Report of Lieut. Gen. Leonidas Polk, C. S. Army, commanding Army Corps, with resulting correspondence.
December 26, 1862-January 5, 1863.--The Stone's River or Murfreesborough, Tenn., Campaign.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XX/1 [S# 29]
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF TENNESSEE,
Winchester, Tenn., March 24, 1863.
Col. B. S. EWELL,
Assistant Adjutant-General, &c.
SIR: I have the honor to transmit the report by Lieut. Gen. L. Polk, with those of division and brigade commanders, of the operations of his corps at the battle of Murfreesborough. This report, though dated February 28, was only transmitted, as will be seen by its accompanying letter, on the 21st, and was received at this office on March 22. The accompanying map has some inaccuracies in regard to troops and operations not under the general's command, but not to the extent of materially affecting its usefulness. The general requests leave of absence for an officer of his staff to carry this report to Richmond and transact other official business for his corps. I request the officer named be ordered to deliver the report to the Adjutant-General, but be confined to that specific duty. All other official business must be transacted through these headquarters.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
[Inclosure No. 1.]
HEADQUARTERS POLK'S CORPS, ARMY OF TENNESSEE,
Shelbyville, Tenn., March 21, 1863.
Col. GEORGE WILLIAM BRENT,
I have the honor herewith to transmit my official report of the battles before Murfreesborough, with accompanying statements and map. I send also copies of the report of Major-General [B. F.] Cheatham, and of the brigade, regimental, and battery commanders of his division; also a list of its casualties. Major-General [J. M.] Withers, having been absent on sick leave since the battle, has not sent me his report. It will be forwarded in a few days. The report of brigade, regimental, and battery commanders of the division, with a list of casualties, have been already forwarded to you. As these papers are of importance, and as I have other matters of interest to my corps to be attended to, I have to respectfully request that I be permitted to send a staff officer with them to Richmond. Lieut. P. B. Spence, who is the bearer of this, is the officer I desire to send. To accomplish this, I ask for him fifteen days' leave of absence.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
[Inclosure No.. 2.]
HDQRS. POLK'S CORPS D'ARMEE,
ARMY OF TENNESSEE,
Shelbyville, Tenn., February 28, 1863.
Col. GEORGE WILLIAM BRENT,
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following as my official report of the operations of my corps in the battles on Stone's River, in front of Murfreesborough:
One of my brigades (that of General Maney) was on outpost duty in front of Stewart's Creek, and, with a cavalry brigade under General Wheeler, was held in observation. The enemy made a general forward movement on the 26th in their immediate front, and they were ordered to retire slowly upon the line of battle which the general commanding had decided to adopt--on Stone's River, a short distance from Murfreesborough.
On the evening of the 28th, my brigades struck their tents and retired their baggage trains to the rear, and on the morning of the 29th they were placed in line of battle. As the brigades composing the division of Major-General Withers had not been engaged in any heavy battle since that of Shiloh, I placed them in the first line. They extended from the river, near the intersection of the Nashville turnpike and railroad, southward across the Wilkinson pike to the Triune or Franklin road, in a line irregular, but adapted to the topography. The division of Major-General Cheatham was posted in the rear of that of Major-General Withers, as a supporting force. The division of Major-General McCown, of Lieut. Gen. Kirby Smith's army corps, was in prolongation of that of General Withers, on the left, having that of Major-General Cleburue, of Lieutenant-General Hardee's corps, as its supporting force. Major-General Breckinridge's division, of Lieutenant-General Hardee's corps, occupied the ground on the east side of the river, in the line of Major-General Withers, on the right. The enemy moved forward, and our outposts fell back slowly and took their place in the line of battle on the 29th.
On the 30th, in order to discover the position at which we proposed to offer battle, he moved up cautiously, shelling his front heavily as he advanced. The cannonading was responded to along our line, and the theater of impending conflict was speedily determined. On the left of my line the skirmishing became very active, and my left brigades, front and rear, became hotly engaged with the line which was being formed immediately before them. The enemy pressed forward very heavily with both artillery and infantry, and a sharp contest ensued, in which he attempted, with several regiments, to take one of my batteries by assault, but, was repulsed in the most decisive manner. In this preliminary onset many lives were lost on both sides. It was, from its severity, an appropriate introduction to the great battle of the ensuing day and prepared our troops for the work before them. Twilight following soon after, the enemy settled around his bivouac fires for the night.
Orders were issued by the general commanding to attack in the morning at daybreak. The attack was to be made by the extreme left, and the whole line was ordered to swing around from left to right upon my right brigade as a pivot. Major-General Breckinridge, on the extreme right and across the river, was to hold the enemy in observation on that flank.
At the appointed time the battle opened, evidently to the surprise of the opposing army. Major-General McCown, who was acting under the orders of Lieutenant-General Hardee, was upon them before they were prepared to receive him. He captured several batteries and one brigadier-general, wounded another, and drove three brigades--those composing the division of Brigadier-General [R. W.] Johnson--in confusion before him. He was followed quickly by Major-General Cleburne as a supporting force, who occupied the space left vacant by the forward movement of McCown between the left of my front line and McCown's right. Opposing him in that space was the Second Division, of Major-General [A. McD.] McCook's corps, under the command of Brig. Gen. J. C. Davis, to confront which he had to wheel to the right, as the right of General McCook's corps was slightly refused. Cleburne's attack, following so soon on that of McCown, caught the force in his front a]so not altogether prepared, and the vigor of the assault was so intense that they, too, yielded and were driven.
