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Raid of Forrest's cavalry on the Tennessee river in 1864.

By Captain John W. Morton, Chief of Artillery in Forrest's Cavalry Corps
[Read before the Louisville Branch of the Southern Historical Society.]

Two batteries of the battalion of artillery, Forrest's Cavalry Corps, which I had the honor to command, namely, Walton's and Morton's, the former composed of two ten-pounder and two twenty-pounder Parrott guns which had been captured from the enemy by Forrest's cavalry, and the latter composed of four three-inch steel-rifled Rodman guns, which had also been captured by our command, reached the the mouth of the Sandy on the evening of October 28, 1864, accompanied by Buford's division of cavalry. This “raid” was evidently intended to delay the concentration of troops and stores by the Federals at Nashville, and to assist General Hood in his advance into Middle Tennessee.

After a careful reconnoissance by General Buford of the river front for several miles above and also below the mouth of Sandy, we selected the old Confederate Fort Heiman and Paris Landing and the mouth of [262] Sandy, the former place some five miles distant by river from the latter, as the most available from which to obstruct the navigation of the Tennessee river and cut off communication with Johnsonville.

These points were admirably suited to entrap any passing boat from above or below. Lieutenant W. O. Hunter's section — Walton's battery — of twenty-pounder “Parrotts” under the personal command of Captain E. S. Walton, was placed in the upper fort at Fort Heiman. Lieutenant T. S. Sale's section (Sale had been left sick in Mississippi)--Morton's battery — in charge of Lieutenant J. W. Brown, was placed on the river bank some 800 yards below Hunter's position, both sections being supported by General H. B. Lyon's brigade of cavalry. Lieutenant Joe M. Mason's section (Mason had been left sick at Jackson, Tenn.)--Morton's battery--Sergeant Lemuel Zarring in charge, was placed in position at Paris Landing, and Lieutenant Trantham's section — Walton's battery--Sergeant Crozier commanding, was ordered into position about 1,000 yards above Paris Landing, near the mouth of Sandy. The guns at these positions were supported by General Tyree H. Bell's brigade of cavalry, dismounted and deployed as skirmishers.

The entire command received strict orders not to disturb any transport, gunboat, or passing troops on the opposite bank of the river. The batteries being well masked and men concealed, at daylight of the 29th we awaited the coming of a gunboat or steamer with nervous delight. Our patience was not long taxed, for about 9 A. M. the transport Mazeppa, with a barge in tow, both heavily laden, unaware of the lurking danger, was allowed to pass Brown's three-inch “Rodmans,” and when well above us I ordered Brown to run his guns from under cover up close to the water's edge and open upon her. This was promptly followed by Walton's heavy “Parrotts,” and with such effect that her machinery was speedily disabled, and she drifted helplessly to the opposite bank, and was deserted by her crew. General Buford's trouble and anxiety to secure this valuable prize was soon relieved by Captain Frank P. Gracey, a gallant artillery officer, temporarily attached to Lyon's brigade, who offered to swim the river and bring the boat over, and soon the Captain, with the aid of a log, was breasting the current amid the shouts and plaudits of his comrades. Not to be outdone, private Dick Clinton, of Walton's battery, and private T. H. “Sack” Moore, of Morton's battery, dropping the equipments of the cannoneer, followed the noble example of Captain Gracey, threw themselves into the water and swam the swollen stream, reaching the Mazeppa just after Captain Gracey had taken possession of her. A yawl was lowered, [263] into which was placed a coil of rope, one end being attached to the Mazeppa. This was quickly carried to the opposite shore, where many willing hands were ready to draw the steamer across the river. General Buford, myself, and several others, taking possession of the yawl, pulled for the boat, and on boarding her, Walton's Confederate battery flag was nailed to the flag-staff, and under command of “CommodoreBuford, who strode the upper deck with the pride and grandeur of an old salt, we glided smoothly into port amid the cheers and rejoicings of the “Ragged Rebs,” who had an eye more to the shoes, blankets, clothing, hard-tack, and other good things with which she was heavily freighted, than to the glory of the capture. Approaching the landing, an amusing incident occurred, illustrative of the former characteristics of the gallant General (we believe he has since become a consistent member of the Christian church). Having discovered a two-gallon jug of choice old Kentucky Bourbon, he claimed this as his treasure trove, and was striding the deck, holding the jug to his mouth with a devotion peculiar to his impulsive nature, when some of the men cried out: “Hold on, General, save some of the whiskey for us.” He replied with a full ore rotundo: “Plenty of shoes and blankets for the boys, but just whiskey enough for the General.”

The greater part of the stores were safely discharged upon the bank by 5 P. M. About this time three Federal gunboats approached from below, and at long range shelled with their heavy guns our provisions with such vigor and precision that General Buford deemed it expedient to at once remove the much-needed stores to a place of safety and fire the steamer and barge, which being accomplished about sundown, the gunboats withdrew down the river. The importance of this capture may be seen when it is known that the stores removed from the Mazeppa and barge were almost sufficient to supply Hood's army, requiring the entire transportation force of Buford's division, added to that of all the wagons that could be impressed in the neighborhood, to remove them within two days and one night's constant work.

