herodotus.
We called the place, assigned us near Randolph, Camp Yellow Jacket. There was good reason for this, for thousands of yellow jackets were in the ground on which we proposed to make our beds and stake our horses. In a day or two we cleared the camp of these pests so that it was habitable. Two cavalry companies from Memphis were in camp near us—Logwood’s and White’s. In riding near these one day I met a soldier speeding a magnificent black horse along a country road as if for exercise, and the pleasure of being astride of so fine an animal. On closer inspection I saw it was Bedford Forrest, only a private like myself, whom I had known ten years before down in Mississippi. I had occasion afterward to see a good deal of him.
We were to be a part of Pillow’s Army of Occupation, and to that end, we went aboard the steamer Ohio with orders to debark at New Madrid, Mo. Soon there came a great victory to McCulloch and Price at Oak Hill, and some folks said that we would march straight to St. Louis. We reported to General M. Jeff Thompson of the Missouri State troops, forty miles in the interior. Though Missouri was a Southern State, we soon began to feel that we were bordering on the enemy’s country. We had hurriedly gone forward without our wagon train and were somewhat dependent upon the Missourians for rations. When our Captain spoke to the General in regard to our needs, he blurted out these words: “By God, Captain Neely, my men can soon furnish your men with as much beef as they want and a pile of bread as high as a tree.” We got the rations. Thompson’s men were armed mostly with shotguns and old-fashioned squirrel rifles. Trained to the use of firearms and largely destitute of fear, they were dangerous antagonists. The General, as I remember him, was a wiry little fellow, active as the traditional cat and a fine horseman. He was mounted on a milk-white stallion with black spots. He dashed around among his men like a boy on his first pony, and was invariably followed by his big Indian orderly, dressed largely in the garb of his tribe. These men told us much about their little combats with the “home guards,” and made us feel that we were getting still nearer to real war. False alarms were frequent and afforded us plenty of material to excite our risibles when the imaginary danger had passed. Still further out we encamped on the farm of General Watkins, who was a half brother of Henry Clay. Rations were not at hand in abundance for a day or two, but the owner of the farm donated to us a twenty-acre field in the roasting ear. Some of the boys said that Alf. Coleman ate thirty ears a day while it lasted—the same he took out for his horse. Green corn, roasted in the shuck, or baked before a hot fire, is very palatable. I had learned this “down on the old plantation” in the Pee Dee country. We really enjoyed camp life here, as it was not so full of dull routine. A lively little scout or an amusing picket incident made our daily duties a little more spicy than usual, while scarcely a man escaped being the butt of a ridiculous joke or a little “white lie.” A funny little story got into camp which concerned a young man of the company, who had been enjoying a short furlough at home. The ladies there, ever mindful of the welfare of the soldiers, had made up a lot of small red flannel aprons, which were said to be good for warding off disease, if worn next to the person. The young fellow had been presented with one and instructed as to its benefit, but not as to the manner of wearing it. He wore it on the outside and strutted about the town to the great amusement of many good people.
It was on this expedition that the now famous story was started on R. U. Brown. It was told by the reserve picket that Private Brown, while on post at midnight in the great swamp near Sikeston, called Nigger Head, imagined that a big old owl in the distance was saying “Who, who, who are you?” Taking it for a human voice, Brown tremblingly replied “R. U. Brown, sir, a friend of yours.” Dick never heard the last of this story while the war lasted, and at the Reunion in Memphis many a one of the “old boys” greeted him with the same old words that rang in his ears just forty years before. He and Coleman, afterwards sutler of the regiment, I am happy to know, are still alive in Texas. Like others, who sickened and died or met death on the firing line, they were gloriously good fellows to have in camp.
It was during our stay in Missouri that we made an expedition to Charleston, situated in that vast flat prairie just west of the mouth of the Ohio, which we always reverted to with the keenest pleasure. The Federal Cavalry from Bird’s Point had been making almost daily visits to the town, which was strongly Southern in sentiment. This was thought to be a fine opportunity to show them “a taste of our quality,” or perhaps to capture the visiting detachment. But all was quiet in the village, as the enemy had made their visit and departed. Night was at hand and we were dirty, tired and hungry. It seemed to me that the whole population went to cooking for and feeding the soldiers. This was another one of those “big eating times” that we never did forget. When we were ready to depart, even the pretty maidens would say to us, “Which will you have in your canteen, whisky, water or milk?” It was thought best not to take any risk as to snake bites in the great swamp, which we had to recross, and I think the command took whisky to a man. The inhabitants must have enjoyed a freedom from intoxicants for a season, for their town “had gone dry” by an immense majority. We learned afterwards that there was a “whisky famine.” We never saw Charleston again, as we very soon received orders to advance into Kentucky and take post at Columbus. We were among the first troops to reach that point. The Kentuckians seemed to be pleased with our coming and recruiting went forward encouragingly. We pitched our tents out on the Clinton road and near the camp of the Haywood Rangers, commanded by Captain Haywood of Brownsville. This company, whose members seemed to have been reared in the saddle, had been with us from the beginning of our service, and, I may say here, that it stood by us till the end. The history of Company E is largely the history of Company D. The men of the two companies were brothers-in-arms, who could confidently rely upon the valor of each other, and those now living are loving friends to this day. Through the long hard winter, or till the evacuation of Columbus, the two companies guarded the Clinton and Milburn roads. For a while we reported directly to Albert Sydney Johnston. His noble personality and soldierly bearing were impressive and stamped him as a man born to command.
The reader will remember that in closing the previous chapter I stated that Company E had been ordered to leave Missouri and take post at Columbus, Kentucky. The company was not then designated by letter, as it belonged to no regiment, but was known as the Hardeman Avengers. In company with our sturdy friends, the Haywood Rangers, afterwards Company D of the Seventh Tennessee Cavalry, we reached Columbus the first day of September, 1861, being about the first troops to occupy an advanced post among a people, who were then making a rather unsuccessful effort to play the role of neutrals. We were now in a “hog and hominy” country, and the soldiering was of the holiday kind. We made long marches through the Purchase and saw many evidences of Southern sympathy. Indeed, the whole population seemed to be friendly to us, as even those with Northern sympathies prudently kept quiet. Then, as now, I accorded people the right to think as they pleased, and to act upon their convictions. Throughout the contest, I zealously held to the principle that we should not make war upon old men, women and children. In the light of this principle, I was able to enjoy to the fullest extent a ridiculous attempt at concealment of real sentiment. For instance, somewhere in the Mayfield country, the column was one day passing a farm house upon the veranda of which was sitting a corpulent old gentleman, whose adipose matter hung sufficiently low to largely cover his femurs, as he sat with his pedal extremities slightly elevated on the rude baluster. While he wildly gesticulated he lustily shouted, “Hurrah for Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy!” At another part of the house a little girl was making strenuous efforts to haul down the stars and stripes, which doubtless was emblematic of the real sentiments of the household. The old fellow “got the horse laugh.” In our peregrinations through the several counties of the Purchase it seemed to me that we were riding much to little purpose, as the Federals ventured little beyond their lines at Paducah. I learned afterward that these exercises made us take on the ways of a soldier, and taught us valuable lessons in the bivouac. These stood us in good stead when, afterwards, we were forced to use to the best advantage very scanty resources.
In this month of September, 1861, it was learned that a force of Federals had occupied an advanced camp on Mayfield creek near Blandville. The five companies of Tennessee Cavalry having been organized into what was, for some months, known as Logwood’s Battalion, were ordered to attack this force. Here we were to hear bullets whistle for the first time. The command seemed to be eager to enjoy the sensation of battle. As a private, I was supposed to be in profound ignorance of the “plan of campaign,” but I could see enough to know that the maneuvering was for the purpose of surrounding the camp and forcing a surrender. Our company was drawn up in the woods within gunshot of the enemy, but we had no clear view of their actions. There was random firing on both sides, but there was no fixed purpose to press the fighting. Green as we were, we would have gone into that camp, had we been so ordered. There were men in that line, who afterwards, as officers and privates, became famous fighters and, in many cases, went to death on the firing line. Almost any one of Forrest’s real veterans would, at a later day, have considered it a light undertaking, with the backing of five hundred such men, to have “gobbled up the whole thing”—perhaps without the firing of a gun. And yet nobody seemed to be blamed for the failure of this expedition, for we were all ignorant of real war. We had had another lesson in that which would eventually make us veterans. We had heard the buzz of bullets.
The engagement turned out to be a trifling affair, though there was some excitement in the ranks, especially about the time Mike McGrath of the Haywood Rangers had his horse shot under him and had to leave the scene mounted behind another soldier. It was not so funny then, but the little things done in the excitement gave occasion for joking when we got back to our quarters. There was a well known citizen who seemed to be acting as our guide. They called him Captain Blake. Sixteen years after that, while making an extensive trip in Texas for a well known newspaper, I found this Captain Blake holding a prominent office in the town of Granbury. Our short experience as soldiers together was then a pleasant reminiscence, but he, too, had become a veteran by coming south with the Kentucky troops and never returning to his home till after the surrender.
About this time we received into the company four Kentuckians, three of whom cut some figure as private soldiers and helped to make Company E noted for its steadiness in battle and promptness to act in emergencies. These were John Duncan, Cad Linthicum, Ranse Billington and an old fellow whom we all knew as “Old Fulton.” The first three were typical young men of the Purchase, reared in the hills bordering the Ohio river bottoms. They were true sportsmen in all that the term implies, but were never so busy in a game of poker, or so much interested in discussing the good points of “Forrest’s sorrel” or of “Treadwell’s gray” that they could not, on a moment’s notice, have mounted their own good steeds and been off at a rattling pace to an important picket post, or upon an adventurous scout. The sandy hair, the clear blue eye, the firm set jaw of Duncan—the rollicking manner, the girl-like cheeks, the merry shout in battle of Linthicum—the even temper, the great good humor, even when facing peril, of Billington, and the fine horsemanship of each made them men of mark among their comrades, while their apparent lack of fear and love of adventure won the absolute confidence of their superiors. Linthicum was wounded at Collierville, Tenn., in October, 1863, about the time that the Thirteenth Regulars with General Sherman and staff were hastily abandoning their train from Memphis to take refuge within the Federal works. Duncan was shot through both arms in the fight at Prairie Mound, Miss., where Jeffrey Forrest was killed. A few months before the surrender, these three men were transferred to Henderson’s Scouts, in which they found service exactly suited to their inclination. Happily, they lived to return to their beloved Kentucky, where, as good citizens, they spent many years in peaceful pursuits. They have passed to the great beyond.
Well, as to “Old Fulton.” I should say he had been reared in an atmosphere of gall, wormwood and vinegar. With a desperate temper and no sweetness of soul, upon the slightest provocation he would fly into a towering rage. If asked as to his age, a tart reply, interlarded with oaths, was the result. His stringy hair and long flowing beard were evidences of age. His cadaverous appearance, high cheek bones, piercing gray eyes, alert head set in a long skinny frame, and his fiery passions would have presented an interesting study to the excursionist into the fields of anthropology. This old Kentuckian had joined the Tennesseeans for the purpose, as he said, of soon killing a few Yankees. He never gratified his supreme desire, for within a few months, having, perhaps, tired of camp life, he got his discharge and set his face towards Kentucky. After his departure, we could revert with amusement to “Old Fulton’s” effort to start a camp fire at Island No. 10, with wet wood. When the smoke had blinded the old man, and his patience and wind were exhausted, he leaped upon the pile of fagots and, uttering violent oaths, kicked them in every direction. This exhibition of temper was rather amusing.
About the first of October, 1861, Haywood’s and Neely’s companies were ordered to Camp Beauregard in Graves county to picket and scout for Bowen’s brigade. This was a charming place for holiday soldiering, situated near the village of Feliciana. As the cavalry was encamped outside the infantry lines and there was little fear of attack, the discipline was sufficiently lax to permit us to draw upon the surrounding country for luxuries. These consisted of such things as old hams, chickens and “peach and honey.” The boys did not neglect their opportunities. But life at Camp Beauregard was soon to be a thing of the past. The Federals were known to be making a move from Cairo. We reached Columbus just in time to witness the battle of Belmont across the river. This was the 7th day of November. Grant’s army was driven back to their transports. Here we saw Federal prisoners for the first time, and as many of them were wounded, we seemed to be a little nearer real war. Going into winter quarters we entered upon the monotonous duty of picketing the Milburn road. Dreary nights and weary days. Dull camp routine and nothing to excite interest. But there was to be a change. The news that Fort Donelson had fallen came in the last days of February. The excitement meant that we were leaving Kentucky. With our friends, the Rangers, we were ordered to Island No. 10. Here our hardships increased, as we were poorly supplied with tents and cold rains were falling. The gunboats were replying to our heavy guns, but to little purpose, as the range was poor. They would send an occasional shot clear into the timber, and there was no telling when one might land right in our camp. Our nervousness on this account soon wore off, as we were exposed thus for seventeen days. In the meantime, the river rapidly rose and there was a rushing current through Reelfoot Lake in our rear. This put us on an island. I know that our captain wished to be ordered to the main land. The order came, but there was great fear that it would be countermanded, as Mackall was just superseding McCown, who had given the order. There was hot haste to get beyond the reach of orders. After floundering around for a day in trying to reach a steamer, which it was said would be available in the back water, we concluded that our only resource was to reach a dry spot on the lake shore and collect a few old flatboats and to reach the east side. In making our way to the lake we found much of the back water up to the saddle skirts. We readily secured one old rickety boat, which would carry five men with their horses and accoutrements. As the lake here was five miles wide, and the water still rising, our crossing would surely be slow and perilous. At this juncture, Tom Joyner, George Bradford and I rode five miles along shore, secured a boat, and having led our horses aboard, pulled for the camp. Everything went well with the ten men and ten horses till we were “half seas over.” Then an adverse wind struck our boat, while the other boat, already much in advance seemed to glide over the water. It was exasperating, but we “hove to” by the side of a friendly raft of logs and awaited more propitious breezes or a lucky calm. We were fortunate in reaching land before nightfall and in getting a good supper at a farm house. But next morning the boats must be carried over that stretch of water in order to rescue our fellow soldiers from an impending peril. When we reached the camp only a detail had been left there to inform us that the rest of the command had gone aboard of a steamer in the back water, which was on its way to Randolph. One time happy they! Thrice and four times happy we! We had escaped the perils of the deep waters and the terrors of a Northern prison. Some of us had had a twenty-mile ride on Reelfoot, but strenuous effort had been rewarded.
We had a long ride to Bolivar, and reached home just in time to hear the guns at Shiloh. Four companies of infantry, one of artillery and one of cavalry, recruited in Hardeman county, were in that battle. Harrowing rumors of our losses came thick and fast, and little else was discussed. The death of Johnston and the retreat of the army seemed to us like a crushing defeat. Stragglers and wounded men from the army began to pass through the country and spread the news of the disaster. Then came the news that Island No. 10 had surrendered. It was a time for solemn thought—for quiet deliberation. The holding of the great river became now a doubtful proposition. This involved the abandonment of West Tennessee. A few of our men even now went to their homes to stay. The faithful set about reorganizing the company, which was to await orders. We were really making a fresh start for the war under discouraging circumstances. Our sacred honor and plighted faith to our state were involved. It was no time for faint hearts. Death before dishonor seemed to be the prevailing sentiment and when we got on the move, the old time spirit returned.
We had now seen scarcely a year of service, but had traversed parts of three states and crossed and recrossed the Mississippi river. At Trenton, we were to take our place as Company E in what was for many months known as the First Tennessee Cavalry under Colonel W. H. Jackson. In numbering by seniority, we took the seventh place, though some of the companies composing the regiment were among the first to volunteer. There was the usual jealousy on the part of some because an outsider had been placed over us as Colonel, but Jackson was a trained soldier, and constantly grew in favor with officers and men. If Jackson did not apparently have the dash of some other officers, his impression on soldiers was of solidity, good sense and firmness. Judging from incidents of the service, he must have had the implicit confidence of Van Dorn and Forrest. More could not be said of any soldier.
But we must give up Tennessee—a sad thought. After a clash with some Federal Cavalry at Lockridge’s Mill, in Weakley county in which there was more of stampede than of fighting on their part, we retired toward the state line. We moved out leisurely, as no force was crowding us. We heard the noise of battle at Memphis on the 6th of June, 1862, and camped that night at Germantown. We soon heard of the defeat of the Confederate fleet in front of the city and of the Federal occupation. Next day found us in camp on Coldwater river, a few miles from Holly Springs. Then began a series of marches and countermarches in North Mississippi and trips to the borders of Tennessee. In one of these, a detachment of our command came near capturing General Grant at the house of Josiah Deloach. This gave rise to the story, after the war, that for his timely warning on the occasion Grant made Deloach postmaster of Memphis.
If I were to attempt to record more than a tithe of the events incident to our service in Mississippi during our first summer there, or do more than to touch the high places, as I skim along, these reminiscences would be too tedious for perusal.
William J. Tate, who had been elected lieutenant at the late regimental reorganization, was now promoted to the captaincy of Company E. Suffice it to say here that he had no superior as an officer in the regiment, and I shall have something more to say of him, when I come to speak of his death.
But the Armstrong raid. This was an expedition into West Tennessee under the command of General Frank Armstrong. Advancing by way of Grand Junction, we encountered a Federal force near Middleburg the 29th of August. There was some fighting between the Second Missouri Cavalry under Colonel McCulloch and the Second Illinois under Colonel Hogg, who was killed. In a combat at close quarters between McCulloch and Hogg, the latter was killed by Tom Turner, a young Missourian, to save the life of McCulloch. Captain Champion of the Second Missouri was killed here. As his body was borne from the field by two of his troopers, I saw, for the first time, a dead Confederate, who had been slain in battle. As the purpose of the raid seemed to be the cutting off of the army at Bolivar by tearing up the railroad, which led to its base of supplies, we crossed Hatchie river and struck the railroad at Medon. The Federal garrison here was small, but without artillery we found it impossible to dislodge them, so well were they protected in and about the depot with cotton bales and other material. Nothing was accomplished by the attack and several Confederates were either killed or wounded. It did so happen that Company E, in the charge on foot at the old brick church, passed over the same ground where it had been so royally entertained by the people of that vicinity the day it was mustered into service. Here Captain Bassett of Company C, Memphis, and Major Duckworth, afterwards Colonel of the regiment, were severely wounded, Bassett being permanently disabled. The command drew off to the east and went into camp at the Casey Savage farm. The Federals having received re-enforcements presented a bold front next morning when we passed to the west of the railroad. Here was a fine chance for a fight of which we did not avail ourselves, though the enemy were in an open field. With our force, we could have driven them to shelter or effected their capture. This was the first day of September, 1862, and we were to fight the battle of Briton’s Lane that day. We were to encounter a force, consisting of two infantry regiments, a section of artillery and a small detachment of cavalry. Our army could have enveloped them, and should have done so. The regiments were fought in detail, some of them scarcely getting into the engagement at all. The Seventh Tennessee was ordered to charge on foot through a corn field, from which the fodder had been stripped, against a heavy line of infantry lying behind a stout worm fence and in the woods. A galling fire was poured into Company E, but some of its men reached the fence. Dr. Joe Allen of Whiteville mounted the fence and fell dead on the enemy’s side of it. John Bradford of Toone, and Willie Wendel, a school boy of Bolivar, were killed near the fence. D. E. Durrett of Bolivar received a wound which put him on crutches to the day of his death, which occurred a few years ago, and Tom Joyner and John Fortune were severely wounded. How so many men got out of that field alive is one of those unaccountable things that sometimes occur in war. The whole command was discouraged by the operations of this raid, and thought that, if we had gained anything at all, we had paid dearly for it. The weather was hot and dry. When we returned to Mississippi the men were thoroughly dispirited and their horses in bad condition. True soldiers quickly recover from a disaster, when well treated in camp, and even horses seem to follow the example of the men. How sweet was the rest just then! But this respite was not for long. Even then Van Dorn and Price were arranging the details to attack Rosecrans at Corinth.
When we had somewhat recovered from the fatigue and demoralization incident to the Armstrong raid, four companies of the Seventh Tennessee and four of the First Mississippi were ordered to march under Lieutenant Colonel F. A. Montgomery of the latter regiment in the direction of Hernando, Miss. Colonel Grierson with his Sixth Illinois Cavalry was making a scout from Memphis, and the eight companies were to watch his movements. I remember we passed down through Byhalia and Cockrum and across Coldwater river on the road towards Hernando. Then turning north and marching leisurely along we recrossed the Coldwater at Holloway’s bridge, quite a rude affair, about ten miles southwest of Byhalia. The men seemed to think that we were only making one of our usual marches for practice. But when we had reached the foothills on the east side, there was a commotion in the ranks and we were ordered to countermarch, while the word passed down the line that Grierson was in our rear. He had crossed the bridge and was following us. In a few minutes the whole command was in the greatest excitement. As soon as the immediate presence of the enemy was discovered, a company of the Seventh Regiment was thrown front into line, but, unfortunately, very near the enemy, who had advanced on foot and were well concealed in the heavy timber. There was brisk firing from the Federal line, which portended certain death to the men and horses of our front company. There was a bolt to the rear, and what is known to the participants as the Coldwater stampede was on. Nothing could surpass it in excitement. The other companies had been drawn up by company front with Company E next in position to the one so near the enemy. When the latter had reached our front, it had acquired about sufficient momentum to dash through on their excited horses, which seemed to have gotten beyond the control of their riders. The Federals saw their opportunity and promptly advanced, delivering a galling fire as they did so. The demoralization was imparted from man to man and the scare from horse to horse till it became a rout. Some of the men of Company E spoke encouraging words to one another, when they saw what was coming, and denounced the retreat as cowardly. In some, this was no doubt a manifestation of inborn bravery, in others, of self-esteem or personal pride. From whatever motive, it was a creditable act, for it was one of those occasions when a man can take his own measure to see whether or not he is a brave soldier, or is prompted by other impulses. But however much inclined some were to stand firm, it was only a moment before all were borne to the rear. Concert of action was impossible, and those who at first resolved to resist, were very soon getting away with those who seemed to be making the best time. The command did not exactly take to the woods, but there was no delay in crossing a stout fence which put us into a corn field where the fall crop of crabgrass seemed to be the rankest I had ever seen. We happened to be going in the direction of the rows or we would have played havoc with the crop. As it was, we trampled great paths through the crabgrass and spoiled a fine lot of hay. Everybody seemed willing to halt when we got on the other side and had an open field between us and the enemy. The command was reorganized with dispatch, after which there were various expressions as to the cause of the disaster. Smarting with shame and mortification, a great majority of the detachment would then and there have put up the fight of their lives, had they been coolly led into action. Clearly, we had been outgeneraled by one of the most alert of Federal officers, the first on his side to gain a reputation as a bold raider.
How vividly I recall my own feelings and those expressed by others, when we retired from the scene of the affair just related! Everybody had some incident of the disaster to relate, and the usual funny things were said about how the boys got over that first fence and through that cornfield, though it did look like smiling at a funeral.
