Thursday, June 30, 2016

Diary of Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle: Tuesday, June 2, 1863

Colonel Grenfell and I rode to the outposts, starting on the road to Murfreesborough at 6 A.M. It rained hard nearly all day. He explained to me the method of fighting adopted by the Western cavalry, which he said was admirably adapted for this country; but he denied that they could, under any circumstances, stand a fair charge of regular cavalry in the open. Their system is to dismount and leave their horses in some secure place. One man is placed in charge of his own and three other horses, whilst the remainder act as infantry skirmishers in the dense woods and broken country, making a tremendous row, and deceiving the enemy as to their numbers, and as to their character as infantry or cavalry. In this manner Morgan, assisted by two small guns, called bull-dogs, attacked the Yankees with success in towns, forts, stockades, and steamboats; and by the same system, Wheeler and Wharton kept a large pursuing army in check for twenty-seven days, retreating and fighting every day, and deluding the enemy with the idea that they were being resisted by a strong force composed of all three branches of the service.

Colonel Grenfell told me that the only way in which an officer could acquire influence over the Confederate soldiers was by his personal conduct under fire. They hold a man in great esteem who in action sets them an example of contempt for danger; but they think nothing of an officer who is not in the habit of leading them; in fact, such a man could not possibly retain his position. Colonel Grenfell's expression was, “Every atom of authority has to be purchased by a drop of your blood.” He told me he was in desperate hot water with the civil authorities of the State, who accuse him of illegally impressing and appropriating horses, and also of conniving at the escape of a negro from his lawful owner, and he said that the military authorities were afraid or unable to give him proper protection.

For the first nine miles our road was quite straight and hilly, with a thick wood on either side. We then reached a pass in the hills called Guy's Gap, which, from the position of the hills, is very strong, and could be held by a small force. The range of hills extends as far as Wartrace, but I understand the position could be turned on the left. About two miles beyond Guy's Gap were the headquarters of General Martin, the officer who commands the brigade of cavalry stationed in the neighbourhood. General Martin showed me the letter sent by the Yankees a few days ago by flag of truce with Mr Vallandigham. This letter was curiously worded, and ended, as far as I can remember, with this expression: “Mr Vallandigham is therefore handed over to the respectful attention of the Confederate authorities.” General Martin told me that skirmishing and bushwhacking went on nearly every day, and that ten days ago the enemy's cavalry by a bold dash had captured a field-piece close to his own quarters. It was, however, retaken, and its captors were killed.

One of General Martin's staff officers conducted us to the bivouac of Colonel Webb (three miles further along the road), who commanded the regiment on outpost duty there — 51st Alabama Cavalry. This Colonel Webb was a lawyer by profession, and seemed a capital fellow; and he insisted on riding with us to the videttes in spite of the rain, and he also desired his regiment to turn out for us by the time we returned. The extreme outposts were about two miles beyond Colonel Webb's post, and about sixteen miles from Shelbyville. The neutral ground extended for about three miles. We rode along it as far as it was safe to do so, and just came within sight of the Yankee videttes. The Confederate videttes were at an interval of from 300 to 400 yards of each other. Colonel Webb's regiment was in charge of two miles of the front; and, in a similar manner, the chain of videttes was extended by other corps right and left for more than eighty miles. Scouts are continually sent forward by both sides to collect information. Rival scouts and pickets invariably fire on one another whenever they meet; and Colonel Webb good-naturedly offered, if I was particularly anxious to see their customs and habits, to send forward a few men and have a little fight. I thanked him much for his kind offer, but begged he wouldn't trouble himself so far on my account. He showed me the house where Vallandigham had been “dumped down” between the outposts when they refused to receive him by flag of truce.

The woods on both sides of the road showed many signs of the conflicts which are of daily occurrence. Most of the houses by the roadside had been destroyed; but one plucky old lady had steadfastly refused to turn out, although her house was constantly an object of contention, and showed many marks of bullets and shell. Ninety-seven men were employed every day in Colonel Webb's regiment to patrol the front. The remainder of the 51st Alabama were mounted and drawn up to receive Colonel Grenfell on our return from the outposts. They were uniformly armed with long rifles and revolvers, but without sabres, and they were a fine body of young men. Their horses were in much better condition than might have been expected, considering the scanty food and hard duty they had had to put up with for the last five months, without shelter of any kind, except the trees. Colonel Grenfell told me they were a very fair specimen of the immense number of cavalry with Bragg's army. I got back to Shelbyville at 4.30 P.M., just in time to be present at an interesting ceremony peculiar to America. This was a baptism at the Episcopal Church. The ceremony was performed in an impressive manner by Bishop Elliott, and the person baptised was no less than the commander-in-chief of the army. The Bishop took the general's hand in his own (the latter kneeling in front of the font), and said, “Braxton, if thou hast not already been baptised, I baptise thee,” &c. Immediately afterwards he confirmed General Bragg, who then shook hands with General Polk, the officers of their respective staffs, and myself, who were the only spectators.

The soldiers on sentry at General Polk's quarters this afternoon were deficient both of shoes and stockings. These were the first barefooted soldiers I had as yet seen in the Confederacy.

I had intended to have left Shelbyville to-morrow with Bishop Elliott; but as I was informed that a reconnaissance in force was arranged for to-morrow, I accepted General Polk's kind offer of farther hospitality for a couple of days more. Four of Polk's brigades with artillery move to the front to-morrow, and General Hardee is also to push forward from Wartrace. The object of this movement is to ascertain the enemy's strength at Murfreesborough, as rumour asserts that Rosecrans is strengthening Grant in Mississippi, which General Bragg is not disposed to allow with impunity. The weather is now almost chilly.

SOURCE: Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, Three Months in the Southern States: April-June, 1863, p. 159-64

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