Early on the morning of the 30th the Anna, a transport, came down the river. She was allowed to pass the Paris Landing batteries and fall into the snare. As she approached Fort Heiman a few well-directed shots from Brown's “Rodmans” and from Walton's 6-inch “Parrotts” caused her to raise the white flag. General Buford, anxious to capture her uninjured if possible, galloping to the river bank, ordered her to “come to.” Observing the white flag flying, and hearing the pilot ringing his signal-bell to land I ordered the firing to cease. The pilot, as he approached the bank, cried out, “I will round [264] to at the lower landing.” This was just under Brown's section. General Buford and myself repaired to that landing. When approaching she hugged the bank as if to stop, but instead of landing she raised steam and hastened by us. I ordered the batteries to reopen. She, however, was so close to us and under cover of the bank that our guns could not be sufficiently depressed to effect serious damage until almost out of range. However, her chimneys, mast-head and pilot-house were riddled and knocked down, and she floated helplessly with the stream until under protection of the Federal gunboats. We subsequently learned from our cavalry, which followed her, that the pilot was killed and several parties on board seriously hurt, and that she was towed by a gunboat to Paducah.

The transportation on the Tennessee seemed immense, and every moment was full of excitement. About 10 A. M. the Undine, or No. 55, belonging to what was commonly known as the “Mosquito fleet,” escorting the transport Venus, with two barges attached, came in sight from above. They were permitted to pass Crozier at the mouth of Sandy, when both Crozier and Zarring opened a vigorous fire, which was responded to with spirit by the gunboat. Zarring advanced his guns “by hand to the front,” firing as the gunboat receded with the current. The Undine would occasionally halt, and, throwing her broadside to the Confederates, send her deadly shells crashing through the trees and tearing up the earth. Zarring, quickly taking advantage of this broadside position of the gunboat, hurried rapidly his three-inch shot, which drove through her with telling effect, for soon a white flag in the hands of a lady was seen waving through a port-hole. Our firing ceased for an instant, when the flag was snatched down. The firing was immediately resumed, and Bell's sharp-shooters, at once brought into requisition, fired incessantly, with vigorous effect. The Confederates proving too formidable, the Undine dropped down behind the bend in the river, out of range, but presently coming under cover of the batteries at Fort Heiman, she hesitated to pass, and withdrew with the Venus above and behind the bend of the river, from which position she began a noisy shelling of the Paris Landing battery, while repairing damages in the hull and machinery, which could be distinctly heard by Bell's sharp-shooters.

It was subsequently ascertained that the white flag was raised by the wife of the Captain of the gunboat, who had been killed, and was snatched down by the second officer in command.

The men at Zarring's guns, having a commanding position, fought continuously for over an hour, and advanced their pieces by hand for [265] nearly a mile; although on a chilly October day, with the sun obscured by hanging clouds, the men becoming exhausted from hard physical effort, would for a moment drop from their posts and crawl to the river's edge to bathe their burning brows and quench their thirst with the muddy water of the turbid stream. This was certainly a remarkable contest, when we consider the consternation and panic usually produced amongst troops upon the appearance of Federal gunboats, and especially to those unaccustomed to gunboat warfare. Lieutenant S. K. Watkins, the Artillery Battalion Quartermaster, who was an efficient artillery officer, volunteered his services with Zarring's section, and rendered conspicuous and effective service in this novel charge with artillery. Orderly Sergeant Frank T. Reid, of Morton's battery, whose place was with the caissons in a protected situation, was, as usual, at the front, and ever ready to assume any position around the guns in which he could be most serviceable.

Meanwhile, I received an order from General Buford to move one section of artillery from Paris Landing down to the bend of the river opposite to where the gunboat Undine and transport Venus were anchored, and dislodge them, or force a surrender. Orderly Sergeant Reid was directed to hastily proceed down the river and carefully reconnoiter the position where the Undine and Venus were lying. At this time, on looking up the river, I discovered “more game” in sight. A steamboat was seen approaching very slowly and cautiously, some two miles way. I directed the guns to be withdrawn from the immediate river front, and the men to lie down. The steamer, which proved to be the J. W. Cheesman, approached slowly, in fact, at one time checking up as if to return. She evidently apprehended danger. No troops being observed on the shore, and possibly seeing the Undine and Venus below, she was emboldened to proceed on her way. As she passed Crozier, a volley from his ten-pounder Parrotts crashed through her cabins, causing the greatest confusion and bustle on board. She hastened up her speed, but instantly Zarring run his three-inch “Rodmans” in position and drove two shots through her from stem to stern. Other unerring shots followed in quick succession from both sections, and precipitated a most exciting race. Zarring was ordered to follow with his section the receding boat. The guns were moved “by hand to front,” and fired at rapid intervals.