Major-General Withers' left was opposed to the right of General Sheridan, commanding the Third and remaining division of General McCook's corps. The enemy's right was strongly posted on a ridge of rocks, with chasms intervening, and covered with a dense growth of rough cedars. Being advised of the attack he was to expect by the fierce contest which was being waged on his right, he was fully prepared for the onset, and this notice and the strength of his position enabled him to offer a strong resistance to Withers, whose duty it was to move next. Colonel [J. Q.] Loomis, who commanded the left brigade, moved up with energy and spirit to the attack. He was wounded and was succeeded by Colonel [J. G.] Coltart. The enemy met the advance with firmness, but was forced to yield. An accession of force aided him to recover his position, and its great strength enabled him to hold it. Coltart, after a gallant charge and a sharp contest, fell back, and was replaced by Colonel lA. J.] Vaughan, [jr.], of Major-General Cheatham's division, of the rear line. Vaughan, notwithstanding the difficulties of the ground, charged the position with great energy; but the enemy, intrenched behind stones and covered by the thick woods, could not be moved, and Vaughan also was repulsed. This caused a loss of time, and Cleburne's division, pressing Davis, reached a point where Sheridan's batteries, still unmoved, by wheeling to the right, enfiladed it. Colonel Vaughan was speedily reorganized and returned to the assault, and, in conjunction with Colonel Coltart, drove at the position with resistless courage and energy; and although their losses were very heavy, the enemy could not bear up against the onset. He was dislodged and driven with the rest of the fleeing battalions of McCook's corps.
In this charge the horses of every officer of the field and staff of Vaughan's brigade, except one, and the horses of all the officers of the field and staff of every regiment, except two, were killed. The brigade lost also one-third of all its force. It captured two of the enemy's field guns.
The brigade of Colonel [A.M.] Manigault, which was immediately on the right of that of Colonel Coltart, followed the movement of the latter, according to instructions; but as Coltart failed in the first onset to drive Sheridan's right, Manigault, after dashing forward and pressing the enemy's line in his front back upon his second line, was brought under a very heavy fire of artillery from two batteries on his right, supported by a very heavy infantry force. He was, therefore, compelled to fall back.
In this charge the brigade suffered severely, sustaining a very heavy loss in officers and men, but the gallant South Carolinians returned to the charge a second and a third time, and, being aided by the brigade of General [G.]Maney, of the second line, which came to his relief with its heavy Napoleon guns and a deadly fire of musketry, the enemy gave way and joined his comrades on the right in their precipitate retreat across the Wilkinson pike. This movement dislodged and drove the residue of Sheridan's division, and completed the forcing of the whole of McCook's corps out of its line of battle and placed it in full retreat. The enemy left one of his batteries of four guns on the field, which fell into the hands of Maney's brigade.
Here I think it proper to bring to the notice of the general commanding an instance of self-sacrificing devotion to the safety of their immediate commands and of our cause, which, for heroic courage and magnanimity, is without a parallel. A battery was pouring a murderous fire into the brigade of General Maney from a point which made it doubtful whether it was ours or the enemy's. Two unsuccessful efforts had been made by staff officers (one of whom was killed in the attempt) to determine its character. The doubt caused the brigade on which it was firing to hesitate in returning the fire, when Sergeant Oakley, color-bearer of the Fourth Tennessee Confederate Regiment, and Sergt. M. C. Hooks, color bearer of the Ninth Tennessee Regiment, gallantly advanced 8 or 10 paces to the front, displaying their colors and holding themselves and the flag of their country erect; remained ten minutes in a place so conspicuous as to be plainly seen, and fully to test from whom their brigade was suffering so severely. The murderous firing, instead of abating, was increased and intensified, and soon demonstrated that the battery and its support were not friends but enemies. The sergeants then returned deliberately to their proper positions in the line, unhurt, and the enemy's battery was silenced and his column put to flight. The front of Manigault and Maney being free, they swung round with our line on the left and joined in pressing the enemy and his re-enforcements into the cedar brake.
At 9 a.m. Brig. Gen. [J.] Patton Anderson, on Manigault's right, moved, in conjunction with its left brigade, forward upon the line in its front. That line rested with its right near the Wilkinson pike, and is understood to have been General [J. S.] Negley's division, of General [G. H.] Thomas' corps, which constituted the center of the enemy's line of battle. This division, with that of General [L. H.] Rousseau in reserve, was posted in the edge of a dense cedar brake, with an open space in front, and occupied a position of strength not inferior to that held by Sheridan's right. His batteries, which occupied commanding positions, and enabled him to sweep the open field in his front, were served with admirable skill and vigor, and were strongly supported. Anderson moved forward his brigade with firmness and decision. The fire of the enemy of both artillery and infantry was terrific, and his left for a moment wavered. Such evidences of destructive firing as were left on the forest from which this brigade emerged have rarely, if ever, been seen. The timber was torn and crushed. Nothing but a charge could meet the demands of the occasion. Orders were given to take the batteries at all hazards, and it was done. The batteries, two in number, were carried in gallant style. Artillerist s were captured at their pieces, a large number of whom and of their infantry support were killed upon the spot, and one company entire, with its officers and colors, were captured. The number of field guns captured in this movement was eight, which, together with four others, from which the gunners had been driven by the heavy firing from Maney's 1ong-range guns and Manigault's musketry on the left, made twelve taken on that part of the field. This was one of the points at which we encountered the most determined opposition, but the onward movement of the Mississippians and Alabamians was irresistible, and they swept the enemy before them, driving him into the dense cedar brake, to join the extending line of his fugitives.
