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Sketches of the Third Maryland Artillery.

By Captain W. L. Ritter.


Commanders of artillery companies experienced great difficulty in obtaining sufficient forage for their horses during the two last years of the war, not because of short supplies in the country, but because the quarter-masters' department failed to furnish it in sufficient quantities.

The organization of that department was defective in consequence of the appointment of incompetent officers and assistants. Men who were afraid to expose their hides to the enemy's bullets obtained through favoritism lucrative positions in the department of subsistence, hence the disastrous consequences.

That the reader may comprehend some of the difficulties that beset the artillery branch of the service, I copy the following communications of Captain John B. Rowan:

Headquarters Rowan's battery, near Kingston, Ga., Jan'y 28, 1864.
Major,—On my return from furlough I found the stock of [434] my battery affected with some fatal disease, fourteen horses having died within the three weeks of my absence and two to-day. Two more will die to-day or to-morrow at farthest, and several more are afflicted in a similar manner to those which have died.

The disease with which my stock have died seems to be an epidemic catarrh; known to be fatal unless the proper remedies are employed to check it, which remedies cannot be employed in the army for want of them. This disease was produced by the want of feed and the bad condition of what we did get, and the horses in the condition naturally produced by this bad feed, being then exposed to the very severe weather experienced a few weeks back, were in the very state to be afflicted with this fatal malady, and hence the result.

I have now but forty-eight well horses (and they are very poor) and ten unfit for any service. If I had a field with meadow land in it, and the horses turned in it, carefully separating the diseased horses from those not diseased, I think I might save nearly all the balance of the stock, but I am fully convinced if the stock remains tied up as it has been, with no proper medicine (and the proper medicine cannot be obtained), nearly all, if not all the remainder will die; I therefore respectfully ask that the inspector be invited to inspect the horses of this battery at an early day.

I have three wagons, two six mule and one four mule, for which I have but twelve mules, three of which are unfit for service. In case I had to move I would not have mules enough actually to pull the empty wagons. I have kept up my forage teams by relieving them with my forge and battery wagon teams, until I have well nigh lost all. The poor feed has affected them as well as the horses, and unless my teams are filled up I shall soon have none. I either wish to give up my large wagons or have six mules to each. To keep up my stock I want seven more good mules for the teams I now have. I ought to have more wagons and cannot complete my stabling under two months with the wagons I now have. I have no mule harness at all for my forge and battery wagons, although application after application has been made for them. My mules have been almost ruined by the artillery harness which I was compelled to use. No blame is attributable to the battalion quarter-master, but the crime is higher up upon the roll, his superiors in the same line. I need twenty artillery bridles and a coil of manilla rope for picket and halters (the horses having actually eaten up bridle and halter, leather and rope during the famine), also three saddles and a few [435] collars—these things in addition to what I made a requisition for and have not been supplied.

Several of my men are actually barefoot, a number of others nearly so. The quarter-master says he cannot draw any. What is the remedy for this? I also need salt for the horses.

These are some of wants not already made apparent by former requisitions, and I respectfully request you, Major, to have them supplied.

Respectfully submitted,

John B Rowan, Captain commanding Battery. To Major Joseph Palmer, commanding Battalion of Artillery Stevenson's Division.


Respectfully forwarded.

Joseph Palmer, Major commanding Battalion Artillery Stevenson's Division.


Headquarters Stevenson's division, February 1st, 1864.
Respectfully returned. An inspector will be sent to ascertain what is needed, and why the bridles, saddles, collars, &c., which were new a few weeks since, have been destroyed. The officer in charge of the battery will be held accountable for the loss.

Every effort is being made to get shoes for the command, and the artillery shall have its proportion as soon as received. Clothing can be obtained on proper requisition in a short time. Let the quarter-master make requisition for salt for horses. General Order No. 17 prescribes the quantity of transportation to batteries and no more can be obtained.

By command of Major-General Stevenson,

G. A. Haywood, A. C. C.

head-quarter's Rowan's battery, near Dalton, Ga., April 10th, 1864.
Major,—I respectfully submit for your consideration a few facts in regard to the feed furnished the stock of this battalion. I [436] have been in the Tennessee army since last November and can truly say during the whole of that time the stock of my command has not been half fed. In some instances the horses going for two days at a time without anything to eat. Rotten corn, half rations at that, with no fodder in December and January. Full rations of corn and one pound of fodder, sometimes, (bad at that) in February and March.

