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Chapter 17:

  • Battle of Murfreesboro
  • -- gallant record of Adams' brigade -- the Washington artillery -- Tullahoma campaign -- the great conflict on Chickamauga Creek -- Adams' brigade Turns the Federal line -- action of other Louisiana commands.

The next encounter of the armies was in Tennessee. Rosecrans, the new commander of the army of the Cumberland, vice Buell, gave the command of his center to Thomas. Thomas acted throughout the campaign as his military adviser. None better could he have had than this soldier—as prudent as he was daring, as successful as he was prudent. About the middle of November Bragg advanced to Murfreesboro. From this point he planned to lay distant siege to Nashville. Rosecrans' own objective was Chattanooga, as had been Buell's, but his first aim was to sweep Bragg from his front. Bragg, who had gone into winter quarters, was quickly aware of Rosecrans' purpose.

It was on Stone's river (December 26th to January 5th) that the army of Tennessee and the army of the Cumberland met for the mastery of the fields of Tennessee. If we read the rival reports both commanders lay claim to victory. In his losses, Bragg showed rather better than the enemy, having lost 10,000 out of 47,000, against the other's 12,000 out of 48,000. Adams' brigade—the Thirteenth and Twentieth consolidated, under command of Colonel Gibson; the Sixteenth and Twenty-fifth consolidated, under Colonel Fisk; Austin's sharpshooters, and the Washington artillery, Lieutenant Vaught—was prominent in the fighting of Breckinridge's division. The First [180] cavalry was with Wheeler. Breckinridge, on the east of the river, toward noon on the 31st was called on to send help to General Polk, whose right was yet unsuccessful. Adams crossed with his brigade, and was at once thrown forward against a battery on a hill in front. The two battalions of the brigade, led by Colonels Gibson and Fisk, advanced gallantly to do the work too heavy for Chalmers and Donelson to complete, but met the same terrible artillery fire that had shattered Chalmers, and musketry from both flanks, and after an hour's noble struggle was compelled to give way. The whole Federal army was packed in columns behind the position Adams was sent to attack in front. It was here that Col. Stuart W. Fisk, of the consolidated Sixteenth, was killed while bravely leading a desperate charge. Colonel Fisk had gone out in the Crescent Rifles—the first command to leave the city, May 15, 1861—and had been on the Peninsula with Dreux‘ battalion. His death was a serious blow to our Louisiana contingent in Tennessee. He was a gallant officer, who in danger possessed that coolness which, while it attracts peril, minimizes it. Devoted to his men, he was by them fully trusted and deeply regretted. The loss was very heavy. Fisk's regiment had 457 men, and 217 were put hors de combat. Among the killed of the brigade were Lieuts. Charles J. Hepburn, R. O. Smith, H. Gregory, A. Ranlett, and T. L. McLean, and among the wounded General Adams and his adjutant, Capt. Emile P. Guillet, and Lieuts. J. M. Clayton, Louis Stagg, and W. L. Sibley. Capt. M. O. Tracy, acting major of Gibson's regiment, distinguished at Shiloh, Farmington and Perryville, lost a leg. Capt. Thomas W. Peyton, of the sharpshooters, was severely wounded. These and Colonel Gibson, Maj. Charles Guillet, Maj. F. C. Zacharie, Adjt. H. H. Bein, Capt. T. M. Ryan, Color-bearer Roger Tammure, and Sergt.-Maj. John Farrell, Lieuts. W. Q. Lowd, A. P. Martin, S. R. Garrett and C. F. McCarty, and Adjt. A. O'Duhigg, were mentioned for soldierly [181] conduct Colonel Gibson, speaking for his regiments, Thirteenth and Twentieth, said that at the outset of their charge they drove the enemy at their front, and rescued the colors of some Confederate regiment1 which had previously engaged the enemy there, and whose dead marked the line of battle.

