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Battle of Johnsonville.

By Captain John W. Morton.
[Read before the Louisville Southern Historical Association.]

To Captain W. O. Dodd, President, and to the Members of the Southern Historical Society of Louisville, Ky.:
Gentlemen,--Our last paper brought Forrest on his Tennessee river raid to Paris Landing, where, November 1, our fleet, composed of the gunboat Undine, Captain Frank P. Gracey commanding, and the transport Venus, with her armament of two twenty-pounder Parrott guns, Colonel W. A. Dawson commanding, was equipped for service. Toward noon of the same day we were under orders and moving on Johnsonville.

Rice's battery was directed to accompany Chalmers's division of cavalry in the advance, and to keep as close to the river as possible, to protect the Undine and Venus from any attack from above. While Morton's battery was ordered to guard the rear, supported by Buford's division of cavalry, and prevent the approach of any gunboats from below. Our naval forces were instructed to move slowly and cautiously up the river, keeping under cover of the land batteries. It was understood that a combined attack would be made by land and water upon Johnsonville.

The announcement of Hood's army crossing the Tennessee river at Florence, Alabama, on his happily conceived, but ill-fated raid into Middle Tennessee, had been received by our command. General Forrest [472] expressed the desire to clear the river of all obstructions with his navy and land batteries, thus facilitating Hood's advance movement.

A steady rain began to fall. The roads, naturally rough and hilly, became miry and difficult to pass with artillery. Frequently, at sudden bends in the river, the road would diverge and throw our land forces some distance out of range, and from cover of the gunboat and transport. Our command encamped the night of the 1st south of the crossing of the Memphis and Clarksville railroad over the Tennessee river, the gunboat and transport anchoring under shelter of our batteries.

The location of General Bell's encampment was some two miles north of Morton's battery, in a large cypress grove, near the river bank. As we subsequently learned, this gallant command, always a favorite with the artillery, had pitched their oil-cloths and blankets — they had no tents — as best they could to protect themselves from the threatening rain. Some were drying themselves before the blazing pine fires, others were preparing their scanty meals, while others, from the fatigue of the march, had fallen asleep, and, no doubt, were dreaming of dear ones at home, or “the girl they left behind them,” when suddenly the roar as of distant thunder was quickly followed by the crashing of the cypress trees above and around, caused by the explosion of thirty-two-pounder shells right in the camp, producing confusion and naturally a first-class panic, not only among the horses, but among the men. Gallant soldiers and otherwise intrepid officers could be seen running in almost every direction, frequently running over one another, carrying with them the first thing they could lay hands upon; one had a saddle, another a camp-kettle, a bridle or a musket, while still others were dashing through the woods on horseback without saddle, and frequently without saddle or bridle, while they themselves were without coats, and often hatless. The advance of these wild men on horses struck the artillery camp, and, arousing the officers and men, declared “the gunboats were right down there in the woods, and moving right into our camp.” Some who had lost their horses and their way out of the dense forest, concealed themselves behind logs and stumps, after awhile crawled back and extinguished the fires, and a dead silence reigned throughout the camp.

Several gunboats, approaching from below, were attracted by the bright camp-fires, and, shelling the woods with great accuracy, caused this amusing incident, which was so often laughed over by the boys.

It rained continually throughout the night, making the roads still more difficult for artillery, especially with half-fed and worn-out horses, so that our fleet steaming ahead of land batteries precipitated an unequaled [473] engagement between Captain Gracey, commanding the Undine, and the Federal gunboats.

For a more minute and interesting description of this engagement we take pleasure in presenting Captain Gracey's account, which we desire to incorporate in full in our paper. The following letter will explain itself:

My Dear Captain,--On the receipt of your letter asking me to relate my adventures during the Johnsonville campaign, I supposed you wished to rub up your recollection, and that you would after reading my letter incorporate into your papers such parts as you considered of sufficient interest. I cannot, therefore, permit my letter to be read before the Society unless you will make this explanation.

Truly your friend,

Captain Gracey's paper.

My Dear Captain,--I am in receipt of your kind letter, wherein you informed me you would, on the 27th instant, read a paper before the Southern Historical Society, at Louisville, on the Johnsonville campaign, and that you would be pleased to have me relate my experience in that memorable affair.

To be candid with you, my dear friend, time, business complications and perplexities, and one long, continuous struggle with Dame Fortune to better my financial condition, has played sad havoc with my recollection of old war scenes. I will, however, with pleasure relate them, trusting to you, who was one of the leading spirits of that very spirited affair, to correct any errors in my statement.

I will not attempt a description in detail of this brilliant episode, but confine myself to the especial parts in which I was engaged.

