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A Cursory sketch of General Bragg's campaigns. Paper no. 1.

By Major E. T. Sykes, of Columbus, Miss.
[The following sketches were writen by Major Sykes in January, 1873, and are now given just as they were originally prepared, with a few notes added. It is scarcely necessary to say that we publish without comment of our own, and without expressing any opinion as to certain controverted points.]

Although remotely removed from the exciting events which transpired during the four years of ‘War between the States,’ and reason has had time to coolly weigh with the accuracy of justice the motives and conduct of those superiors, who were at the helm of State, or generalship in the field, how few there are who have given thought sufficient to the real issues, its magnitude and surrounding, or sufficiently studied the military genius in more than one way displayed by our commanding Generals to meet the ever varying emergencies, to correctly estimate their respective merits. The cause of this apparent apathy and indifference to studious reflection and investigation of the philosophy of the war's history, can only be referable to the tyranny inflicted by our conquerors upon the South, and the consequent dethronement for the duration of their oppression, of all spirit of their former patriotism or desire to know ought else save the means of escape from this the ‘Iliad of their woes,’ ‘(proconsuls for governors and task-masters to rule over us.’ The truth is, the South is too supine—while the North and West are pursuing with vigor the path which their high destiny is pointing out to them, and wooing every breeze which may waft them onwards, we have cast anchor in the midst of a howling political and social storm, and are amusing ourselves with conjuring up phantoms of a past age, discussing the principles of a departed race of politicians, and talking of bringing back the government to its old republican tack; as if any government ever did or ever could go backwards. We forget, for the time, that the political institutions of a country may be wrecked on the rock of faction, or engulfed in a vortex of effeminacy or vice, may fail from too much weakness or too much weight, yet that it is certain, no nation was ever rescued from a danger before it, by an attempt to recede, or ever found a grave near the spot where it was ‘rocked in its cradle.’ [305]

For one, I am disposed to forego these once honored, but now useless reflections, and for a time to recur to the scenes of the past, simply to note down my recollections as an eye-witness and observer of the movements and operations of the ‘Army of Pensacola,’ and subsequently of Mississippi and Tennessee, while commanded by General Braxton Bragg, thinking the same will be appreciated by those who followed the varying fortunes of his standard, but were not behind the scenes, and hence could not know so much as I.

If, as one of his little, but solid army of Pensacola, I should be led to write aught in these lines which could be interpreted into a partial narrative, I desire it to be attributed to my high appreciation of that officer's worth, whether displayed in the arduous and ungrateful returns incident to the organization and disciplining an army, or skill exhibited in planning and executing a campaign, or unflinching courage brilliantly shone forth on the field of battle, and not to an invidious spirit, hoping to do injustice to others whose mead of praise arising from Southern bosoms, is deservedly overflowing.

The Pensacola campaign.—as a member of one of the first companies who left (March 27th, 1861), the borders of his home to participate in the threatened struggle, which soon thereafter assumed and continued to maintain gigantic proportions, I was ordered to Pensacola where General Bragg was hastily but surely organizing his little army which was afterwards to play a conspicuous part in the great drama of war. I pass hurriedly over the incidents of his bold threatenings of Fort Pickens, and the masterly defensive cordon of forts and batteries extending from the Navy Yard to and beyond Fort McRea, a distance of nearly five miles, the whole being equidistant from Fort Pickens, conceived in his brain, and erected under his immediate supervision, as well as the bombardment of Fort Pickens, we will soon notice him in a broader and nobler, if possible, field of action.

The first incident of importance and which looked like work after the burning by the enemy of the dry-dock in Pensacola harbor, was on the night of September 3d, 1861, when about three o'clock in the morning, five launches from Santa Rosa Island, distant two miles, containing about thirty men each, manning a pivot howitzer, with muffled oars quietly landed at the Navy Yard under cover of the darkness, and led by an officer with the courage of a Numidian lion, succeeded in burning the large schooner of our harbor police. They were not discovered until very near the wharf, and not in time to call out the troops, before the schooner was boarded with the [306] command, ‘board her boys!’ whilst the officer, with cutlass in one hand and a torch in the other, led the way until he had succeeded in throwing the flambeau into her hold, and then seeing that their mission had been accomplished beat a hasty retreat. As they were rapidly putting for the Island and had gained a safe distance from the yard, they sent back a shower of grape from their howitzers, directed upon our men, then being rapidly formed, which fire being rendered uncertain by the darkness, only two were wounded.

