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Official Reports of the Campaign in North Alabama and Middle Tennessee, November 14, 1864-January 23, 1865: No. 248. — Report of Col. Ellison Capers, Twenty-fourth South Carolina Infantry, of operations September 29-December 2, 1864.

No. 248.

Report of Col. Ellison Capers, Twenty-fourth South Carolina Infantry,
of operations September 29-December 2, 1864.

CHARLESTON, S.C., January 4, 1865.

CAPTAIN: I embrace this opportunity to forward a report of the Twenty-fourth Regiment South Carolina Volunteers in the recent campaign from Palmetto, Ga., to Franklin, Tenn., including the battle at the latter place.

The losses sustained by the regiment at Franklin, together with the death of General Gist and the wounding of the adjutant-general of the brigade, Maj. B. Burgh Smith, and the terrible disaster which has since befallen the army at Nashville, make me apprehensive that no official report may be made or called for, and I will send this by the earliest opportunity and request that it be forwarded to the headquarters of the army at once, and a copy kept at brigade headquarters.

On the 29th of September last we broke camp at Palmetto and marched toward the Chattahoochee on the Phillips' Ferry road. Lieutenant-General Hardee having left the army, his corps was commanded by Major-General Cheatham, General Gist commanding Cheatham's division, and Colonel Capers, Twenty-fourth South Carolina Volunteers, commanding Gist's brigade. The brigade was composed of the Sixteenth and Twenty-fourth South Carolina, the Forty-sixth Georgia, and the Eighth Georgia Battalion. We crossed the Chattahoochee at Phillips' Ferry and camped the night of the 29th in line of battle on the west bank. Turning north on the 30th, we marched ten miles and bivouacked on the Villa Rica and Campbellton road, the line facing the State railroad.

On the 1st, 2d, and 3d of October the march was continued beyond Powder Springs, camping on the road to Lost Mountain on the 4th and 5th. While here we were engaged in intrenching a strong position, facing east and running parallel, for the most part, with the road, while Stewart's corps was at work breaking up the railroad north of Marietta. Early on the 6th, after a dreadful night of storm and rain, from which the men suffered very much, we broke up our line and marched in the rain and mud on the Dallas road, continuing the march on the 7th, 8th, and 9th, through Van Wert, Cedartown, and Cave Springs, to Coosaville, on the Coosa River. The command crossed the Coosa on the 10th, and turning north we camped in the beautiful valley of the Armuchee on the 11th. On the 12th and 13th the march was pressed through Sugar Valley Post-Office to Dalton, arriving before Dalton at 1 p.m. on the 13th, after a forced march of seventeen miles. From Palmetto to Dalton the regiment had marched 157 miles, marching every day, except the two days spent in fortifying the line on the Powder Springs and Lost Mountain road. General Hood's summons to the fort at Dalton was refused, and our division, now commanded by Maj. Gen. John C. Brown, was ordered to carry it by assault. The fort was a square redoubt, surrounded by a deep ditch, and situated on a hill just east of the depot and commanding the business part of the town; it inclosed a large store-house, and was defended by a complement of artillery and infantry. A hill immediately south and east of the fort commanded it, and General Brown moved his division across the open fields toward this hill, when a number of white flags were raised on the fort. The officer commanding had supposed the summons of General Hood to be one of General Forrest's efforts to capture him, but the display of our force and the evident purpose to place our artillery on the hill that commanded his fort, convinced his troops that their capture was certain, and they very eagerly surrendered. The garrison was composed of about 800 negro troops, commanded by white officers, and about 100 cavalry. We got some arms and a good quantity of stores, which our corps enjoyed. The remainder of the 13th and the morning of the 14th were spent by the corps in destroying the railroad at Dalton and back to Tunnel Hill. We left Dalton on the afternoon of the 14th and passed Rocky Face, through Mill Creek Gap, camping at Villanow.