On the 29th of October, 1864, at daylight, I found myself Captain of a cavalry company attached to General H. B. Lyon's brigade, then at Fort Heiman, on the west bank of the Tennessee river. Until this time I had been continuously employed in the artillery service under General Breckinridge, then consecutively under Generals Bate, Cheatham, Helm, Preston and Lewis, with sixty days service in heavy artillery during the siege of Vicksburg. My battery was familiarly known as the First Kentucky or Cobb's battery. General H. B. Lyon was its original commander, Major Cobb, of Paducah, succeeding him, whilst I in turn became his successor. [474]

On the morning previously mentioned I was with General Lyon's brigade of cavalry concealed on the bank of the Tennessee; a portion of my command had been detailed to assist in working the six-inch “Parrott” guns sent from Mobile to blockade the Tennessee river. At this time I had not heard Johnsonville whispered, nor do I believe, except for the easy triumph of our artillery over the gunboats, that any effort would have been made to destroy Johnsonville.

About 9 A. M. a boat was reported ascending the river. She soon appeared around the point below us, heavily laden, with a barge in tow. She proved to be the Mazeppa, a new steamboat, on her first trip. As soon as she passed above us a few hundred yards, I had the pleasure of seeing how “Forrest's artillery” would work, and am glad to say it was served with a skill and precision I had not seen surpassed during three years of almost constant strife.

In ten minutes her machinery was wrecked, and she by the impetus she had when the fatal shot struck her, was driven aground on the opposite shore. It was a sore disappointment to the entire command to see this great prize at their mercy and yet unattainable, not a boat of any description could be found; all we could do was to gaze with longing eyes at the good things, and wish we were there. Finally my patriotism could not be controlled, and I determined to have some of the Mazeppa's stores, or expend considerable energy in trying. So without orders from superiors or much reflection I rolled a small log into the river, placed my hands on the end of it for support, and struck for the other shore. It was a long and fatiguing trip across the river, and I had abundance of time for reflection before I landed, several hundred yards below the steamer. At times I thought I did not want the stores as bad as I did; but one glance at the supplies would instantly renew my patriotism, and I would push my way ahead. On reaching the shore I struck out for tall timber. I knew my greatest danger was whilst exposed between the waters' edge and the timber on the top bank. As I approached the vessel from the rear or bank side, I espied several blue coats concealed behind trees (our boys were still shooting across the river with their Enfield rifles), and I confessed to myself things looked decidely blue, and I determined then and there I would never let my patriotism or desire to secure food and clothing for the boys get me into such a scrape again. Things did look bad. I was on the enemy's side of the river, alone, with two pistols that had been in the river with me for at least an hour, with I could not tell how many blue-coats between me and the boat; but something must be done, and quickly. I determined to charge them, demand their surrender, [475] which if they declined to do I would do myself. I charged, they surrendered, and in a few minutes I had them in front of me in the bow of the boat, while the boys on the other shore were yelling like madman at my success. Fortunately the prisioners, three in number, proved to be old river men — and good men, as I have found since the war. Having been engaged in that interest myself before the war, I was in my element. I ordered the prisoners into a lifeboat, whilst I passed them coil after coil of rope, until the boat would carry no more. After fastening one end to the Mazeppa's cavil, the prisoners proceeded to row across the river, playing out the cable as they progressed. They soon reached the shore, when a thousand hands reached out to draw the boat across the river.

General Buford took charge of the life-boat as soon as the rope was removed from it, and by it succeeded in getting on the Mazeppa while she was in mid-stream. The General mounted the hurricane roof, rang the bell, gave orders to imaginary crews, and exhibited many evidences of delight in securing a prize loaded with sufficient supplies to feed and clothe his entire division for a year; and thus quietly and uneventfully was landed the first great prize in the Johnsonville campaign.

The following day more serious affairs demanded our attention. The Cheeseman and Venus soon became our prey. The gunboat Undine, or No. 55, after a long and stubborn conflict, was abandoned by her crew. She was perfectly riddled with shell, but, strange to say, her machinery and boilers were uninjured. Gunboats from above and below added their din to the uproar, but to no purpose. Our light guns on the bank were too much for their heavy ones on water, and they withdrew out of range.

In the meantime, the Mazeppa, stripped of her valuable cargo, and a hopeless cripple, was consigned to the flames as worthless property. But I will not tire you with a description of this day's glory, as my share was small, and you know better than any other living man who the heroes of it were.