This work, however, was not done without a heavy 1oss of officers and men. The Thirtieth Mississippi, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel [J. I.] Scales, in the act of charging, lost 62 officers and men killed and 139 wounded; others lost in proportion. Here the brave Lieut. Col. James L. Autry, of the Twenty-seventh Mississippi, fell while cheering and encouraging his troops.
The supporting brigade of General Anderson, commanded by Brig. Gen. A. P. Stewart, moved with that of Anderson. It was ordered by the division commander (Major-General Withers, who was in command of Major-General Cheatham's two right brigades as Major-General Cheat-ham was of his two left) to move to the support of the left regiments of Anderson, which were pressed. These regiments, which had suffered greatly, he replaced, and, moving forward, attacked the enemy and his re-enforcements on Anderson's left. After strong resistance they were driven back, shattered and in confusion, to join the host of their fleeing comrades in their retreat through the cedars. In their flight they left two of their field guns, which fell into the hands of Stewart's brigade.
Brigadier-General Chalmers' brigade (the remaining one of those constituting my front line), whose right flank rested on the river, was the last to move. This brigade, owing to its position in the line, was called on to encounter a measure of personal suffering from exposure beyond that of any other in my corps. The part of the line it occupied lay across an open field in full view of the enemy, and in range of his field guns. It had thrown up a slight rifle-pit, behind which it was placed, and to escape observation it was necessary for it to lie down and abstain from building fires. In this position it remained awaiting the opening of the battle for more than forty-eight hours, wet with rain and chilled with cold; added to this the enemy's shot and shell were constantly passing over it. Not a murmur of discontent was heard to escape those who composed it. They exhibited the highest capacity of endurance and firmness in the most discouraging circumstances. In its front lay the right of Brigadier-General [J. M.] Palmer's division, of Major-General [T. L.] Crittenden's corps, which constituted the left wing of the enemy's line of battle.
The general movement from the left having reached it at 10 o'clock, it was ordered to the attack, and its reserve, under Brigadier-General Donelson, was directed to move forward to its support. This charge was made in fine style, and was met by the enemy, who was strongly posted in the edge of the cedar brake, with a murderous fire of artillery and infantry. In that charge their brigade commander (General Chalmers) was severely wounded by a shell, which disqualified him for further duty on the field. The regiments on the left recoiled and fell back. Those of the right were moved to the left to hold their place, and were pressed forward. The brigade of General Donelson having been ordered forward to Chalmers' support, moved with steady step upon the enemy's position and attacked it with great energy. The slaughter was terrific on both sides.
In this charge--which resulted in breaking the enemy's line at every point except the extreme left, and driving him, as every other part of his line attacked had been driven--Donelson reports the capture of 11 guns and about 1,000 prisoners.
The regiments of Chalmers' brigade, having been separated after he fell, moved forward and attached themselves to other commands, fighting with them with gallantry as opportunity offered.
There was no instance of more distinguished bravery exhibited during this battle than was shown by the command of General Donelson. In the charge which it made it was brought directly under the fire of several batteries, strongly posted and supported, which it assaulted with eager resolution. All the line in their front was carried except the extreme right. This point, which was the key to the enemy's position, and which was known as the Round Forest, was attacked by the right of the brigade. It was met by a fire from artillery and musketry which mowed down more than half its number. The Sixteenth Regiment Tennessee Volunteers, under the command of Col. John H. Savage, lost 207 out of 402. It could not advance and would not retire. Their colonel, with characteristic bravery and tenacity, deployed what was left of his command as skirmishers and held his position for three hours. In the Eighth Tennessee, of the right wing, under the lamented Colonel [W. L.] Moore, who fell, mortally wounded, and who was succeeded by Lieut. Col. J. H. Anderson, the loss was 306 men and officers out of 425. The enemy was now driven from the field at all points occupied by him in the morning, along his whole line, from his right to the extreme left, and was pressed back until our line occupied a position at right angles to that which we held at the opening of the battle. After passing the Nashville and Murfreesborough turnpike, his flight was covered by large bodies of fresh troops and numerous batteries of artillery, and the advance of our exhausted columns was checked. His extreme left alone held its position. This occupied a piece of ground well chosen and defended, the river being on the one hand and a deep railroad cut on the other. It was held by a strong force of artillery and infantry, well supported by a reserve composed of Brigadier-General IT. J.] Wood's division.
My last reserve having been exhausted, the brigades of Major-General Breckinridge's division, and a small brigade of [Brigadier-]General J. K. Jackson, posted to guard our right flank, were the only troops left that had not been engaged. Four of these were ordered to report to me. They came in detachments of two brigades each, the first arriving nearly two hours after Donelson's attack, the other about an hour after the first. The commanders of these detachments, the first composed of the brigades of Generals [D. W.] Adams and Jackson, the second under General Breckinridge in person, consisting of the brigades of General [William] Preston and Colonel [J. B.] Palmer, had pointed out to them the particular object to be accomplished, to wit, to drive in the enemy's left, and, especially, to dislodge him from his position in the Round Forest. Unfortunately, the opportune moment for putting in these detachments had passed. Could they have been thrown upon the enemy's left immediately following Chalmers' and Donelson's assault in quick succession, the extraordinary strength of his position would have availed him nothing. That point would have been carried, and his left, driven back on his panic-stricken right, would have completed his confusion and insured an utter rout. It was, however, otherwise, and the time lost between Donelson's attack and the coming up of these detachments in succession enabled the enemy to recover his self-possession, to mass a number of heavy batteries, and concentrate a strong infantry force on the positions, and thus make a successful attack very difficult. Nevertheless, the brigades of Adams and Jackson assailed the enemy's line with energy, and, after a severe contest, were compelled to yield and fall back. They were promptly rallied by General Breckinridge, who, having preceded his other brigades, reached the ground at that moment, but as they were very much cut up, they were not required to renew the attack. The brigades of Preston and Palmer, on arriving, renewed the assault with the same undaunted determination, but as another battery had been added since the previous attack, to a position already strong and difficult of access, this assault was alike ineffectual. The enemy, though not driven from his position, was severely punished, and, as the day was far spent, it was not deemed advisable to renew the attack that evening, and the troops held the line they occupied for the night.
