Monday, July 4, 2016

Diary of Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle: Thursday, June 4, 1863

Colonel Richmond rode with me to the outposts, in order to be present at the reconnaissance which was being conducted under the command of General Cheetham. We reached the field of operations at 2 P.M., and found that Martin's cavalry (dismounted) had advanced upon the enemy about three miles, and, after some brisk skirmishing, had driven in his outposts. The enemy showed about 2000 infantry, strongly posted, his guns commanding the turnpike road. The Confederate infantry was concealed in the woods, about a mile in rear of the dismounted cavalry.

This being the position of affairs, Colonel Richmond and I rode along the road so far as it was safe to do so. We then dismounted, and sneaked on in the wood alongside the road until we got to within 800 yards of the Yankees, whom we then reconnoitred leisurely with our glasses. We could only count about seventy infantry soldiers, with one field-piece in the wood at an angle of the road, and we saw several staff officers galloping about with orders. Whilst we were thus engaged, some heavy firing and loud cheering suddenly commenced in the woods on our left; so, fearing to be outflanked, we remounted and rode back to an open space, about 600 yards to the rear, where we found General Martin giving orders for the withdrawal of the cavalry horses in the front, and the retreat of the skirmishers.

It was very curious to-see three hundred horses suddenly emerge from the wood just in front of us, where they had been hidden — one man to every four horses, riding one and leading the other three, which were tied together by the heads. In this order I saw them cross a cotton-field at a smart trot, and take up a more secure position; two or three men cantered about in the rear, flanking up the led horses. They were shortly afterwards followed by the men of the regiment, retreating in skirmishing order under Colonel Webb, and they lined a fence parallel to us. The same thing went on on our right.

As the firing on our left still continued, my friends were in great hopes that the Yankees might be inveigled on to follow the retreating skirmishers until they fell in with the two infantry brigades, which were lying in ambush for them; and it was arranged, in that case, that some mounted Confederates should then get in their rear, and so capture a good number; but this simple and ingenious device was frustrated by the sulkiness of the enemy, who now stubbornly refused to advance any further.

The way in which the horses were managed was very pretty, and seemed to answer admirably for this sort of skirmishing. They were never far from the men, who could mount and be off to another part of the field with rapidity, or retire to take up another position, or act as cavalry as the case might require. Both the superior officers and the men behaved with the most complete coolness; and, whilst we were waiting in hopes of a Yankee advance, I heard the soldiers remarking that they “didn't like being done out of their good boots” — one of the principal objects in killing a Yankee being apparently to get hold of his valuable boots.

A tremendous row went on in the woods during this bushwhacking, and the trees got knocked about in all directions by shell; but I imagine that the actual slaughter in these skirmishes is very small, unless they get fairly at one another in the open cultivated spaces between the woods. I did not see or hear of anybody being killed to-day, although there were a few wounded and some horses killed. Colonel Richmond and Colonel Webb were much disappointed that the inactivity of the enemy prevented my seeing the skirmish assume larger proportions, and General Cheetham said to me, “We should be very happy to see you, Colonel, when we are in our regular way of doing business.”

After waiting in vain until 5 P.M., and seeing no signs of anything more taking place, Colonel Richmond and I cantered back to Shelbyville. We were accompanied by a detachment of General Polk's body-guard, which was composed of young men of good position in New Orleans. Most of them spoke in the French language, and nearly all had slaves in the field with them, although they ranked only as private soldiers, and had to perform the onerous duties of orderlies (or couriers, as they are called). On our way back we heard heavy firing on our left, from the direction in which General Withers was conducting his share of the reconnaissance with two other infantry brigades.

After dark General Polk got a message from Cheetham, to say that the enemy had after all advanced in heavy force about 6.15 P.M., and obliged him to retire to Guy's Gap. We also heard that General Cleburne, who had advanced from Wartrace, had had his horse shot under him. The object of the reconnaissance seemed, therefore, to have been attained, for apparently the enemy was still in strong force at Murfreesborough, and manifested no intention of yielding it without a struggle.

I took leave of General Polk before I turned in. His kindness and hospitality have exceeded anything I could have expected. I shall always feel grateful to him on this account, and I shall never think of him without admiration for his character as a sincere patriot, a gallant soldier, and a perfect gentleman. His aidesde-camp, Colonels Richmond and Yeatman, are also excellent types of the higher class of Southerner. Highly educated, wealthy, and prosperous before the war, they have abandoned all for their country. They, and all other Southern gentlemen of the same rank, are proud of their descent from Englishmen. They glory in speaking English as we do, and that their manners and feelings resemble those of the upper classes in the old country. No staff-officers could perform their duties with more zeal and efficiency than these gentlemen, although they were not educated as soldiers.

SOURCE: Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, Three Months in the Southern States: April-June, 1863, p. 169-73

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