On January 2d, Bragg renewed his attack upon Rosecrans, whose right he had pushed back through a quarter-circle, and sent Breckinridge on the east side of the river against his left. In this memorable charge, which worsted the Federal infantry, but came to naught under the murderous breath of the concentrated Federal artillery, the most tremendous outburst of gunnery that the West had yet known, the Thirteenth consolidated, Major Guillet, and the Sixteenth consolidated, Major Zacharie, were the front of Gibson's line. They advanced close to the river and drove the enemy beyond a ravine, where the Thirteenth held its position under heavy fire for some time. Of the 28 officers of the regiment who went into the fight, 14 were wounded, some mortally. ‘The regiment behaved throughout like veterans,’ said Gibson, ‘Captains Ryan, Lipscomb, King, Bishop and McGrath and Lieut. D. C Ryan displayed distinguished steadiness and courage. The loss of this regiment in two short actions (31st and 2d), lasting both together not more than an hour, was 19 officers and 332 men killed, wounded and missing, losing as many as some brigades.’ Major Zacharie, through a mistake in orders, crossed the river in this movement of the 2d. Once there, Zacharie plucked a brilliant diversion out of the error which had led him there. The Stone river being between him and Gibson, he was necessarily without orders for his guidance. Taking advantage of his unofficial line—not to add a sense of freedom not distasteful—he [182] gallantly drove in the skirmishers of the enemy, besides, at this particular point, holding the threatening masses in check in front of our batteries, giving us time to throw shot and shell at them. Zacharie stood by his colors with steadiness, contesting every inch of the strange ground upon which chance had opportunely placed him. The Washington artillery, Fifth company, rendered distinguished service during the two days. As early as December 29th, two rifled guns were in position near the river, under the command of Lieut. J. A. Chalaron, who occupied that dangerous point during Tuesday and Wednesday, exposed to a heavy fire from the enemy's batteries and frequent assaults of his infantry. On the 31st, Vaught, with his remaining guns, supported Adams, continuing an effective fire on the enemy during the day. Then returning to the east side of the river, they followed Breckinridge in the charge on the 2d, and galloping up a hill, were in action till ammunition failed. While wait. ing for a new supply, the enemy swarmed about them, pouring in volley after volley at fifty yards. Then, after the last regiment and last battery were from the field, the Fifth company grimly retired in perfect line. The loss of the artillery was 5 killed and wounded. Lieutenant Chalaron, for distinguished gallantry, was appointed on the field as ‘temporary chief of artillery.’ Lieutenants Blair and Leverich, Corporals Smith and Adams, and Privates Johnson and Walsh, were commended for gallantry.

In these fights, Randall Lee Gibson gave proofs of that signal ability which was to mark him progressively during the war. Gibson was always the student among our brigadiers, but this is far from meaning that he was a dreamer in action. He was a student only in the scholarship which he had borne away from ambitious competitors in the prizes of peace at Yale. His classics in nothing detracted from his dash upon the field, however much Plutarch may have offered him models for imitation.

For six months the army of the Cumberland, in and [183] around Murfreesboro, did naught but face Bragg. Halleck, from Washington, was pressing Rosecrans to open anew the campaign; Grant, from Vicksburg, was urging him potently to attack Bragg. Around Vicksburg Grant's hopes, between May 18th and July 4th, had whirled with the singleness of personal ambition. All he then needed Rosecrans for was solely to keep Bragg from sending help to Pemberton. Finally Rosecrans, under this forcing process, moved on June 23d, with a force of 60,000 men. Bragg was at Shelbyville with 43,000—rather less than more. Rosecrans had begun by pushing Bragg out of his fortified posts—such as Tullahoma, which the Confederates had used as a depot of supplies—and driving him to new headquarters. It was a short campaign, at the end of which Bragg, evacuating Tullahoma, had marched into Chattanooga. Rosecrans' main object in September was to maneuver Bragg out of Chattanooga; and he succeeded by crossing the mountains south of that city, upon which Bragg fell back to Lafayette, Ga.

Bragg had just received help from Mississippi, and Longstreet, with Hood and Kershaw, was speeding from Virginia. Rosecrans made a faulty movement by dividing his army into three columns, thus getting his right and left wings hazardously separated from his center. His position became full of peril and gave to Bragg an excellent chance to overwhelm some one of these pieces on the board, after which the others would be easy victims; but there were unfortunate delays and the opportunity was lost. By September 18th the scattered Federal wings joined Rosecrans and as the reunited army of the Cumberland faced Chickamauga creek with Bragg's army on the east bank. Rosecrans awaited the inevitable attack, and meanwhile prudently placed Thomas in command of his left.