During the succeeding day I was informed by General Lyon that Forrest intended to utilize his captured vessels in transporting his command across the river, with the view of capturing the supplies at Johnsonville, and then load them on our transport for General Hood, who was at Tuscumbia awaiting supplies by a tortuous route from Mississippi. Had this programme been carried out, Hood would have been in Middle Tennessee thirty days sooner than he did arrive. You can imagine how much smaller would have been the forces to oppose him. The General also informed me that he had recommended me to General Forrest as a [476] suitable officer to take charge of his “fleet.” At this time I had never met General Forrest. A few hours later I was ordered by the General to examine the gunboat Undine, with a view of taking charge of her, and to report to him if she needed anything to make a cruise. I reported her hull and machinery intact, armament and ordnance good, but no provisions and fuel for one day's steaming. An ox was driven under the bank and butchered, a few barrels of hard-tack from the Mazeppa was rolled on board, twenty cords of pipe-staves were taken from the river bank to be used as fuel in lieu of coal, when I reported to General Forrest the flagship was ready for duty.

The crew was as impromptu as the supplies, made up from material on hand. But the crew was the best part about it. The vessel was but little better than a wreck, whilst the crew was selected from my old battery, all of them tried men in heavy and light artillery. A large part of them had done volunteer duty on the Arkansaw ram in the terrible conflict with the whole Mississippi-river fleet at Vicksburg.

My pilots, engineers, mates and fireman were detailed from the transports captured; they all denied being in the marine service of the United States, so there was nothing wrong in impressing citizens found on our soil. Before the war I was a steamboat man, so you will see from commander down every one was familiar with the duties devolving upon him. Lieutenant-Colonel Dawson was to take charge of the transport Venus with our two six-inch “Parrot” guns that had done so much work the day before. I arranged with Colonel Dawson a class of signals, very simple but understood by ourselves. The Undine was to take the lead, running about one mile ahead. A long blast from the whistle indicated no enemy in sight; short, quick, consecutive blasts was, the enemy in sight in force, retire quickly. Everything was now arranged and understood, and we were about to start when some one noticed we had no flag to designate our nationality. Not a Confederate flag could be found. The Captain of General Forrest's escort gave us his battle-flag. In lieu of ropes to hoist it a boy climbed the mast-pole and nailed it to the mast, where it remained until it went up in fire and smoke.

We started on a cruise of observation, the whole command following along the bank of the river. We would steam along slightly in advance, occasionally catching a glimpse of the enemy's cavalry on the opposite side of the river.

Late in the afternoon of the 1st, I think, of November, we had steamed several miles in advance of our land support. We were running on slow bells, about one mile in advance of the Venus. On turning [477] a sharp point or bend of the river, I was very much startled to find myself in close proximity to three of the enemy's gunboats. I at once repeated signals to my escort to retire, and after waiting a time sufficient for her to have turned around, I commenced backing slowly down stream. As I turned the point below, I was much surprised to see the Venus lying to at the bank. I ran alongside and learned from Colonel Dawson something was wrong with her steering apparatus, and greatly feared he would have to abandon her. During this time the enemy were firing with great rapidity at my vessel, several shots striking us, but doing little damage. One shot tore away part of the pilot-house. We were replying with our two bow guns, though feebly, when compared with the Federal gunboats. The Venus was released from her moorings, backed to and fro in the river, but she did not answer to her rudders. She was finally beached and abandoned. When one of the gunboats was within two hundred yards of her, the other two kept their batteries at work on the Undine. As soon as we came in sight of our batteries on the bank, the enemy, remembering the lessons of the day before, struck out for Johnsonville. We lay the balance of the day under the guns of the artillery. About dusk General Forrest came on board to give in his final orders before the final attack on Johnsonville. I remember them well, for they were short and explicit. He said: “In the morning at daylight I will have my artillery on the river bank a few miles below Johnsonville; at dawn you must attack the gunboats at Johnsonville and draw them down the river until they pass my upper battery, which will be concealed so that it cannot be seen, until they have passed, when, with my lower battery and your gunboat, I shall capture all the gunboats at Johnsonville.”