The following morning, instead of finding him in position to receive a renewal of the attack, showed that, taking advantage of the night, he had abandoned this last position of his first line, and the opening of the new year found us masters of the field.
This battle of December 31 developed in all parts of the field which came under my observation the highest qualities of the soldier among our troops. The promptness with which they moved upon the enemy whenever they were called to attack him, the vigor and elan with which their movements were made, the energy with which they assaulted his strong positions, and the readiness with which they responded to the call to repeat their assaults, indicated a spirit of dauntless courage, which places them in the very front rank of the soldiers of the world. For the exhibition of these high traits they are not a little indebted to the example of their officers, whose courage and energy had won their confidence and admiration.
January 1 passed without any material movement of either side, beyond occasional skirmishing along the lines in our front. I ordered Chalmers' brigade, now commanded by Colonel [T. W.] White, [Ninth Mississippi,] to occupy the ground in rear of the Round Forest just abandoned by the enemy. This it did, first driving out his pickets.
On the 2d there was skirmishing daring the morning. In the afternoon, about 3 o'clock, General Bragg announced his intention to attack the enemy, who was supposed to be in force on the north side of the river, and ordered me to relieve two of General Breckinridge's brigades, which were still in my front, and send them over to that officer, who had returned to his post, as he proposed to make the attack with the troops of Breckinridge's division. I issued the necessary orders at once, and the troops were transferred as directed. The general commanding ordered me also to open fire with three batteries, which had been placed in Chalmers' line, to distract the enemy at the time of Breckinridge's attack, and to shell out of the woods which covered his line of movement any sharpshooters who might annoy him while approaching the river. The shelling ordered, which was to be the signal for Breckin-ridge's advance, was promptly executed and the woods were cleared. Of the particulars of this movement General Breckinridge will speak in his own report.
When the firing of my batteries was opened, as above, there was a forward movement of the enemy's infantry upon my pickets in the Round Forest, and a sharp conflict, which lasted for some time, and ended in the enemy's regaining possession of the forest. This position being of much value to us, I found it necessary to regain it, and gave the requisite orders.
On the following morning, at daybreak, I ordered a heavy fire of artillery from several batteries to open upon it, and, after it was thoroughly shelled, detachments from the brigades of Colonels White and Coltart charged it with the bayonet at a double-quick and put the enemy to flight, clearing it of his regiments and capturing a lieutenant-colonel and 13 men. The enemy, however, knew the importance of the position also, and was occupied during the day in throwing up earthworks for the protection of batteries within easy range. These being completed, he opened fire from three points with batteries of heavy guns, and placed it under a concentrated fire for many minutes. It was a severe ordeal, and was followed by a charge of a heavy force of infantry; but our gallant troops met the advance with firmness, and, after a severely contested struggle, drove back the advancing column with slaughter and held possession of the coveted position.
In this battle we lost several men and officers, especially of the First Louisiana Regiment (Regulars). Among those who fell mortally wounded was Lieutenant-Colonel [F. H.] Farrar, [jr.] This young office,' was one of the most promising of the army, intelligent, chivalrous, and brave. His loss will be felt by his country and lamented by his many friends.
This battle closed the operations of my corps in the field in front of Murfreesborough. By orders from the general commanding, after being eight days under arms, and in actual battle or heavy skirmishing, in the rain and cold without tents and much of the time without fires, my troops were retired from the field and ordered to take up a position near Shelbyville. This they did at their leisure, and in perfectly good order. In all the operations in which they were engaged no troops ever displayed greater gallantry or higher powers of endurance. They captured 1,500 prisoners and 26 guns.
For the details connected with these operations I beg leave to refer to the reports of division, brigade, and regimental commanders. To the same reports, also, I respectfully refer for instances of distinguished gallantry in the case of corps and individuals. I beg leave to refer also to the accompanying statement, marked A, containing a list of the number of men and officers of my corps engaged in the battle; also to B, containing the number of killed, wounded, and missing. I refer also to the accompanying map of the field of battle, marked Bb. This map was prepared with care by Lieutenant [W. J.] Morris, of the engineers of my corps, from actual survey, and from the reports of the corps commanders of the Federal Army. From these sources he has been enabled to fix the relative positions of the corps, divisions, and brigades of both armies at different periods during the battle with great accuracy. The statements D and B I submit as parts of this report; also the accompanying map marked Bb.
To Major-Generals Cheatham and Withers, my division commanders, I am under obligations for their cordial support and active cooperation in conducting the operations of my command; also to the brigade commanders, who, without an exception, managed the parts assigned them in the general programme of the battle with great skill, energy, and judgment. Of the conduct of the regimental, battery, and subordinate commands their immediate commanders will speak in their reports, as they were more directly under their eyes. Our artillery also was well handled when it could be used, but the dense cedar brake into which the enemy was driven continuously prevented it from following our advancing columns. This made it necessary to have the work done chiefly with the musket and the bayonet.