I have just received a good lot of horses, which I cannot keep in condition unless I get something to feed them on. I have my horses as well groomed and otherwise cared for as can be, but good grooming and other necessary attention will not feed them. Corn alone will not keep horses in condition; they will not eat rations of corn if no long feed is furnished. Horses fed with corn alone are more liable to disease, and in fact cannot be kept healthy.

It is a shame to drain the country of horses and then starve them. It cripples the resources of the country without any good, which no one has a right to do. If this system of starvation was unavoidable I would not complain, but when the whole of middle and southern Georgia is full of fodder, the tax in kind actually rotting along the line of the principal railroad accessible to the army, what reason is there that feed cannot be furnished in abundance. I have seen with my own eyes hundreds and thousands of bales of good fodder actually rotting for want of attention. Where's the fault?

The quarter-masters say short transportation. This cannot be, for if it be so, then it is an acknowledgment at once that the Grand Army of Tennessee cannot be fed. Is it absolutely necessary in order to feed this army to have a railroad? Pshaw! How were armies fed before the day of railroads? Hoping that something will be done to properly supply our wants, I remain

Yours &c.,

John B. Rowan, Captain commanding Battery. Major J. W. Johnston, commanding Johnston's Battalion of Light Artillery.


Headquarters Johnston's battalion Artillery, Hoods' corps, April 11th, 1864.
Respectfully forwarded. The horses of this battalion are as well groomed and attended to as is possible, all the officers being fully [437] alive to the importance of this, and none more so than Captain Rowan. It is impossible, however, that horses can improve unless more and better fodder is issued; and the same thing is true as regards the mules of this battalion. The stock refuse to eat the full ration of corn, and there are a number of cases of scours. We have had no fodder at all for four days past, and the last issue of five pounds to the ration was so rotten as to be almost worthless.

John W. Johnston, Major Commanding.


Headquarters Artillery, Hood's corps, April 12th, 1864.
Respectfully forwarded and attention of Brigadier-General commanding earnestly asked to within.

R. F. Beckham, Col. Artillery.


head-quarter's Artillery, April 12, 1864.
My most serious attention is being given this matter. I have urged its importance to the proper authorities and have every hope that something can be accomplished.

Respectfully returned.

F. A. Shoup, Brigadier-General.

Headquarters Johnston's battalion Artillery, in the field, August 30, 1864.
Col. R. F. Beckham, Chief Artillery Army of Tennessee.
Colonel,—I would respectfully make the following statement, as it seems from what you said to Lieutenant W. A. Russell yesterday that you blamed me for not reporting to you the condition of the stock of Johnston's battalion. I did not know before that it was even proper, much less my duty to report direct to you. I have reported every day since I have been in command of the battalion to Lieutenant-Colonel Hallonquist the amount of forage received each day, and the condition of the animals. I also reported to him several times that if the battalion received no more forage for its stock, that it could not move in a few days. I at last [438] reported to him on Saturday that our battery could not move, and that there was not a battery in the command that could make a day's march. I also had Captain Berry to inspect the horses of the battalion, and told him how the horses were fed before I assumed command of the battalion, that I reported every day to Captain Corput the condition of my horses. This is my defence, and if any one has made more strenuous exertion to prevent the government from starving its own stock, I would like to know who he is. The threat from an officer occupying the position that you do, that we shall not have any more horses when we lose what we have, may be all right, it is not for me to say, I simply say this, that I hope we will not get any more unless they can be better fed. I know that I am doing wrong by reporting direct to you, but under the circumstances I know you will excuse me.

Very respectfully your obedient servant,

John B. Rowan, Captain Commanding.


Headquarters Artillery, Army of Tennessee, August 30, 1864.
Captain,—The within communication handed me this morning. In my reply to Lieutenant Russell yesterday I meant to say, and did say that there will be no horses furnished to artillery (not to you especially) but to no one for the reason that horses are not to be had. I did not find fault with you for failing to report direct to me. I don't desire you to do so, because such a course would be irregular. I stated simply that no report of this great deficiency had been made to me, nor has a proper report been yet made of it.

The ‘threat’ you are pleased to say I made in regard to furnishing horses was a simple statement of the fact that the supply of horses is practically exhausted. If to threaten, however, would cause a proper degree of care and attention to be given the animals I should not hesitate to use that course.