The next incident of a really exciting nature was an attack in three columns, respectively led by Colonels J. Patton Anderson, of Florida, Jas. R. Chalmers, of Mississippi and J. R. Jackson, of Georgia, all under command of Brigadier-General Richard Anderson, upon Wilson's Zouaves, encamped just outside Fort Pickens, in which a partial success was gained, and, but for an unfortunate accident, great advantage would have accrued. This was a little before day on the morning of the 8th of October,—a few were killed and wounded on both sides, and some prisoners captured by each belligerent. Among the prisoners taken from us was the entire medical corps, (Dr. W. L. Lipscomb, of the Tenth Mississippi included) who had remained with the wounded. The prisoner of the most importance taken from the enemy, and the first prisoner of war I had ever seen, was one Major Vodges. On returning from the Island, and while the machinery of one of our tow-boats was out of order, several of our men were wounded by small arms fired from the enemy on the Island, among them, General Anderson, who was shot in the arm.

The bombardment of the 22d and 23d of November, 1861, was commenced by Colonel Brown, commanding Fort Pickens, and in about one-half hour afterwards, responded to by our entire line of fortifications. The enemy's land fortifications were aided by the two large men-of-war, the Richmond and Niagara, commanded by flag-officer McKean. 'Twas said by the enemy that the damage done to Fort Pickens was slight, whilst they with their hot shot and shell set fire to several houses at the Navy Yard, silenced several of our land batteries, and came near demolishing Fort McRea. Be the enemy's damage slight as he represented it, it is pregnant with meaning, when he failed to renew the bombardment on the morning of the 24th, after boastfully commencing it two days previous.

The Army under General Albert Sidney Johnston at Corinth and ShilohGeneral Bragg's forces remained in the [307] successful defence of Pensacola and the Navy Yard, until February or early in March, when the disasters of Fort Donaldson on the Cumberland, and Henry on the Tennessee rivers, together with the evacuation by our forces, and the occupation by the enemy of Southern Kentucky, Middle and West Tennessee, and North Alabama, resulted in a concentration of all our available force under Albert Sidney Johnston, along the line of the Memphis and Charleston railroad, with Corinth as its center and base.

Having organized his splendid troops, General Johnston, with General Beauregard as second in command, put in motion on the morning of the 3d of April, 1862, the ‘Army of the Mississippi,’ to offer battle to the invaders of our soil. The attack was to have been made on the 6th, before Buell, who was marching to the assistance of Grant, at Pittsburg Landing, could possibly reach him, but owing to the bad roads, the Confederates were unable to reach the destined point in time. Resting for the night in order of battle, a short distance from the enemy's camp, with only now and then a picket shot to relieve the suspense, we commenced to advance at early dawn, and by sunrise came fairly upon them. Hardie commanded the front line, with Gladden's and Chalmers's brigades of Bragg's corps on his right, Bragg's corps, less the two brigades above-mentioned, constituting the second line, followed about four hundred yards distant. The corps of General Polk, following the second line at the distance of about eight hundred yards, in lines of brigades, deployed with their batteries in rear of each, protected by cavalry on their right. The reserves under General Breckenridge followed closely the third line in the same order, its right wing supported by cavalry. Well do I remember, being then Adjutant of the Tenth Mississippi infantry, of Chalmers's brigade, how all were spoiling for their maiden fight, in which, before they were through, they were willing to acknowledge that of choice, they would thereafter exhibit less of reckless anxiety, and more of prudent discretion. As the Tenth Mississippi (Colonel Robt. A. Smith commanding, and who was subsequently killed in the battle of Mumsfordville, Ky., and than whom no braver spirit or better office gave up his life during the war,1) descended the last hill, in full view of the enemy's [308] camp, it was discovered by the position of an Indiana regiment standing behind an improvised breastwork of knapsacks, a little re-retired from the crest of the hill beyond, with ‘arms ready,’ that we were too far to the left, and ordered to march by the right flank down the ravine, until our right opposed their extreme left.

And now comes the strange part of this sketch. Not a gun in our regiment was loaded. In the verdancy of our military career and ardor for fight, we had overlooked one of its most essential precautions.