To Maj. George Williamson, assistant adjutant-general, who was severely wounded in the shoulder; Maj. Thomas M. Jack, assistant adjutant-general Lieut. Col. T. F. Sevier, inspector-general; Lieut. P. B. Spence, of the same department; Lieut. John Rawle, acting chief of ordnance; Capt. Felix [H.] Robertson, acting chief of artillery; Capt. E. B. Sayers and Lieut. W. J. Morris, of engineers; Lieut. W. N. M. Otey, chief of the signal corps; Dr. [W. C.] Cavanaugh, medical director; Majs. Thomas Peters and R. M. Mason, of the quartermaster's department, and Maj. J. J. Murphy, chief commissary, members of my general staff, I am indebted for their vigilance and activity in the execution of my orders, and the fearlessness with which they exposed themselves in the discharge of their duties.
To my aide-de-camp Lieut. W. B. Richmond)I am particularly indebted for the intelligence, decision, and energy with which on this, as on other fields, he gave me his support; also to Lieut. Col. Henry C. Yeatman, my volunteer aide, for services of a like character. And our thanks and praise are above all due to Almighty God, the Lord of Hosts, for the success of our arms and the preservation of our lives.
I have the honor to be, respectfully, your obedient servant,
SHELBYVILLE, TENN., March 22,1863.
Field return showing the aggregate of offiers and men belonging to Polk's corps d'armee actually engaged in the battles before Murfreesborough,from December 28, 1862, to January 4, 1863.
Command Killed Wounded Missing Cheatham's Division 496 5,863 6,359 Wharton's (commanding cavalry brigade) reported effective total, 2,376 on December 27, weekly return Withers' Division 537 7,237 7,774 Totall 1,033 13,100 14,133
HEADQUARTERS POLK'S CORPS ARMY OF TENNESSEE,
Shebyville March 21,1863.
List of killed, wounded, and missing in Polk's corps in the battles before Murfreesborough, from December 28, 1862, to January 4, 1863.
Command Killed Wounded Missing Total Cheatham's Division Donelson's Brigade 102 570 19 691 Stewart's Brigade 50 301 2 353 Maney's Brigade 20 164 6 190 Vaughan's Brigade 105 562 38 705 Total 277 1,597 65 1,939 Withers' Division Deas's Brigade 68 600 27 695 Chalmer's Brigade 67 445 36 548 Walthall's Brigade 130 620 13 763 Anderson's Brigade 73 428 16 517 Total 338 2,093 92 2,523 Aggregate 615 3,690 157 4,462
W. B. RICHMOND,
HEADQUARTERS POLK'S CORPS,
Shelbyville, Tenn., April 6, 1863.
General S. COOPER,
Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond, Va.
In my report of the battles before Murfreesborough there occurs the following passage:
My last reserve having been exhausted, the brigades of Major-General Breckin-ridge's division, and a small brigade of General J. K. Jackson, posted to guard our right flank, were the only troops left that had not been engaged. Four of these were ordered to report to me. They came in detachment of two brigades each, the first arriving nearly two hours after Donelson attack, the other about an hour after the first.
I then expressed the opinion that if these brigades could have followed the attack of Chalmers and Donelson in quick succession the result of our operations would have been a complete victory. I have been informed that certain friends of General Breckinridge, who have seen my report, apprehend that the manner in which these statements are made will produce the impression that these brigades were ordered to my support at the time I first desired them, and that they failed to comply with the order, one detachment arriving two hours after it was ordered, and the other an hour later. I desire to say that it was not my intention to produce such an impression. I did not know at what time they were ordered to my support. I perceived that they would be needed, and asked for them before the attack by Chalmers and Donelson was ordered; but whether they would be sent me or not I did not know until just before they reported to me on the field.
With the request that this may accompany and be made a part of my report, I have the honor to be, respectfully, your obedient servant,
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF TENNESSEE,
Tullahoma, Tenn., May 2, 1863.
I transmit this explanatory report of Lieutenant-General Polk. In the language of his original report I see no suggestion that the brigades of Breckinridge did not reach the field of action in due time after being ordered. Had I done so I would have corrected it. They moved as soon as ordered, and I ordered them as soon as I ascertained that the fears of an attack on the right were groundless.
HDQRS, ANDERSON'S BRIG WITHERS' D1V. POLK'S CORPS,
Near Shelbyville, June 10, 1863.
Maj. THOMAS M. JACK,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., Polk's Corps, Army of Tennessee:
MAJOR: 1 have to-day, for the first time, seen the official report of the battle of Murfreesborough, by the lieutenant-general commanding the corps. As I know of no one who would be further from doing the slightest injustice, even by implication, than General Polk, I would respectfully call his attention, through you, to a paragraph in that report which might be construed prejudicially to the well-earned fame of a portion of the troops under my command.
The paragraph to which I allude is as follows:
As the brigades composing the division of Major-General Withers had not been engaged in any heavy battle since Shiloh, I placed them in the first line.
The brigade which I had the honor to command on that occasion (now Walthall's), and a part of Withers' division, composed entirely of Mississippians, except one regiment of Alabamians (Forty-fifth), had been in every important engagement in which any part of General Bragg's army had participated since the battle of Shiloh. They are justly proud of the laurels they won at Perryville.
The brigade 1 now command (then Chalmers'), also Mississippians, and a portion of General Withers' command at Murfreesborough, had singly and alone made the bloody assault upon the enemy's works at Munfordville, which, although unsuccessful at the time, was essayed with such intrepidity and courage as to reflect the highest credit upon the survivors, as well as the slain.
One regiment of this brigade (the Forty-first) was also in the battle of Perryville.
Both of the brigades thus composing half of General Withers' division at Murfreesborough had been engaged in heavy battles since Shiloh, and will, doubtless, be excepted by General Polk from the class to which he assigns them when the fact is brought to his notice.