Against Chickamauga, ‘Name of Thunder,’ will stand for all time two dates—September 19th and 20th—days of heroic fighting. Longstreet had arrived and was in command of Bragg's left. Polk commanded his right. Bragg [184] was delayed by one day in crossing the Chickamauga. He fell upon Thomas, however, with none the less vigor. Thomas, who had been aggressive in the morning, was found behind his log intrenchments when the night came. On September 20th, Polk and Longstreet forced the fighting. As at Stone's River, everything seemed lost to the Federals. A great rout fell on Rosecrans' right, as complete as it was disgraceful. As at Bull Run, it became a sauve qui peut. Alone in the midst of the routed army —seeing yielding everywhere, Thomas stood defiant. With one-half of the Federal army gone, he remained, building up for his fame that noble title, never to be disassociated from his name, the ‘Rock of Chickamauga.’

On the 18th Adams' brigade was taken by Lieut.-Gen. D. H. Hill in person to Owen's ford, where there was Federal activity. Next morning it was withdrawn to Glass' mill, and there Captain Slocomb, with two guns and an infantry support, was sent to the Federal side of the creek, while Lieutenant Vaught, with the rifles, went into action from the east bluff, the artillery duel resulting favorably to the Confederates.

Then the brigade was marched three miles south of Lee & Gordon's mill, to meet a supposed move by Rosecrans on that flank. But they soon found that the Federal troops in motion were going on north, and the brigade was rapidly transferred to the other flank of the army, crossing the creek at Alexander's bridge, and bivouacking about midnight. Next morning, the 20th, Breckinridge's division was on the extreme right or north of the Confederate line, with Adams on the right of the division, in a line supposed to be parallel to the Chattanooga road, which was to be the object of the fight. Bragg's plan was yet, although his movements had previously been thwarted by delays, to swing his right forward and cut Rosecrans off from Chattanooga, the attack being taken up along the line to the south. This meant activity for the Louisianians on the extreme right. [185]

Again there was delay on the morning of the 20th, but not through fault of Breckinridge or Adams. Let loose at 9:30, they swept forward. The left of Breckinridge's line found the enemy in front in battle array, and a desperate fight resulted; but Adams and Stovall, steadily marching forward, scattering two lines of skirmishers, found themselves on the Chattanooga road, and Adams, still keeping on, dispersing a regiment and capturing a battery, crossed the road into an open field. He was evidently north of the extreme north flank of Thomas. So Adams and Stovall were wheeled around facing south, Adams and Slocomb's battery on the Federal side of the road, and they moved southward against Thomas' flank. Small reason is there for surprise that Thomas called again and again for reinforcements, till Rosecrans' right was fatally weakened.

The Louisianians soon met two lines of the enemy sent to meet them. ‘The first line was routed,’ said Breckinridge, ‘but it was found impossible to break the second, aided as it was by artillery, and after a sanguinary contest, which reflected great honor on the brigade, it was forced back in some confusion. Here General Adams, who is as remarkable for his judgment on the field as for his courage, was severely wounded and fell into the hands of the enemy. Among the casualties, LieutenantCol-onel Turner, of the Nineteenth Louisiana, was wounded, and the gallant Major Butler of the same regiment was killed. Stovall had gained a point beyond the angle of the enemy's main line of works. Adams had advanced still farther, being actually in the rear of his intrenchments. A good supporting line to my division at this moment would probably have produced decisive results. As it was, the engagement on our right had inflicted on the enemy heavy losses and compelled him to weaken other parts of his line to hold his vital point. Adams' brigade reformed behind Slocomb's battery, which repulsed the enemy by [186] a rapid and well-directed fire, rendering on this occasion important and distinguished service.’