A most remarkable feature to be noted was that, although the boat was constantly in motion and the guns changing position at every discharge, hardly a shot failed to strike its mark. She was irreparably [266] injured and drifted ashore. General Chalmers arriving about this time, with Rucker's brigade and a section of Rice's battery, Lieutenant W. H. Briggs commanding, the General took charge of the Chessman, and in company with him and staff and a few other officers we boarded her, and found that dinner had just been served. Without special invitations, and regardless of Chesterfieldian ceremony, we seated ourselves and partook of the first “square meal” for many a day. On inspection it was found that the Chessman, so far as her machinery and availability for service was concerned, was a hopeless wreck. She had, however, a small freight of commissary stores, including sugar, coffee, tea, candies and furniture. The former articles were readily appropriated by the troops and greatly enjoyed. The furniture was for the most part second-hand, but very fine, and was said to have been confiscated from the rebels at Nashville. The furniture was distributed among the citizens of the neighborhood. It is strange to note that with such complete destruction of the boat, riddled from end and top to bottom, that only two or three persons on board were wounded, and they but slightly. The boat was burned by order of the Commanding General. Meanwhile, Orderly Sergeant Reid reported that a practicable road for artillery could be had to the bend of the river, where the Undine and Venus were sheltered. Colonel Rucker, a gallant and dashing officer, had also made a personal reconnoissance, verifying Sergeant Reid's report. In obedience to orders, I then directed Crozier's section to accompany Colonel Rucker, supported by Colonel D. C. Kelley's and Colonel T. H. Logwood's Tennessee cavalry regiments, and make a speedy attack. Briggs's section of James's Rifles (which had been captured at Eastport from the enemy by Colonel D. C. Kelley, attended by Captain Walton) and Rice's battery were placed at the mouth of the Sandy, Zarring holding his old position at Paris Landing. Colonel Kelley, our “fighting preacher,” hastily dismounting his men, took position under cover of the bushes below the gunboat, and opening a rapid fire upon the Venus and at the port-holes of the Undine, attracted the attention of the enemy, while Crozier moved his guns by hand into a favorable position, from which a vigorous fire was promptly opened, and kept up with such effect that the enemy was unable to use his heavy guns--eight twenty-four pound howitzers — and was driven to the opposite bank.

The Venus, meantime, had surrendered to Colonel Kelley, who boarded her with two companies, and, raising steam, moved upon the Undine, when he found officers and men, not killed or wounded, had [267] deserted her and escaped to the woods. He carried safely both gunboat and steamer to Paris Landing, where they were greeted with rounds of applause by Forrest's troopers.

During this time another gunboat, coming down stream at the sound of the conflict, cast anchor one mile and a half above Briggs's section and opened a brisk shelling. Briggs's pieces being too far from the gunboat for execution were moved, by order of General Chalmers, to shorter range, supported by Chalmers's escort and a company of Alabama cadets as sharp-shooters. Selecting a suitable position, Briggs and the supports, after a spirited engagement, forced the gunboat to weigh anchor and withdraw up the river.

The Undine, one of the largest of its class of gunboats, was a good deal shattered, a shot having passed through from stem to stern, but was not seriously injured in hull, machinery or armament. One gun had been spiked and another had a shell lodged in its bore from one of our guns, which broke a trunion plate, partially dismounting her. There were fifteen of her crew killed and wounded, the Captain among the killed. The Venus was intact as to machinery and hull, although, out of a detachment of infantry she had on board, ten had been killed and wounded and ten were made prisoners. The barges were emptied of their stores and destroyed.

General Forrest arriving upon the ground on the morning of the 31st, energetically pushed the preparations for the contemplated attack on the depot at Johnsonville. General Forrest, sending for me, ordered that I should have the gunboat overhauled, armament repaired, and take charge of the fleet. I readily assented to putting the armament in condition, but begged to be excused from commanding the fleet. I told the General that I could trust to the handling of my guns on land, but was not familiar with naval affairs. After some consultation, remembering having seen Captain F. P. Gracey's daring aquatic feat at old Fort Heiman a few days before, and knowing the Captain to be a gallant and skilled artillery officer and experienced steamboat man, I suggested that he be placed in command of the fleet. General Lyon, who was present, indorsed my statements, Captain Gracey was immediately sent for and appointed naval commander and placed in personal charge of the gunboat Undine. Colonel W. A. Dawson, an old steamboat captain and gallant cavalry leader, was placed in charge of the transport Venus, upon which the two twenty-pounder “Parrott” guns — Walton's battery — had been placed as armament.

I accompanied General Forrest, with other members of his staff, on board the Undine when we made a trial trip to Fort Heiman, the Venus [268] following. As we moved out into the stream the troops that had collected on the shore made the air ring with cheers for “CommodoreForrest, and for Forrest's cavalry afloat.

Stopping at Fort Heiman long enough to take on board some blankets and hard bread which had been secured from the Mazeppa, we returned to Paris Landing, all fully satisfied that both boats were seaworthy and in first-class condition for service. We now felt prepared to move upon Johnsonville both by land and water.

Happily, no one in the artillery up to this time, had been seriously hurt.

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