When the excitement was at its height and Grierson’s men were yelling like demons turned loose, Sherrill Tisdale’s horse was running madly to the rear with his rider trying to keep himself in the saddle by holding desperately to the mane. Tisdale fell to the ground and was captured, but his fine young horse, afterward ridden by the late Emmett Hughes, escaped and would have carried his owner to safety.
John Allen, a brother of Dr. Joe Allen, killed only a few days before at Briton’s Lane, was shot through the foot before our line was broken. He was riding a splendid mule which carried him out of danger by leaping two big logs, lying one upon the other. Joe and John Allen with their brother Thompson, who served in another regiment, were, like their father, Long John Allen, of Whiteville, noted for their sprightly intellectuality, physical and moral courage and height. John used to turn his six feet four inches to an amusing account when he encountered a citizen with whom he wished to swap horses. Putting his hand to his right ear he would ask his new acquaintance to talk very loud, intimating that he was very deaf. “Old Innocent,” usually a man of short stature as compared with John’s, who had, on the quiet, plenty of confidence in his own ability as a judge of horseflesh, would tiptoe to John and raise his voice to a high key. John, like a born actor, would turn his right eye down on his unsuspecting subject while he winked with his left to his audience. John Allen’s penchant for horse trading caused him sometimes to be mounted on a mule.
Company E now knew that there was work to be done in the immediate future. The Federals had garrisoned many places on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, and were making incursions into Mississippi. Steps were taken to unite the armies of Price and Van Dorn for the purpose of making an attack on Corinth where General Rosecrans was posted. As preliminary to this attack, Colonel W. H. Jackson was ordered to take his own and the First Mississippi Cavalry under Pinson and make a reconnoisance in the direction of Corinth. At Davis’ bridge on Big Hatchie river Jackson somewhat unexpectedly came upon Ingersoll’s Eleventh Illinois Cavalry and some regulars just going into camp. The vidette, who had just taken post, was taken in and the rest was easy. Pinson in front charged across the bridge and into the camp of the enemy, who were largely engaged in gathering corn from a field to the right of the road, while the Seventh Tennessee brought up the rear and waked the echoes with the rebel yell. The firing was promiscuous, but there were few casualties. Pinson was the only Confederate wounded. He manifested the spirit and courage of the hero, as we bore him to the Davis residence on a cot secured for the purpose. He had very good reason to think that the ball had penetrated the intestines, but he, nevertheless, spoke cheerfully to anxious enquirers as “boys,” and said that it was only “a small matter” and that he “was all right.” Happily he was.
The spoils were great, considering the few minutes the battle lasted, consisting of one hundred and eighty fine Illinois horses with their accoutrements and arms. We captured only fifty or sixty prisoners, as it was just at nightfall, and most of the enemy took refuge in the timber. I always thought that those fine horses and accoutrements should have been distributed among the boys where most needed and their inferior articles taken up. This might have been done under a board of survey in such a way as not only to increase the efficiency of the command, but also to stimulate it for future enterprises. But we didn’t get a halter. All went to supply the demands of other commands. There was one particularly fine horse in the captured lot which had been thoroughly trained and was evidently something of a pet, as we say, of his former owner. Jim Weatherly of Somerville, was not long in discovering his fine points and “smart tricks,” and soon had him “going his way.” The beautiful brown with two white feet had to be turned in, and Weatherly was disconsolate. Thereafter, when any legitimate capture fell in the way of the boys, mum was the word. It was now September, 1862, and Price and Van Dorn were ready to move on Corinth. This movement was made from Ripley, Miss., in two divisions commanded by Price and Lovell, with Van Dorn as chief. The army was well equipped, well fed and in fine spirits. It had not rained for many weeks, and the dusty roads and scarcity of water made the marches, which were necessary to effect the concentration of the two armies, severe ones for all branches of the service. But the prospect of making a successful assault on the works at Corinth and capturing Rosecrans and his army buoyed up the spirits of the soldiers. Ten miles out on the Chiwalla hills the cavalry encountered a small Federal force which was easily swept back. Company A of the Seventh Tennessee, was active in this affair as Jackson’s escort and lost the first man killed on the expedition. I was with a detachment of Company E that had been ordered forward and deployed as skirmishers. I came upon the corpse of the soldier, which had, for the moment, been left where he had fallen. It was the body of John Young of Memphis. This was the first day of October, 1862. The next day was spent in getting the proper dispositions made for the assault. On the 3rd, the earth seemed to tremble with the thunder of artillery and the roar of small arms. It was a struggle to the death in which both sides lost heavily. The position had been rendered strong by heavy earthworks and much of the front had been covered by fallen timber, which made the approach to the main works difficult. All that day it went well with the Confederates, though the killed and wounded were numerous. As the cavalry took no part in the main battle, we could see pretty well what was going on in the rear. There it was a bloody spectacle as the killed and wounded were borne back for treatment and burial. That was the first time for me to see our poor fellows wrapped in their blankets and buried in shallow trenches. The horror of it! Even on the morning of the fourth, those of us in the rear thought that all was well in front, for we had heard that Price, who was fighting on the north of the railroad, had gone over the heavy works and into the town. And so he had, but the brave men under Lovell on the right under the terrible fire of the Federals had failed to make a successful assault. Suddenly there was a calm, which we could not understand. But it soon flashed upon us that we were beaten, and our army was in full retreat. During the previous night McPherson’s division from Jackson had re-enforced Rosecrans and was ready to press the retreating Confederates. Hurlburt’s division, too, was marching from Bolivar to intercept the retreating column. There was now likely to be some lively work for the cavalry. When we reached Davis’ bridge, the scene of the affair heretofore related, Hurlburt was there to dispute our passage. With McPherson in our rear we were apparently “in a box.” Shrewd generalship on the part of the Federals would have captured our whole army. Van Dorn boldly attacked Hurlburt at the bridge, while his trains were ordered to take the only road of escape—that up Hatchie river. The cavalry preceded the trains, and, crossing the river, attacked Hurlburt in his rear. For several hours there were two Federal and two Confederate forces engaged and one of each fronting two ways. Van Dorn drew off at the proper time and followed his trains. The Federals were not disposed to follow, as good generalship would have dictated, for our troops, worn out and hungry, could have made but a feeble resistance. The streams had no water in them and our soldiers drank the wells dry. When a beef was killed the hungry men were cutting the flesh from the carcass before the hide was off. In the midst of this distress, I had my only sight of Sterling Price. He was riding at the head of a small escort and apparently in deepest thought. He had left many of the brave men whom he loved dead on the field of Corinth. He was the idol of his men, a great Missourian and a good man. But the result at Corinth had made him sad. The disaster brought other troubles in its train.
After the battle of Corinth the Confederate army under Van Dorn was entirely on the defensive. Grant and Sherman advanced from Memphis into Mississippi with the evident purpose of taking Vicksburg in the rear. The cavalry had frequent skirmishes with the Federal advance and no little excitement. There was an encounter with Sherman’s troops near Old Lamar in Marshall County, Miss. In relating this incident, I feel the need of a faculty that would enable me to tell three or four things at the same time and make my readers have a clear conception of a number of particulars which run through the mind so rapidly that it is difficult to arrange them in a well connected narrative. As in a dream, we travel over a vast extent of country and talk with many people in the short space of a few seconds, so when armed forces unexpectedly clash, we can see very many things at the same moment, but can speak of only one incident at a time. In the last days of a very dry October the Seventh Tennessee Cavalry was marching by fours in a dusty lane with ditches intervening between the road and the fences. The enemy must have seen that a fine opportunity was at hand, and advanced rapidly on our flank. The clouds of dust so obscured the vision that it was impossible to see just where the enemy were. Having the advantage of an open field they made good use of it. The Confederates were compelled to fall back or be enveloped. The command to right about by fours was given. This order threw about one-half the regiment into a position fronting the other half, which had, in the confusion, never heard it. The red dirt rose in clouds as those who were trying to get to the rear struggled to pass by those who had not heard the command. Horses and riders went into the ditches in a confused mass.
The time for obeying orders had passed. Amid the shouts of the enemy’s flanking lines, the neighing of horses and the curses of desperate men, there seemed to be one thought uppermost, and that was to get out of this trouble alive, if possible. No doubt there were instances of individual bravery and unselfish acts of gallantry, quite common occurrences in the Seventh Regiment, but nobody had anything of this incident to relate on that score around future campfires. Many had thrilling stories of how they escaped. Captain W. J. Tate of Company E, and Captain C. C. Clay went into the ditch together. Tate lost his saddle, but got hold of Clay’s, which he placed on his own horse, mounted and rode out of danger. Captain Clay with many others was captured. This all happened in much less time than it takes to tell it, but it was a remarkable stampede, the second and last the regiment ever was in. The fighting was so constant from that time till Christmas, 1862, that the men learned to stand firm on the firing line and to fall back in good order.
It were a long story to tell of the sullen retreat of the army even now not fully recovered from the effects of the disastrous Corinth campaign. Mansfield Lovell’s division and Price’s Trans-Mississippi veterans, however, were always ready for a fight. The cold, rainy days of winter were upon us, and nothing seemed quite so sure as a great battle on the line of the Tallahatchie. That line was abandoned and the enemy made a fierce attack on our rear guard of cavalry at Oxford. We were expected to hold them in check till our trains were safe beyond the Yokona. It was one of those times in which the woods were alive with bluecoats. But I shall intermit this narrative here and insert a sketch, which is entirely apropos, though printed some time ago. It follows:
Editor Commercial Appeal:
Whenever I hear the patriotic spirit of the Southern women alluded to, I somehow revert to an incident that came under my observation on the 2nd day of December, 1862, at Oxford, Miss. Price and Van Dorn had been forced to abandon the line of the Tallahatchie and were falling back to the line of the Yalobusha. Our cavalry was making a stubborn resistance against overwhelming forces of the Federals in order to hold them in check long enough to allow our trains to get beyond immediate danger. A cold rain was falling and there seemed to be no bottom to the roads. The citizens were panic-stricken and the army was in no good spirits. It had not entirely recovered from the disastrous repulse at Corinth, and the terrible weather added to the distress. “Blue ruin” seemed to stare us in the face. Colonel Wheeler of the First Tennessee Cavalry was temporarily in command of W. H. Jackson’s brigade, which was trying to hold the Abbeville road. There was no picket in our front and there was a call for somebody to reconnoiter. There was no positive order from the Colonel commanding, but as he rode along the front of our company he said: “Some of you men with carbines go out there and see where they are.” It was one of those times when it was nobody’s business in particular, but everybody’s in general. Just then I asked Sam Clinton, who recently died at Bolivar, if he would go with me. We rode forward, followed by four other men of other companies. I remember that Sam and I realized the danger and would have preferred to be somewhere else. We stirred up a hornet’s nest, for very soon there was one report, and a singing minie passed over our heads. Instantly, a heavy skirmish line of Kansas Jayhawkers, who knew how to shoot, rose up in the bushes on each side of the road. We replied in kind, but retreated at a rapid pace. Only one of the six was struck, Private Wilson of Company B, of Covington, who had his thigh bone fractured and became a permanent cripple. The retreat even was so hot that I hastily concluded to quit the road and try the timber. In forcing my horse, “Old Snip,” up an embankment the wet and thawing earth gave way, and Snip and I fell in such a position, with my left foot under him, that it was difficult to rise. I had to think fast. I spurred the poor beast with my right foot to force him to an effort to rise so that I could recover my left. The next thing was to recover my navy six and saddle bags, containing my scant “wardrobe” which had become detached and fallen in the mud. Replacing my pistol in the holster, throwing my saddle bags on my shoulder and holding on to my carbine, I turned my attention to Snip, who had by a supreme effort recovered his feet and was ready for any emergency. Following my lead, he mounted the embankment and we had the protection of the timber. Just then the gallant Joe Wicks of Memphis, the adjutant of our regiment, came with orders for the squad to fall back. We had already taken orders from the Jayhawkers. But poor Joe Wicks, we never saw him more. Dashing into the thicket, he said he had other orders to deliver. In a few minutes his riderless horse came dashing back to the command. He never delivered his orders, but was buried by the good people of Oxford.
But I started out to say something about the Confederate women. If I have any excuse for this preliminary, it is, that my readers may have a faint appreciation of the troubles that come to a poor private of a retreating army in midwinter. As for the Confederate women, it is always in order, even in the middle of an effective paragraph, to say your best about them, but, if I had some happy trick of phrase or knack of language, which I just now heartily desire, I would write in the language of loftiest eulogy in their praise. However, let us think that there never were any others just like them.
But now as to the particular incident. Oxford was a town of tearful women and weeping maids. This added to our overflowing cup. On the verandah of a cottage, somewhere just south of the courthouse, was standing one of the maidens, who did not seem to be weeping, for her spirit had risen to the occasion. With dark blue eyes and flowing hair, she was animation incarnate. She was most forcibly expressing her opinion about our giving over the town to the merciless Yankees. Her short skirts and youthful appearance, somewhat mollified her impeachment, for, if we had taken her opinion as solid truth, and had seen ourselves as she, for the moment, saw us, we should have been convinced that we were the most cowardly aggregation of “skedaddling” cavalry in the Confederacy. In just twenty days, we had ample revenge and surcease from humiliation at Holly Springs, where the Federal loss of army stores, right in the rear of Grant’s army, went into the millions, and was the greatest loss of supplies that occurred on a single occasion during the war. Historians have not even done this affair under Van Dorn the scantiest justice.
But who was our little maiden, she of the patriotic impulses? Everybody wanted to know, for we hoped to have her think better of us. Cad Linthicum, our little Kentuckian, who somehow had a penchant for knowing all the girls in divers places, said it was Taylor Cook. And so it was Taylor Cook. Then “Taylor Cook” went down the line. She had become famous in a twinkling. The Seventh Tennessee Cavalry would have willingly adopted her as “The Daughter of the Regiment,” if she could have appreciated the honor. She was worthy to become the wife of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s only son. And she did. When I pause at her grave in beautiful Elmwood, I think of that sad day at Oxford.
J. M. HUBBARD.
Erstwhile of Company E,
Seventh Tenn. Cavalry.
On the 3rd day of December, 1862, the Seventh Regiment had placed the Yokona between itself and the enemy. We destroyed the bridges in order to hold them in check. Here we committed about our first depredation on a citizen. We burnt his fence rails. Remember it was cold and wet and we had no axes. The boys spoke of it as an outrage (sic), but felt good as they dried themselves around the burning rails. We consoled ourselves with the reflection that, if the owner were as patriotic as he should have been, he never would utter a word of complaint. Many a time, when the temperature was low, we had occasion to revert with pleasure to the generous fires near Springdale, an old antebellum stagestand.
“Boots and saddles,” for the Federal cavalry had already gotten between the Seventh Regiment and Water Valley. There was but one thing to do. Put on a bold front and run over them or through them. This was so quickly done by our advance that the rear never came in sight of the enemy. The road was now clear and we continued to move south. The next day, just north of Coffeeville, we assisted in forming an ambuscade to entrap the Federal cavalry. This was attended with sufficient success to enable our whole army to take post at Grenada.
We were getting well along into the second year of the war, and our prospects were getting worse on the “Memphis lines.” North Mississippi was in the hands of the Federals, and nothing seemed more probable or possible than that we should be driven further toward the Gulf. Van Dorn had had rather poor success as the commander of an army or the projector of a campaign, but the Confederate authorities knew he was a born cavalryman. He appeared to be the very man to lead a bold movement to the rear of Grant’s army on the Tallahatchie. A corps composed entirely of cavalry was organized to take the road with Holly Springs as an objective point. This place had been abundantly supplied with everything needed by an army of twenty thousand men, encamped south of it, and was garrisoned by about three thousand of all arms. Most of the storehouses around the public square were full of provisions, clothing and medical stores. A large livery stable had been converted into an immense arsenal for the storage of arms and ammunition. There was a long string of cars on the tracks, sufficient, perhaps, to make three good trains, which it was said were loaded with supplies for the army. The sutlers and the small dealers who follow an army, were fully supplied, as if they expected to make a permanent stay in the Sunny South. The cotton speculators were in force, and had hundreds of bales in storage. Van Dorn did not expect to transport any part of these vast supplies south. His purpose was to surprise the garrison at daylight, parole the prisoners and destroy the stores. So after making a march of one day and two nights, much of which was at a trot, and during which we had, after starting from Grenada, swept around by way of Benela, Houston, Pontotoc and New Albany, about 100 miles, we surprised and captured the Federal outpost and entered the town at a gallop. On that clear, frosty morning of December 20th, 1862, the Seventh Regiment was marching in the rear of a column so long and moving so rapidly that we made the last mile or two at about full speed. When we did reach the town, our horses were hot and smoking and men greatly excited. Colonel Murphy, the Federal commander of the post, had already been surprised in his bed and the Confederates were on every corner. Men, women and children were sounding praises to the Confederates. We could hardly realize that we were in possession of the largest booty secured by any army, so far, in the war. Everybody wanted to carry away something, but it was hard to make a selection. Here were great inducements to plunder and such a condition of demoralization existed as might cause the officers to lose control of their men. Whisky, brandy and wines of the best quality and in unbroken packages were among the spoils of war, and everybody so disposed could help himself. And pretty much everybody was disposed. A. S. Coleman, he of the Missouri roasting ear story and sutler of the regiment, had left his wagon at Grenada and had donned his fighting clothes for the raid. He acted as a sort of free lance, who had the assurance to assume special privileges. He visited some of the richest depots early and selected such articles as he knew would please the boys. He soon hove in sight of Company E with a string of hats as long as a plough line wound about him and his horse. What looked like the effigy of a man, clothed in blue trousers of large dimensions and cut in twain at the waist and footless, sat bolt upright on the pommel of Coleman’s saddle. When the contents of the effigy were displayed, we found we had more good liquor than we had room for. All were in fine trim now to attack the commissary stores. As in the case of the fine liquors, the boys did materially reduce the visible supply of good things. People of all classes, without regard even to previous condition of servitude, were told to walk up and help themselves. Children reveled in the pleasures of the occasion, and grown people declared that it was the grandest day the town had ever seen. The work of destruction began in the afternoon. The arsenal was destroyed, all cars with their contents and houses used for the storage of cotton were burned. Town and country were enveloped in smoke and the report of explosives was heard when we were many miles from the scene of destruction. Van Dorn had so completely reaped the fruits of victory that his praise was on every tongue. The men rode out of Holly Springs at nightfall in high glee and perfectly willing to incur other dangers further north. The loss to the Federals has been estimated as high as $3,000,000.
I have been at some pains to find out about how many men Van Dorn had at Holly Springs, but the affair has been so lightly regarded by writers and the records are so lacking in specific statements, that I am only able to state that I had the impression at the time his force numbered about four thousand men. He had no artillery. A statement here as to strength is immaterial in this case, as one thousand men, or maybe less, could have accomplished all that was done. For the Federals, it was a complete surprise and a humiliating disaster. The Confederates could hardly realize that they had participated in one of the most brilliant military exploits of the war. They had lost one man killed, John Graves, of Company A. When our column was on the road next morning, after a brief rest, it looked very like a Federal column, as thousands of new blue overcoats had been captured and were utilized on this clear frosty morning. Van Dorn reached Davis’ Mills, now Michigan City, early in the morning of the 21st of December. This place is about twenty miles north of Holly Springs and on Wolf River. The Federal force here was small, but well protected by a fort, rifle pits and a barricaded millhouse. The Confederates, on foot, assailed the position furiously as if they expected to take it by assault. The fire from the little garrison was so galling from across the river, quite an insignificant stream at that point, that they sheltered themselves for a time behind an earthen mill dam constructed along the bank. Here we had a slight loss in killed and wounded. The retreat to our horses was perilous and the enemy made the most of it. While lying in the ditch beside the milldam, a hat elevated above our protection was apt to receive two or three bullet holes. Lieutenant Statler of Company E had a Holly Springs hat ruined by a minie ball passing through the band and on through his hair. Poor fellow, when I found his dead body, the day after the battle of Harrisburg, July 14th, 1864, I noticed that the ball that killed him had passed through his hat band.
After the affair at Davis’ Mill we retired to the neighborhood of the Lane Farm, and rested for part of the night. Our horses had a bountiful feed and a short rest. What must be done must be done quickly. So we struck the usual trot. My little blooded stallion seemed to know just what was wanted. He would lie down like a tired dog when the column made a short halt, but was all life and animation when it was moving. Across Wolf river at Moscow in the early morning, we took the road to Somerville. It was said that we would repeat the Holly Springs business at Bolivar. The men of Company E knew every road and by-path leading to the town. Our hopes were high. We were willing to head a surprise party, or lead an assault. We should be fighting in the presence of our own people—the home folks. But we passed on to Danceyville, and that did not look like going to Bolivar. A short halt and a countermarch, and we were surely on the road to Bolivar.
We had traveled over much of Fayette and Hardeman counties, but bivouacked on Clear Creek on the night of December 23rd. We had been bountifully fed right here when on our way to Randolph the year before and had slept on this ground part of a night on the Armstrong raid. When I think of this place I think of chicken pie. The rank and file were confident that we would go into Bolivar, only a few miles distant, the next morning, and have a jolly Christmas right at home. That was not to be. Our scouts and spies reported that the Federals in great force were strongly fortified and were ready for us. They had evidently heard from Holly Springs. Van Dorn drew off to Middleburg, seven miles southwest of Bolivar where a small garrison was protected by a brick storehouse with a hall above, through the walls of which they had made many portholes. Here we needed some kind of artillery. The Federals stood bravely to their guns and refused to comply with our demand to surrender. It was a detachment of the Twelfth Michigan infantry, which the community thought to be about as devilish a lot as ever came south.
At Middleburg I saw the prettiest line of battle in action that I saw in the whole war. It was Ross’ Texas brigade advancing on foot with a firing line of skirmishers several rods in advance. As we stood to the rear in reserve, I could but take pride in this fine body of Texans, as Sul Ross, afterward governor of Texas, was my schoolmate. He was a noble young fellow at college, a gallant Indian fighter before the war, a successful general in the Confederate army, an incorruptible statesman after the war and, finally, the most popular man in Texas. I was glad to call him friend. I have passed Middleburg many times since then, but always think of Ross’ line of battle. “After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.”
Van Dorn retired, without molestation from the Federals, while Grant hastened to break camp on the Tallahatchie and to fall back to Memphis. The object of the expedition had been pretty fully accomplished.
When Van Dorn reached Ripley on his way south, Dr. Bob Mayes and I concluded that we would take a short respite from camp life and make an expedition of our own into Alabama. While maturing our plans we fully realized that we had to take the chances of being reported absent without leave. We reasoned that it was mid-winter and that neither army would make an offensive move for some time. Then everybody was in good humor because of our late success, and besides we knew that we were not serving under martinets in the persons of our high officers—a rather common conclusion in those days. So at the first favorable opportunity we two moved by the left flank and took the road to Guntown. This was the same road along which Sturgis advanced and retreated when Brice’s Cross Roads became a famous place. We passed the cross roads and the now noted Dr. Agnew and Brice residences around which the battle was to be fought. We could not tell when we might come into contact with a Federal scouting party from Corinth or a squad of bushwhackers. In such an emergency, we were not to show our weakness to the enemy, but were to bluff them, if we could, and take to the woods in good order. We had seven shots apiece and plenty of ammunition. We questioned citizens in regard to the roads and the prospects of trouble. When we struck the wild country east of the Tombigbee, we were always on the alert and were cautious how we let any man approach us. The further we went the wilder the country appeared. Rough, rocky roads wound along the streams and down through the valleys, which lay between the lofty hills. Excellent places to be shot at.