On the 15th we passed Taylor's Ridge, through Ship's Gap, and camped in the Chattooga Valley, on the Summerville road. Early next morning, the 16th, I was ordered to march back with the regiment to the gap, and dispute the pass until ordered to retire. We reached the gap about 8 o'clock, and I at once disposed my regiment for its defense. The growth of the mountain on the side of the enemy's approach was thick, and the winding direction of the road made it impossible to see the force advancing. To the right and left of the gap the woods made it easy for my flanks to be turned by troops passing beyond the reach of my small force. I placed Companies A and F, Captains Steinmeyer and Sherard, under Captain Roddey, acting major of the Twenty-fourth, about a quarter of a mile in advance down the mountain, and instructed Roddey to take advantage of the woods, deploy his companies, and detain the enemy as long he could, falling back on the right and left of the regiment when pressed too hard. I cautioned him about his flanks, and left him full discretion to act as his judgment decided, communicating with me as opportunity occurred. The cavalry passed in about 10 o'clock and reported General Sherman's head of column advancing on the gap. I rode down to Roddey, and found his force well disposed, and was with him when the skirmishers of the enemy began firing. Riding back to an open place on the ridge, to the left of the regiment, I could see the enemy's trains and columns on the Villanow road, and counted seventeen flags. These facts I reported by courier to General Gist, who sent me a dispatch to hold the gap as long as I could, but not to lose my regiment. It was now about 11 o'clock, and Roddey was skirmishing heavily. I sent my adjutant, Lieutenant Holmes, to him, and he reported to me that the enemy were firing from the front all along Roddey's line, but showed only a strong skirmish line. Shortly after Lieutenant Holmes returned from Roddey we heard the enemy raise a shout from the direction of both flanks of Roddey's force, and the firing suddenly ceased. Very soon the men of Companies A and F who had escaped capture came in and told us that a force had passed around each flank of their line, and charging in rear, had cut off Roddey and most of his command. The regiment was in the gap, with the right and left companies deployed to protect our flanks. The enemy soon pressed up the mountain and charged our position, but the well-directed fire of the Twenty-fourth drove him back. He continued to fire from the front, and soon our vedettes reported to me from the left that a force was moving through the woods to my rear. This determined me to pass the defile, and I accordingly conducted the regiment to the rear by the right flank, each company firing up to the moment of marching. The enemy did not press us, and I conducted the regiment to the bivouac of the brigade on the Summerville road, the cavalry relieving us at the foot of the ridge. We lost 4 officers and about 40 men in this affair. Captains Roddey, Steinmeyer, and Sherard, and Lieutenant Gray were captured, with about half of the force they commanded. Most of those captured were so completely cut off from the regiment that they could not escape. I regret that I cannot say how many were killed or wounded of those who were captured; we had only 8 wounded in the gap.