I feel confident the lieutenant-general will pardon me for bringing this matter to his attention, since my course has been actuated by a desire that he should do himself, as well as the troops, no injustice by an immaterial paragraph in his report, inserted, perhaps, inadvertently, certainly without design of doing any injustice.
I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
HEADQUARTERS WITHERS' DIVISION,
POLK'S CORPS, ARMY OF TENNESSEE.
The error to which attention is called was not considered by me of sufficient importance to require correction, as it was not in reference to any fact deemed material to the subject-matter of the report. As, however, the ten Mississippi and one Alabama regiments who were engaged either at Perryville or Munfordville composed more than the half of my command participating in the engagement in front of Murfreesborough now seem sensitive under what they consider a reflection in the remark referred to, I have deemed it proper to forward this communication with approval.
J. M. WITHERS,
HEADQUARTERS POLK'S CORPS,
Shelbyville, June 17, 1863.
1 am much obliged to General Anderson for bringing to my notice the paragraph in my report to which he calls attention. It was, of course, an inadvertence, and is easily accounted for. In placing my troops in line of battle, the question in my mind was as to which of the divisions I should give the post of honor--the front rank. General Cheatham, as the senior officer, was entitled to it, but remembering that General Withers' division was not at Perryville (the only general battle fought by this army since Shiloh), I thought it due to him that he should have it, and to satisfy all parties I thought proper to assign the reason for that arrangement.
It will be remembered that Walthall's brigade was only recently transferred to Withers' division. It belonged to Hardee's corps at Perryville, and in thinking of Withers' division in its past history and action, it did not occur to me that there had been any changes in its composition, or that any troops that were at Perryville now belonged to it. The same is true in regard to the gallant brigade of General Chalmers, now commanded by General Anderson. I, of course, know of the distinguished intrepidity with which it assailed the works at Munfordville, and the heavy losses it sustained, but as I was thinking of the brigades as part of a division of which I was speaking, and not as separate brigades, it did not occur to me to make it an exception.
General Anderson does me no more than justice in saying that he regards me as incapable of doing injustice, even by implication, to any one, and, I will add, especially to troops the whole history of whose connection with me has won my highest admiration, and around whose brow I would rather weave garlands of well-earned fame than to be the occasion, even by inadvertence, of the loss of a single leaf from the chaplets with which they deserve to be crowned.
NEAR SHELBYVILLE, June 16, 1863.
Maj. THOMAS M. JACK,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Polk's Corps:
MAJOR: In his recently published official report of the battle of Mur-freesborough, Lieutenant-General Polk, referring to the part taken in the action by the Fourth Brigade of Withers' division, uses this language:
The brigade of Colonel Manigault, which was immediately on the right of that of Colonel Coltart, followed the movement of the latter, according to instructions; but as Coltart failed in the first onset to drive Sheridan's right, Manigault, after dashing forward and pressing the enemy's line in his front back upon his second line, was brought under a very heavy fire of artillery from two batteries on his right, supported by a very heavy infantry force. He was, therefore, compelled to fall back.
In this charge the brigade suffered severely, sustaining a very heavy loss in officers and men, but the gallant South Carolinians returned to the charge a second and a third time.
We respectfully suggest that this language is susceptible of a construction which may cause the reader to award to a part of the brigade honors which, to say the least, are merited as well by another part of it. Such was not the intention of the writer. A soldier himself, he would not willingly withhold from a soldier that which is most highly prized by him-- credit for gallantry on the battle-field. We, then, do justice alike to Lieutenant-General Polk and to our own respective commands by directing attention to the inaccuracy in the above recited extract.
The brigade of Colonel Manigault is not composed entirely of South Carolinians, as would be reasonably inferred from the report. In it are five regiments, two from South Carolina (Tenth and Nineteenth) and three from Alabama (Twenty-fourth, Twenty-eighth, and Thirty-fourth), and Waters' (Alabama) battery.
The first charge spoken of in the report was led by the three Alabama regiments. The report does not mention them.
All the Alabama regiments were in the second charge, and led in it. They wet,. also in the third charge. The report states that "the gallant South Carolinians returned to the charge the second and third time."
Respectfully submitting this statement of facts, we ask for it that consideration it may seem to merit, feeling satisfied, as we do, that the lieu-tenant-general commanding will acquit us of any intention to captiously controvert his report, and that he will do what is proper in the premises.
With much respect, your obedient servants,
J. C. B. MITCHELL,
Colonel Thirty fourth Alabama.
JOHN C. REID,
Colonel Twenty-eighth Alabama.
N. N. DAVIS,
Lieutenant-Colonel Twenty-fourth Alabama.
D. D. WATERS,
Captain Waters' Battery.
[Indorsement No. 1. ]
The matter to which the attention of the lieutenant-general commanding is called in this communication is reasonable, and is, in justice to the command herein represented, approved by me. The inference drawn from that portion of the report of the battle of Murfreesborough, as cited, is that the brigade which I commanded was composed either entirely of South Carolinians or that only the South Carolinians of the brigade are credited for gallantry, renewing the attacks after being repulsed.
The Alabama regiments partook in all the attacks, as my report will show, and I again take this opportunity of bearing testimony to the heroic courage and fortitude displayed by them on that bloody field.
The general conduct of all the regiments on that occasion was such that I can draw no distinction between them.
Colonel, Comdg. Fourth Brigade, Withers' Division.
[Indorsement No. 2.]
HEADQUARTERS POLK'S CORPS,
June 22, 1862.