Out through the village of Allsboro, we took the road to the old town of Frankfort with lighter hearts. We spoke gratefully of the kindness of the citizens along our route, who had treated us so hospitably, and concluded that we were never in as much danger as we had thought we were. We had not seen an armed man on the trip. At Tuscumbia, Mayes took the road to Courtland, I the one to Florence. I found the bridge over the Tennessee had been destroyed, and was compelled to take the risk of crossing on a rather dilapidated oar boat. But I felt at home on the dear old soil. Little Ernest, my first born, was soon to be in my arms and loving hands, including the old servants, were to leave nothing undone to make me feel happy. I was to stand again by the grave of a bride-mother, the beloved of all Florence, and too those of her father and two brothers over which the fresh earth still lay. My tired horse is really climbing the old hill; I see the old Dr. Todd place up to my left, the antiquated buildings of older Florence, the pillared seat of justice, built in the long ago. Why, I am right up in town. I turn into Military street. The old home is in sight. My heart! My heart! Bright eyes! Bright eyes! The loved ones with the baby.
But I look around and find the place greatly changed. I see more women than men. Two colleges closed and little or no business doing in the stores. No courts in session. Many residences closed. Small groups of anxious men stand on the corners, for Bragg is fighting at Murfreesboro and many of the Florence soldiers are there. Just such meager reports were coming in as would create the greatest suspense. The town had been in the hands of the Federals much of the time since the battle of Shiloh, and had been greatly harassed by raiders. Clothing and provisions, even the necessities of life, were hard to get. So the people talked mostly of the distress and gloom brought on by the war. Men and women, heretofore prosperous and happy, were bowed down with grief and, in many cases, in dire want. These good people were subject to insult and liable to lose the last crust at the hands of a rude soldiery. In fact, they did undergo, before the war was over, sufferings more intense and cruelties more severe. The state of affairs described bore hard upon all, but especially so upon the conservative element made up largely of old gentlemen, patriotic and true, who believed that a peaceable settlement could have been effected and war avoided. I was in sympathy, from the first, with that element in politics, who, while opposed to secession, yet when war was flagrant, gave up everything and, in many cases, took up arms in behalf of the South. I mention as typical of this class William B. Wood, Henry C. Jones and R. M. Patton.
Governor Patton, a gentleman of the old school, served his state well, and had two sons killed in battle. Judge Billy Wood was Colonel of the Sixteenth Alabama Infantry. I saw Stratton Jones, son of Judge Jones, dead on the field at Pulaski. As typical of those who thought differently on public questions, I mention the names of Richard W. Walker, Edward A. O’Neal and William H. Price, true as steel and patriots all. Walker was a famous lawyer and I heard it said then that he had much to do with the formation of the Confederate Constitution. O’Neal commanded a regiment in Lee’s army and after the war was governor. Major Price was killed in the same charge at Perryville in which his friend, Major Frank Gailor, the father of Bishop Gailor, fell. I record these things in a reminiscent mood, it is true, but they serve to illustrate what had taken place all over the South and, moreover, how people of radically diverse opinions on paramount questions can stand shoulder to shoulder when they come into the presence of a common danger. When the majority of the Southern people had spoken, Florence became a unit on the subject of resistance to Federal aggression. About all of her eligible men had gone into the army, and at the time of which I write she was mourning the death of many of her bravest and best. Lee had retired from Maryland and news came that Bragg was falling back, showing that Antietam and Murfreesboro were, at most, drawn battles. Coupled with Bragg’s retreat from Kentucky after the battle of Perryville they certainly emphasized the success of the Federals in preventing a Confederate invasion of the North. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” and there were some cheerful faces in Florence. Among these was that of Colonel Tol Chisholm, the provost marshal, who generously furnished me with a pass that was supposed to be good from Florence to Grenada. I thought at the time that this was a wide territory for the authority of a petty provost to cover, but it was good at nearby points, and might be available, or at least better than nothing, further down the country. So having secured a splendid new mount, I turned my face toward Mississippi. There could be no concert of action between my fellow soldier, Dr. Mayes, and myself as communication was poor between Florence and Courtland. We were compelled to act independently. So, armed with Tol Chisholm’s pass against the Confederates and a good carbine and a navy six against any hostile attack that might beset me on my way, I drew rein in three or four days at Cotton Gin on the Tombigbee. I could now move at my leisure and as my good steed stepped over the muddy roads as if he scorned them, I arrived all right in Grenada.
My part of the personal expedition which Mayes and I projected had so far turned out charmingly, but at Grenada everything was not exactly lovely. In the disposition of the troops, the Seventh Tennessee Cavalry had been ordered to take post north of the Yalobusha for rest and recuperation. The late Senator George, commander of the post, had orders to permit no one to pass north without permission from headquarters of the general commanding the army. I approached Colonel George with nothing to fortify me but a little assurance and Tol Chisholm’s pass. He was a man of pleasing personality with whose countenance I was somewhat familiar, as I had seen him at my father’s house back in the 50’s. I didn’t, however, disclose my identity for the purpose of working myself into his good graces, but on his refusal of a permit concluded it best to retire as gracefully as possible, thankful that he had not placed me under arrest. Across the river or to the guard house, for I had to have subsistence for self and horse. I rode directly to the river, where an officer was ferrying some men and horses in a boat nearly as long as the river was wide. I didn’t even exhibit Tol Chisholm’s pass, but in the confusion, incident to such occasions, I rode boldly into the boat and was soon safe on the north side. I had some occasion for reflection on my adventure and my interview with Colonel George. Only a few years ago I had charge of the schools of Grenada, and I never looked at the site of the old Brown Hotel that the same old reflections did not recur. In a short time I had the pleasure of congratulating Mayes on the pronounced success of his trip. As I expect to write even more fully concerning my impressions of some of the men with whom I served than heretofore, I may say something of Mayes right here. Wherever the short sketches occur, they may be taken as only partial portraitures of character, tinged in some instances, perhaps, with my tributes of praise to men who would do their duty at all hazards. Well then, Dr. R. M. Mayes was somewhat peculiar in his mental makeup, but withal a well-bred gentleman, a good soldier and a friend to rely on in an emergency. He abandoned the practice of dentistry for a season, after the war, and concluded he could make money in the cultivation of peanuts. One crop satisfied him. He married a young lady of estimable character, whom I knew well and who, though reared a blue stocking Presbyterian, by his own insistence followed him in his peregrinations through theological troubles. I may well say this, for Mayes was reared a Baptist but some time after the war was confirmed in the Episcopal Church. He at last sought satisfaction in the Roman Catholic Church. The couple reared a family, and I believe are still living in San Antonio. The thought comes to me now, and I will record it here, that I have learned about as much in my long life by reading people as I have by reading books. In this regard, peculiar people have cut no small figure. Indeed, I can say that, psychologically speaking, the eccentricities of abnormal people afford a wider range of study than do the mental activities of people who are always merely at themselves. Though it may be true that “a fool is born every minute,” all peculiar people are not fools.
We spent a few weeks at old Pharsalia, on the Yokona river, where we constructed rude winter quarters, or “shanties,” for timber was abundant. We had a great snowstorm, and had to keep fires glowing. We had much pleasure here in receiving and entertaining for a part of a day Mrs. R. P. Neely, of Bolivar, and her daughter, Miss Kate, the latter of whom had been banished from her home by Gen. Brayman, the Federal commander of the post. Mrs. Neely was a splendid type of the true Southern woman, who, like all her children, stood always ready to make sacrifices for the Southern soldiers. She was a woman of most charming personality and gentle refinement, that could have filled almost any station to which ladies are called. Mrs. Elizabeth Lea Neely lived to a great age, and retained to the end the profound respect of all the good people of Bolivar. As for Miss Kate—now Mrs. Collins, of Memphis—she was, or rather is, a woman of the Grace Darling or Mollie Pitcher type, who would go to the rescue of those in peril, or take her place at the guns, if it were to repel the enemies of her country. May her days be long and happy. Charles R. Neely, the elder brother, killed at Brice’s Cross Roads, was already a valuable member of Company E, but here comes young Jimmy, the present capable Superintendent of the Western Hospital, who wanted to be a soldier. His mother protested that he was too young, but as an irregular he did honorable service as the war progressed. We changed our camp by taking post at Mitchell’s Cross Roads, near the mouth of Coldwater, where forage was plentiful and the service light. We had here a goodly number of recruits and returning soldiers from Tennessee. Rations were plentiful, but poor, but “foraging” was good and the citizens hospitable. It was a calm before a storm; indeed, it burst upon us rather suddenly one day that the Federals at Memphis were fitting out an expedition, which, taking advantage of the flooding stage of the waters, would go through the Yazoo Pass into the Coldwater river, thence into the Tallahatchie, and, finally, into the Yazoo river, and thus take Vicksburg in the rear. The projectors of the expedition were convinced of its feasibility, and the Confederates were proportionately alarmed. Fort Pemberton was hastily constructed, near the junction of the Tallahatchie and Yalobusha; heavy guns were mounted and a large force concentrated at that point. The cavalry was ordered to camp in the vicinity, and to scout and picket wherever a horse could go. Within a few days the Federal fleet of gunboats and transports arrived and opened fire on the fort. General Loring, “Old Blizzard,” was on the alert, and the resistance so stubborn that the fleet withdrew and made its way, in a much shattered condition, to Memphis. Glad enough to get out of the black mud around Greenwood, the Seventh Regiment was ordered to the hills. We camped about Grenada and Panola, and watched the roads leading toward Memphis, for the Federals had resumed their old practice of raiding and plundering. Brigadier-General James R. Chalmers, who had made some reputation in Bragg’s army, was placed in command of all the cavalry in North Mississippi. For a month or two we had no clash with the enemy. As soon as the roads would permit, we went over to the Mississippi river, the boys said, “to fight gunboats.” We struck the river in the vicinity of Commerce. We soon saw the smoke of an ascending steamer. Concealed along the shore, we waited with almost breathless anxiety the approach of the steamer. All was in readiness. Our only cannon—a four-pounder—was masked on top of the levee. “Bang!” went a gun. There, now! One of the men in Company E had accidentally shot two others, but the wounds were slight. The silence was more breathless. On came the steamer. When she did get abreast of us, the rattle of small arms was something to remember. The little cannon turned loose her first shot, but the rebound carried her into the mud back of the levee, where she sank up to the hubs. There was a wild scramble among the gunners and others to place the piece in position. There were other shots and other rebounds, but if those fellows did any harm, it was to the timber over in Arkansas. I scarcely think, at this distant day, that they could have “hit a hole in the air,” much less a barndoor at short range. Seeing that the Alice Dean was unarmed, our men rushed down to the water’s edge. A lively fusillade was kept up for some minutes, while Colonel Stocks, in stentorian voice, demanded of the Captain that he bring the boat to shore. This created some amusement, for it was like “whistling to the wind,” as the boat hugged the Arkansas shore and puffed away up stream.
It was now “the good old summer time,” and the Federals were on the move. On the night of the 18th of July, we bivouacked near them at the Dr. Atkins farm, just below Hernando. Their force consisted of detachments amounting to 320 men, all cavalry, under Major Henry, of the Fourth Ohio. Chalmers must have known that his own command was much stronger than the enemy’s, but they evidently did not. We held the road to Memphis, and it was reasonable to suppose that, when we attacked in the early morning, the enemy would, if pressed, move along this road. The Seventh Regiment was ordered to move through the front grounds of the Slocum place and to get as nearly as possible in the enemy’s rear. The plan of battle, as it was afterward developed, seemed to be that the Seventh should so push the enemy back upon the other regiments, properly placed, that a surrender of the enemy would be inevitable. As soon as we caught sight of them, mounted and formed along a lane, the fences of which they had torn down, our horses were put to their best, but, before we fired a shot, the enemy broke to the rear. Part of them fell back on our ambuscade, and were captured, but our charge had been so furious that the greater part were driven so far beyond the line of the regiments waiting to receive them that they escaped. The whole command now joined in the pursuit at a gallop. Federals and Confederates were commingled in one wild race, as we went over the fences and through the fields and woods. In the Jack Robertson wheat field, there was a resolute attempt of a Federal officer to rally his men. He did form a perfect line of some twenty men in the face of the fierce onslaught, but for a minute only. Here Adjutant Pope of the Seventh and Captain W. J. Tate of Company E were wounded, and Private James Moore of Company E was killed, the only man on our side to fall that day. It was a question of speed, and those who had the fastest horses met with the most exciting adventures. Lieutenant J. P. Statler of Company E, being thrown to the ground, because of a broken saddle girth, was left afoot, while his fine gray horse, Commodore, escaped with the fleeing enemy. There were opportunities to secure a mount, as in the excitement of the chase many of our adversaries had become separated from their horses. Following a country road along which we knew, by their tracks, a Federal detachment was escaping, Mat Hornsby and I came to a bridge over a small creek, which had been broken down, and with a horse fastened in the wreck. As this blocked our way, we turned down stream to find a crossing. We soon made a rich haul, for we came upon six good horses, with all their rigging, floundering about in water up to the saddle skirts. As there was great danger of their being drowned, in the excitement of the moment, I waded in to their rescue, and soon had one by the bridle. With Hornsby’s assistance, I saved the six horses with their accoutrements. As I was already well mounted, and, mindful of how things turned out at Davis’ bridge, I suggested to Mat that he select the best horse in the lot, turn his own “plug” in, and keep mum. He followed my suggestion implicitly, and selected the big sorrel.
James Madison Hornsby was a tip-top, good fellow. I trust he is with the angels, for he was a Confederate soldier, and, after the war, a Baptist preacher.
But we were to have no peace just then, for the Federals were sending out a force which could hold its own with Chalmers’ little army. We went into the “bottom” again and out to the hills, by way of the mouth of Coldwater. On this retreat, we were compelled to leave Adjutant W. S. Pope and Captain W. J. Tate, severely wounded, at farmhouses, where they were tenderly cared for. It happened that Pope’s mother and sister were in the neighborhood, and hastened to his bedside. Within three or four days we attacked the works at Collierville, but Chalmers, evidently concluding that the capture of the position was not worth the sacrifice that would have to be made, drew off in good order.
As a large and well-equipped force was reported to be moving from Memphis and other points, for the purpose of making another raid, but on a larger scale, Chalmers thought it prudent to fall back to the Yalobusha. As I remember it, the Seventh Tennessee took the Valley road at Panola, and, crossing the river at old Tuscahoma, turned east to Grenada. Tarrying only long enough to have our horses shod, Lieutenant Harris and I hastened to join the command. When we reached the crest of that noted landmark, Pine Hill, just south of the town, we saw dense volumes of smoke in the valley. A short distance down the slope, we came upon a well-known citizen in that country, the late William B. Owens, who appeared to be in a very excited state of mind. He stated that the Federals already had possession of the town, and had deprived him of his horse. I recognized in Mr. Owens an old acquaintance, but it was no time to recall old friendship. But for him we should probably have ridden right into the enemy’s lines. Harris and I made a quick movement through the timber till we reached the Carrollton road. We soon drew up at the house of a Mr. Patton, where we had an excellent supper and a good feed for our horses. We here learned that the railroad bridges at Grenada were burned, and that our whole command had gone east. It was thought prudent for us to cross certain roads before daylight. I now felt sure of myself, because in these same glades and hills of the Abituponbouge I had, when boyhood’s days were glad, chased the bounding deer and lay in wait for the festive wild turkey. It was in this section that I was inured to toil on the farm, and acquired a skill in horsemanship that afterward, and many a time, stood me in good stead in a close place. To me, the abode of peace had become the seat of war.
Leaving Lieutenant Harris, now safe on the road to the command, I turned aside to make a short call on the family of my only brother, the late Dorsey G. Hubbard, a member of the Fifth Mississippi Cavalry. Just as I reached the front gate, and was on the very spot where, in 1850, my father’s wagons and other vehicles halted, after a six week’s journey from North Carolina, I was accosted by some soldiers, who were seeking a man who could guide Whitfield’s Texas Brigade (Ross’) to Lodi. Well, yes; I could do that, and did so. While riding along in pleasant conversation with the General and his staff, a gentleman, who was somewhat disguised by his whiskers and soldier clothes, suddenly discovered my identity. It was a pleasant meeting and a pleasant greeting, for it was none other than that accomplished and genial gentleman, Captain Davis R. Gurley of Waco, the Adjutant-General of the Brigade, but a schoolmate of mine. Gurley was, at college, the roommate of the gallant General Dan McCook, of the Federal Army, who was killed at the head of his brigade at Kennesaw Mountain. Many years ago I had the pleasure of meeting him in his own city.
The Federals, in the movement alluded to, having seemingly accomplished all they had set out to do, returned to the line of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. The Confederates, under Chalmers, having now no need of assistance from Whitfield’s Brigade, marched, by way of Grenada, to Irby’s mill, just west of Como.
We were now in a choice portion of Mississippi, and had more holiday soldiering and plenty of time to rest. We moved camp from place to place, as our needs in supplies demanded. Indeed, we had little else to do than to sit around and discuss such subjects as to when the war would end, how it would end, and how we should be treated, if finally defeated. On these subjects there were great variety and contrariety of opinions. We had the physical facts before us, and it looks, at this distant day, that there might have been but one opinion as to the final result. In the Gettysburg campaign, Lee’s army had been defeated and so greatly depleted that it was beyond the point of ever being made as strong as it had been. The Federals had unlimited resources in men, particularly in foreigners. These, though hirelings, knew how to throw up breastworks, mine and countermine. In surrendering Vicksburg and Port Hudson, the Confederates had weakened the armies in the West, and lost control of the Mississippi river. They had gained a victory at Chickamauga in September, which never could be called great because of the great loss of men. In November, Bragg was driven back at all points by Grant, at Missionary Ridge, and retreated, with an army greatly depleted, to Dalton, Ga. These days were somewhat restful to our particular command, yet they were gloomy days. We heard of a small victory here and there for the Confederates, but all the late larger affairs had resulted in favor of our enemies. Many believed that the establishment of the independence of the Confederacy was improbable, if not impossible. With the lights before them, men could not be censured for having an honest opinion. We could only hope that something would happen that would turn the tide in our favor. It took moral courage, and plenty of it, for a man to make himself a target for bullets, when he had no very reasonable hope that, even by his death, he would save his country. While some abandoned the cause, it is to the everlasting credit of the majority of the men of the Seventh Tennessee Cavalry that they stood by those who had the direction of affairs, and, to that extent, had our destiny in their hands.
No more fighting now for many weeks, during which time both men and horses were put in fine condition. On October 8th, Company E was in a sharp contest with Federal cavalry at Salem, east of Lamar, but without decisive results. Chalmers then moved towards Collierville, at which place he assailed the works with his whole force, but the Federals, having the advantage of position in a fort and a barricaded railroad station, succeeded in withstanding the attack. Both sides fought desperately for a short time, and many were killed and wounded. It was related as a veracious story that Col. George, of the Fifth Mississippi, while leading his regiment in the charge, lost control of his horse, and was carried over the works and landed among the enemy without a scratch. Another incident of this battle was that General Sherman, having just arrived from Memphis, hastily abandoned his car, and, with his staff, rushed to a place of safety in the station, not being able to reach the fort. A fine mare, on which Adjutant Pope was killed at Tishomingo, was taken from the train, which was set on fire. It is safe to say that if our men had known there was so rich a prize as Sherman and his staff so near at hand, they would have taken that depot at all hazards. Chalmers drew off in order, as in the first battle here, but the Federals felt sufficiently encouraged to follow and fall upon our rear, at Quinn’s mill, on Coldwater. This little battle was picturesque, as the river separated the combatants, and it was dark enough to see the flashes of the guns. Here Adjutant Pope was thrown from his fine captured mare, which ran out some distance into the country, where she was taken up by a citizen. She was brought in the next week by John Duncan of Company E, who had been detailed for that purpose.
At an opportune moment, the Seventh Tennessee drew off from its fighting position, and followed the command till a late hour, when it went into bivouac at Ingram’s mill, on Pigeon Roost creek. Here we were attacked at daylight by the Second Kansas Cavalry, (Jayhawkers), on foot. Company E, under Lieutenant Statler, held them in check till we could retire in good order. At Wall Hill their advance came into view, led by an officer mounted on a very white horse. As we went out of the lane, which led south from the village, and reached a skirt of timber on an elevation, we exhausted all our strategy in our efforts to induce the officer on the white horse to come within range. He capered around on his horse, something after the manner of General M. Jeff Thompson, whom I have told you about seeing in Missouri, when mounted on his little spotted stallion, but never did take the bait which we set for him. Falling back through Chulahoma, our whole force occupied a strong natural position at the old town of Wyatt, on the Tallahatchie. Here a heavy force of dismounted cavalry charged our position, but were driven back with great loss. Being now evidently reinforced, they returned to the attack with so much spirit, and the Confederates held their ground with so much tenacity, that in places the contest became hand to hand. The battle continued till after nightfall, when the Federals were driven back at all points of the line, with heavy loss. The Confederates crossed to the south side on a pontoon improvised for the occasion. In this whole campaign, the Confederate loss was comparatively light, though it had fought three battles in four days. Company E had lost only two men wounded, who were able to ride off the field at Collierville. These were S. H. Clinton and Cad Linthicum, two of our very best men. One of the things to remember about Wyatt is that a heavy rainstorm prevailed while the battle was raging. During the next few weeks we moved from place to place, chiefly for the purpose of getting subsistence. We had plenty of time to discuss the conduct of the war and the possibilities and probabilities of the future. We had men in our regiment who could have established two or three Confederacies. At least, that is the way they talked. Company E, being temporarily detached, was posted at Coldwater to watch the movements of the enemy in the direction of Memphis. All this, and more, I shall tell you in the next chapter.
When the snow began to fly, Company E was comfortably quartered in the vacant storehouses at Coldwater, thirty-one miles from Memphis. The men provided themselves with heavier clothing, some articles of which were brought through the lines from home, while others were secured through blockade runners, as those citizens were called who carried cotton to Memphis and brought out supplies on a Federal permit. The service was light, with no picket duty, for the winter was so cold and the roads so bad that a Federal raid could hardly be expected. But the hours must be whiled away. So, when the boys were not rubbing up their arms and grooming their horses, they were cutting firewood, playing poker or dancing. The dancing was a feature. Boots were heavy, but the dancers were muscular and strong. They could thread the Virginia reel or tread through the mazes of a quartet, but the eight-couple cotillion, in which a greater number could participate, thus giving more spirit to the amusement, was the favorite. In this the most intricate figures were practiced to give zest to the performances. These included the “grand cutshort,” which, as I recall it, after nearly half a century, was a combination of “swing corners,” “ladies’ grand chain” and “set to your partner.” In the parlance of that day, it was “immense,” for I feel it in my old bones as I tell you about it. The said figure was learned from a blue-eyed fiddler of Company H of Weakley County, who, like many others, after a short experience in 1862, concluded he couldn’t kill them all anyhow, and would, therefore, engage in more peaceful pursuits beyond the range of the conscript officers. James H. Grove and I, both of whom knew how to draw the bow, furnished the music, and the boys declared, of course, that it was good. Grove was the father of E. W. Grove, the famous manufacturer of medicines of St. Louis, whose remedies are sold in every civilized country on the globe. The father and I were fellow private soldiers in the army. The son and I, for some time after the war, sustained the relation of teacher and pupil.