It was raining very hard at this time, and I offered the General the hospitality of my boat for the night, offering to put him off at Johnsonville for breakfast, but he declined, saying he “was more accustomed to exercise on horseback” Promptly at 4 o'clock the next morning — the 3d, I believe — we raised steam. The rain was still falling heavily, and I felt sorry for the boys who worked all night to get their guns in position below Johnsonville, and determined the navy was the place for me during the balance of the unpleasantness. No wet or mud, all comfortable and dry, and as we steamed along through the heavy mist that had settled like a fog on the river, I built castles in the air all in the next few hours to be dissolved in smoke. Sergeant John Leonard, the only officer I had, remarked, just before we arrived at Johnsonville, how silent the artillery was. In passing the point designated by General Forrest, not a sound was heard nor a light to be seen. I gave the [478] artillery credit for their silence, but never even doubted that they were there just as General Forrest said they would be. Dawn had arrived, and with it our bow guns told the Yankees we meant business. Soon all was uproar in Johnsonville. Long files of infantry could be seen on the banks. Dozens of steamers, side by side, lined the shore. From out of this mass of vessels two or three gunboats made their appearance, saluting me as they arranged themselves side by side, heading toward me. I backed down stream; they came head on. The distance between us was about half a mile, about good point-blank range. I had given the entire command below decks to Sergeant Leonard, instructing him to fire as rapidly as possible. I was giving instructions to my pilots and watching the bank for our artillery, when my attention was attracted by the violent gestures of William Weaver, an Ohio river pilot and a member of my battery, whom I had placed in the pilot house in case of injury to my regular Tennessee-river pilot. I could not hear him speak, the din and uproar were terrific. Finally, I understood his gestures were to look at something in our rear, or down stream. On passing around the pilot house I saw a sight to make him gesticulate. There were seven of the largest Ohio river gunboats within easy gunshot range. Why they did not shoot I could not say, unless they were afraid of striking their friends who were in easy range just above me. I now was certain the artillery was not on the river below me else the gunboats below could not pass without my hearing the conflict. The vessels above me, no longer fearing an ambuscade, and doubtless not wishing to divide the honors of my capture with the Ohio river fleet, closed down on us rapidly. It was perfectly evident now we could not save our vessel. The only question was, should we surrender, or blow her up, taking our chances for escape? Having no one to consult with, I soon determined to blow her up. I ordered a number of mattresses, used by the mariners, and made of shavings, to be cut open and thrown into the magazine. On this was poured a barrel of oil. A man stood by with a burning lamp to touch it off when I gave the word, and not before. Another wistful look along the shore for Forrest, another shot at the enemy, and the order was given to head her hard down for shore. She struck a sand bar in three feet of water, and about seventy-five yards from the shore. The torch was applied, and almost before you could jump into the water the flames burst through the hurricane roof, the enemy firing several rounds of canister or grapeshot at us as we were wading and scrambling up the bank, but happily without injury. The gunboats withdrew a short distance, fearing our vessel in her death throes more than they did whilst living. Soon our [479] side batteries, that were left heavily loaded, were fired by the heat of the burning vessel, quickly followed by the magazine. The boat, in five minutes after being fired by the torch, was in total ruins, and Forrest's fleet was dissolved forever more. And thus ended my adventures as Commodore of Forrest's Tennessee-river fleet.

After finding a safe place on the top of the bank, I began to look around for some one to carry the sad tidings to General Forrest. Some distance from the river I found a cavalryman, who loaned me his horse to seek the General myself. About three miles from the river I found him sitting with his back to a tree, an oil-cloth drawn over his lap to protect him from the still pouring rain. I approached him and reported: “General, your Tennessee-river fleet is no more.” He replied: “Don't you think you gave it up rather soon?” and that was all he said, but a few days afterwards he selected me to carry his report to Chancellorsville and Richmond, where I had the pleasure of describing the main points of the final destruction of Johnsonville to both Generals Lee and Breckinridge.

Hoping I have not tired you, and hoping I have not greatly mistaken anything, I will close.

Truly, your friend,

F. P. Gracey, Captain Cobb's First Kentucky Battery.

Our command encamped the night of the 2d two miles below and across the river from Reynoldsburg, which is about four miles from Johnsonville.

The cold rain up to the morning of the 3d had been incessant. The tramp of the cavalrymen over already muddy and broken roads made them almost impassable for artillery, and we were no doubt stuck fast on some red clay hill when Captain Gracey's boat went down, for we were unable to join General Forrest a half or three-quarters of a mile north of Johnsonville until near noon. In the meantime General Forrest had made a close reconnoissance of the positions along the river bank, above and below Johnsonville. A glance at the map, for which we are indebted to Mr. W. W. Southgate, civil engineer, Nashville, the brief outlines of Johnsonville will be understood.

There was no railroad bridge spanning the stream at that time, the railroad terminating a short distance from the east bank of the river, which here is 500 yards wide. The town attained much importance from its location as a distributing point by river and rail for army supplies and troops during the war.