I admire your independence in ‘wishing that no more horses may be sent up here to be starved.’

Respectfully your obedient servant,

R. F. Beckham, Colonel Commanding. Captain Rowan, commanding Battalion.


It will readily be seen that some one high in authority in the quarter-masters' department was to blame for this state of affairs. Captain Rowan says that he saw ‘with his own eyes thousands of bales of good fodder actually rotting along the line of the principal railroad accessible to the army, for want of attention.’

The officers of the subsistence department cannot say that short transportation was the cause of insufficient supplies, for at this time the army was in winter quarters at Dalton, Ga., and the cars were not used for the transportation of troops, but were used exclusively for supplies, except a few furloughed and sick men.

Notwithstanding the complaints of the artillery officers, the forage question remained about the same until the close of the war, except an occasional feast obtained on the march in the rich valleys of Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. The horses were made to feel that they had friends when the artillerists had access to provender. Such feasts were few and far between.

Lieutenant Doncaster's adventure.

After the surrender of Vicksburg, Miss., Pemberton's army was paroled, and at Enterprise, Miss., the troops were furnished a thirty days furlough and instructed to report at the end of that time at such places as the commanding General had designated.

About twenty-five members of the Third Maryland Artillery were from East Tennessee, and at the expiration of the thirty days a number of them failed to return. During the summer of 1863 the Federals occupied a portion of East Tennessee and there was no communication by railroad between Dalton, Ga., and Bristol, Tennessee, therefore the only route left open for these men to return to their command was by the way of North Carolina. Captain Rowan learned that they, rather than return by that long circuitous route, had joined a cavalry company that was then operating in the neighborhood of Jonesboro, Tennessee.

It will be remembered by all who served in East Tennessee during the war, that small parties could resist the progress of a considerable force in many parts of that country, in consequence of the undulating and mountainous nature of its surface. Thousands of acres of land still retained their primitive forests, and to say that some of these forests were wild, is a mild term. Chimney-top, Log, Black and House Mountains, were some of the local names by which these mountains were known to the inhabitants who dwelt in the [440] valleys near them. Some of the streams that meandered by them were the Watauga, Holston, Clinch, and French Broad rivers, and these streams would rise rapidly during the rain storms in the spring and fall.

The progress of the troops was often arrested by the rapid rise of these rivers, much to the chagrin of officers and men. It will readily be seen by this rapid outline that East Tennessee was a desolate country for military operations, and, to make bad worse, a Union sentiment prevailed to a great extent among the inhabitants of that entire section; therefore, both Union and Confederate found friends and enemies in every neighborhood.

To protect the Southern sympathizers and to arrest absentees and deserters a considerable force of cavalry was kept there.

Captain Rowan obtained permission to send Lieutenant J. W. Doncaster, of the Third Maryland, to East Tennessee for the absentees of his battery. A leave of absence of twenty days had been granted him, but he failed to return at the expiration of that time, owing to unavoidable delays occasioned by circumstances which are as follows: A short time after Lieutenant Doncaster arrived in East Tennessee Captain Burlesson, of the U. S. A., who commanded a company of bushwhackers, learned that he and Birdwell, a Confederate enrolling officer, were stopping at the residence of Mr. Abraham Fleenor. One dark, stormy night, early in October, 1864, Burlesson and his gang proceeded to the house of Mr. Fleenor and demanded admittance, but were peremptorily refused. He declared that if the door was not immediately opened he would beat it down. The door was not opened, and he carried his threat into execution. During this time Lieutenant Doncaster, who was sleeping in a room on the lower floor, arose, dressed himself and went up stairs, determined if they came up to defend himself. Burlesson insisted that he should come down, but the Lieutenant told him that if he had any business with him he knew where to find him. Burlesson then said, ‘I know how to bring him down,’ and went into the next room, brought out a feather bed and cut it open, saying he would set it on fire and ‘smoke him down.’ At this juncture a young lady, one of Mr. Fleenor's daughters, stepped forward and told Burlesson he should not set the bed on fire. Whereupon he struck her on the head with a pistol, which caused the discharge of one of the loads, that took effect in the ceiling. Still she bravely maintained her ground, determined, if possible, to prevent the ‘smoking’ process. Lieutenant Doncaster, on hearing this contention, decided [441] to come down, but before doing so he slipped his pistol into his boot, and, cutting a hole in the lining of his coat, secreted his orders between the lining and the cloth of the coat and thus saved them