One day, while on a short scout to Hernando, I met a body of Federals, under a flag of truce, who were negotiating an exchange of prisoners, the details of which were soon arranged with a Confederate officer. Very soon the Yanks and Johnny Rebs were mingling as if they expected never to shoot at one another again. I had the unusual experience that day of dining with the Federal officers at the house of Judge Vance, a well-known citizen.
On the 4th of December, Company E, leaving all impediments in camp, made a demonstration along the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, between Rossville and Moscow. While tearing up some railroad track we heard the noise of battle at Moscow, where Stephen D. Lee, with Ross’ and McCulloch’s Brigades, met with a hot resistance and considerable loss, while trying to destroy the railroad bridge over Wolf river. It was understood at the time that these demonstrations were made mostly for the purpose of covering Forrest’s advance north. He crossed the railroad that day at Saulsbury, and, proceeding north, received a cordial welcome on the next day at Bolivar. It was known that he came across from Rome, Ga., to Okolona, Miss., with not more than three hundred men, including Morton’s Battery, around which small command as a nucleus he was to form Forrest’s Cavalry Corps. His resources consisted of Ross’, McCulloch’s and Richardson’s Brigades, all very much depleted, with a few petty commands scattered here and there over the country. The weather was so cold and the roads so bad that we thought Company E was safely immune from an attack on its camp at Coldwater, yet Forrest was making a raid within the enemy’s lines, where he was to stay twenty-one days, defeat superior forces in five considerable battles, and day and night display such energy and military genius as would keep him out of the hands of the enemy, who were moving from many directions to entrap him. He set about collecting the absentees and other recruits, many of whom were without arms and poorly mounted. He acted upon the principle that an unarmed man was better for the occasion than no man at all, for, if a recruit had nothing at hand but the “rebel yell,” he could at least help to intimidate an adversary.
Bad roads and swollen streams had no terrors for our General, who, at the critical moment, turned his face south with his command greatly augmented, and with a convoy of wagons laden with supplies, besides about two hundred beef cattle and three hundred hogs.
The Seventh Tennessee did not participate in this campaign, the history of which is only slightly sketched here in order to give a clear view of the military situation at the time Company E was ordered to rejoin the regiment at Como, Miss. Great attention was now given to organization and equipment. Very many of the recruits had to be armed, and even clothed, before they could become effective soldiers. The work had to be done with dispatch, as we were now having more sunshine, and the roads were drying up. The enemy might soon be on the move. Forrest, having been promoted to the rank of Major-General, assumed command of all the cavalry in North Mississippi and West Tennessee. Within a few days the organizations were perfected, the Seventh Tennessee being assigned to the Fourth Brigade, commanded by Colonel Jeffrey Forrest, the youngest of the Forrest brothers. The entire command was greatly elated by the success of the recent raid, the addition of so many new men, and the prospect of serving under a man who knew nothing but success.
Rumors came in thick and fast that the Federals were preparing to advance both from Memphis and Vicksburg. The Fourth Brigade dropped down to Grenada, in order to watch and frustrate any movement from the south. We had frequently camped at Grenada, and the scenes were familiar. As for myself, I had known the country and many of the people ten years before—yes, indeed, before old college days. We occupied the very ground whence we started on the Holly Springs raid, about one year before. Who could tell but that we should start on one just as remarkable from the same place?
Strong columns of Federals were reported moving from Memphis. From his headquarters at Oxford, the Confederate commander made such dispositions of his four brigades as would most likely defeat the plans of the enemy, so far as they were developed. During the first days of February, it was discovered that about seven thousand well-appointed cavalry were on the road to the rich prairie lands of East Mississippi. Gen. Sooy Smith, their commander, moved with so much dispatch that Forrest, though moving with celerity eastward, found it impossible to head him off till the Federal forces had reached West Point. It was the morning of the 20th of February, 1864. The Federals, going down through Pontotoc and Okolona, had marked their advance by burning houses, barns and fences, and plundering larders and hen roosts. Up to that date, nothing like this had been seen in our part of the country. Our soldiers were aroused by the reports brought in. Of course, there was a firm-set resolution not only to give the ruthless enemy blow for blow, but to avenge the wrongs done to old men, women and children. It looked as if a great battle was impending, and the Confederates were never more ready. We did not know it then, but Forrest was merely trying to hold the enemy in check until reinforcements, under Stephen D. Lee, could arrive from some point below. Jeffrey Forrest’s brigade had already come in contact with Smith’s cavalry between West Point and Aberdeen, and was being pressed back upon West Point. General Forrest, attacking the enemy with a small force on their extreme right wing, discovered, to his chagrin, that they were retreating. There was nothing to do but to press them with energy, so as to inflict as great a loss as possible upon them. Soon it was a lively chase, and the men of Company E were, for the first time, to see Forrest in battle. He was soon right up with the Seventh Regiment, as the men urged their horses through that black prairie mud. Four miles north of West Point the enemy made a stubborn resistance, in the edge of a small woods, but the pursuers, dismounting quickly, drove them away in confusion. Again it was a rattling pace through the mud till the enemy made another stand, five miles further on, where they sought to protect themselves at a rude bridge over a miry little creek, by tearing down fences and making barricades with the rails. Here the Confederates again pressed them in front and on the flanks till they gave way. This running fight, with intervals of resistance, was kept up till nightfall. It was an all-day fight, and we had many sad things to remember. Our dead and wounded were behind us, even if victory was in front of us. Weary and worn, our men and horses were given a few hours of rest. Fortunately, the men found plenty of subsistence and forage in the camp abandoned by the Federals, which helped wonderfully in the work to be done next day.
By 4 o’clock on the morning of the 22d of February, McCulloch’s and Jeffrey Forrest’s brigades, led by Forrest himself, were moving toward Okolona, and driving the enemy before them. The distance was fourteen miles, over a road almost impassable.
When the Confederates arrived at Okolona, they found a strong line of the enemy drawn up in such a position that they could have made a stubborn resistance, but Barteau, commanding Bell’s brigade, and McCulloch with his own, promptly drove them from the position and rushed them in some confusion along the road towards Pontotoc. The Federals adopted the tactics of the previous day by forming heavy lines in favorable positions and resisting stubbornly till attacked front and flank, in many instances with Forrest in the forefront, they were compelled to retreat. The last stand made was at Prairie Mound, seven miles from Okolona and some thirty miles from West Point, where the fighting began on the morning of the previous day. The Sooy Smith raid was at an end with heavy loss to the invaders and a proportionate loss to the victors, for during the two days Forrest fought the 7,000 well equipped cavalry with a force only about half as large and made up largely of raw recruits. In one of the last encounters Jeffrey Forrest was killed at the head of his brigade, and died in the arms of his famous brother. No more pathetic scene was ever witnessed on any battlefield.
To look upon the ghastly dead or to hear the groans of the wounded lessens the sweets of victory and emphasizes the horrors of war.
After so strenuous a campaign, both men and horses needed recuperation, and so the Seventh Tennessee went into camp in that bountiful section of country about Mayhew, west of Columbus. It was easy to see that the military situation, now at the opening of spring, was such that if the Federals did not come after Forrest, he would certainly go after them. Therefore, preparations for a campaign were active and men and horses were put in the best possible condition. On the 15th of March Forrest with only part of his command was moving north for the purpose of crossing the railroad at Corinth and marching into Tennessee. By the 23rd we had passed Trenton and were still moving north without any resistance. We were now satisfied that either Union City or Paducah was Forrest’s objective point.
On the morning of the 24th Colonel William L. Duckworth of the Seventh Tennessee, in command of a temporary brigade, consisting of his own regiment, McDonald’s battalion and Faulkner’s Kentucky regiment, was ordered to attack the Federal works at Union City, while Forrest with the main force was hastening towards Paducah. Duckworth with his 500 men completely invested the Federal fort at Union City in the early morning and after a brisk firing, participated in by both sides, under a flag of truce demanded a surrender of the place. Lieutenant Henry J. Livingston of Brownsville, with a detail of three or four men of which I happened to be one, had charge of the flag of truce. When the firing ceased we rode up close to the fort, where an officer met us. Livingston requested to communicate directly with Colonel Isaac R. Hawkins, the commander of the post. This was granted and a short parley ensued in which Livingston, acting under orders of his superior, demanded a surrender. Hawkins demurred and asked for an interview with Forrest. Colonel Duckworth, being now called in and acting with an adroitness and finesse that were altogether creditable, insisted that he was acting under the direct orders of Forrest, who was near at hand with his artillery (sic) and who was not in the habit of meeting officers of inferior rank to himself. That most gentlemanly Federal officer, Colonel Hawkins, who was now about to surrender to some part of Forrest’s cavalry for the second time, wishing to avoid the effusion of blood, which might be caused by Duckworth’s imaginary artillery, concluded to make an unconditional surrender. When the facts came out and there was slight jeering on the part of our men, these men of the Seventh Tennessee, Federal, bore up manfully and turned out to be jolly good fellows, molded much after the pattern of the men of our own Seventh Tennessee, Confederate. Talking with many of the officers and men I concluded that their chagrin would have been amusing, if it had not been pathetic. Four hundred and seventy-five prisoners with all their supplies and camp equipage and three hundred horses with accoutrements were surrendered. There was not at that time an effective Confederate cannon in West Tennessee, and Forrest was well on his way to Paducah.
When the Confederates reached the objective point led by Forrest in person, they took possession of the town, but met with a bloody resistance when they charged the fort in which the Federals had taken refuge. They drew off with large spoils of war, consisting of horses and equipments. The whole force now turned south, having accomplished the object of the expedition. Company E was ordered to Bolivar, where the men, subject to order, dispersed to their homes to enjoy a furlough. The good old town “put her best foot foremost” and gave us a quiet but hearty welcome. Some of the boys “shucked their army duds,” and appeared in other vestments as beaux, for there was a bevy of pretty girls in Bolivar. In the round of dances and other social gatherings, there was many a sweet word spoken upon which, it was hoped, something might be realized “after the ratification of a treaty of peace,” as the Confederate bills all said. Doubtless, some of my friends found, when peace did come to the land, that love, even the platonic kind, which is sporadic only, is somewhat like Mr. Finnegin’s train, which was “off agin, on agin, gone agin.” In other words, the grand passion does not always stick like Spalding’s Prepared Glue or Aunt Jemimy’s Plaster, which the more you try to take it off, the more it sticks the faster.
But there was a bugle call and all good things must end. The men came rushing in to report. In the little excitement incident to the occasion, Sol Phillips, while romping with some of his fellow soldiers, jumped into what he took to be a large box, which turned out to be an old well. Sol soon found bottom and set up a yell to which there was a quick response by his friends, who drew Sol up greatly frightened but only slightly bruised. He still makes his home in the hills of Hardeman.
At the end of about three weeks, or more precisely on the 2nd of May, 1864, there was hurrying and scurrying among the soldiers. Company E was present in force for duty and McDonald’s Battalion was on the ground under Major Crews. General Sturgis, with a large force of cavalry and artillery, was in such close proximity that he would reach Bolivar late in the day. Forrest had already been properly informed and had given orders for our little force to check the Federal advance in order that everything on wheels moving south might have a better chance to escape. When the Confederates had been properly placed behind the old Federal earthworks, west of the town and the battle had begun, General Forrest with his escort came unexpectedly upon the field at a gallop and took charge. Knowing that he was fighting at great odds, at an opportune moment he drew off, but not until several men and horses had been wounded. Here D. Hill and John McClammer, temporarily attached to Company E, were wounded so severely that they were left in the hands of the Federals. Major Strange of Forrest’s staff had his right arm broken, but rode off the field. The enemy numbering two thousand sustained a heavy loss, forty or fifty killed and wounded, as they fought at a disadvantage, the Confederates being fairly protected by the old works constructed by Grant two years before.
The Confederates necessarily retreated in some confusion, as the Federals making a flank movement had the advantage when our men started to leave their partial shelter. Bringing forward their artillery they threw several shots into the town. One struck the residence of Mrs. Brooks, another went through the roof of the stable on the Harkins place, and I saw one cut off the top of a cedar tree in front of the Dr. Peters place, now the residence of Dr. Hugh Tate. Just think of it. Here was Company E, being chased through its home town. It threw a damper over every tender sentiment and all thoughts of love vanished into thin air, for we were thanking our stars that we had escaped death at the hands of the Federals. Just as we were procuring forage at the Dave McKinney place south of Bolivar, I heard the report of the gun in the hands of Robert Galloway that killed Major Sol Street, a somewhat famous partisan fighter or guerrilla. On the 44th anniversary of this tragedy I met Mr. Galloway in Memphis. In reply to my request to give me a statement in regard to the killing of Street, he said, in substance, that he killed him because Street had killed his father for the purpose of robbery. That a younger brother of Galloway’s was with his father at the time of the murder, and was able to give full particulars. The boy remembered the exact dying words of his father. Street and his companions did not secure the elder Galloway’s money as something, unknown to the boy, caused them to hastily leave the locality. This was when Robert Galloway was about sixteen years old. When in about two years he had reached the military age, he joined the army and was in the fight at Bolivar where Street was pointed out to him by a friend. He shot Street before they had dismounted at the bivouac, and in the confusion made his escape, but was arrested by Lieutenant Statler of Company E. He offered Statler a thousand dollars to release him, but the offer was declined. Galloway and others state that General Forrest was in a towering rage when Galloway was brought before him, and said that a drum-head court-martial would sentence Galloway to be shot at sun up. He tells me that he knows just how it feels to be condemned to death, but was not present at the contemplated tragedy, as he made his escape at daylight, and within a few days was safe within the Federal lines at Memphis. Mr. Galloway resided in Illinois till after the surrender when he returned to Hardeman county. He has reared a large family and is an excellent citizen.
There was much talk when we got quietly settled in camp at Verona, Miss., about the capture of Fort Pillow, an affair in which the Seventh Tennessee, being on detached duty near Randolph, did not participate. Most of this was in regard to what seemed to be the senseless conduct of the garrison after they must have seen that the place was doomed. After the officer in command had refused to comply with the demand to surrender and the whole Confederate force moved on their works, the entire garrison, having left their flag flying, fell back to a safer place under the bank of the river. Much has since been said by Northern writers concerning what they term an unnecessary slaughter. It should be remembered that this same garrison of both whites and negroes had committed numerous outrages upon the people of the surrounding country. These things had come to the ears of the Confederates and many of the victims had petitioned Forrest to avenge their wrongs by breaking up what appeared to be a den of thieves and marauders. Howbeit, part of them were Tennesseeans. Add to all this, that the garrison had been lavishly stimulated with whisky, as was evident from the fact that a number of barrels of whisky and beer with tin dippers attached were found by the Confederates, and it is not hard to see why there was unnecessary slaughter. The incident could be dismissed by saying that those within the fort knew that they deserved condign punishment because of the outrages committed on innocent people, and being somewhat in a state of intoxication, were incited to resist to the last extremity, while the Confederates were incited to victory by every instinct that impels a manly soldier to resent an insult and to protect the innocent. If General Forrest had no other victory to his credit, his fame would be secure.
Belated soldiers coming down from Tennessee soon brought to us the information that Sturgis took possession of Bolivar as soon as we had retreated on the evening of the 2nd of May, and burned the courthouse, the Baptist church, one of the hotels and several other buildings. Bad news for Company E.
In the beautiful month of May, and it is a lovely season away down in Mississippi, the Seventh Tennessee was moved around so much and camped at so many places, that it is difficult to remember which places came first. The service was not especially irksome and the weather was fine. A half dozen men of Company E were sent on a tour of observation up through Holly Springs and in the direction of Memphis, which I remember to have greatly enjoyed. The danger of the service was sufficiently great to make us alert while enjoying the hospitality of the people who were not only ready, day and night, to give us of their scanty stores, but to help us with such information as they had in regard to the movements of the enemy. We rejoined the regiment at Abbeville, feeling as if we had had a vacation.
About this time the Seventh Tennessee was brigaded with Duff’s Regiment and A. H. Chalmers’ Battalion, about as good a body of fighting men as could have been gotten together. This organization was known as Rucker’s Brigade that won distinction at Brice’s Cross Roads and Harrisburg. We had only known Rucker as the gallant commander of the upper batteries at Island No. 10. We had seen men there, carrying ammunition to his guns, wade in water up to their waists, when it looked from a distance like the outflow from the river might carry away every man that stood to his post. At our first sight of him the boys said he had “a sort of bulldog look.” We soon discovered that tenacity was one of his characteristics.
It was now about the first of June, 1864, and General Sturgis moving out from Memphis was north of Ripley with an army reported to be about 10,000 of all arms. Rucker was ordered to cross the Tallahatchie at New Albany and fall upon the right flank of the enemy, as they advanced south, in the vicinity of Ripley. After some brisk fighting just south of Ripley with very little loss to either side Rucker, seeing that the enemy was in great force, prudently drew off and took post at Baldwyn. In the meantime, Lee and Forrest were concentrating their forces to deliver battle somewhere further south.
In the little affair south of Ripley, when ordered with one or two men to a position on our extreme left until relieved, I saw approaching along a country pathway a fine ambulance drawn by two splendid mules. A Federal outfit, perhaps, which would inevitably fall into our hands. It came up at a sweeping trot. The face of the man in charge was familiar. It was that of the late William H. Wood of Memphis. Strange position in which to find so steadfast a Union man—moving rapidly ahead of the Federal army and seeking refuge within the Confederate lines. This he would accomplish in a few minutes, but there was no time to ask questions, for the firing was heavy on the main road. The gentleman must be on an important mission, at least to him. He was, for at a time, when thousands of negroes had taken refuge within the Federal lines and the day for buying and selling this species of property had passed, Mr. Wood had conceived the idea of running his negroes south, converting them into cotton, and eventually into gold. This incident is chiefly worth mentioning, in a reminiscent way, first because it illustrates a thing that sometimes occurs in real life, but more frequently in fiction, namely, that acquaintances occasionally come face to face under strange conditions and peculiar circumstances; and, secondly, because it shows that there was a singular state of affairs existing when the slaves of one man, amid all the demoralization, were subject to his will and did that which seemed like leaving freedom behind. I am not fully informed as to how the scheme worked, but have always understood that it turned out profitably to the projector. There was nothing wrong about it, at least, from a Southern standpoint, but very many good people, even some descendants of slave-holders, are, at this day, squeamish about what they are pleased to term “traffick in human flesh.”
It must not be concluded that the negroes spoken of were in that vicinity, for they were, at that very moment, under a prudent guide, safe within the Southern lines.
It is not untimely to remark, right here, that the descendants of slave-holders will, possibly, have some difficulty in justifying them for consenting to the existence of an institution, which existed in this country more than two hundred years, but which has been condemned by the laws of every civilized country on the globe. This difficulty will arise chiefly from the fact that the true history concerning slavery, its existence in all the original States, its abolition by some, its retention by others and, above all, the motives controlling those who dealt with it, is not now, nor is likely to be, persistently taught in the family or school. It is one of those questions of which it may be said the further we get from it, the less we say or know about it.
We went into camp at Baldwyn drenched by the continuous rains and fatigued by the exigencies of an arduous service. The Federals had moved steadily southeast from Ripley, and were in close proximity to a part of our forces. Everything at Baldwyn gave evidence of an impending struggle. In the midst of the acute feeling in the minds of the soldiers, it was announced that three men had been tried by court-martial and condemned to be shot for desertion. This was a phase of war with which we were not familiar. The poor fellows, confined in a box car, gave forth the most pitiful wailings. The cries of one of the condemned, a mere stripling, were particularly distressing. The whole brigade was mustered to witness the execution. Guilty or not guilty, I somehow wished that these victims of their own acts would escape the impending doom. Each man was placed by his grave and coffin. A file of eight men appeared with bristling guns. The suspense was terrible. Death on the battlefield was nothing compared to that which we were to witness. The sentence of the court-martial was read. The boy was released and, still weeping, left the field. At the firm command of the officer in charge, the shots rang out and one man fell dead. The same thing was repeated and another went to his death. Though the justice of the court-martial was never questioned, there was a profound sensation among the soldiers, which it took a battle to shake off.
Know ye, that the very next morning, June 10th, 1864, we were galloping to Brice’s Cross Roads. Acting under the orders of Lee, Forrest was trying to keep his forces between the Federal vanguard and Tupelo, so as to finally turn upon them when a more open country was reached. To do this with dispatch, he must reach the cross roads, by a road leading southwest, ahead of the Federals, who were moving towards the same point by a road leading southeast. The Federal cavalry advance, moving rapidly, passed the point and even went some distance beyond in the direction of Guntown. When the Confederate advance came up, the enemy was ready to block their way on the road from Baldwyn and had the advantage of position. Johnson’s Alabamians in advance fell upon them furiously while Rucker’s Brigade was coming to the rescue. At this critical juncture, Forrest seems to have abandoned all intention of merely holding the enemy in check and deferring a battle to a more convenient season. He had his own little army well in hand, though it was having a hard time to reach the desired point promptly on account of the muddy roads. A man of wonderful military instinct and surpassing genius for war, he saw at a glance that, although the cavalry of the Federals, at that moment, held the advantage of position, their main body was strung along a narrow road, and their general would assuredly have trouble in protecting his left flank, crossing Tishomingo creek, and throwing his infantry and artillery into line of battle. It was indeed the psychological moment and the faith of the general spread to the men. Rucker was turned to the left and into the woods, where his men were quickly dismounted and gotten ready for battle. At the word they sprung over a fence and into a muddy cornfield. Will I ever forget it? The enemy posted in a dense wood and behind a heavy fence poured a galling fire into our ranks. It looked like death to go to the fence, but many of the men reached it. Four of Company E were killed in this charge. Men could not stay there and live. The Seventh Tennessee with Chalmers’ Battalion on the left was driven back in confusion. With the steadiness of veterans, they re-formed for another onset. As I remember it, this time we went over the fence. Reinforcements were evidently at hand for the Federals, for on they came like a resistless tide. It was death not to give back. Another readjustment of lines, and we were at them again. I cannot now say how many times this was repeated, for men in the very presence of death take no note of time. The roar of artillery and the fusillade of small arms were deafening. Sheets of flame were along both lines while dense clouds of smoke arose above the heavily wooded field. No language is adequate to paint the verities of the moment. High tide of battle had come, and one side or the other must quail very soon. Which side should it be? The answer came when apparently by common consent both drew back just far enough for the intervening trees and dense undergrowth to obscure the vision. Our men still in line of battle lay on the ground for a much needed rest.
