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Marching with the 19th: Wedding, cheating wife help disrupt South’s efforts

Ned Jilton • Nov 7, 2013 at 10:10 AM

In the spring of 1863, Lt. Col. Arthur Fremantle of Her Majesty’s Coldstream Guards arrived in the South to visit the Confederate armies as a neutral observer and report the state of affairs back to England.

During a stopover with the Army of Tennessee, Fremantle inspected a part of Gen. Frank Cheatham’s division of Gen. Leonidas Polk’s Corps and noted “The men were good-sized, healthy, and well clothed, but without any attempt at uniformity in color or cut; but nearly all were dressed either in gray or brown coats and felt hats. I was told that even if a regiment was clothed in proper uniform by the government, it would become parti-colored again in a week, as the soldiers preferred wearing the coarse home-spun jackets and trousers made by their mother and sisters at home. The generals very wisely allow them to please themselves in this respect and insist only upon their arms and accoutrements being kept in proper order.”

Although a part of Cheatham’s division, the soldiers of the 19th Tennessee Infantry Regiment missed the visit because they were on duty defending the far left of the Confederate line, as they had been doing since they arrived in Shelbyville from Murfreesboro in January.

Sickness hits the 19th Tennessee

Even though the 19th Tennessee was placed in such an important position, sickness had done more damage than the Yankees. “Some of our regiment died while here, one of spinal meningitis,” said William Worsham, regimental musician and historian of the 19th Tennessee.

“Martin Conwell of Co. G, and O.M. Humphreys of Co. B; J.J. Payne and Felix Lauderback of Co. K, also died. While on picket duty Lt. R.G. Rhea, of Co. F, was killed; J.J. Ford, of Co. G, wounded, and Lt. A.W. Smith was captured.”

The reason the 19th Tennessee had a quiet few months was thanks to the strong Confederate cavalry screen between them and the Yankees commanded by some of the toughest cavalry officers in the west, Nathan Bedford Forrest, “Fighting” Joe Wheeler, John Hunt Morgan and Earl Van Dorn. Raids and patrols by these cavalry commanders kept Union Gen. William Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland off balance and bottled up in Murfreesboro for almost five months.

Yankees rearmed

The industrial might of the North began to assert itself in 1863, and Gen. Rosecrans was among the first to take advantage of it as he requested and received the latest in rifles and sidearms to strengthen his cavalry. Gone were the sabers and muzzleloaders, replaced by lever action carbines, such as seven- shot Spencer rifles, Colt revolver rifles, Sharps carbines and the latest model Colt pistols.

This rearming of the Yankee cavalry gave them a massive boost in firepower that brought about an equal boost in morale.

At this critical time, the Confederate cavalry command suffered two serious breakdowns. First, John Hunt Morgan got married. The wedding service was performed by Gen. Polk, an Episcopal bishop before the war. Morgan’s new bride stayed in a house 20 miles to the rear of the Confederate lines, and he rode home to be with her every night, neglecting his duties and leaving one-fourth of the cavalry without a commander for hours at a time.

The second breakdown also involved a wife — of another man. Earl Van Dorn was gunned down in his tent after being caught having relations with another man’s wife. Both Van Dorn and Morgan commanded the cavalry on the right side of the Confederate line.

Disorganization in the cavalry on the right side of the Rebel line was quickly noticed by Yankee cavalry and reported to Gen. Rosecrans. The ease in which his horsemen were getting through and around the Rebel right gave Rosecrans a plan of attack.

“The Federals began to make the front all along the line more lively. They began to press our front, and we strengthened our pickets” said Worsham. “The enemy became more bold, skirmishing more frequent and heavier. The old iron-mouth cannon that had been silent so long turned loose again to alarm the natives. Our regiment was ordered to the front. We moved out as far as the Lytle residence where our regiment deployed and moved forward, drove the enemy back, and our main skirmish line occupied the yard. For a while it looked like hide and seek. The enemy then drove us back some two hundred yards and occupied the yard again,” said Worsham. “It was in one of these skirmish charges that Lt. Robert Rhea was killed. Later in the evening we drove them back again and occupied their line, which we held. That night the enemy left our front and we saw no more of them.”

The plan was working

Gen. Rosecrans’ plan was working as the 19th Tennessee was quickly reinforced.

“Cheatham’s entire division was ordered to the front, to repair at once to Guy’s Gap, a point on the pike further up than we had yet been, but this was not put into execution. Hardee and Stewart were on our right and were being engaged with the enemy. Stewart was being pressed,” said Worsham.

That night Gen. Cheatham received urgent orders that his entire division was to march to Tullahoma.

“Starting out in the hardest kind of rain, we headed for Tullahoma. Our march was very slow on account of the rains, wagons and ordnance trains were continually miring up and with great difficulty were gotten along. We could not leave them,” said Worsham.

“The enemy was pushing for Tullahoma and so was Bragg. Cheatham’s and Cleburne’s divisions, moving on different roads in a hurry, approached a bridge across a river at the same time. Confusion resulted as to who would cross first. Cleburne halted and Cheatham crossed. We reached Tullahoma late in the evening of June 28th, tired and almost worn out. The enemy had kept moving; so had we, to keep pace with him. They were approaching Tullahoma in force and from indications Bragg intended to give battle.

“The fortifications around Tullahoma were not completed and a heavy detail was made to finish them. We lay all day and night in the ditches and in the mud without shelter. We had nothing to eat, nor had we all day. The boys began to get wrathy and hot, but the rain, which kept falling in continuous showers, kept us cool. Generals and men all fared alike in these ditches. During one of the hardest rains that fell, the writer saw Gen. Cheatham on a stump, sitting as complacently as if in the sun, with one shoe off and one of his big toes sticking out through a hole in his sock,” observed Worsham.

Gen. Rosecrans’ plan worked to perfection. Gen. Bragg, fearing he would be cut off from his main source of supply in Chattanooga, gave up Tullahoma with little fight and began to move south.

“The enemy presented only a small force in our front, while the main force of his army hurried on to our right flank, thus forcing Bragg from Tullahoma and disappointing the men of the anxiously expected battle, which they were ready and waiting to give,” said Worsham. “We left the ditches at daylight the boys were mad and wetter than wet hens. We do not know whether their ruffled tempers were due to being wet and muddy or to the fact the ‘Yanks’ had fooled them.”

Gen. Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland kept after Bragg and his army all the way to Chattanooga, with Bragg passing up many opportunities to turn and fight. This begins to sour the men’s attitude toward their commanding officer. The Rebel soldiers felt that their commander should have stood his ground at Murfreesboro and again at Tullahoma.

A new expression was soon heard among the soldiers of the Army of Tennessee. “Bully for Bragg, he’s hell in retreat.” But, with one last glimmer of hope they would always add, “But he’ll whip the Yankees yet.”

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