About sundown, the battle having raged all day and Thomas still holding his log barricades, Gibson, who had taken command of the brigade, was ordered to advance, gaining ground to the left. They passed over several lines of our troops, who cheered them heartily. The orders were not to fire a gun. Passing through the last Confederate line engaging the enemy, without halting and without firing, they pushed on until, within a few paces of the Federal line, the charge was ordered, ‘and the whole command,’ said Gibson, ‘with a terrific yell fell upon the enemy. A volley was received without effect; a second from the barricades checked us for an instant, but the officers rushed forward again, the men followed, and the enemy, panic-stricken, fled in the wildest disorder. . . . We continued to drive the enemy from every position for three-quarters of a mile until we had entered the woods, about 70 yards west of the Chattanooga road, where we halted.’ During the charge several hundred prisoners remained within their lines, but the Louisianians gave no heed to them. The position they stormed was held by the brigade of General King, whose dead and wounded marked his track to the rear. A battery was taken by the Thirteenth and Twentieth, but the gallantry of the whole brigade made it in fact a brigade honor. ‘The brigade halted victoriously at night at the very point whence it had recoiled at midday.’

‘Among the officers, Col. Daniel Gober and Col. Leon Von Zinken were conspicuous for courage and skill. All the officers and men behaved with commendable gallantry. Maj. C. H. Moore, Capt. H. A. Kennedy, who commanded the Nineteenth in the evening charge, and Capt. E. M. Dubroca, Thirteenth and Twentieth, showed themselves capable officers on the field.’ Major Graves, chief of artillery, fell mortally wounded in the arms of Captain Slocomb. The staff of General Adams was also cordially [187] commended. The courage and skill of Colonel Gibson was gratefully mentioned by Breckinridge and D. H. Hill.

The brigade entered the battle with 120 officers, and lost in killed and wounded 33; with 1,200 enlisted men, and lost in killed and wounded and missing 396. It drove the enemy from two batteries and captured about 600 prisoners. Colonel Von Zinken reported a loss of 1 24, and mentioned the bravery of Capt. E. M. Dubroca, acting major, and Color-bearer J. Foster. Colonel Gober of the Sixteenth, lost 107 out of his 293 in battle at midday, and three officers—Lieutenant Oliver killed and Captain Ford and Lieutenant Walton missing. Walton was last seen urging his men to follow him against the foe. Captain Kennedy reported the loss in killed of Lieuts. R. W. Cater and W. T. Williams, in addition to the gallant Loudon Butler, and 25 enlisted men; wounded, 14 officers and 92 men; 11 missing; in all 153, half his force. Major Austin, with his battalion and a company from each regiment, led the skirmish line in the morning's advance, and reported for Company A, Capt. W. Q. Lowd, the capture of two cannon and nearly a hundred Federals. Company B, under Lieut. A. T. Martin, captured 33 prisoners. In the evening Austin co-operated with General Forrest.

Captain Slocomb lost the gallant Lieutenant Blair and 10 men killed and wounded, on the 19th, and 20 killed and wounded on the 20th. His own horse was shot under him. He commended Lieutenants Vaught, Chalaron and Leverich, and mentioned with sadness the death of Leon Brocurd, a youth of sixteen, who volunteered for the battle.

Scott's cavalry brigade was under Forrest's orders in this campaign; the First Louisiana cavalry under Nixon, and a section of Louisiana howitzer battery under Lieut. Winslow Robinson. He skirmished with the enemy about Ringgold for a week, and then drove in the advance of Granger's corps, within nine miles of Chattanooga. Next [188] day he was with Pegram and Forrest in the first gallant fight with the enemy west of Chickamauga creek; on the 21st was in the attack on Missionary ridge, and next day, crossing the ridge, drove an Ohio regiment into Chattanooga, attacked the enemy in his intrenchments, and drove them from their first line of rifle-pits, then being recalled at night to the ridge.

In this campaign, Dreux‘ cavalry, Lieut. O. De Buis, served as escort with General Bragg, and Captain Leeds Greenleaf's Orleans Light Horse had the same honor with General Polk. Capt. George V. Moody's Madison battery, coming with Longstreet, arrived too late for the battle.

Later reports show the First Louisiana regulars, Col. James Strawbridge, and First cavalry, Maj. J. M. Taylor, attached to Bragg's headquarters.

The Madison battery went with Longstreet into East Tennessee, where Colonel Alexander reported: ‘One of my most gallant officers, Capt. G. V. Moody, was compelled to be left dangerously ill at a private house near Knoxville, and must have fallen into the hands of the enemy.’ [189]

1 It is worth the record to say that this was the battleflag of a regiment of General Polk's corps. There the Louisianians found the flag, covered from sight by the bodies of its bearers who had bravely died in its defense. To save such a flag was an honor next to having borne it.

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