Here we had a bountiful supply of water from the rills, which had been fed by the recent rains. I never tasted better. The cessation of battle was as grateful as the water, but there was intense anxiety to know the final result. An order to retire from the field would have brought no surprise. But Forrest and his brigade commanders were better informed. Mounted on his big sorrel horse, sabre in hand, sleeves rolled up, his coat lying on the pommel of his saddle, looking the very God of War, the General rode down our line as far as we could see him. I remember his words, which I heard more than once: “Get up, men. I have ordered Bell to charge on the left. When you hear his guns, and the bugle sounds, every man must charge, and we will give them hell.” That was enough. We heard Bell’s guns and the bugle. Advancing over the dead bodies of Federals and Confederates and regaining the ground lost in the last repulse, Rucker’s Brigade in one grand last charge moved to the assault of the enemy’s position. Small bushes, cut off near the ground and falling in our front, meant that the Federals had been reinforced by veteran infantry and were firing low. So close were we now to their line and the fighting so nearly hand to hand that our navy sixes were used with deadly effect. The Federals bravely withstood our onslaught for a time, but soon gave way in confusion and broke to the rear. Rucker’s men, greatly encouraged, moved rapidly to the front and, with no regard for formation, came out into the open at the Brice residence, which stands in the angle formed by the Guntown and Pontotoc roads. The men of the various commands, concentrating upon this point, became intermingled as they charged up to where all could see the grand scamper of the Federals running down towards Tishomingo creek. Six pieces of their own artillery had been turned upon them and these were quickly reinforced by Morton’s and Rice’s batteries. These, double shotted with canister, added to the confusion of the entangled mass of infantry, cavalry, ambulances and wagons. The Federal dead and wounded lay on every hand about the cross roads, showing the deadly aim of our men in the last charge, while our loss at this point was inconsiderable, though the rain of bullets from the Federal line appeared sufficient to destroy the whole brigade. The negro brigade under Bouton came in for its full share of the calamity, the deluded creatures, in many instances, having ceased their war cry of “Remember Fort Pillow,” and throwing away their badges, took to the woods.
When hundreds of our men had crossed the creek and conditions had become a little more quiet, they began to realize that they were very tired and very hungry. No time was lost in helping themselves to the subsistence in the abandoned wagons where there was an abundance for both man and horse.
A reflection or two. General Forrest, in fighting this battle at his own discretion, had shown that he very well knew just when a commander, acting on the defensive-active, should fall upon an invading army. He had, not for the first time, particularly emphasized the fact that Southern cavalrymen, dismounted and well handled, could cope with trained infantry, and even put them to rout when fighting at odds of two to one against themselves. On this eventful day he had put into practice his favorite tactics, which had uniformly brought him success, that of launching his entire command, as soon as he could get it into action, against his adversary. Forrest’s Cavalry never looked around for reserves, but confidently expected to do the work themselves and to do it quickly. Hence, at Brice’s Cross Roads they fought with the intrepidity of veteran infantry and exhibited the dash of the best type of Southern cavalry. In other words, they fought when Forrest said so, and every charge was like the first one in which they expected to break the lines of the enemy. The man behind the gun was in evidence at Tishomingo, and it was a glorious victory. May his tribe increase.
A consideration of the comparative forces is interesting. According to information, which is fairly authentic, Forrest had 3,200 men, including two four-gun batteries. Federal official report gives them 3,300 cavalry and 5,400 infantry, or 8,700 men. In addition, they had, according to the best information, 24 pieces of artillery and men to man them. Notice the respective losses. Forrest lost about 140 officers and men killed, and about 500 wounded and none taken prisoners. Sturgis lost, according to official report, 23 officers and 594 men killed and 52 officers and 1,571 men captured, or a total of 2,240 men. Forrest says he captured 1,571 men and 52 officers, an ordnance train with a large supply of fixed ammunition, ten days’ rations for the whole Federal army, over two hundred wagons and parts of their teams, and large quantities of supplies, thirty ambulances and twenty-one caissons. Clearly then, we fought them at an odds of nearly three to one in their favor.
Now, a few incidents of the battle. When riding to the battle-field that morning, and at a place where we were passing over a rough causeway on which many a horse cast a shoe, Isaac H. Pipkin (Doc.), riding by my side, remarked that if he should be killed that day, all he asked was to be put away decently. He was in the first charge, through the muddy cornfield. Imagine my feelings, when driven back in one of the repulses, I came upon his body still in death. Doc was a typical rustic, a good fellow in camp, a true soldier in action, a man you might lean on. The people of Bolivar have long ago graven his name in marble. Tom Boucher was a plain and unassuming citizen of the Whiteville neighborhood, who was always at his post, took life easy and never fretted. He died on the field.
In the first charge, I noticed William C. Hardy, of Bolivar, handling his gun as if something was the matter with the lock. I never saw him again, for he never got to the second fence. Billy was a pupil of mine, a fiery young fellow and a perfectly reliable soldier.
Another schoolboy of mine who fell in this first charge was Charles R. Neely of Bolivar. He was a boy of gentle birth and noble instincts. He was a loving friend, a soldier tried and true, who poured out his young life’s blood upon the field. Could higher eulogy be spoken?
In connection with young Neely’s death I mention the faithful conduct of James F. Dunlap, his mess mate and true friend. As soon as practicable Dunlap placed the corpse of his young friend in their small mess wagon and carrying it through the country delivered it to his mother in Bolivar, Tenn. This was an exhibition of fidelity hard to surpass.
Suffering from an old wound, Captain Tate, early in the action turned over the command of the company to Lieutenant J. P. Satler, with whom I had already agreed to remain through whatever might come to us that day. Thank heaven, we both came through unscathed.
Do you remember where I left off the main narrative? It was at Tishomingo creek where we had halted to partake of the bountiful refreshments, which the Federals had rather unwillingly left in our hands. When the horse-holders brought forward our mounts, my little black seemed as glad to see me as I was to see him. I stripped him for a rubbing and a rest and gorged him on Federal forage.
Instead of an undisturbed night of repose, as we had fondly hoped for, the Seventh Tennessee was aroused from its slumbers at 2 o’clock in the morning with the information that Forrest himself was to lead it in pursuit of the enemy. With Company E in front I, happening to be in the front file, could very well see everything that was likely to come up on this memorable advance. Much of our way was lighted up by wagons and other abandoned property burning. In one place the forewheel of a gun carriage had been locked by a tree and this and several other handsome brass pieces in its rear had been abandoned. Many Federal soldiers, now thoroughly exhausted, were sleeping by the roadside, while others, armed and unarmed, willingly surrendered. They were invariably told to go to the rear. Further along, I counted ninety-five wagons laden with supplies strung along the narrow road. The wheels of some had been locked by trees and evidently abandoned in hot haste by those who had ridden the teams away. I saw much of General Forrest that night, who was in great good humor in regard to the results of the previous day’s battle. When approaching Ripley, early in the day, which town is about twenty miles from the battle-field, we were relieved by other troops going forward to press the enemy, who were making a stand just north of the town. Buford and Bell were there, and we knew what that meant.
We rode leisurely through the town and to the outskirts. A battle was going on, but the enemy was believed to be retreating. The command to form fours and prepare to charge was given. Company E, in front was soon going at a lively pace and it soon became a question of speed as to who should reach the enemy first. My little black horse responded in fine style. At a flying gallop we went straight up the road and, though hearing guns on every hand, could see no enemy to charge. Instantly we saw in the woods to our left a whole regiment of Federal cavalry aiming to reach the road at an angle and speed that would throw them into it just ahead of us. Over the hill they went as fast as their horses would carry them. Tom Nelson of Company L, coming up, he and I found ourselves in uncomfortable proximity to the enemy, for as we too went over the hill, there they were with their rear huddled together in the valley, with something apparently blocking their front. Nelson and I had not intended to fight a whole regiment, but we shot out everything we had at them. Pressing towards the front and turning in their saddles, as they went up the hill, they gave us a few shots from their carbines which, I remember well, they held in one hand. At a cooler moment, I inquired with some interest how it was that such a thing as I have related could happen. No one attempted an explanation. Nelson and I were present in the flesh and had occasion to remember well all that took place, though events were passing with lightning celerity. Perhaps, perchance and maybe, it was a case of horseflesh. It was the Third Iowa Cavalry we were charging. Colonel C. A. Stanton, not so very long ago a citizen of Memphis, was an officer in this regiment and has a clear recollection of the incident. I was somewhat surprised a few years ago when Billy Elkins, a member of Company E, reminded me of the occasion and rehearsed what took place about as I remember it myself.
The regiment came up in much less time than it has taken me to tell it, and advanced to the top of the hill where there was firing by some Federals posted in an old house and a plum orchard. At this moment, Captain William J. Tate of Company E, who, sick and suffering was forced to go to the rear the previous day, came up with the company in pursuit. Standing for a moment in a protected position, I reminded Tate that if he forced his horse to mount an embankment by the roadside, he would be a fair target for bullets, they flying thick about us. He disregarded my admonition, mounted the embankment and rode forward for a better view. I quickly changed my position, as many others had come forward. Very soon I saw Tate supported by two men who were taking him to a less exposed place. He was asking some one to catch his horse, which was moving off towards the enemy. At this moment Tommy Elcan, of Company B, standing by my side, was struck in the head by a minie ball and fell from his horse dead. The gallant Lieutenant-Colonel A. H. Chalmers came riding forward and asked about the position of the enemy. He advanced down the hill at the head of his battalion, but soon returned afoot. His fine brown mare had been killed. A word more concerning Captain Tate. It appears that smarting under an absence enforced by a threatened attack of erysipelas in an old wound, this gallant gentleman had concluded that he could not forego the pleasure of seeing the Federal army in full retreat and his own regiment participating in the pursuit. Mounting Billy Hardy’s white horse he rode to the front at a gallop. Joining the regiment in time for the charge, he had his horse almost instantly shot under him. Determined to go forward he mounted James E. Wood’s horse, which was kindly offered, and appeared on the firing line, as I have related. He was a young man of gentle demeanor from the mountains of North Carolina, who shortly before the war had engaged in farming near Bolivar. He affected few of the refinements of cultivated society, but was a young countryman of courage, who made friends and kept them. When we were organizing a company, he attended the meetings and showed an aptitude for learning and teaching the cavalry drill. Never did a man more effectually advance himself in the confidence of a company than he did by perfectly fair dealing and sheer force of character. Serving as fourth sergeant the first year, he developed rapidly as a drill master and officer. Physically, Captain Tate was a man of medium weight and erect and well knit frame. He was a pronounced blonde with clear blue eyes and very light hair. Active on foot and tireless when there was stress of work, he always seemed most at home on horseback. The manner of his death was, perhaps, such as he would have desired it to be, had he known it was to come so soon. When I heard that he had succumbed to his wounds, I hastened to give him decent burial in the cemetery at Ripley, Miss. He sleeps among the people in whose defense he died.
Forty-four years have come and gone since the scenes of which I write passed before the vision, but they were so indelibly impressed upon the tablet of the memory that it is easy to recall them. The slightest incident often recalls the fiercest battle scene, and for the moment I live in the past. I am recording events while there are yet living witnesses to bear me out. As such I mention with pleasure the names of Lieutenant-Colonel W. F. Taylor, who always bore himself proudly on the field; A. H. D. Perkins, whom I have seen flaunt the colors of the regiment in the faces of the enemy, and Captain H. A. Tyler, who with his squadron of two small companies gallantly bore the brunt of battle on the extreme left at Tishomingo, and was ready with his Kentuckians to join in the pursuit of the broken battalions of the enemy.
That the great victory at Brice’s Cross Roads had revived the spirits and brightened the hopes of Forrest’s men there could be no doubt. Flushed with victory, they believed that what had been done on the 10th of June could be done again. In a word, they concluded that Forrest now knew better how to defeat a superior force than ever before. Their confidence was so implicit that, even if conditions should not improve in other parts of the Confederacy, Forrest would continue to defeat superior forces whenever he went against them. It is well to make a note of this sentiment, for it served somewhat to explain the seemingly reckless bravery of the men in the next battle.
When we settled down to camp life at Aberdeen and Verona, I could but notice the smallness of the companies, and when on the march the regiment did not string out as it formerly did. This was significant. Here again was food for thought. Though one man could not do the work of two, preparations for another battle went forward. We were stirred by the reports brought in as to the strength of the next army that would meet us. It was said to be at Ripley and coming toward Pontotoc. Their objective point was Okolona and points further south, if practicable. Stephen D. Lee and Forrest occupied a strong natural position south of Pontotoc, and set about strengthening it. It was thought that General A. J. Smith, confident of his ability to envelope the Confederates, would assail the position in force. He had acquired a reputation as a tactician and fighter on other fields. Finding that the road to Okolona was blocked he withdrew from the Confederate front, and moving by the left flank took the road to Tupelo. A tactician thoroughly acquainted with the topography of the country could not have made a more judicious move, or taken more proper steps to select his own position for battle, and thus have his adversary assail him on his own ground, or not at all, while he was so posted. The quick eye of Forrest having detected, in a personal reconnoissance, the movement made, he made such disposition of his own forces that he could attack the enemy in the rear and on their right flank.
General Smith and General Forrest had approximately and respectively 14,000 and 10,000 men of all arms. Smith kept his army in such compact column movement and so well protected by guards and flankers that Forrest had strenuous work in trying to break into it. The Federals were always ready. This manner of fighting was kept up for about fourteen miles and under a July sun. Men and horses suffered greatly for want of water. Each side lost heavily. The Confederates confidently expected that victory would come to them much as it did in their last great contest. Therefore they fought desperately. The Federals adhering strictly to the tactics laid down by their General declined a general engagement till they could reach a strong natural position. In this respect, Smith acted just as if he knew exactly where he would find an advantageous position in which to deliver battle. And this he found at Harrisburg, a deserted village, which had been absorbed by Tupelo, when the railroad was built. They literally tore up the town by tearing down the houses and using the lumber for breast-works. They brought into requisition every conceivable solid object they could find and, in many places, threw on dirt. They had ample time during the night to make proper dispositions of their troops, so as to be ready for an assault. The Federal line was about a mile and a half in length, and much in the form of a semi-circle. Their twenty-four pieces of artillery were advantageously placed and there was a cavalry brigade on each flank. Their improvised works were garnished with a heavy line of infantry. Certainly the morale of the whole army must have been perfect because of its skillful handling and its success in repulsing the Confederates several times the previous day.
But what of the Southern soldiers, who were to be sent against this formidable array on this memorable morning of the 14th of July, 1864? Having bivouacked in the vicinity they were in line at 7 o’clock. General Forrest, at great risk and with a single individual, that gallant gentleman, Sam Donelson of his staff, having made a careful reconnoissance during the night, was advising with General Lee, who was now in chief command. That these two parties, distinguished in war, capable in command and trusted by their country, felt a heavy weight of responsibility is unquestionable. No element of selfishness was involved in this conference of two men who held in their hands the fate of thousands. They expected to share that day the dangers on the firing line, as was their habit, and therefore might very soon be in the presence of their Maker. Lee generously offered to waive his rank and tender the command for the day to Forrest. This the latter declined, giving as his chief reason the condition of his health. Neither was a man to shirk a responsibility. Lee said that they would move on the enemy’s lines at once. That Forrest did not acquiesce in this determination of Lee, though consenting to lead the right wing in the fight, I am prepared to believe from an incident that occurred the following day and of which I will write further along. Lee urged in support of his position the threatening attitude of the Federals at Mobile, Vicksburg and in North Alabama. Forrest knew that, after deducting horse-holders and other details incident to a battle, the effective fighting force of the Confederates did not exceed seven thousand five hundred men, the casualties of battle and the large number of men rendered unfit for duty by the excessive heat the previous day being considered in the estimate. The Confederates must move to the assault on the right and center through an open space of two hundred yards or more and on their left for fully a mile through an open old field. In the formation, Roddy’s Alabamians, led by Forrest, held the right; Buford’s Kentuckians and Tennesseeans, the center, and Mabry’s Mississippians the left, with the four batteries of artillery properly placed. From the moment the signal gun was heard the fighting was fast and furious, the officers and men struggling to reach the works notwithstanding the withering fire from the protected Federals. Rucker’s Brigade of Chalmers’ division, which had been held in reserve only for a short while, was ordered to the support of Mabry’s Brigade, which, though fighting to the death, was sorely pressed. This movement was on foot, through the open field and facing a broiling sun. This proud little brigade, composed of the Seventh Tennessee, Duff’s Regiment and A. H. Chalmers’ Battalion, rushed to its work with the rebel yell, and was soon intermingled with Mabry’s men near the Federal works. Rucker’s men, as did others, unmindful of their already depleted ranks and seemingly regardless of the issues of life and death, fought as if they expected some supreme moment was near when they would repeat the work of Brice’s Cross Roads. Rucker himself, when within fifty yards of the works, was wounded twice and carried from the field. Captain Statler, of Company E and three of his men were killed here and others wounded. The ground at this point was covered with the dead and wounded while the living were famished because of the intense heat and the lack of water. Human endurance had reached a limit. The Confederates, leaving their dead and wounded on the field, retreated with no attention to order. To save individual life was now all that could be expected of the living.
The battle had been lost, but not for the lack of courage, devotion to duty or gallant leadership. Both sides can’t win, but it is interesting, even at this distant day, especially to old soldiers, to consider the reasons of our defeat. A careful review of the campaign is fairly convincing that Forrest with the whole army, perhaps with less, could have defeated Smith on the hills just south of Pontotoc and, may be, would have turned the defeat into the usual Federal disaster. A like result might have been brought about anywhere on the road to Harrisburg, if Smith had turned upon Forrest for a pitched battle in the open field. But Smith, as I have heretofore shown, declined all offers of battle except such little engagements as were essential to protect his rear and right flank. He moved rapidly and in close order till he reached a choice natural position.
The great disparity of forces in actual battle, the fortified position of the enemy, the intense heat in a rapid charge and the long distance through an open field were all elements in the defeat of the Confederates. If, as some writers assert, our army was fought too much in detail, of which I know nothing, that of itself would have contributed to our defeat. Judging Forrest by his former and subsequent performances, it is safe to say that, if he had been in chief command and had concluded to make an assault at all, which is doubtful, he would have had every available man in the charge and made the work short, sharp and decisive.
But why assault at all? Here was an army in a strong position for defense, it is true, but in the best possible position to be held by an opposing force till starvation threatened. It was over a hundred miles from Memphis and in an enemy’s country, which had been devastated by two other raids. It was reasonable to suppose that this army, so far from its base, was running short of rations. It had expected to live off the rich country just below, which it never reached. Nothing demoralizes an army more than a prospect of impending hunger. Then why not wait one day or two days or a little longer, even in the face of threatening movements of the Federals at Mobile and other points? It is in the histories that they did not make any such move just then. Again, our commissary at Okolona, twenty miles distant, was furnishing us with supplies by wagon train. Within two days our army would have been in fine condition to pursue a hungry army in retreat. It is shown in General Smith’s official report that he had only one day’s rations when he left Tupelo, just as might have been reasonably expected. He abandoned his position fifteen hours after the repulse of the Confederates. He moved on the retreat much as he had on the march from Pontotoc to Harrisburg. Lee and Forrest having gathered up their shattered remnants attacked him at Old Town creek, where he made a stubborn resistance but only till his troops and trains could get well on the road. Clearly our men were in no condition to make anything more than a spiritless pursuit.
It is hardly worth while to speculate as to what would have been the result, if Smith had pressed his advantage, when he had driven the Confederates from his front. Undoubtedly it would have resulted disastrously to the Confederates. If he made a tactical error in the whole campaign, it was in this regard. True, he did not reach his objective, but neither did Sooy Smith and Sturgis. He saved his army intact, all of his artillery, and most of his wagons. The comparison is easily drawn. Having experienced the soothing influences of forty-four years, we can be just, liberal and fair. Then, A. J. Smith was a capable commander, and in the Harrisburg campaign did not lessen the prestige acquired on other fields.
As soon as the Federals abandoned their position and it had been occupied by the Confederates, I took advantage of the movement and hastened to the spot occupied by Company E, the previous day. The ground was literally strewn with the bodies of our precious slain, which had been lying where they fell for twenty-four hours. It was impossible to identify them except by their clothing and other articles. Captain J. P. Statler, William Wood, Jehu Field and David McKinney, another schoolboy of mine, must have been killed about the same time, as their bodies lay close together. First Wood, then Statler a few feet in advance and a still shorter space forward Field and McKinney at the foot of a post-oak that did not protect them from the enfilading fire of the enemy. In this group was Colonel Isham Harrison of the Sixth Mississippi with many of his own dead men about him. It was a most sorrowful sight to see Statler and his men wrapped in their blankets and buried where they fell. They appropriately sleep on the field of honor. The earth lay fresh on the grave of Captain Tate when Captain Statler was killed. Besides the four named, Robert D. Durrett of Bolivar, and Sam Gibson were mortally wounded earlier in the action and carried to the rear. Company E could ill afford to lose the men who fell at Harrisburg. Statler had shown himself to be a worthy successor to Tate. He was a faithful friend, a dashing gallant soldier and a fine horseman. I yet hold dear the friendship knitted closely by our association at Brice’s Cross Roads and on other fields.
In riding over the field at the time of which I write I heard of the deaths of others whom I knew. Among these was that of that fine young soldier, Tom Nelson of Company L, of whom I have had occasion to speak in connection with an incident at Ripley. Killed on the 13th at Barrow’s shop.
I found the breastworks of the Federals all that I have heretofore described. That part in front of which Company E fought was built like a Virginia worm fence, but with heavy house logs and other weighty objects. Thus their fire was enfilading upon all points of their front. The few trees standing there afforded little protection to our men. A grape shot and twenty-one minie balls struck the tree at the foot of which Field and McKinney lay dead.
I passed over to where the Kentuckians had fought under Crossland. Oh, the ghastly dead, and so many of them! Lieutenant-Colonel Sherrill of the Seventh Kentucky, killed near the works, was among them. The officer in charge of the burial squad quoted the lines:
Makes countless thousands mourn.
I agreed with him. This was near the old Harrisburg church. I rode down the slope with others and stopped by the roadside. Along came General Forrest, wounded and riding in an open buggy. Just from the battle-field and suffering with a wound, he was somewhat excited. I remember well the sentiment he uttered. It was that expressed by the words: “Boys, this is not my fight, and I take no responsibility for it,” or words tantamount to these. I knew what he meant.
Now, I had known General Forrest for thirteen years. Why, the first creosote I ever saw he put into an aching tooth of mine, when on one of his trading expeditions he was camping in front of my father’s house on the road from Grenada to Greensboro. He was a man to impress even a stripling, as I was then. I should have carried his image in my mind to this day even if there had never been a war. A stalwart, who habitually went in his shirt sleeves. A man of commanding, but pleasing personality, with grayish-blue eyes who spoke kindly to children. A broad felt hat, turned up at the sides and surmounting a shock of black hair about completes the picture. I contrast this with this same figure, clothed in the resplendent uniform of a major-general, mounted on King Philip, at the head of his escort and with hat in hand in recognition of the plaudits extended, with hearty good will, by the people of Florence, Ala.