The map will show that it is situated just southward of Trace creek, [480] where a line of rifle pits envelops the main encampment, which also guards the approaches to the town and river landing from the south and east. The river bank rises gently from the water's edge southward and east, in the distance of 300 yards reaching an elevation of about forty feet, and terminating in a hill some seventy-five feet above low water mark, upon which was constructed the lower battery. A ridge diverging eastward and south from this position terminates in a plateau some half mile distant, which is surmounted by a hill overlooking the lower fort and commanding the river for some distance northward and southward. Upon this eminence was constructed an extensive redoubt, armed with heavy ordnance. This was known as the upper fort. The western bank of the river, upon which our positions are marked on the map, is abrupt near the river, about twenty-five feet above the level of the water, and descends, as is usual with all Southern rivers, as it recedes westward. That side of the river was thickly covered with a heavy cypress growth. The trees had been felled immediately in front of Johnsonville, some distance backward to give an open view and range for their guns. The Federal position had many defensive advantages, and rendered an attack upon it hazardous, almost beyond hope of success. Forrest was never daunted in any effort, and soon put on foot a vigorous offensive movement against the position.

Four twelve-pounder Howitzers, which had just joined us with Mabry's brigade from Paris, was directed to position some half or three-quarters of a mile above Johnsonville. The river bank being higher near the water's edge, and receding backward, afforded natural protection. Brigadier-General H. B. Lyon, an accomplished artillery officer and a man of great dash and energy, took immediate supervision of this position and aided Captain J. B. Thrall in preparing redoubts for his guns before Morton's arrival. Chambers were sunk for his guns, and embrasures cut through the solid parapet in his front. This position was perfectly protected from the gunboats, but opened to a direct and plunging fire from both Federal forts, especially from the upper fort.

Colonel E. W. Rucker, who had much experience in locating and planting heavy artillery at Island No.10, on the Mississippi river during the first year of the war, had to cut out similar chambers for Morton's battery, some half mile or three-quarters below Johnsonville, and nearly opposite, but below the mouth of Trace creek. Rice's battery was directed to position near the mouth of Cypress creek, two miles below, to prevent any gunboats from approaching from the north.

On rejoining General Forrest at the positions prepared by Colonel [481] Rucker for Morton's battery, he directed that these guns should be immediately placed in the chambers dug out by Colonel Rucker. Morton requested General Forrest to permit him to inspect the river bank from this position up to where Thrall's battery had been placed. This being granted, with an escort from Colonel Rucker we rode rapidly through the Cypress swamp and slough which runs a little distance, but parallel with the river. When reaching a point directly opposite to Johnsonville, we dismounted and crept up close to the river bank, carefully concealing ourselves behind trees and logs. We could plainly discover and counted two gunboats, eleven steamboats and a number of barges tied up at the landing, and one gunboat was plying in midstream; her guns could be plainly seen through her port-holes, and her cannoneers were noticed moving around. Passengers were idly chatting, smoking and lounging upon the decks of the transports. Some ladies were seen coming down the bank, evidently about to embark on some one or other of the transports, several of which were getting up steam. Laborers were engaged in unloading the steamboats and barges, immense quantities of Government stores lined the river bank, and a large warehouse, extending several hundred yards along the shore, seemed densely packed with army supplies. As we have stated, the river bank being several feet higher, close to the water, and receding gradually for fifty or one hundred yards, gave excellent cover under which to move close up without being observed, and presented natural breastworks, which offered protection from the enemy's sharp-shooters across the river.

We were not long in making up our mind as to the most advantageous position, and, hurrying back, reported to General Forrest that we had selected a position just opposite Johnsonville, and desired to take the four rifle guns of Morton's battery. General Forrest objecting said — we suppose for the first time in his whole career--“No, Captain, the position is too close and hazardous. They will destroy you from their gunboats and from the forts.” We explained to the General that our experience in fighting gunboats had proved that the closer you could get to them the more effective your own shot, and the less danger from theirs, as they invariably shoot too high.

After urging this position for some little while as the most available, General Forrest consented that two of the guns might be carried, while the other two should be left in the works prepared by Colonel Rucker. Briggs's section of Rice's battery was placed in the chambers dug out for these two guns. A detail was readily furnished from Colonel Rucker's command to open a road up the slough, and it was with great [482] difficulty that we could move the guns through this cypress swamp; often had to lift and carry them over fallen timber and driftwood, through water and deep mud, and when nearly opposite the point selected, the horses were detached, and the guns pushed some hundred yards by hand near the crest of the bank, where we were in easy range of the gunboats, steamboats, and the immense accumulation of stores, and almost directly under point blank range from the lower fort. General Forrest was evidently apprehensive for our safety in this, as he thought, exposed position, which he evinced in his order to Captain Thomas H. Sneed, when he directed this trusty officer to take his glasses and crawl to the river bank, conceal himself behind a log, and report the effect of the shot from the forts and gunboats on Morton, when the signal to fire was made known. We learned subsequently from Captain Sneed that General Forrest remarked to him, “I'm afraid they will knock John Morton to pieces up there with their big guns.”