The march of the corps was continued on the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th of October, passing through Alpine to Gadsden, Ala., crossing the State line on the 18th. We halted at Gadsden on the 21st, got our mails and drew the following: 21 blankets, 112 pairs of trousers, 74 pairs of shoes, 44 jackets, 82 pairs of socks, 37 shirts, and 46 pairs of drawers. This issue by no means supplied our necessities, but relieved the most needy. We had twenty men absolutely barefooted when we reached Gadsden. On the evening of the 21st the commanding general communicated to the army his purpose to cross the Tennessee and march into that State; accordingly, on the early morning of the 22d, the march was resumed. Passing over Sand Mountain we arrived before Decatur, Ala., on the afternoon of the 26th and formed line of battle. The weather was wretched, the roads muddy, and the marching most trying on the troops. The 27th and 28th were equally as bad, and the regiment being kept in position and moved frequently as the line was moved to the right, and the enemy throwing some shell meanwhile, made our stay in front of Decatur most uncomfortable, especially as we expected to attack or to be attacked at any moment. The men had no chance to cook and suffered from hunger. We left this position at 3 o'clock on the afternoon of the 29th and marched nine miles on the Tuscumbia road, camping in Florence County. The march was continued on the 30th and 31st, passing through Courtland and arriving at Tuscumbia at 4 p.m. on the 31st. The beautiful valley of the Tennessee, through which we marched, was desolated by the enemy, and the commanding general published a field circular to the army, calling attention of the troops to the ruined homes on every hand, and exhorting every man and officer resolutely to vow the redemption of Tennessee from the grasp of the foe. The circular was received by the Twenty-fourth with a hearty cheer, though many of the gallant soldiers who cheered were absolutely suffering for clothing and shoes. Hardee's corps went into bivouac west of the town, and remained in bivouac until the 8th of November. The weather for most of the time was miserable and the camp most uncomfortable in consequence. The following issues were made to my regiment: 64 jackets, 16 pairs of trousers, 38 pairs of socks, 28 pairs of shoes, 24 blankets. This was a very inadequate supply. I applied for 113 pairs of shoes absolutely needed, twenty-three men being barefooted on reaching Tuscumbia. Up to this point we had marched 361 miles. On the 8th of November, in a storm of rain, the corps marched to within a mile of the river, and went into bivouac, waiting for the completion of the pontoon. On Sunday, the 13th, the weather being fine, we marched over the pontoon, the bands playing and the men and officers in high spirits. Marching through Florence we camped one mile west of the town. The 14th and 15th were employed by Hardee's corps fortifying a line designed, we were told, to defend the crossing of the river in case of disaster in front. The weather from the night of the 14th was miserably bad; cold, rain, and snow, and the bivouac wet and uncomfortable. Rations were short, seventy of my men had next to no blankets, and as many needed shoes. On the 16th we got 16 pairs of shoes, 45 pairs of trousers, 50 pairs of socks, 26 shirts, and 34 pairs of drawers. We had no forage for our horses and a ration of only fifteen ears of corn. In spite of this the men were cheerful and dutiful. The Twenty-fourth reported at Florence 256 non-commissioned officers and privates for duty, 23 company officers, 2 field officers, and 4 on the regimental staff. Lieut. Alfred Holmes, adjutant, having gone to the rear sick, Lieut. W. M. Beckham, Company G, was detailed to act as adjutant of the regiment, and efficiently discharged his duties.

On the 21st of November we marched from the bivouac in a storm of snow, and continued the march for ten miles on the Waynesborough road. The roads were in such a terrible condition that the men marched in the woods and fields to escape the mud. The march was conducted through Waynesborough and Mount Pleasant to Columbia, reaching Columbia on the 26th, just after the enemy, retreating from Decatur, had entered that place. The brigade was bivouacked in line east of the Bigbyville pike. The march from Florence to Columbia was forced all the way, the weather and roads bad, and rations very short, three biscuits only on the 24th and 25th to each man. Except to furnish picket details, the Twenty-fourth had no duty to perform at Columbia and had no casualties.