I insert here two extracts from the utterances of Lieutenant-Colonel David C. Kelley, at once the “Fighting Parson” and the Marshal Ney of Forrest’s Cavalry, but in peace the eminent citizen and eloquent divine: “Every individual private was trained to an unbounded belief in Forrest’s power to succeed.”
“The practical suggestions of the natural warrior were the safeguard of Hood’s army.”
The rest of the month of July, 1864, was spent by the Confederates in the rich prairie country below Okolona. About Gunn’s church we found the fields full of green corn, some in the roasting ear and much of it in that state of maturity when it is best to make jaded horses thrifty. Watermelons were cheap and abundant. There was no talk of scant rations. The farmers had been raising corn and hogs for war times. These conditions wonderfully revived the spirits of the men. Cornbread now and no biscuit. Plenty of greasy bacon and some with a streak of lean and a streak of fat. This held on a sharp stick and over the fire, and with the gravy dripping on the bread, was something good to look at. Some managed to always have a little sugar and coffee which they had secured with other captured spoils. As a rule, Confederate soldiers did not tolerate rye or other substitutes for coffee. They wanted the “pure stuff” or nothing. The weather was warm, and sleeping in the open air was refreshing. Company E had not stretched a tent for more than a year. Occasionally quartered in unoccupied houses, the men were generally protected against the elements by rude structures of such materials as was at hand, but mostly by captured rubber cloths, stretched over a pole resting in two forks stuck in the ground. If only one was to be accommodated, a convenient sapling was bent down till it assumed the shape of a bow and its top secured to the ground. Then the rubber cloth was stretched over this so that a soldier could crawl under. In both cases, the shelter was called a “shebang.” A good rest and full stomachs went far towards getting those of us who had been spared ready for the next campaign. We left the goodly land where “if you tickle the soil with a hoe, it will laugh with a harvest.” We went to Oxford to meet our late antagonist, General A. J. Smith, who was moving south with another fine army. Forrest with a greatly reduced force was compelled to meet him. It might be remembered as the wet August, for it rained almost incessantly. It would require every available man now. We stretched out our thin line along Hurricane creek, six miles north of Oxford. The Federals were crossing the Tallahatchie at Abbeville a few miles north of our position. Skirmishing began at once with the advance of the superior force of the Federals. By the 10th of August, 1864, Forrest had all his forces in line except Buford’s division, which was posted at Pontotoc to watch any movement east by the Federals. Before the main body of the Confederates arrived Smith had driven Chalmers’ division to the south side of the Yokona, several miles below Oxford. On the approach of reinforcements the Federals fell back across Hurricane creek to their former position. The heavy rains continued to fall and added greatly to the discomforts of our men. It was impossible to keep even moderately dry under the best “shebangs” that could be constructed, because the ground was saturated. We continued to strengthen our works with such poor material as we could get. At best, they would have given us poor protection in case of attack.
Rucker’s Brigade was now a thing of the past and the Seventh Tennessee was attached to Richardson’s Brigade, commanded by Colonel J. J. Neely. At his instance I had been temporarily detailed to attend to some clerical and other work in the ordnance department. For the time being I stopped at the quarters of Lieutenant-Colonel White, commanding the Fourteenth Tennessee, where we spent most of the time in trying to keep dry. Rations were in plenty, but we could scarcely get dry wood enough to cook them. Much of our ammunition was ruined and in our skirmishes many of the cartridges would not explode. All efforts to induce the Federals to cross to our side of the shallow creek failed, though our men frequently crossed to their side and, having engaged their advance, fell back hurriedly with the design of drawing them into a disadvantageous place. Colonel Neely one day, between showers, concluded to make an effort to lead the Federal cavalry into a well planned ambuscade by offering them superior inducements. The Fourteenth Regiment under White was ordered to cross the creek, dismount and get in a well-chosen place in the thick bushes and parallel with the road. A detachment of Neely’s escort, with which I crossed over, was to ride forward, engage the Federal advance briskly, and retreat in some confusion. The enemy took the bait and came on at a canter. Luckily for them, their flankers struck the right of the dismounted regiment and gave the alarm. However, part of their pursuing force came up to where the escort was posted. The dense growth of timber on this spot so obscured the view that the Federal cavalry soon found themselves face to face with, and in short range of, our reserve, and those who had rallied. It was a most exciting contest for only a minute or two, and chiefly with pistols, on our side, but both parties seemed to have lost the knack of hitting anything, for I saw no dead or wounded, though we quickly drove the enemy upon their reserve and kept up a spirited gunplay until it was our time to fall back. Everybody realized the inability of the Confederates to cope with the greatly superior force of the Federals, and we were liable to be driven from our position by a heavy flank movement at any time. A knowledge of this, of course, was possessed by the rank and file, and the suspense concerning coming results was great. In the midst of our anxiety, Colonel White received orders to prepare rations for an expedition. That something radical was on the tapis was evident. Only picked men and horses were wanted. It got abroad in camp that we were going to Memphis. That looked radical, but pleased us. There was a weeding out of sick men, sore back and lame horses. The camp took on new life. As the duties of my special assignment were about discharged, I could have asked to be relieved and to be returned to my own company, which was not under orders, but I preferred to take part in whatever excitement was in store for us, so I said nothing and went to Memphis with Colonel White. We left camp on the night of the 18th of August, 1864, in a downpour and in darkness so great that we could scarcely see the road. I had hard work that night with the help of a small detachment in having a quantity of cornbread baked by the good women along our way, keeping it dry, and promptly joining the regiment next morning on the road to Panola. At this old town there was a short delay to get the column well up, and to have another culling of disabled men and horses, for the night march had been a severe one on both man and beast. Having crossed the Tallahatchie, we turned our faces toward Memphis. The sun was now shining, and everybody was in jolly, good spirits. Our clothing was drying rapidly by evaporation. Reaching Senatobia, twenty-three miles from Panola, we rested till next morning. In the meantime, a competent detail was building a bridge over the Hickahala, a creek just north of the town, and swollen by the heavy rains. And such a bridge! An old flatboat placed in midstream for a central pontoon, and strengthened by floats made of dry cedar telegraph poles, which were bound together by grapevines, constituted the body of the structure. Other poles were used as beams to piece out the bridge, and over the whole was laid a floor of planks brought by hand from the ginhouses in the neighborhood. Finally, a twisted cable of grapevines was placed on the side down stream, and lashed to trees on either bank. The men dismounted and led their horses over in column of twos. The two pieces of artillery with their caissons were wheeled across by hand. At Coldwater river, seven miles further north, a longer bridge was required. The men assigned to the work of building one were not long in completing it, and the command crossed over as they did over the first bridge. Twice that morning I was reminded of the aphorism that “necessity is the mother of invention.”
At the Coldwater bridge there was a wagon heavily loaded with corn in the shuck, which was thought to be too heavy for the bridge. General Forrest ordered the corn thrown out and the wagon and corn carried over by hand. He was the first man to carry an armful across. There was hardly need of his setting the example for the men, for everybody was for leaving nothing undone that would hasten the expedition to a glorious conclusion. I never saw a command look more like it was out for a holiday. At Hernando we were twenty-five miles from our objective. From there on we had no rain, the road was better, and we moved along at a pace like that of Van Dorn, when on his way to Holly Springs. We were fondly expecting to write ditto under his performance, but in much larger letters, the very next morning. Forrest left Oxford with about fifteen hundred men, and every one of them thought that, if he “sought the bubble reputation at the cannon’s mouth,” he would likely draw a prize package into the bargain. The latter might be in the shape of a pair of boots or a horse, a suit of clothes or a small quantity of “store coffee.” A buttermilk and soda biscuit would not be “turned down,” if we took the town. Hilarity was hilarious and that’s the truth about it.
To water and to rest the horses a little were imperative. Every man carried a small quantity of shelled corn. The utmost quiet was now insisted upon. When within a few miles of the city Forrest had a consultation with his field officers, and these with their company officers, who gave quiet and explicit instructions to the men. The most drastic order was that if any officer or soldier saw one plundering he should shoot him on the spot. The different regiments were assigned to particular duties in certain localities in the city. More information was imparted to subordinate officers and private soldiers than is usual on such occasions. I think that it was intended that every man in the command should, as nearly as possible, understand just what his own regiment was to do in taking the city. Everybody about the head of the Fourteenth Tennessee understood that Captain Bill Forrest and his company would surprise and capture the vidette and outpost. While we believed that General Forrest was acting upon reliable information from spies and scouts as to the situation of affairs in Memphis, we knew that there was always a chance for an enemy to be fully informed. In that case, we did not know but that deadly ambuscades would be set for us. As we moved at a walk, the report of a single gun was heard. It was likely that some poor fellow had gone to his death. Day was breaking, but there was a dense fog. The column, moving by fours, struck a lively pace. The Fourteenth Regiment, turning into Mississippi avenue at Kerr soon plunged into a mudhole, which, in the dim light, looked interminable. Another command ahead of us was struggling to get through it. The men in the rear crowded upon those retarded in front, and the confusion was likely to defeat the whole plan of attack, which was to be executed promptly and rapidly. It added to the excitement that Captain Forrest’s company, pushing on into the city, had encountered a Federal battery near Trigg avenue, and we could hear the firing. The delay was unfortunate, but we soon got upon firmer ground. The men, by this time, had broken into a shout. As the Fourteenth Regiment was one of those designated for that purpose, Colonel White quickly dashed into the large Federal encampment to the right, and in a large grove, a part of which is yet standing. The tents stood in long white rows, but their occupants, recovering somewhat from their surprise, had rallied a little further north, and were delivering a brisk fire in the darkness, caused by the fog, but to very little purpose. In large, bold letters, I could see on the tents inscribed the words “One Hundred and Thirty-seventh Illinois Infantry.” The smoke from the guns of both sides intensified the foggy darkness. As we pushed through the encampment, I espied a man lying in one of the bunks with which the tents were supplied. The poor fellow had been left alone and sick. I advised him to lie still, as I did not care to see a non-resistant increase his chances of death by rising up. A splendid pair of army shoes was sitting on a shelf in front of a tent. Somehow, in the excitement, I reached down for the shoes and tied them to my saddle. I thought of the strict orders given in regard to appropriating anything prematurely, but I was practically barefoot. The shoes were new and a perfect fit. They supplied the place of the boots secured at Union City, and were good shoes at the surrender. I was fully repaid for my part in the raid.
Forrest’s movement on Memphis was now a success or a failure, for we understood that in a surprise orders were to be executed rapidly.
Colonel Neely, with the Fourteenth Tennessee, Second Missouri, and Chalmers’ Battalion, drove the infantry force in his front rapidly back to a position about the State Female College, in and around which there was some stubborn fighting. The Confederate loss here was light.
As we were all anxious to hear what our men in the city had done, I rode to the intersection of Mississippi avenue and McLemore to seek information. This was scant, but to the effect that our men were carrying everything before them; in fact, that Forrest had complete possession of the city, notwithstanding the Federals had an effective force of five thousand men of all arms, including that part of it fighting around the college. The fog had lifted, and we were having a bright day. By 9 o’clock the object of the raid had been fairly accomplished, and the Confederates in the city began to come out in disorganized squads. Two of our men were reported killed on Main street. A son of Dr. J. S. Robinson, of Whiteville, was killed in the fight about the college. As the superior Federal force rapidly recovered from its surprise, it became dangerous for those who had lingered to depart from the city. At one point, Forrest himself, with the Second Missouri, attacked an advancing Federal detachment of cavalry, and with his own hands killed Colonel Starr, a Federal officer. It only remained to secure the spoils which had been gathered up and a large number of horses besides about six hundred prisoners. If, as a result of the raid, a retrograde movement of Smith’s army at Oxford was at hand, it could be written down as a big success, for that was its main purpose. It is true that Forrest had planned to capture the three Federal Generals, who escaped the clutches of the Confederates by the merest chance. In connection with what our men did really accomplish, I have heard some interesting stories, but I have always regarded these as largely fanciful. Many believe to this day that Forrest, booted and spurred, rode into the Gayoso Hotel, but in his lifetime, he never lent encouragement to this belief. However, it is authentically stated that Captain Forrest, with some of his company, did what has been attributed to his brother, the General. I have it from a reliable witness that the Captain did kill a Federal officer, who did not promptly realize that he had fallen into the hands of his enemies. I remark that this account is not intended to be a history of all things that transpired on that memorable morning of August 21, 1864, but rather a reminiscence of those things that fell under my personal observation, or of which I had authentic information on the spot.
We retired at our leisure to Mississippi, where news soon reached us that the Federals had driven Chalmers, with his inferior force, to the south side of the Yokona, and were committing depredations in and around Oxford. They had burnt the courthouse and many other buildings, including the fine residence of Jacob Thompson, with its hundred thousand dollars worth of furnishings. It was said, and it turned out to be true, that Mrs. Thompson was robbed of such valuable articles as she could hastily carry out. In giving his men such license, General Edward Hatch had revealed his true character as a man. He had won renown on the battle-field, and shown himself to be an able commander and skillful tactician, but had disgraced himself in the eyes of all advocates of civilized warfare.
Just as Forrest had anticipated, the Federals began to fall back from Oxford, as soon as their commander heard the news from Memphis. General James R. Chalmers was entitled to great praise for the skillful manner in which he had handled his troops and concealed from the enemy the absence of Forrest. He held a position that required tact, discretion and courage, and met the expectations of his chief. I remember him well, and can recall his character as that of a man who, as occasion required, could move an audience by his eloquence, charm the fastidious with his felicity of diction, and gallantly lead his men in battle. Personally, “Little Bun” was popular with the rank and file, as he was one of the most approachable of men. Scrupulously uniformed and finely mounted, he presented an attractive figure on review. A man of literary taste, he sometimes courted the muses. He was the reputed author of some words I heard sung in war times to the air of Bonnie Doone. These words might well be brought to light again and take their place in popular esteem by the side of “Dixie” and “The Bonnie Blue Flag.” Perhaps some one of those who used to be called “the pretty girls of Bolivar,” but who, alas, are now wearing frosted crowns, could find in her old portfolios the words which might serve to keep green the memory of a gallant Confederate.
To rest in shady groves, to sleep by lulling waters, to hear the songs of birds, the hum of bees, the tinkling bells of lowing kine, bring more pleasing thoughts to mind than those of war and deadly strife. To things like these we turned after the Memphis raid, but not for long. The people praised the deeds of Forrest’s Cavalry, the marvel of horseback fighting, and the worthy rival of trained infantry, but the soldiers’ paeans of victory always had a minor note of sorrow for our desolate land, the tears of widows and orphans, and our increasing casualties in battle. Our poor fellows were falling, and our line becoming shorter, as the living pressed their shoulders together.
An entire reorganization of Forrest’s Cavalry Corps was effected just after the Memphis raid, by which a new brigade, composed exclusively of Tennesseeans, was formed for Colonel Rucker, who was absent on account of a wound received at Harrisburg. The regiments in this were the Seventh, Twelfth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Forrest’s old regiment, commanded respectively by Duckworth, Green, Neely, Stewart and Kelly. The other brigade of Chalmers’ division was that of McCulloch, composed of men from Missouri, Texas and Mississippi. Rumors were rife, as usual, that we were on the eve of some important move, but those only in whose hands the duty of projecting campaigns had been placed knew what that move would be. Uncertainty brought no suspense to the minds of the men, as we had become accustomed to go with alacrity to the discharge of any duty assigned. To one who has studied closely the military situation at the time, it is plain that the affairs of the Confederacy had reached the desperate stage, though Forrest had subverted the plans of the Federals on the Memphis lines. The humblest of us could reflect that the territory to which we had been assigned was only a small part of the country, and that our movements on the military chessboard were scarcely noticed, except when Forrest had gained another brilliant victory. Think of it. The Confederacy had been cut in twain for more than a year by the opening of the Mississippi river; Sherman had driven Joe Johnston from Dalton to Atlanta, and a hundred days of fighting had not barred the way of the Federals toward the sea. The first trial of arms between Lee and Grant had been made at the Wilderness, and Lee had failed, even by grand tactics, to permanently stay the flank movement of the overwhelming legions of Grant at Spottsylvania, who was now moving steadily on the bloody road to Richmond. In the light which a knowledge of these conditions afforded, our immediate part of the war appeared comparatively insignificant. The reader well might ask how Forrest, or any other commander, could, under given conditions, keep up the fighting spirits of his men. We well know that he did this as long as he had occasion to lead his men in battle, but how he did it, or whence this power, I leave to the consideration of those philosophers who revel in the discussion of abstract questions of metaphysics. And I give them a thousand years to settle it.
During the first days of September we were taking a long ride over to the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. Cui bono? We reasoned, of course, that as we had gotten rid of our immediate enemies, who had so long been troubling us, we should probably be sent to other fields of action. It finally came to light that affairs at Mobile were thought to be in such critical condition that Chalmers’ division must be sent to that city at once. McCulloch’s brigade was actually sent forward, while Rucker’s was at West Point, ready to take the cars. Before this information reached the men, the order was countermanded. So we did not go to Mobile, but our enterprising General was not idle. It was soon openly talked that he was projecting a raid into Middle Tennessee, where he proposed to so damage the railroad between Nashville and Stephenson as to cut off Sherman’s army at Atlanta from its base of supplies, Rucker had not yet assumed command of his new brigade, but it was thought he would do so before we started on the projected expedition. The four Colonels of the brigade and the officer temporarily in command of Forrest’s old regiment, evidently considering it a reflection on them for an outsider, and only a Colonel, to take precedence over them, flatly refused to consent to the new arrangement. There was a great stir in camp at Sook-a-toncha bridge, near West Point. For a whole day nothing else was discussed and little else thought of. As might be supposed, there were two factions in the contest as to who should command the brigade. The humblest private was in evidence, and had something to say in the spirited, though friendly, discussion. General Chalmers, with his staff, rode out to the camp and made an earnest address to officers and soldiers as to the necessity of obeying orders and disregarding personal ambition. The character and efficiency of the officers involved were favorably alluded to, but not an offensive word spoken. While speaking in rather a persuasive tone, he did not hesitate to make an earnest and honest declaration of his sentiments. The address made a good impression, and, so far as I could see, the excitement was much less intense the following day, and, by the time the movement began, the rank and file looked upon the whole thing as a closed incident. The officers refusing to recognize the assignment of Rucker were placed in arrest upon the charge of insubordination, and sent to a distant post to await orders. I never heard of any action being taken by a court-martial in these cases, but I do know that they saw little more of the war, as they returned to the command only a few days before the surrender. The whole affair was unpleasant to me because of my friendly attitude toward two of them—Colonel Duckworth, formerly a Lieutenant in the Haywood Rangers (Company D), and Colonel Neely, the first Captain of Company E. I knew the others by their reputations as true men and efficient commanders. The whole trouble might have been avoided, or at least deferred, for as it turned out, Colonel Rucker, still suffering with his wound, did not go on the raid at all, and Lieutenant-Colonel Kelly, the senior officer present, took charge of the brigade. It could not have fallen into better hands. No aspersion was cast on the character of Rucker as a man, or adverse criticism made of his capability as a commander. A man of great physical force and a fine horseman, he impressed men with his prowess in battle. Recklessly brave, he did not mind riding down an enemy, or engaging him in single combat. He helped to make the reputation of his old brigade as a body of fast and furious fighters.
With Lieutenant-Colonel W. F. Taylor in command, the Seventh Tennessee moved up to Verona, and then to Tupelo. Here final preparations were made. And here General Forrest, from a platform made for the purpose, delivered a lively address to our brigade, a part of which was a scathing criticism of the action of the officers whom he had recently placed in arrest. He was full of his subject, and had language at hand to express his thoughts.
September 16th, 1864. On this day 3,542 men reported for duty, to which number Roddys’ division was to be added, making in all a force of about 4,500 cavalry, artillery and dismounted men. The cavalry was to traverse the hypotenuse of a right triangle, reaching from Tupelo, Miss., to Cherokee, Ala., while General Forrest, his escort, dismounted men and everything on wheels, were to traverse the other two sides by way of Corinth and over railroads, which had been recently repaired. I never saw men in better spirits as the several commands took their places in line. I had good reason to feel glad in anticipation, as will be shown further along. When the Fourteenth Regiment, passing the Seventh in line, was moving to its place in column, Colonel Raleigh White, seeing me lined up in my company, insisted that I go with him on the raid, just as I had on the Memphis raid. Knowing that I could discharge my full duty, and that White would grant me any reasonable request when we reached North Alabama, I joined him as soon as the matter was arranged. As there was no necessity for rushing, we moved leisurely to Cherokee. There was need that the command should be in good trim when it should reach the north side of the Tennessee river. Seeing from the orders that the command was likely to remain at rest for a day or two, I determined to reach Florence, if possible, at least one day in advance. But I could not cross the river without a pass from General Forrest. Nothing daunted, I went straight to his headquarters, as soon as I could get my plans mentally arranged, which, I now remember, was done with some degree of fear and trembling. He was absent. It might be fortunate, thought I, for I would lay my case before Major Strange, and get his opinion as to the merits of my plea. My desire to see my child must have touched a tender chord in his heart, as he said that the General would return by a certain hour, and that, if I would call again, I would likely get the pass. I was promptly on hand. Again the General was absent. My feelings were now intense, for it was growing late in the day. Seeing this, Major Strange graciously and kindly said that he would furnish me with a document that would take me across the river and through all picket lines. I mounted my horse and made for the river, which I hoped to reach before night. It was seven miles away, and I had no information as to where I might find a means of crossing. Somewhere in a long lane I happily met an old school fellow—Charlie Trimble of Tuscumbia—who could give me the necessary information. When I finished the last mile, it was growing so dark that the soldiers in charge would not venture to go on the river in the rickety old boat. The prospect was now so good that I made myself content. At daylight next morning Little Black and I were on the bosom of the Tennessee, and nearing the northern shore. Poor fellow, he could go over with a dry skin now, but within a few days he must swim the same stream over a hundred miles below, where it was much larger and at floodtide. Now for the nearest road to Florence. At Dr. McAlexander’s, just as the family were sitting down to breakfast. Good coffee and hot biscuits. Lucky hit, thought I. A thousand thoughts of happy days come trooping in. For the nonce, I have forgotten the war and scenes of peace pass in review.
Bay deep-mouthed welcome as we draw near home;
’Tis sweet to know there is an eye will mark
Our coming, and look brighter when we come.
’Tis sweet to be awaken’d by the lark,
Or lull’d by falling waters; sweet the hum
Of bees, the voice of girls, the song of birds,
The lisp of children, and their earliest words.”
Was ever picture more divinely drawn? The last line—“the lisp of children and their earliest words”—arouses the tenderest emotions of the soul.