The several commands of cavalry were concealed behind logs and trees and in ravines in easy supporting distance of the batteries, while a detachment of sharpshooters were selected and deployed close to the river bank to oppose similar forces stationed on the opposite side of the river.

Morton's orders from General Forrest were to open with these two guns as soon as in position, which would be the signal to open along the line. We directed the pieces to be loaded and moved cautiously by hand to the river bank, when both guns were trained upon the gunboat plying in mid-stream almost within a stone's-throw of us, they little suspecting the lurking danger so close at hand. This signal being understood by the several battery commanders and the cavalry supports, we gave Zarring the order to “fire,” which sent two rifled solid shots crashing through the sides of the gunboat, when immediately our guns from above and below were heard. Two more shots from Zarring's guns in quick succession were directed on the gunboat. It was then discovered that steam was escaping from her ports and her crew deserting her by jumping into the river, as she headed ashore. Now followed round after round from Thrall on the right, Brown and Briggs on the left and Zarring in the center. The troops joined in the din with their rifles, and in five minutes the enemy were running to and fro in the wildest confusion. Some ladies just approaching the transports were seen to rush frantically up the hillside toward the fort. The transports rang their bells and sounded their whistles, the gunboats opened and the heavy guns from the forts burst forth with a storm of shells, which [483] went screaming through the cypress trees, tearing the limbs like a tempest. The sky seemed darkened with the deadly missiles flying from fifty guns. The striking of our shot and shell against the enemy's boat could be distinctly heard. Tree-tops were pierced by the enemy's shell and dropped upon our guns, but were quickly removed and the firing resumed. The big guns from the forts bore down heavily upon Thrall, shivering the rammer staffs in the hands of his men, but sunk deep into the loose soil and exploded without harm. Soon the agonizing screams of the wounded and scalded were heard across the broad river, when we called the attention of Colonel Rucker to a gunboat in flames. The Colonel, waving aloft his sword, cried out, “Three cheers for Morton's Artillery!” Quickly other boats were afire. Generals Forrest, Buford and Bell now came up to our position, puffing and blowing bringing with them by hand the section of Morton's battery--Lieutenant Brown commanding — from the works below, and all full of enthusiasm. General Forrest now acted as gunner, General Buford, No. 1, loaded the piece and General Bell, No. 4, fired it. They took the greatest delight in their novel work. We had a distinguished lot of cannoneers, though awkward in the “step.”

General Forrest would cry out, “Load, ready, fire!” with the vim of an old artillerist. As the gun was discharged he would call out to Major Tom Allison, of his staff, to “note the effect of the shot.” Once the Major sang out, “Too short, General,” when Forrest replid, “Good shot, boys! ricochet; it will go right through her!” and as he would strike too high, to use his own phrase, would “elevate the breech of the gun lower.” At each discharge the gun would recoil some distance, as it was on an inclined plane. Forrest would cry out, “Run her up, boys!” when Buford and Bell, assisted by the cannoneers, would run the gun by hand into position.

In the meantime Morton ordered Zarring to turn his guns upon the upper fort, and soon he was exploding his shells within its walls, though more than a mile distant and elevated at least one hundred feet above his level.

Thrall's guns were turned upon two transports lying a short distance above the landing, and soon succeeded in setting them afire; their cables burning, they drifted with the current, and, coming in contact with other transports and the barges tied up at the landing, they, too, were speedily in flames. In about two hours from the firing of the signal gun every transport and barge was on fire. We now directed our batteries to the destruction of the warehouses and supplies ashore. [484] Observing a large pile of hay, a few well-directed shells from Brown's guns kindled it into a consuming fire that soon spread to vast heaps of bacon, flour and corn adjoining. Lieutenant Briggs discovered a large pile of barrels under tarpaulins nearly opposite his position. A few well-trained shots from his James rifles, with percussion shells, had the happiest results; for soon a blue blaze, unmistakably whiskey, was quickly seen to dart from under the tarpaulins. As this was observed along the line a loud shout went forth, though many doubtless envied the flames as they swallowed up the fluid which was rare to the boys. Soon the barrels began to burst with loud explosions, and the “red” liquor ran in torrents of living flame down the hillside, spreading the conflagration in its course toward the river, and filling the air with the blended yet distinctly recognizable fumes of burning spirits, sugar, coffee, and meat. The Confederates had been on short rations all day, yet some of them declared at night that the fumes from this enormous alcoholic roast made them feel like the traveller in “Gil Blas,” as if they had been eating heartily.