I heard Colonel Smith, who was sitting upon his horse a few paces in front of his line, and from his elevated position, exposed to the enemy not fifty yards off, give the commands: ‘Order arms,’ ‘Load,’ ‘Fix bayonets,’ ‘Shoulder arms.’ Then followed this pertinent language: ‘Soldiers, we have been ordered to charge those fellows in blue (pointing with his sword to the enemy); I want you when I give the order to forward, to advance steadily to the top of the hill, fire with deliberation, and then give them the bayonet.’ ‘Forward, then,’ was the next sound heard, and Smith's orders, as always, were observed. Both parties fired about the same time with deadly effect, after which the enemy broke and fled in confusion. General Chalmers immediately rode up to Colonel Smith, and after remarking in my presence, that he deserved to be a Major-General, commanded him not again to expose himself so recklessly, but it being purely a personal, and not strictly a military order, was not obeyed, until soon after his horse was shot from under him.

Throughout that day, the right, under Bragg, did not sustain a reverse, but took position after position in such quick succession as to justify the confident belief that the entire Federal army under General Grant would be annihilated before the close of the day.

About 4 P. M., as we were halted in line of battle to reform, while a brigade of prisoners just captured were being escorted by our [309] cavalry to the rear, and preparatory to our final attack on that day, General Bragg, who justly felt proud of his day's work, was seen riding alone in front of his victorious lines, and rapidly approaching our front. As he reached us, General Chalmers, who was likewise exultant over the action of his brigade, rose in his stirrups, and waving a flag shouted, ‘Pensacola troops, three cheers for our beloved commander!’ Recognizing the compliment, and feeling that he had troops to follow where he was prepared to lead, he reined up, faced the brigade, and with head uncovered, looked the ‘noblest Roman of them all.’

The white-plumed Henry of Navarre never inspired his fiery Frenchmen with more ardent enthusiasm than did this scene of Bragg's awaken the glow of patriotism in the breasts of his Pensacola boys. They—officers and private soldiers—mutually felt that that day's victory belonged equally to both and all.

Soon after this exhilarating scene, we were again put in motion to attack the enemy's last stronghold, being twenty-two guns massed in a semi-circle on an elongated eminence protecting his centre and left, and which proved a bulwark between us and their destruction or surrender. Amidst the confusion of orders, some to ‘advance,’ some to ‘retreat,’ occasioned by the general order of Beauregard to retire for the night, we were in a fated hour repulsed, never again to enjoy the pleasure of having them so near in our grasp. Time, such as Wellington prayed for on the plains of Waterloo, ‘Oh! for Blucher, or for night,’ was given to them, and they profited thereby. Buell crossed the Tennessee, and the next morning, the 7th, was as disastrous to our arms as the day before had been propitious.

About 11 o'clock A. M. on the 7th, Bragg's line, or at least that part of it in which was Chalmers's brigade, which had been fighting from the firing of the first gun on the 6th till then, fatigued and worn out, was ordered to lie down, whilst Breckinridge, with his brave Kentuckians, passed over them to the front, and in a few moments to fall like sheep in the shambles.

This was the last of my participation in the battle of Shiloh. From that time until our retreat that evening, I enjoyed the safety of being simply an eye-witness of other combatants—a condition in war far more satisfactory and preferable to one who has just had enough, than rushing headlong against minnie-balls and grape-shot.

Though in that battle many a brave and good man was made to bite the dust, others equally brave and good survived to receive [310] their country's praise and honors. Among the latter was General Braxton Bragg, who was immediately promoted to the full proportions of General in the regular army.

evacuation of Corinth, and General Bragg placed in command of the Army.—Shortly after the evacuation of Corinth by our forces, which was completed on the night of the 29th of May, General Beauregard's health having for a time failed him, he was granted a leave of absence by the Department at Richmond, and General Bragg placed in full command of the ‘Army of the Mississippi,’ and soon thereafter inaugurated his celebrated Kentucky campaign. Leaving General Price behind, he moved with the remainder of his army from Tupelo, Mississippi, by rail through the States of Alabama and Georgia, and massed it in and around Chattanooga and Knoxville, in advance of Buell, who, about the 10th day of June, left Corinth with the main body of his army, via Huntsville, Alabama, for Chattanooga.

1 General Bragg's estimate of Colonel Smith may be seen from the following letter:

Superintendent's office, water works Department commercial bank, New Orleans, Jan'y 22, 1868.
Dear Sir:—It affords me great pleasure to receive your note of the 4th inst., enclosing the carte de visite of my late friend and fellow-soldier, Colonel Robert A. Smith, Tenth Mississippi volunteers. Entering the service at an early age, without military experience or education, the Colonel fell in the gallant discharge of an almost desperate assault, in less than eighteen months, esteemed and honored for his acquirements and heroic deportment. To me his loss was severe, for I had looked to him for support, in a much higher and extended command.

Please convey my thanks to the Colonel's brother for this mark of kind remembrance, and believe me, truly,

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