I stopped at the Smith cottage, a well-known landmark, just across from the Methodist Church. I gazed up at the old steeple in respectful silence, and felt glad to stand in its shadow once more. But I am now at the door of the cottage, which was closed. I step along the veranda to an open window. Unobserved, I gaze for some moments on the picture within. To me, at least, “the prettiest and loveliest boy” in all the land, engaged in childish pranks with his colored nurse. I hesitated to break the spell, for it seemed to me that happiness had reached its full fruition. Ernest was a happy little boy in a happy home, for war times, as his aunt, the late Mrs. Henry W. Sample, was devoted to him as she had been devoted to his mother. I never could repay her for all her kindness to me and mine, but I place here in print a sincere tribute to her memory as that of a noble woman, who was altogether unselfish, whose religion was a daily affair, who cultivated a charitable spirit, who reached out her hand to those in trouble, and who went to her grave with the love and respect of the people among whom she had lived seventy-two years.
On the 21st of September, 1864, Forrest’s whole command crossed the Tennessee river. The artillery, wagon train and dismounted men were taken across in boats at Colbert’s Ferry, while the whole mounted force passed the river at Ross’ Ford, a short distance below. The latter is said to have furnished one of the most picturesque scenes of the war. The river at this point is seldom fordable and always dangerous. A careful guide led the long column, marching by twos, along the winding shallows for over two miles, in order to avoid the dangerous places in the bed of the river, which at this point was scarcely a mile wide. There were no casualties, but many men lost their hats and other articles when their horses slipped on the rocks. On the morning of the 22d Florence was all agog to see Forrest and his men, and pretty well filled up with Confederate soldiers, who, like myself, were making friendly or family calls. There were many small reunions of old friends, who never met again, on this seeming holiday in war times. In the early forenoon of a perfect day, Forrest, mounted on King Philip, and riding at the head of his escort, came in from the west, turned into Court street and then into Tennessee street, running east. The streets were lined with men, women and children, whose shouts were ably supplemented by the yells of the visiting soldiers. To have stood on Mitchell’s corner that day, as I did, would mark an event in a life otherwise filled with adventures.
Conditions at Florence had changed somewhat for the worse since my last visit, nearly two years before. The country had been occupied alternately by the Federals and Confederates, and thousands of acres had gone to waste for the want of labor. There was hardly a worse overrun country in the South. Clothing and food were hard to get with any kind of money. Of course, what might be termed Confederate devices were put into practice, and very plain living was the order of the day.
Tarrying to the limit with loved ones whom I might never see again, I left Florence late at night to overtake the command the next day before it reached Athens. As I rode out towards the suburbs, the silence was so pronounced that Florence seemed to be a town of houses without inhabitants. I approached the cemetery—to me a sacred spot—where the waters of the Tennessee, bounding over the rocks of Mussel Shoals, sing an eternal requiem to our dead. The monuments stood like sentinels at the graves of many whom I had known. Out on the hillside was one erected by myself. I paused to ponder. Stillness reigned supreme, for it was midnight’s solemn hour. No voice of man nor chirp of bird was on the air. No painful loneliness disturbed my soul, for silent friends were there. She, a mother for a short month only, about whom I was thinking, having died at the age of nineteen years, escaped the sorrow, trials and experiences of a cruel war. Perhaps it were well.
General Forrest invested the Federal works at Athens, about forty miles from Florence, late in the afternoon of the 23d of September. There was no concerted attack then, but careful dispositions were made for the next morning. An assault meant a dreadful slaughter of our men, as the works were strong, and held by about fourteen hundred well-drilled negro troops, officered by white men. At 7 o’clock the fire of all the artillery was concentrated upon the fort, and the cavalry, dismounted, moved up as if for assault. Forrest ordered his artillery to cease firing, and sent a flag of truce to the Federal commander, demanding a surrender. There was a parley and a refusal. Forrest then adopted his favorite plan of magnifying his own forces and intimidating his adversary. In a personal interview outside the fort, Forrest proposed to the Federal commander that he should take a ride around the lines, and see for himself how well the Confederates were prepared for an assault. The proposition was accepted, but Forrest so manipulated his troops by dismounting and remounting and changing the position of his artillery, that the Federal commander was soon convinced that the Confederates were sufficiently strong to make a successful assault. While the terms of the surrender were being arranged, a reinforcement of white troops arrived from Decatur, and made a determined effort to cut their way through to the fort. This was met by the Seventh Tennessee and other regiments, and a bloody battle was fought before the Federals were captured. To complete the victory, the artillery was brought up to capture two blockhouses, which were held by about one hundred men. In the fight along the railroad, Lieutenant V. F. Ruffin of Company E, a promising young man and a splendid soldier, was killed. He was the only brother of two orphan sisters. Their loss was grievous. Our loss at Athens was five killed and twenty-five wounded. We captured two trains, two locomotives, a large quantity of stores, two pieces of artillery, a number of wagons and ambulances, and three hundred horses. The Federal loss in killed and wounded was considerable, including the death of the Colonel commanding the detachment from the direction of Decatur. Their loss in prisoners was about 1,900.
As Colonel White had been ordered to tear up portions of the railroad toward Decatur, I found it impracticable to join him. Falling in with Captain John Overton, of Rucker’s staff, we rode along our lines to view the situation. As Forrest was having an interview with the Federals, we concluded it would be perfectly safe for us to accept an invitation to breakfast at a nearby house. We had not more than dispatched that breakfast when firing was heard down the railroad. Overton mounted and rode rapidly to the position where part of our brigade was engaged. There he had his fine blooded mare killed under him. Thirty-two years after that he walked into the station at Tullahoma carrying what he said was a box of rattlesnakes. Oh, horrors! thought I. As he evidently did not fully recognize me, and only knew I was someone whom he had seen before, I said to him: “Captain, don’t you remember something about a good breakfast you and I had together down in Athens when we were younger men than we are now?” Brightening up, he replied: “Yes, but don’t you remember about my losing my fine mare that morning?” John Overton’s immediate or prospective wealth never puffed him up, or made any difference with him in his intercourse with all classes of men in the army. He had none of the graces of horseback riding, and moved about the camp much after the manner of some plain farmer, when looking after the crop of crabgrass or considering the advisability of planting his potatoes in the dark of the moon. He was “a chip off the old block”—his grand old father, whom we sometimes saw in camp.
Four miles north of Athens, a blockhouse, with thirty-two men was surrendered. We bivouacked for the night, thinking that we had made a fine beginning. Eleven miles from Athens, there was a strong fort, which protected what was known as Sulphur Branch trestle, a structure three hundred feet long and seventy-two feet high. In order to destroy this, it was necessary to capture the fort and two large blockhouses. On the morning of the 25th of September, the Confederate artillery was concentrated on the fort, in which were several rude cabins covered with oak boards. At the same time, Forrest ordered a heavy force to advance on foot against the position. There was severe fighting for only a little while, as our artillery quickly scattered the lighter timbers and roofs of the cabins in every direction, and killed many of the garrison. The Federals ceased firing, but did not display the white flag. Their commander had already been killed, and there seemed to be great consternation in the fort. They surrendered as soon as a demand was made on them. This surrender included the two blockhouses. I saw no more horrid spectacle during the war than the one which the interior of that fort presented. If a cyclone had struck the place, the damage could hardly have been much worse. Here, again, the spoils were great, including three hundred cavalry horses and their equipments, a large number of wagons and ambulances, two pieces of artillery, all kinds of army stores, with nearly a thousand prisoners. Forrest was compelled now to send south a second installment of prisoners and captured property under a strong guard, the first having been sent from Athens. Sulphur Branch trestle being demolished, we moved towards Pulaski. The lame and disabled horses were now replaced by captured ones, and all the dismounted men, who had been crowded to the limit to keep up on the march, were furnished with horses. Some of our men were engaged in tearing up railroad track, while others were driving the enemy back towards Pulaski. Within six miles of the town we had heavy fighting, and again within three miles. At the former place, I saw the dead body of Stratton Jones, another schoolboy of mine, and the eldest son of Judge Henry C. Jones of Florence, now, perhaps, the oldest citizen of his city, and one of less than half a dozen of the surviving members of the Confederate Congress.
At the Brown farm, still nearer to Pulaski, we captured a corral containing about 2,000 negroes, who were being supported by the Federal commissary. They were a dirty and ragged lot, who were content to grasp at the mere shadow of freedom. Forrest ordered them to remove their filthy belongings from the miserable hovels, and set about two hundred of the latter on fire. Here was the richest depot of supplies I had seen since the capture of Holly Springs by Van Dorn. A bountiful supply of sugar and coffee was distributed to the men. Our horses were put in fine condition here by many hours of rest and good feed. Our loss for the day was about 100 in killed and wounded. That of the Federals was very much greater.
The Federals, under General Rousseau, took lodgment within their works, which were very strong. Having made a spirited demonstration on the enemy’s front, Forrest, after nightfall, leaving numerous campfires burning, just as Washington did the night before the battle of Princeton, drew off and took the road to Fayetteville. Having bivouacked a few miles out, we started at daylight for a ride of forty miles, which put us several miles east of that town. The country was fearfully rough and rocky, but the men and horses held up well. Some time during the following day, September 29th, we reached the village of Mulberry. It was pleasant to see a large school in session and the boys and girls climbing upon the fence to see the soldiers. It was more like peace than war. But here was a pause, for Forrest concluded that it was impracticable to reach the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, because of the concentration of thousands of Federals along that line, for it was all-important to them to protect Sherman’s communication with his base of supplies. The plan now was that Buford should take 1,500 men, including Rucker’s brigade, under Kelley, and the artillery and wagons, march to Huntsville, capture the place, if possible, but, by all means, to push his trains towards some available crossing on the Tennessee river, while Forrest was to take the rest of the command, swing around by Lewisburg, strike the railroad above Columbia, do all the damage possible, and hurry on to Florence.
We kept up the march towards Huntsville till after nightfall, as it was necessary to make a bold feint, at least, against the position commanded by General Gordon Granger. I noticed Buford, who was a notaably large man, making his way that night on a very fine mule. He was one type of ye jolly Kentuckian, popular with his men, and perfectly reliable in a fight. Our fifteen hundred men were so placed about the town as to make as big a show of force as possible. Before this could be done, it was so dark that a lantern was procured from some citizen, so that the usual flag of truce and demand for surrender could be sent in. There was the expected refusal, and a consequent delay till morning. In the meantime, our trains were moving rapidly towards Florence. After daylight, the best possible demonstration without too much exposure of our men was made, and was succeeded by another demand and another refusal to surrender. As General Granger expected to be attacked by the whole of Forrest’s command, as had been intimated to him under the last flag of truce, he ordered women and children to be removed from the city, so as to avoid a bombardment by all of Forrest’s artillery. There was great commotion and distress among the non-combatants, who had no means of finding out that they were really in no danger. The Federal artillery was sending an occasional shot, perhaps for the purpose of getting the range of our lines. One of these went straight down the pike leading west, along which a few people were moving. I saw two ladies and a boy abandon their carriage and advance rapidly through the open field in which I was standing, leaving the colored driver to get out of harm’s way by rapid driving. Riding forward, I noticed that they were greatly excited and badly frightened. The party turned out to be old friends of mine, the wife of Professor Mayhew and son and Miss Sue Murphy, who became, after the war, the plaintiff in an historical lawsuit against the government for damage and loss of property at Decatur, in which she sustained her plea, I directed them how to get to the rear, and around to where their carriage had probably gone. When the command drew off and took the road to Athens, I came upon this same party, who informed me that their trunks had been ransacked and their horses taken by some of our own men. I soon found the horses, and fastened the outrage upon men whom I knew. I lost no time in reporting the matter to Colonel Kelley, who ordered the horses to be turned over to a friend of the ladies.
It was found, when we reached Athens, that the fort, which had been surrendered to us only a few days before, was held by the Federals. There was some exchange of shots, and we had one man wounded. He caught in his mouth an ounce ball which had passed through the fleshy part of his jaw. He kept it as a nice little souvenir of a painful incident. Our part of Forrest’s command reached Florence on the 3d of October, and General Buford set about the task of getting to the south side of the river. The rains had been heavy in the mountains. The river was already high for the season, and still rising. There were only three ferryboats with which to do all the work in hand. Reports came in that overwhelming numbers of the enemy were on the move to encompass the capture or defeat of Forrest, who arrived on the 5th of October. I knew that the situation would be critical, if they pressed us before we accomplished the passage of the river, but I concluded to remain in Florence till the Seventh Regiment came in, when I could join my own company. It came in on the 7th, closely followed by the enemy. The Seventh, Second and Sixteenth Regiments stoutly resisted the advance of the Federals at Martin’s factory, on Cypress creek, just west of town. This was a strong position from which to resist a front attack, but a Federal brigade, crossing three miles above, came near taking us in reverse and capturing the three regiments. Our command had an exciting experience from there to old Newport, where Forrest, in person, was trying to get as many men and horses as possible across to an island thickly set with timber and cane. From the shore to the island was fully two hundred feet. The horses were made to swim this place. In the absence of Lieutenant-Colonel Taylor, who was wounded and sick, the regiment was commanded by Captain H. C. McCutchen of Company H, who received orders from Forrest to save his men, if possible, in any practicable way. The Federals were then right on us in great numbers, and still another column was reported to be advancing east from Waterloo. We did not know but that we were practically in the clutches of the enemy. The anxiety of the men had reached a high pitch. There was a determination to ride out of the situation at almost any risk. I was glad that I knew the country well enough to guide the six companies present to safety, if immediate danger could be passed. I moved right off from the river, through woods and fields, with the command following at a lively gait. My purpose was to cross the Florence and Waterloo road before the two columns of the enemy could form a junction, in which case we should have to cut our way out or surrender. I knew that body of men would ride through or over any ordinary resistance in our front. When we crossed the Colbert’s Ferry road, I felt that one danger was passed, but not the main one. Sometimes we took advantage of country roads leading our way, but our course was north, regardless of roads. Our horses were smoking when we reached the desired highway, and we felt relieved when we saw the way clear. We halted to take a survey of the situation, and to perfect plans for getting into West Tennessee. It was decided to be best for the regiment to disperse, and the commander of each company to lead his men out of danger by whatever means he should think proper to adopt. Company D and Company E had gone into the service together, and it was natural that they should stand by each other in trouble. When these two companies got over into the hills of Wayne County, we hired a guerrilla guide, whom his followers called “Captain” Miller, to show us a place on the river where we could cross. His remuneration was a thousand dollars in Confederate money, which was likely more money of any kind than he had ever seen in one lump. The people along the route cheerfully furnished us with supplies. I remember, we went down Trace creek and across the headwaters of Buffalo, and reached the river at the mouth of Morgan’s creek, in Decatur County. Here was a booming river about a half mile wide, and no means of transportation but a large “dugout” some eighteen or twenty feet in length. We had grown about reckless enough now to try the impracticable and test the impossible. Three men with their horses and trappings were to make the first trip, two to bring back the boat, then three more men with their horses, to go with the two who had brought the boat back, and so on till all had crossed. Everybody worked. Two men took their places at the oars, while I sat in the stern, where I was to hold each horse by the bridle as he was pushed from the bank, which was four or five feet sheer down to the water. Little Black was the first to make the plunge. He made one futile effort to touch bottom, and sank up to his ears. I pulled him up by the reins, and slipped my right hand up close to the bits, so as to keep his nose above the water. He floated up on one side and became perfectly quiet. I soon had the noses of the other two close up to the boat. The men at the oars pulled for dear life against the booming tide, the swellings of which we could feel under the boat. Our object was to make an old ferry landing several hundred yards below. We had no fear for the horses now, for they were behaving admirably. Though the men at the oars exerted themselves to the limit, we missed the landing, and were carried some distance below it. When we did pull into shallow water, I turned the horses loose. My own horse was the first to mount a steep, slippery bank, where he shook himself, and, looking back, gave me a friendly nicker. The first trip was a success, and the men took on fresh courage. The work began at sunrise, and ended with darkness. It added greatly to our critical situation that the Federal gunboats were liable to pass up or down at any moment.
Forrest did not accomplish the chief object of the Middle Tennessee raid, as heretofore stated, which was the destruction of portions of the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, which connected Sherman’s army, at Atlanta, with its base of supplies. He said afterward that he killed and captured, upon an average, one man for every man he had in the fights. He tore up about one hundred miles of railroad, destroyed ten blockhouses, captured more supplies than his men could carry off and 800 horses, gathered up more than a thousand recruits, and marched five hundred miles in twenty-three days. He lost about three hundred men in killed and wounded.
That a little fun can be mixed up with the horrors of war was illustrated on this trip somewhere over in the hills of Wayne. James E. Wood’s little chestnut sorrel, the horse which had been tendered by his owner to Captain Tate, as related in the account of the fight at Ripley, and from which that gallant officer was shot, struck the frog of one foot against a stone and was rendered unserviceable. Austin Statler and Tom Joyner set about the task of helping their fellow-soldier to a remount. This was difficult to do in a country which had been stripped of all the good stock. The only animal available appeared to be a three-year-old, standing in an enclosure near an humble cottage. Statler, in his blandest manner, explained the situation to the mistress of the cottage, and alluded in earnest words to the fine points of the lame horse, which needed only a few days’ rest to restore him to his former condition of usefulness. No, no; the old lady couldn’t see it in the light in which it had been so earnestly presented. There were seven stout daughters standing by ready to assist their mother, who averred that the animal was “Sal’s colt,” and he couldn’t have it upon any terms whatever. Statler persisted until high words resulted, and the soldiers advanced towards “Sal’s colt.” Thoroughly aroused, and reinforced by her mother and sisters, Sal herself, a buxom lassie, now came to the rescue, cleared the fence at a bound, and sat astride of the bridleless colt. Victory now seemed to perch upon the banner of the females, but the soldiers, who had no idea of seeing their comrade hotfoot it along the roads of Wayne, moved to the assault, determined to capture the colt, but anxious to inflict no bruises upon their adversaries, who fought like wildcats. The contest was fast and furious, but in a class entirely by itself. There were blood and hair in evidence, but no mortal casualties. There were pinching and twisting, wrenching and wringing, clutching and hugging, yes, hugging, till the female side had mostly lost its wind and Sal, grasping the mane of the colt with the grip of despair, while she planted her heels in its sides, was gently lifted from her position by the gallant trio. “It was all over but the shouting.” The bit was forced and the girth was buckled. “Sal’s colt” had changed its politics and been mustered into the service of the Confederacy. The old lady intimated that “men folks” were at hand and ready to avenge all her wrongs. Statler, as a precautionary measure, rode out in the direction indicated by her and saw three armed citizens approaching. With cocked gun and ready pistol he commanded them, with assumed bravado, to lead the way to the cottage, while he assured them that he, too, had “a whole gang in reach.” Tableau vivant: An elderly man “breathing out threatening and slaughter” and declaring that he would have satisfaction before the sun went down; two lusty young men with guns and in the poise of interested spectators; six bouncing young girls well distributed in the ensemble and joining in a chorus of abuse; an elderly woman standing in the kitchen door and wiping the sweat from her neck and ears with her checked apron, beaten but not conquered; Sal perched upon the top rail of the front fence in the attitude of a show girl about to dance a hornpipe, and gazing at three vanishing cavaliers just then turning a corner and making time to overtake the command; lastly, the abandoned warhorse, which had heard the guns at Tishomingo, stripped of his trappings and “turned out to grass,” was standing meekly by and looking as if he might be thinking he had no friends at all.
We had not more than gotten the last three men with their horses and accoutrements across the Tennessee river, as related in the preceding chapter, than two gunboats and two transports came puffing along. It was easy to conjecture what would have happened to five men and three horses, if our little craft with its burden had been met in midstream by the gunboats. And yet we had been taking the risk of being sunk or captured all that day. We rode leisurely to Bolivar and the men dispersed to their homes for a much needed rest.
Just as I was congratulating myself that I would have a few days for recuperation, several carbuncles developed on my body as a result of poor food and exposure. This affliction virtually placed me on furlough from the middle of October till the middle of January. In the meantime, Forrest’s Cavalry had assembled at Corinth and gone on an expedition to the Tennessee river, which finally culminated in the movement with Hood to Nashville. Others have written graphic accounts of how Forrest with a force of three thousand men, cavalry and artillery, boldly attacked transports and gunboats and concluded his operations in that quarter by the total destruction of an immense depot of supplies at Johnsonville. He said himself that he captured and destroyed in two or three days four gunboats, fourteen transports, twenty barges, twenty-six pieces of artillery which, with stores destroyed, amounted to a money value of over six million dollars. He captured 150 prisoners, while his own loss was two killed and nine wounded. Altogether this was one of the most remarkable campaigns of the whole war, and I have always somewhat regretted that I could not participate in its operations. As for the expedition to Nashville which followed, I have always considered myself fortunate in having missed it. The history of it is a pitiful story and well worth reading, particularly by those who did not hear it from the lips of hundreds of brave men who gave vivid accounts of personal experiences. I began to hear these pitiful accounts early in January from soldiers returning to their homes in an utter state of demoralization. I began to consider whether or not I could recover my health and join Company E ere there was a collapse of the Confederacy. However, as the men of our regiment had been permitted to go to their homes for a few days, there was time for consideration.
When I reported for duty at Verona, Miss., late in January, 1865, Colonel Richardson was in command of Rucker’s Brigade, the ranks of which were filling up surprisingly well, considering the heavy blow we had received in the disastrous repulse of our army in front of Nashville. Most of our men had spent some time at home and came in with new clothes and fresh horses. The rations were good but we had no tents. We constructed rude shelters with whatever timber was at hand, principally fence rails, and over this spread our rubber cloths. Then a good layer of corn stalks was placed for a floor and on this our army blankets. With a roaring log fire in front, we were measurably comfortable. We really had little to do for some time. It was in this camp that it got to the ears of Colonel Richardson that A. S. Coleman, our sutler, who kept a variety of articles in store, was dealing out to the boys a poor article of Confederate whisky. Richardson determined to confiscate the sutler’s whole stock of goods, and sent an officer to seize them. The members of Company E went to the rescue and, it being dark, succeeded, while Coleman was parleying with the officer, in “purloining” all the goods on hand, which they carried out through the back of the tent and kept concealed till the trouble blew over. Coleman was soon doing business at the old stand.