Meantime all the warehouses and buildings were ignited, and the noise from the explosion of the vast quantity of ordnance stores reminded one of a desperate conflict at a distance between contending armies. The night was made almost as luminous by the conflagration as the day, under which our troops were enabled to move out of the dense forest to the main Lexington road, some two miles distant, where the train was established to feed our forces, and encamp for the night. Briggs's section, Rice's battery, Brown's section, and Morton's battery were left on the river, supported by Rucker's brigade, throughout the night.

On the following morning Morton accompanied General Forrest back to the river, and viewed the immense destruction of property and subsistence at the time with eager satisfaction — the lonely forts gloomily surmounting and silently guarding with their wide-mouthed guns broad heaps of ashes and charred, smoking ruins. Gunboats, transports, and barges all had gone down in flame. The extensive warehouses filled with supplies, and other buildings, had ceased to be, as well as the immense piles of stores that covered acres of the surrounding slope the day before.

We now ordered Brown and Briggs to withdraw their guns and rejoin their batteries. As this was being done, a regiment of colored troops dashed out from their works and displayed themselves in wild and amusing antics. Throwing off their coats and hats, with sleeves [485] rolled up and clenched fists presented at the despised “rebs,” who had caused such complete destruction, they made the morning air ring with oaths and offensive epithets. One round from the artillery and a volley from Rucker's troopers scattered the howling crowd and sent them hastily away in the wildest confusion.

As results of this raid we recount the destruction at Johnsonville of three gunboats, eleven transports, many of them new, and on their first trip, and some eighteen barges; and of buildings, quartermasters' and commissary's stores, according to Federal estimate, to the value of over eight millions of dollars. The gunboat, Undine, had been previously captured and destroyed, as well as the transports, Cheesman and Mazeppa, and three barges, from which a large amount of subsistence, blankets and shoes, as already stated, had been secured. This had been accomplished with the loss of two twenty-pounder “Parrotts,” which were captured with the Venus upon her recapture. These guns, however, had been captured by Forrest's cavalry from the enemy at Fort Pillow. Two men from the artillery were slightly wounded, and two men killed, and two from the cavalry.

The following is an incomplete list of the officers and men who took part in this raid:

Lieutenant S. K. Watkins, Ordnance Officer, and R. K. Blakemore, Adjutant, rendered valuable service.

Morton's battery.

T. Saunders Sale, first Lieutenant Commanding, left sick in Mississippi.

Joe M. Mason, second Lieutenant, left sick at Jackson, Tennessee.

J. W. Brown, third Lieutenant, promoted for gallantry on the field, and wounded four times, was killed near Russellville, Kentucky, in a personal conflict with bushwhackers.

Dr. James P. Hanner, Surgeon.

Frank T. Reid, Orderly Sergeant.

William S. Cowan, Quartermaster Sergeant.

Harry C. Field, Hospital Steward.

William H. Matthews, first Gun Sergeant, left sick at Jackson, Tennessee.

Lemuel Zarring, second Gun Sergeant.

Samuel McKay, third Gun Sergeant.

C. T. Brady, fourth Gun Sergeant. [486]

Joe T. Ballanfant, first Corporal, severely wounded at Harrisburg.

W. J. Morris, second Corporal, killed in West Tennessee by Tories

Samuel Abney, third Corporal.

John H. Dunlap, fourth Corporal.

J. D. Vauter, fifth Corporal.

James Wyatt, sixth Corporal.

W. L. Jobe, seventh Corporal.

H. T. Newton, eighth Corporal.

George N. Crunk, bugler.

Charles Martin, harness-maker.

J. K. Golden, blacksmith.

H. H. Dell, teamster.

William Dean, teamster.

Pompey Shoat, teamster.

William Buchanan, teamster.


Allen, Wm.; Bradshaw, Ed.; Brothers, J. K. P.; Burton, J. M.; Brigance, Jas.; Burchett, Crocker J.; Caldwell, James; Carr, John H.; Cloud, Wm. R.; Crossland, M. T.; Denny, J. P.; Dodson, Andrew; Drawn, Chas.; Duffie, George; Fitzpatrick, Garrett; Gains, M. M.; Geice, Geo.; Griffin, T. G.; Haig, John; Hamilton, Sam.: Hammel, J. M.; Hanner, A.: Johnson, Tyler; Jones, Jerry; Lanier, Wm.; McBurney, W.; McGuire, Jas.; McKenney, G.; Miles, W. P.; Mitchell, J. N.; Moore, F. A.; Morrison, J. B.; Moss, John; McDonald, J. L.; Moran, Wm., wounded at Price's X roads, but refused to leave his gun, killed at blockhouse near Baker's, on N. and C. railroad; Nepper, J. C.; Peel, Thos.; Priddy, M. C.; Prout, Josh; Prout, George; Powell, George; Reed, R. D.; Robinson, George; Sanders, Jas. L.; Scott, G. H.; Scott, J. M.; Siegel, Chas.; Smith, S. F.; Skeggs, Eugene; Southerland, Wm.; Stucker, Wm. G.; Summer, T. R.; Temple, C. R.; Thornton, A. R.; Taylor, J. G.; Wermesdoff, J.; Weaver, A. B.; Williams, Phil.; Woods, James C.; Wilson, W. W.; Wilson, T. J.