Early on the 29th we left the bivouac and marched to Davis' Ford, on Duck River, crossing on a pontoon and continuing the march toward Spring Hill, immediately on the rear of the enemy's position at Columbia. The march was rapid and over bad roads, and part of the way over the open plantations. We arrived before Spring Hill about sunset, and were formed in line of battle, facing the town and apparently about a mile distant. The enemy seemed to be in confusion, as we could hear the noise of pulling down fences and houses and the rattling of wheels on the pike. Our troops were fighting on our right and we were expecting momentarily to be ordered forward. No order came, however, and as dark came on the general, Gist, and myself rode out toward the enemy within pistol-shot. This state of affairs was, and still is, inexplicable to me, and gave us a great disappointment. Later on in the night we could hear the rolling of wheels over the pike, as the enemy's artillery and wagons moved on to Franklin. After an anxious night of waiting and watching we moved next morning onto the pike and marched, after Stewart's corps, toward Franklin. Burnt wagons and dead mules were passed on the pike and other evidences of a hasty retreat of the enemy. About 2 p.m. the head of our corps reached a line of high hills crossing the Franklin pike, on which the enemy had a force. Stewart drove this force back, and we formed line of battle at the foot of the hills. In the order of formation Stewart's corps was on the right of the pike, and Hardee's, commanded by Cheatham, was deployed on the left. The divisions were formed in two lines, from right to left, as follows: Cleburne’s, Brown's, and Bate's. In our division (Brown's), Gist's and Gordon's brigades occupied the front and Carter's and Strahl's the rear line; Gist was on the left of Gordon, and the Twenty-fourth on the left of Gist's brigade, so that we occupied the left of the division. In this order the two corps moved forward to the top of the hills. The enemy was intrenched in a semicircle in front of Franklin, with his flanks refused and resting on the Harpeth River in his rear; there was also a short line of troops, apparently a division, about 500 yards in front of the main force. The distance from our position to this advanced force seemed to be about a mile and a quarter. About 4 o'clock the two corps moved down the hills, our division marching by the right flank of regiments until we descended the slopes, then forming forward into line. As we advanced the force in front opened fire on us, and our line moved steadily on, the enemy retreating as we pressed forward. Just before the charge was ordered the brigade passed over an elevation, from which we beheld the magnificent spectacle the battlefield presented--bands were playing, general and staff officers and gallant couriers were riding in front of and between the lines, 100 bat-tie-flags were waving in the smoke of battle, and bursting shells were wreathing the air with great circles of smoke, while 20,000 brave men were marching in perfect order against the foe. The sight inspired every man of the Twenty-fourth with the sentiment of duty. As we were pressing back the enemy's advance forces Lieut. Col. J. S. Jones fell mortally wounded in front of the right of the regiment. General Gist, attended by Capt. H. D. Garden and Lieut. Frank Trenhohn, of his staff, rode down our front, and returning, ordered the charge, in concert with General Gordon. In passing from the left to the right of the regiment the general waved his hat to us, expressed his pride and confidence in the Twenty-fourth, and rode away in the smoke of the battle, never more to be seen by the men he had commanded on so many fields. His horse was shot, and, dismounting, he was leading the right of the brigade when he fell, pierced through the heart. On pressed the charging lines of the brigade, driving the advance force of the enemy pell-mell into a locust abatis, where many were captured and sent to the rear; others were wounded by the fire of their own men. This abatis was a formidable and fearful obstruction. The entire brigade was arrested by it. Fortunately for us the fire of the enemy slackened to let their advance troops come in, and we took advantage of it to work our way through. Gist's and Gordon's brigades charged on and reached the ditch of the work, mounted the work, and met the enemy in close combat. The colors of the Twenty-fourth were planted and defended on the parapet, and the enemy retired in our front some distance, but soon rallied and came back, in turn, to charge us. He never succeeded in retaking the line we held. About dusk there was a lull in the firing west of the pike. Brown's division had established itself in the ditch of the work and so far as Gist's brigade front on the crest. Torn and exhausted, deprived of every general officer and nearly every field officer, the division had only strength enough left to hold its position. Strahl's and Carter's brigades came gallantly to the assistance of Gist's and Gordon's, but the enemy's fire from the houses in rear of the line and from his reserves, thrown rapidly forward, and from guns posted on the far side of the river so as to enfilade the field, tore their line to pieces before it reached the locust abatis. Strahl and his entire staff were killed together before reaching the work, and Carter was mortally wounded. But there was no backward movement of this line. Its momentum, though slackened by its terrible losses, carried it on to the ditch. Maj. B. Burgh Smith, of the brigade staff, who was commanding the Sixteenth South Carolina Volunteers, was now also the senior officer of the brigade, every superior officer having been either killed or wounded. Major Smith established the line on the works and maintained an effective fire until 9 o'clock by having the men in the ditch, many of whom were wounded, to load and pass up the muskets to the men on the work. Major Smith informs me that men and officers of Deas' brigade/of Johnson's division (which came on the field late in the evening), assisted in maintaining this fire. About 10 or 10.30 o'clock, Lieut. James A. Tillman, of the Twenty-fourth, led his own company (I) and men from other companies of the regiment in a charge against the enemy over the work, and captured the colors of the Ninety-seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry and some forty prisoners. The regiment held its position, as did the brigade, against repeated attempts to drive it from the work, until about midnight, when the enemy retired and left our army in possession of the bloody field of Franklin. I was shot down before reaching the last work, and have reported the facts occurring after my wound upon the statements of the men and officers who visited me at the hospital on the next day.