In February, 1865, Forrest was raised to the rank of Lieutenant-General and given the command of about ten thousand cavalry widely dispersed in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Joe Johnston had superseded Hood and had transferred the remnant of our army further east to place it in the path of Sherman who was marching north from Savannah through South Carolina. So far as our part of the country was concerned, it seemed to me then that the Federals would have had little trouble in sending in a large force and taking possession. With Forrest it was a case of gathering up the fragments, but man never went about anything more earnestly. His work had a telling effect. By a complete reorganization of the cavalry, the troops from each State were thrown into brigades and divisions of their own. This may have added somewhat to the morale of the command, but I do not know that it improved the fighting qualities of the men to any great extent. Certainly there was no better fighting body of men than Rucker’s Old Brigade, composed of Tennesseeans and Mississippians. By the new arrangement, the Tennessee Division was commanded by W. H. Jackson. His two brigade commanders were A. W. Campbell and T. H. Bell. This division now had fat horses, good clothes and good rations. But every man there knew that our quasi holiday would be of short duration. Though the Confederacy seemed tottering to its fall, Jackson’s Division was ready for a campaign. It did not have long to wait. Twelve thousand cavalry were assembled in North Alabama under General James H. Wilson, one of the most capable and enterprising commanders in the Federal army. Accompanied by an immense supply train and a commensurate amount of artillery, this best equipped of all Federal commands set out about the 22nd of March for Selma, Ala., which was a depot for Confederate stores and the location of large factories of arms and ammunition. Being provided with a pontoon train it had little trouble in crossing the swollen streams. It moved rapidly in a southeasterly direction. It was the task of Forrest to move east from Columbus, Miss., fall upon Wilson’s right flank, defeat such detachments as he could cope with, destroy his trains, if possible, and finally beat him to Selma. Forrest’s plans involved the possibility of throwing his whole force against that of Wilson in some favorable position east of Tuskaloosa and to risk the consequences of the greatest cavalry battle ever fought on the continent. How near we subordinates were to witnessing a great event impending and yet how ignorant we were of it! Unforeseen difficulties lay in Forrest’s path while he was apparently making super-human efforts to concentrate his forces for a great battle in which his enemy would number fully two to one. It is painful even to conjecture what the consequences of such a battle might have been. But I anticipate. Prior to the movement towards Selma I had been detailed for duty with the provost guard of Campbell’s Brigade, which was agreeable to me because of the fact that I had not entirely recovered my health, and would have more privileges on the road, though no less responsible service. Our chief duty was to move in the rear and to prevent straggling. It turned out on this expedition to be a position of great danger.
We passed through Columbus, Miss., and took the road to Tuskaloosa. We moved all day and much of the night over muddy roads, miry swamps and rugged hills. Our great commander had the details all in his mind, but we had only a vague idea that we would have to fight at almost any turn in the road. This was an army of veterans, who had been tried in the fire. Jackson’s Division was a long way from home, but was ready for a last desperate struggle in a strange land. It looked like a forlorn hope, for Lee was falling back upon Appomattox and Johnston was in a death struggle with Sherman. But the defeat of Wilson’s cavalry would mean its destruction and the capture of his trains. Such a victory here might change the face of things within a few hours, as we had no idea that any one of our armies would so soon surrender. Anyhow, the men were there to obey orders and to do their whole duty. We were at Sipsey river and the column was moving slowly through its slashy bottom. A weird looking place where the foliage of the heavy timber largely shut out the light of day. A rumor came down the line that two soldiers, at the instance of a drum-head court-martial, had been shot to death for desertion. As the provost guard closed up the column it passed the dead men lying one on each side of the road with their heads against trees. Their hats had been placed over their faces, but labels written in large letters told the story: Shot for Desertion. It was said at the time that this was intended as a deterrent to desertion. It may have had the effect intended. It would be passing over it most kindly to state that the affair caused a profound sensation. It would be nearer the truth to say that, with the rank and file, it met with pronounced condemnation. Only one other writer has touched upon this incident, and he was not on the ground as I was. Therefore, he could not speak personally concerning what might be called the popular verdict of the soldiers. He does say, in substance, that the execution was extremely unfortunate, though coming within the province of military law, in that the declaration of the victims that the older was above the military age and the younger was under it turned out to be true in every particular. It was a matter of common talk that the men were Kentuckians, who had nothing on their persons by which they could be identified, and that there was no proof adduced to show that they belonged to our cavalry. They were possibly deserters from some arm of the Confederate service, but the prevailing sentiment, which is a force to be reckoned with in a volunteer army, was that a drum-head court-martial, instituted on the march and when the command was practically in the presence of the enemy, could not exercise that calm consideration and quiet deliberation required in a case where human life was involved. While, as a general proposition, it were well not to tear open old wounds, yet it were also well to state exact facts in history, in order that the mistakes of the past may enable those who come after us to avoid errors in the future. The power of all Confederate courts-martial was flitting fast, and the bloody hand, under all the circumstances in this case, might well have been stayed. Everybody was glad to change the scene and the subject of thought, for death has no attractive form. Tuskaloosa was a fine old Southern town, with palatial homes, wide streets, shaded by three rows of water oaks, well kept yards, extensive flower gardens, and a large complement of pretty women. The gates were open and the city was ours for the asking. They had never seen a Southern army, and more than that, they had never imagined the like of Forrest’s cavalry as, brimful of fight, it moved along their lovely streets. Alas! all this, within three days, was to be in the grasp of men who did not hesitate to apply the torch even to the State University.
As we entered the extensive piney woods section east of Tuskaloosa, we were critically near the right flank of the enemy, pushing on towards Selma. Croxton’s Federal Brigade had been detached to destroy the Confederate supplies at Tuskaloosa and burn the university. It so happened that this brigade dropped into the road between the rear of Jackson’s Cavalry and the front of his artillery and wagon train. If the Federals had continued to move west, they inevitably would have captured the trains. They turned east to follow the cavalry, and Jackson being apprised of this made the proper disposition to fall upon them in camp in the early morning. In the meantime, Croxton had changed his mind and had turned again to march, as luck would have it, by another road to Tuskaloosa, without knowing that he had our trains so nearly within his grasp. As it was, Jackson ran on his rear company in camp and captured men, horses, and ambulances. Croxton fled north with his command, crossed the Warrior forty miles above, turned south and reached Tuskaloosa, where he carried out his orders. This was the 3rd day of April, and he was now so far separated from his chief that he did not join him at Macon, Ga., till the 20th of May. When Jackson turned to pursue Croxton, unfortunately another detachment under one of the Fighting McCooks, took possession of the bridge over the Cahawba, where Forrest, with his escort, had already crossed, and where we were expected to cross. They boldly came to the west side and put themselves across our path at the village of Scottsville. That night the woods seemed to be full of them. Some of our men, getting out to do the usual little “buttermilk foraging” met some Yanks at a farm house where Johnny Reb thought he had the exclusive privilege. There was a tacit consent to a truce while they shared such good things as the farmer had to contribute. The next morning, April 2nd, Bell’s Brigade of Jackson’s Division collided with a part of McCook’s men and rapidly pushed them back to Centerville. They completely blocked our way by burning the bridge over the Cahawba. It was now impossible for Jackson to join Forrest on the road from Montevallo to Selma, where with Roddy’s Cavalry and Crossland’s small brigade of Kentuckians, he and escort were fighting to the death to hold Wilson in check till the Confederate divisions could be concentrated and hurled against those of the Federals in one grand conflict. The Federals, having intercepted certain dispatches of Forrest and Jackson, knew just how to subvert their plans. Wilson, seeing that there was now no chance for Jackson to fall upon his rear, according to the original plan of Forrest, pushed his forces with all his energy in the direction of Selma. Forrest, being reinforced by some militia and two hundred picked men of Armstrong’s Brigade of Chalmers’ Division, on the first day of April, did some of the fiercest fighting of the war, much of it hand to hand. At Bogler’s creek near Plantersville, it was at close quarters with two thousand against nine thousand, but the Confederates had the advantage of position. The Federal advance was a regiment of veteran cavalry who charged with drawn sabers. The Confederates received them at first with rifles and closed in with six-shooters, most of the men having two each. The Confederates being forced back by a flank movement, there was a bloody running fight for several miles. From the desperate character of the fighting here, it might be inferred that the great contest, planned to take place along these lines, would have been terrific, if Forrest, Jackson, Chalmers and Roddy could have joined their forces.
If all the forces named had been concentrated, as Forrest had intended, somewhere between Montevallo and Selma, Ala., would have been fought the cavalry battle of the ages. Who is not glad the whole plan miscarried?
When the Confederates were crowded into Selma the next day, their lines were so attenuated that the Federals, with overwhelming numbers, assailed the works and carried them, though with very heavy loss. Night was coming on as the contest ended and the streets were filled with Federals and Confederates in the greatest possible confusion. This enabled Forrest and Armstrong, with hundreds of their men, to find an opening through which they rode out and escaped in the darkness. In doing this, Forrest cut down his thirtieth man in the war, which closed his fighting career.
I had more than ordinary anxiety in regard to the fighting in front of Selma, as I had a brother with Armstrong and a brother-in-law with Roddy. The former escaped with Armstrong, but the latter, Wiley Hawkins of Florence, a mere youth, the last of four brothers to die during the war, was killed at Bogler’s creek.
With Forrest’s Cavalry the war was over. His command had fired its last gun at Selma. At Marion, Greensboro, Eutaw, and finally at Sumterville, where Jackson’s Division had its last camp, we found the very best type of Southern people. They had really seen very little of the war, though sorrow had been brought to many a home by the casualties of battle. Here was a lovely country in which a war-worn soldier could sit down to commune with nature, where she was never more beautifully and bountifully manifested in birds, flowers and fertile fields. It was so restful to the soul to know that we were done with guns and bloody work. The present was the present, the future was the future. We were taking care of the present. We would take care of the future when we got to it. Whipped or not, we had loved ones at home and were going to them; whipped or not, we felt assured that we had done our duty to our prostrate country, which never had more than the shadow of a chance for the success of a separate existence; whipped or not, we could face those who had urged us to go to the war, and say that we had fought it to a finish. It perhaps seems strange to many that there was no weeping or wailing, at least about where I was, because of the defeat of Southern hopes. I account for this upon the hypothesis that both officers and privates had been, for nearly two years, contemplating not only the possibility but the probability of defeat, and were therefore mentally prepared for almost anything which fate should decree. Certainly, the consensus of opinion was, that many mistakes had been made by the civil and military authorities during the four years of war, but there was no intense spirit of criticism. Whether a Confederate soldier thought that everything possible had been done, with the limited resources at hand, or not, he was very apt to be of the opinion that some means should have been brought into play to stop the war long before it was. I am of the opinion that the diligent student of history has come to the same conclusion. Why so many held on so tenaciously to a cause that had grown so desperate, I have tried to show on other pages. Duty and honor are the chief elements in a long story, though this statement of the case can hardly be so well appreciated by the present generation as by the active participants in the war.
The following excerpt is taken from Destruction and Reconstruction, by Lieutenant-General Dick Taylor, the only son of the last Whig president, and a man whose mental acumen was of the sharper kind, and whose varied learning would have graced any court: “Upon what foundations the civil authorities of the Confederacy rested their hopes of success, after the campaign of 1864 fully opened, I am unable to say; but their commanders in the field, whose rank and position enabled them to estimate the situation, fought simply to afford statesmanship an opportunity to mitigate the sorrows of inevitable defeat.”
This comports well with what I heard Confederate States Senator James Phelan of Mississippi, say, more than forty years ago, to the effect that the politicians at Richmond consumed most of their time in discussing abstruse questions of constitutional law and other subjects that might well have been deferred till the armies in the field could settle the question of independence. I took it that he thought there was little use for a constitution in a time of revolution or rebellion, but the chief concern should have been the perfecting of such measures as would strengthen our armies and achieve victories. It was well known that there were jealousies and dissensions among the officers of our armies from the beginning to the close of the war. What was at first war gossip became of record as soon after the surrender as some of these were able to contribute to our current literature. Posterity will be asking why some of the serious accusations made were not, at the proper time, brought to the notice of a court-martial.
When the future historian comes to make up the sum total of the causes which led to the downfall of the Confederacy, he will have only a written record to draw from, and will possibly be perplexed in his endeavor to pronounce an honest judgment in regard to men who, though differing so widely in opinion, were believed to be brave and patriotic.
When I was a boy in Anson County, North Carolina, where I was born “with a full suit of hair” about the time “the stars fell,” I had two brothers living in Sumter County, Alabama, which was said to be six hundred miles away. That seemed to me then to be about as much as six thousand miles seem now. It was an inscrutable order of Providence that, after having lived in four other States, attended two colleges, become the father of a family, and served four years in a great civil war, I should lay down my arms in that same Sumter County.
The details of surrender were all arranged without the appearance of a Federal officer in our camp, the same being conducted in the most punctilious manner and without any effort to humiliate. We were pleased to learn that the same terms upon which Lee and Johnston had surrendered would be accorded to us. The officers retained their arms and horses and the men their horses. Blank paroles were furnished by the Federals. Those of Company E were filled out in my handwriting.
The ceremony of tearing up the flag, fashioned from the bridal dress of an Aberdeen lady, was gone through with and small bits of it distributed among the soldiers and officers of the Seventh Tennessee Regiment. I did not think then that this was exactly the thing to do and have regretted the proceeding since, particularly because of the liberality of the Federal government in restoring the captured flags of the Southern States. Ours was a regular confederate flag and made of such material that it could have been preserved indefinitely.
In our camp it was “pretty well, I thank you; how do you do yourself?” Billy Yank, Johnny Reb, or anybody else—a pleasant abandon in regard to environments and no thought of prolonging the war beyond the Mississippi or helping Maximilian to a throne in Mexico. We were going home. The direct road to Bolivar, Tenn., over two hundred miles in length, was uppermost in our minds. At Macon, Miss., we drew our last rations, which were bountiful, as there was now no need of economy, and we had a long road before us. The men were entirely without official restraint, but those of Company E preserved their organization till we reached Saulsbury, Tenn., where we gave the first friendly salute to Federal soldiers, and the men went their several ways. I was riding the last few miles with three of my former pupils. That dear good fellow and gallant little soldier, James E. Wood, the man who rode “Sal’s Colt,” but has been more recently a well known editor and a distinguished member of the Arkansas senate, turned off at Middleburg and left George Bright, now of Danville, Ky., and Billy Myrick, long since dead, with me to face the folks at home.
The transition from soldier to citizen was easy. By a dive into my ancient wardrobe, I secured several articles of wearing apparel, among them a Prince Albert coat. I was not exactly a la mode, or whatever the French say, but with a new blockade hat I felt “mighty fine,” and doubtless looked as innocent of war as the Goddess of Peace. “Whatsoever cometh to your hands to do, do it with all your might.” I acted upon that. I opened a summer session of the Bolivar Male Academy in the railway station on the 31st of May, 1865. The Academy building had been defaced by the Federal army to such an extent that it was untenable, and we had no cars running for more than three months. So much changed had conditions become that of the sixty-six pupils in school in May, 1861, only four, James J. Neely, Jr., George B. Peters, Jr., James Fentress, Jr., and Charles A. Miller, returned to greet me. Seventeen of the sixty-six entered the army, fourteen as members of Company E and three as members of other commands. Four of the fourteen were killed on the field and all of the others served till the close of the war. Eleven of the seventeen are dead and six are living.
The station was a pleasant place for a summer session and boys were so anxious for instruction that I was soon teaching seven hours a day. They wanted Latin and Greek and mathematics, and we went at them with a will. The roots of the verbs and the rules of syntax had only lain dormant in my own mind during the four years and were easily recalled. The work became so much a part of my life, and the homelike feeling of the schoolroom returned so readily, that an assurance of my forty-odd years of like employment would have come as a pleasing announcement. But so it is, the forty years and more have come and gone, and I am still walking among my fellows, hardly knowing how to put on the ways of an old man, but in good humor with all the world. I have concluded to conclude this book with the following conclusions:
1. That it is an everlasting pity the war was not averted because of the great mortality of good citizens on both sides, the backset given to the morals of the whole country, the sectional feeling engendered and likely to endure for a season, and the loss of wealth and prestige by the Southern people.
2. That the victors in a civil war pay dearly for their success in the demoralization of the people at large by having so numerous an element supported by the government; in the rascally transactions connected with army contracts; and in the enlargement of that class of pestiferous statesmen (?) who have been aptly described as being “invisible in war and invincible in peace.”
3. That the most peaceful of Southern men can be readily converted into the most warlike soldiers when convinced that they have a proper grievance; can march further on starvation rations and in all kinds of weather, and will take less note of disparity of numbers in battle than will any other soldiers on earth.
4. That the South, in the war period, was essentially a country of horseback riders, and her young men furnished the material out of which was formed, when properly handled, regiments of cavalry that were practically invincible, even when confronting an adversary of twice or thrice their own strength.
5. That Forrest’s men demonstrated the fact that Southern cavalrymen, fighting on foot, can meet, with good chances of victory, a superior number of veteran infantry in the open field.
6. That in cavalry operations, the most essential thing is a bold and clashing leader, who will strike furiously before the enemy has time to consider what is coming, and with every available man in action.
7. That Nathan Bedford Forrest, by his deeds in war, became an exemplar of horseback fighting, whose shining qualities might well become the measure of other deeds on other fields when war is flagrant.
8. That there is not an instance recorded where so large a body of defeated soldiers returned so contentedly to their former pursuits, “beating their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks;” yes, thousands of them going into the fields to plough and plant with the same horses they rode in battle.
9. That the unpreparedness of both sides at the beginning of the war emphasizes the necessity for a thorough preparedness of our united country for any emergency, that is to say, that while Uncle Sam needs not to be strutting around “with a chip on his shoulder,” and his hat cocked up on the side of his head, he should be able to say to “the other fellow” that he is rich in men and munitions, and, moreover, has the finest navy that floats.
10. That having taken an humble part in a great war in which I ofttimes looked upon the pale faces of the dead and heard the groans of the wounded, having now had fifty years, from its beginning, to reflect upon its calamities, I am firmly of the opinion that all enlightened nations will finally come to arbitration in the settlement of international questions.
11. That no true picture of war can be drawn, either in words or on canvas, because of the elements so numerous and so complex to be considered. And even if this were possible, it would be a representation of a horrifying spectacle.
12. That the victorious shouts of men in battle bring small remuneration and poor consolation to the bereaved widows and orphans of their dead comrades at home.
13. That Gen. Grant, after a wonderful experience in the bloody work of war, knew himself thoroughly well when he uttered the memorable words:
“LET US HAVE PEACE.”
Fitted to the occasion and apt in expression, the reading of this address falls upon the ear like that of a classic, while it does not suffer by comparison with more pretentious compositions of its kind. Coming from an unlettered man at an eventful period, as did Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, or Chief Logan’s speech, though written in small compass, it leaves, like them, little else to be said. In sentiment, it is lofty and full of patriotic fire. In literary form, though somewhat rugged, like the character of its author, it exhibits qualities of a trained writer, especially in that it teems with cogent expressions in proper connection, which are fully explanatory of the situation. It is a heart-word of a great commander to his soldiers, an appeal to their better instincts, a piece of sound advice upon which they were quick to act. To be its author brings more renown than can equestrian statues or tablets in bronze.
Headquarters Forrest’s Cavalry Corps,
Gainesville, Ala., May 9, 1865.
Soldiers:—By an agreement between Lieutenant-General Taylor, commanding the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana, and Major-General Canby, commanding United States forces, the troops of this Department have been surrendered.
I do not think it proper or necessary, at this time, to refer to the causes which have reduced us to this extremity; nor is it now a matter of material consequence to us how such results were brought about. That we are beaten is a self-evident fact, and any further resistance on our part would be justly regarded as the very height of folly and rashness.
The armies of General Lee and General Johnston having surrendered, you are the last of all the troops of the Confederate States Army, east of the Mississippi river, to lay down your arms.
The cause for which you have so long and so manfully struggled, and for which you have braved dangers, endured privations and sufferings, and made so many sacrifices, is today hopeless. The government which we sought to establish and perpetuate is at an end. Reason dictates and humanity demands that no more blood be shed. Fully realizing and feeling that such is the case, it is your duty and mine to lay down our arms, submit to the powers that be, and aid in restoring peace and establishing law and order throughout the land.
The terms upon which you were surrendered are favorable, and should be satisfactory and acceptable to all. They manifest a spirit of magnanimity and liberality on the part of the Federal authorities, which should be met, on our part, by a faithful compliance with all the stipulations and conditions therein expressed. As your Commander, I sincerely hope that every officer and soldier of my command will cheerfully obey the orders given, and carry out in good faith all the terms of the cartel.
Those who neglect the terms and refuse to be paroled may assuredly expect, when arrested, to be sent North and imprisoned.
Let those who are absent from their commands, from whatever cause, report at once to this place, or to Jackson, Mississippi; or, if too remote from either, to the nearest United States post or garrison, for parole.
Civil war, such as you have passed through, naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred and revenge. It is our duty to divest ourselves of all such feelings; and, as far as in our power to do so, to cultivate friendly feelings toward those with whom we have so long contended, and heretofore so widely, but honestly, differed. Neighborhood feuds, personal animosities, and private differences should be blotted out; and when you return home, a manly, straightforward course of conduct will secure the respect even of your enemies. Whatever your responsibilities may be to government, to society, or to individuals, meet them like men.
The attempt made to establish a separate and independent Confederation has failed; but the consciousness of having done your duty faithfully and to the end will, in some measure, repay you for the hardships you have undergone.
In bidding you farewell, rest assured that you carry with you my best wishes for your future welfare and happiness. Without, in any way, referring to the merits of the cause in which we have been engaged, your courage and determination, as exhibited on many hard-fought fields, have elicited the respect and admiration of friend and foe. And I now cheerfully and gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness to the officers and men of my command, whose zeal, fidelity and unflinching bravery have been the great source of my success in arms.
I have never, on the field of battle, sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers; you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the Government to which you have surrendered can afford to be, and will be, magnanimous.
N. B. Forrest, Lieutenant-General.
After a lapse of forty-six years, the author readily recalls to mind the names of most of the one hundred and eighty-nine men who were, first and last, enlisted in Company E, Seventh Tennessee Cavalry. As a token, either of friendship, begotten by association in the hardships of camp and march, or of gallantry on the field, these names are herewith preserved:
Captains J. J. Neely, W. J. Tate, J. P. Statler, Lieutenants T. G. Patrick, W. W. McCarley, Leonidas Bills, J. Fiske Weaver, T. N. Crawford, Hardy Harris, W. C. Mashburn, and V. F. Ruffin.
Dr. Joe F. Allen, John Allen, John W. Bradford, Dr. F. N. Brown, R. U. Brown, E. P. Blaylock, Stanton Blaylock, R. L. Billington, Geo. P. Bright, Sam Breden, Tom Boucher, J. E. Carraway, N. B. Cross, W. H. Caruth, George Campbell, A. S. Coleman, S. H. Clinton, W. T. Campbell, Israel Dougherty, J. B. David, John W. Duncan, D. E. Durrett, R. D. Durrett, James F. Dunlap, William Elkins, Joe Erwin, James Fentress, Francis Fentress, John T. Fortune, William Fulghum, J. V. Field, Alex. Gilchrist, James H. Grove, Sam Gibson, J. W. Gillespie, Thomas Gillespie, Jesse Gibson, Orris Harris, James Hackney, Morris Hartigan, J. T. Hundley, C. L. Harrison, Mat Hornsby, N. E. Hughes, W. C. Hardy, Jerome Hill, J. Tom Joyner, John J. Lambert, Morris Lay, W. C. Lewis, C. B. Linthicum, William McKinney, David McKinney, P. H. McKinnie, B. F. Mashburn, J. E. Mashburn, Dr. R. M. Mayes, W. T. Myrick, James Moore, W. R. Nelson, Dr. J. W. Nelson, Charles R. Neely, R. K. Neel, G. C. Neil, Sol Phillips, William A. Polk, A. H. D. Perkins, Dock Pipkin, Austin M. Statler, Tom Turney, P. B. Tatum, R. G. Tatum, Sherrill Tisdale, Eli Terry, W. A. Taylor, James H. Weatherly, and James E. Wood.