Upon his surrender his hands were tied behind him by his captors, as were also Birdwell's, and the two were then tied together. Thus situated, they were marched fifteen miles over a rough, mountainous road. The night being a dark, stormy one, they could not see their way, and every now and then one or the other would slip down, of course bringing his fellow-prisoner down with him. In this way they were considerably bruised. Birdwell was six feet six inches high, and Doncaster five feet ten, so it is easy to tell who had the worst of it. The two being tied together could not walk very rapidly, so about daylight they were separated and their hands unpinioned, that they might be enabled to quicken their pace and reach a certain point, which Burlesson was anxious to arrive at before the Confederate scouts were on the alert. Soon after his hands were untied Lieutenant Doncaster threw his pistol into a field as they were passing a fence corner. He disliked very much to part with this useful article, but it was chafing the flesh of his ankle to such an extent that he was glad to release himself from the pain which it had produced.

A few days after they reached their place of rendezvous the men asked Burlesson's permission to take the prisoners out and shoot them. To this request Burlesson would not assent, saying that when he went to Knoxville he would turn them over to the authorities there. About this time Lieutenant Doncaster received a camp parole, but Birdwell was kept under close guard, the former being told that if he made his escape, or attempted to do so, the latter would be shot.

Burlesson's men, to pass the time, played cards and visited the Union families in the vicinity. Lieutenant Doncaster joined them in these pastimes. He possessed the faculty, to a great extent, of adapting himself to surrounding circumstances, and soon gained the confidence of Burlesson and his men, as the sequel will show.

A lady in the neighborhood brought cakes, pies and other eatables to the prisoners, and invited them to her house. Lieutenant Doncaster obtained permission to visit at this lady's house, but Burlesson was not willing that Birdwell should go. Doncaster said he was opposed to going without Birdwell, that he would be responsible for his return, and to make sure of it, a guard could accompany them. [442]

Burlesson gave his consent, and the guard went with them. The lady at whose residence they visited, knowing the guard's propensity for strong drink, sent for some brandy, and gave him all he wanted. He partook so freely that he was, ere long, so intoxicated as to become drowsy, and finally went to sleep. Taking advantage of the insensible state of the sentinel, they left the house, accompanied by the lady, who showed them a by-path over the mountain, and, after going several miles, returned. To this lady they were indebted for their escape, and had it not been for her stratagem they would have been marched back that night as prisoners.

They first went to Mr. Fleenor's residence, where they were joyfully received, for the family had thought of them as dead, believing they would be murdered by their captors. From there they went to Jonesboro, where they informed the authorities of what had taken place, and furnished a complete list of the names of the bushwhackers. A company of cavalry was sent to capture the gang, Lieutenant Doncaster acting as guide. They experienced considerable difficulty in finding Burlesson, but at last Lieutenant Doncaster, believing that he was on the premises of a certain individual, where he was known to visit, threatened one of the servants considerably if he did not tell where he was concealed. The servant pointed to a building filled with straw. They went to the place and invited Burlesson to come out, Lieutenant Doncaster remarking that it was his turn to ‘smoke.’ On coming out, Burlesson spoke to the Lieutenant, remarking, ‘I am your prisoner. I treated you well when you were a prisoner of mine. I feel that I am in the hands of gentlemen, and am not afraid;’ to which Doncaster replied, ‘No, Captain Burlesson; you are not my prisoner, but a prisoner of the cavalry.’

Captain Burlesson was a very bad man. He had robbed the citizens of their horses, cattle and jewelry, and in the event of their resisting, had been known to burn their houses, and commit many depredations too horrible to mention.

Lieutenant Doncaster, at the head of a squad of cavalry, arrested a Confederate officer whom he believed to belong to some bushwhacking band. Before returning to camp he was released.

On arriving at camp he was put under arrest himself for what he had done, and sent to Wytheville, Va., to General John C. Breckinridge's headquarters. He made a full statement of his adventures to the General, who at once released him, and ordered him to return to his command. General Breckinridge explained to General Hood, by writing on the back of Doncaster's orders, the cause of the Lieutenant's detention in East Tennessee.

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