At the close of the battle Captain Gillis, of the Forty-sixth Georgia, was the senior officer of the brigade; of the general's staff, Capt. H. D. Garden alone remained. Before we reached the locust abatis the ranks of the regiment were decimated by the direct and enfilade fire of the enemy, and the lieutenant-colonel and myself had both been shot down, yet the company officers led their men forward, worked their way through the abatis, and assaulted the main work. Lieutenant Galley, of Company F, and Lieutenant Padgett, of Company I, with many of the men, were killed beyond the work.

I would specially commend the gallant conduct of Lieut. James A. Tillman, commanding Company I, who led his company over the work and captured the flag and some forty prisoners of the Ninety-seventh Ohio Regiment. Lieutenant Tillman specially commends the gallantry of Privates J.P. Blackwell, Anderson Walls, and J. E. O. Carpenter in this affair. I would also mention specially the gallantry of Privates Prewett and Mock, both of whom were killed on the last line of the enemy. Lieut. W. M. Beckham, of Company G, acting adjutant; Captain Bowers, of Company D; Lieuts. Claude S. Beaty, Company F, Adrian C. Appleby, Company C, C. D. Easterling, Company B, McDaniel, Company H, and Andrews, Company K, were conspicuous in the field for their gallant conduct. The conduct of these officers came under my notice, but I have no doubt others acted with equal gallantry whose conduct did not come under my immediate notice. Private Adam Carpenter bore the flag with courage and faithfulness, and Color-Corporals Jones, Company B, and Morgan, Company K, were both wounded. Lieutenants Weeks, Company C, Tatum, Company B, and Millen, Company H, were severely wounded on the field.

I would specially commend the gallantry and devotion of the litter corps, under Private Joseph Breland. They kept up with the regiment, and rendered prompt assistance to the wounded, several of them being themselves wounded on the field.

I have no data at hand to report accurately our losses in the campaign. Captain Risher with his company, E, had been detailed for special duty and was not in the engagement. Relying upon my memory, I would report the loss of the regiment, including about 43 captured at Ship's Gap and the loss at Franklin, to be about 150 men and officers. Lieut. Col. J. S. Jones died of his wounds at the division hospital a few days after the battle. His loss will be much felt by the regiment and is greatly deplored by his colonel.

From Palmetto to Franklin the regiment marched over 500 miles. We suffered much during November from the bad weather and from the want of clothing, shoes, and blankets. Once during the campaign the men received as a ration three ears of corn to each man, and frequently we had nothing but corn meal. But I am happy to report that no man deserted the flag of his regiment, and no command of the army fought with more spirit and heroic determination at Franklin than the Twenty-fourth South Carolina Volunteers.

The 1st day of December was devoted to burying our dead and reforming the broken, decimated ranks of the regiment. Under the skillful and kind care of Dr. W. G. McKinzie, our division surgeon, the wounded were made comfortable in the Harrison house, on the Columbia pike; and on the 2d of December the Twenty-fourth, under the command of Captain Griffith, Company C, marched with the army to Nashville. I have had no tidings from it since, except the published reports of the disaster which befell General Hood on the 16th, and the retreat of the army to Corinth.

Respectfully submitted.
Capt. H. D. GARDEN,
        Assistant Inspector-General, Gist's Brigade,
                Army of Tennessee, near Corinth, Miss.

SOURCE: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 45, Part 1 (Serial No. 93), p. 733-9

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