In reply to the within, I have to say to the officers commanding the Alabama regiments, that the ground of their complaint does not exist in my report as written and sent to War Department. It was said by the printer in a misprint. It was written, "the gallant South Carolinian," meaning their brigade commander, Colonel Manigault, not "South Carolinians." Although the troops from the Palmetto State acted with distinguished gallantry, yet they were in no degree more distinguished for gallantry than their comrades from Alabama, who, side by side, shared with them the difficulties and all the triumphs of that bloody field. My object was to compliment their brigade commander, and through him his whole command, for the tenacity of purpose and unflinching bravery with which they returned time and again to the charge, until they' carried the position which had so often resisted them.
HEADQUARTERS POLK'S CORPS,
ARMY OF TENNESSEE,
February 4, 1863.
His Excellency JEFFERSON DAVIS,
President Confederate States of America:
MY DEAR SIR: I know that you have been apprised of a correspondence which has taken place between General Bragg and the corps and division commanders of Hardee's corps, of this army, following upon the retreat from Murfreesborough. As the same circular which was answered by the officers of Hardee's corps was received by those of mine, I think it proper to send you a copy of the correspondence which passed between General Bragg and myself. You will find it inclosed with this, as follows:
No. 1. General Bragg's circular.
No. 2. Generals Cheatham's and Withers' note.
No. 3. My indorsement on same.
No. 4. My reply of 30th, asking an explanation of his circular.
No. 5. His letter in reply.
No. 6. My answer to the question he proposed.
This correspondence has been very unfortunate, and its inauguration ill-judged; but it is now a part of the history of the times, and I feel it to be my duty to transmit to you copies of the letters which have passed between the general and myself. That correspondence speaks for itself. I thought, with the officers of Hardee's corps, that he desired an opinion on two points. Some of my subordinate commanders had thought, and others then thought, that he desired us to reply to but one. As he de sired us to consult our subordinates before answering, the difference o! opinion as to the construction of his note made it plainly proper to ask him which was the proper construction. To have this was necessary to an intelligible and satisfactory reply. It will be seen what the reply was, which made my final answer plain and easy. I think it would not be difficult from the form of my note for him to have inferred what my answer would have been if he had asked. It was waived and declined. Under the circumstances it would seem to have been natural for him to desire to know the opinions of all, as he had been forced to know those of half of his subordinates of the highest grade, but, as I have said, it was declined. I feel it a duty to say to you that had I and my division commanders been asked to answer, our replies would have coincided with those of the officers of the other corps. You have known my opinions on this subject since my visit to Richmond.
I have only to add, if he were Napoleon or the great Frederick he could serve our cause at some other points better than here. My opinion is he had better be transferred. 1 remember you having said, speak ing of his being transferred from this command, "I can make good use of him here in Richmond." I have thought that the best disposition for him and for the service of the army that could be made. His capacity for organization and discipline which has not been equaled among us, could be used by you at headquarters with infinite advantage to the whole army.
I think, too, that the best thing to be done in supplying his place would be to give his command to General Joseph E. Johnston. He will cure all discontent and inspire the army with new life and confidence. He is here on the spot, and I am sure will be content to take it. If General Lee can command the principal army in his department in person there is no reason why General Johnston should not. I have, therefore, as a general officer of this army, speaking in behalf of my associates, to ask, respectfully, that this appointment be made, and I beg to be permitted to do this urgently. The state of this army demands immediate attention, and its position before the enemy, as well as the mind of its troops and commanders, could find relief in no way so readily as by the appointment of General Joseph E. Johnston.
I send this by mail, and will send copies by my aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Richmond, whom I send to Richmond on business with the department, and by whom I also send my report of the battle of Shiloh. In it I have taken care that the presence of our valued friend on that field shall not be ignored.
I remain, faithfully, your friend,
[Inclosure No. 1.]
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF TENNESSEE,
Tulllahoma, Tenn., January 11, 1863.
Commanding Polk's Corps, Asheville, N. C.:
GENERAL: Finding myself assailed in private and public by the press, in private circles by officers and citizens, for the movement from Murfreesborough, which was resisted by me for some time after advised by my corps and division commanders, and only adopted after hearing of the enemy's re-enforcements by large numbers from Kentucky, it becomes necessary for me to save my fair name, if I cannot stop the deluge of abuse, which will destroy my usefulness and demoralize this army.
It has come to my knowledge that many of these accusations and insinuations are from staff officers of my generals, who persistently assert that the movement was made against the opinion and advice of their chiefs, and while the enemy was in full retreat. False or true, the soldiers have no means of judging me rightly or getting the facts, and the effect on them will be the same--a loss of confidence, and a consequent demoralization of the whole army. It is only through my generals that I can establish the facts as they exist. Unanimous as you were in council in verbally advising a retrograde movement, I cannot doubt that you will cheerfully attest the same in writing. I desire that you will consult your subordinate commanders and be candid with me, I have always endeavored to prove myself with you. If I have misunderstood your advice, and acted against your opinions, let me know it, in justice to yourself. If, on the contrary, I am the victim of unjust accusations, say so, and unite with me in staying the malignant slanders being propagated by men who have felt the sting of discipline.
General [E. K.] Smith has been called to Richmond, it is supposed, with a view to supersede me. I shall retire without a regret if I find I have lost the good opinion of my generals, upon whom I have ever relied as upon a foundation of rock.
Your early attention is most desirable, and is urgently solicited.
Most respectfully, your obedient servant,
General, C. S. Army.
P. S.--I inclose copies of a joint note, received about 2 a.m., from Major-Generals Cheatham and Withers, on the night before we retired from Murfreesborough [No. 2], with Lieutenant-General Polk's indorsement [No. 3], and my own verbal reply to Lieutenant [W. B.] Richmond, General Polk's aide.de-camp.