Absentees in hospital and on furlough not reported.

Non-commission officers, artificers and teamsters all took positions at the guns when a reduction of numbers required it.

Rice's Battery.

T. W. Rice, Captain, commanding.

B. F. Haller, First Lieutenant. [487]

H. H. Briggs, Second Lieutenant, died of yellow fever in Memphis.

D. C. Jones, Third Lieutenant.

Dr. Jacob Huggins, Surgeon.

Walton's Battery.

Edwin I. Walton, Captain, commanding.

M. H. Trantham, First Lieutenant.

G. C. Wright, Second Lieutenant.

Willis O. Hunter, Third Lieutenant.

Dr. R. P. Weaver, Surgeon.

Thrall's Battery.

J. C. Thrall, Captain, commanding; died of yellow fever in Memphis.

R. S. Anderson, First Lieutenant.

J. C. Barlow, Second Lieutenant.

W. J. D. Winter, Third Lieutenant.

Dr. J. L. Grace, Surgeon.

We regret not being able to furnish a list of the names of the non-commissioned officers and men of the several batteries who took part in this engagement, especially the names of those who acted with conspicuous gallantry. No list could be had except Morton's battery.

This account of the operations of Forrest's command at Johnsonville was written at the suggestion and request of Captain W. 0. Dodd, President of the Louisville Branch Southern Historical Society, to vindicate the truth of history and supply omissions and correct the errors of the work entitled Campaigns of Lieutenant-General N. B. Forrest, written by Jordan and Pryor. This book gives the credit of the management of the artillery to that gallant soldier and personal friend, Colonel Rucker, who would not deprive a brother officer, subaltern or private of anything due them, and fails to mention the fact that Captain Morton was chief of artillery or was present during the fight, and is utterly silent on the subject, and accredits various things to others than the right parties.

An utter indifference, so far as personal mention was concerned, to what was thus erroneously written, as well as the explanation given the writer of this article by General Forrest, has prevented any attempt to set the matter right. General Forrest said the error was made in cutting down matter from two volumes to one, and that the omission was not noticed until after the publication of the work. [488]

In this work it is stated (page 601): “Colonel Rucker, who had great difficulty in getting his pieces into position,” etc., etc. The facts are as hereinbefore set forth. The guns were Morton's guns, under his immediate orders and control. Colonel Rucker did just what is set out in this paper; furnished escort and working details; accompanied Morton to the central position which Morton alone had selected, and supported the guns with his command of cavalry.

On page 601 occurs this statement: “Seeing that daylight would be upon them before their work could be completed,” etc., etc. This statement, following the one above quoted, makes the impression that Morton's battery was placed in position on the night of November 2d by Colonel Rucker. The fact is, Morton reached the field with his old battery at noon on the 3d, and two guns were placed in the redoubt prepared by Rucker, and two carried to the position selected by Morton in person between 2 and 3 o'clock P. M.

On page 602 this statement is made: “Forrest then, having the watches of his several subordinate commanders compared and set uniformly, ordered that his batteries should open fire simultaneously and precisely at 2 P. M.” * * * * * “Meantime General Forrest anxiously surveyed the scene with his glasses until the moment of action had come, then, aiming with his own eye and hand a piece in Morton's battery at the appointed instant, ten pieces carefully trained upon the gunboats at the landing were discharged with such harmony that it could not be discerned there was more than one report--one heavy gun,” etc., etc., etc.

Now, the fact is, when Morton selected the new position and opened the fight, that was the signal for the opening of fire from the right and left batteries. Forrest did not aim the piece “with his own eye and hand.” He was one-half or three-quarters of a mile down the river, and did not reach Morton's position until the transports and gunboats were afire, when he brought the two other guns of Morton's battery and took position alongside of Zarring's section.

The full record of honorable and heroic deeds done by Forrest and Rucker does not need any adventitious aids from fulsome eulogy, or the wrongful appropriation of the acts of others.

Yours, respectfully,

Jno. W. Morton, Ex-Captain and Chief of Artillery Forrest's Cavalry.

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