[Inclosure No. 2.]
HEADQUARTERS IN THE FIELD,
Murfreesborough, Tenn., January 3, 1863--12.15 a.m.
General BRAGG, Commanding, &c.:
GENERAL: We deem it our duty to say to you frankly that, in our judgment, this army should be promptly put in retreat. You have but three brigades [divisions] that are at all reliable, and even some of these are more or less demoralized from having some brigade commanders who do not possess the confidence of their commands. Such is our opinion, and we deem it a solemn duty to express it to you. We do fear great disaster from the condition of things now existing, and think it should be averted if possible.
Very respectfully, general, your obedient servant,
B. F. CHEATHAM,
Major-General, C. S. Army.
J. M. WITHERS,
[Indorsement No. 1]
JANUARY 3, 1863--1.30 a.m.
MY DEAR GENERAL: I send you the inclosed paper, as requested, and I am compelled to add that after seeing the effect of the operations of today, added to that produced upon the troops by the battle of the 31st, I very greatly fear the consequences of another engagement at this place in the ensuing day. We could now, perhaps, get off with some safety and some credit, if the affair is well managed. Should we fail in the meditated attack, the consequences might be very disastrous.
Hoping you may be guided aright in whatever determination you may reach, I am, very truly, yours,
[Indorsement No. 2. l
I gave the inclosed note, with the above indorsement on it, to General Bragg in his bed at 2 a.m. After reading one-half of it, he said, "Say to the general we shall maintain our position at every hazard"
W. B. RICHMOND,
[Inclosure No. 3.]
HEADQUARTERS POLK'S CORPS,
Murfreesborough, Tenn., January 3, 1863---3 a.m.
Commanding Hardee's Corps:
MY DEAR GENERAL: After due reflection, I deemed it my duty to make the following indorsement [No. 1] upon the accompanying note, signed jointly by two division commanders, Major-Generals Cheatham and Withers, and addressed to General Bragg. I have sent the note and indorsement to General Bragg by a staff officer, whom I instructed to await any reply the general might be pleased to make. After reading them, his reply was, "The position will be maintained at all hazards." I think the decision of the general unwise, and, am compelled to add, in a high degree. I shall, of course, obey his orders and endeavor to do my duty. I think it due to you to let you know the views of myself and <ar29_701> my two division commanders, especially as we all believe the conflict will be renewed in the morning. To insure its safe conduct, I send this by a staff officer.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
[Inclosure No. 4.]
TULLAHOMA, TENN., January 30, 1863.
General BRAXTON BRAGG,
Commanding Army of Tennessee:
GENERAL: Your circular of the 11th instant was received by me at Asheville, N. C., on the 17th instant. I dispatched you immediately, saying I would leave for your headquarters in two days thereafter, and would furnish you the reply you desired on my arrival. There seemed to be two points of inquiry embraced in your note: First, whether the corps and division commanders to whom it is addressed were willing to give you a statement in writing of the opinions and counsel which they gave you verbally as to the retreat from Murfreesborough; second, whether you had lost the confidence of your general officers as a military commander. From the structure of your note the first of the inquiries appears to be its leading object; the second, though not so clearly and separately stated, nevertheless is, to my mind, plainly indicated. Upon inquiry, I find this indication seems not to have been so clear to the mind of General Cheatham and such other of my subordinate officers as responded when they penned their replies, and since in your note you appeal to our official relations, and to our candor for a frank expression of our opinion, I feel, to avoid being placed in a false position, that it is due to my subordinate officers and to myself, as well as to you, to ask whether the construction I put upon your note is that you design.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
[Inclosure No. 5.]
TULLAHOMA, TENN., January 30, 1863.
Lieutenant-General POLK, &c.:
GENERAL: I hasten to reply to your note of this morning, so as to place you beyond all doubt in regard to the construction of mine of the 11th instant. To my mind that circular contained but one point of inquiry, and it certainly was intended to contain but one, and that was to ask of my corps and division commanders to commit to writing what had transpired between us in regard to the retreat from Murfreesborough. I believed it had been grossly and intentionally misrepresented (not by any one of them) for my injury. It was never intended by me that this should go farther than the parties to whom it was addressed, and its only object was to relieve my mind of all doubt, while I secured in a form to be preserved the means of defense in the future when discussion might be proper. The paragraph relating to my supersedure was only an expression of the feeling with which I should receive your replies should they prove I had been misled in my construction of your opinion and advice.
I am, general, very respectfully, &c.,
[Inclosure No. 6.]
TULLAHOMA, TENN., January 31, 1863.
GENERAL: I am in receipt of yours of the 30th, in reply to mine of the same date. In it you say you designed your circular should contain but one point of inquiry, and that was whether your corps and division commanders would give you for future reference a statement of what transpired between us in regard to the retreat from Murfreesborough. I have, therefore, now to say that the opinions and counsel which I gave you on that subject prior to the retreat are those that are embodied in my in dorsement of the note of my division commanders (Generals Cheatham and Withers) of January 3, which are in your possession, and I have to add that they were deliberately considered, and are such as I would give again under the same circumstances.
Respectfully, your servant,
[ Addenda. ]
SHELBYVILLE, TENN., March 21, 1863.
Commanding Corps, Army of Tennessee:
GENERAL: To-day for the first we feel assured of a verbal mistake having been committed in the note addressed by us through you to the general commanding, bearing date "Headquarters in the Field, Murfreesborough, Tenn., January 3, 1863--12.1b a.m." The second sentence, beginning "You have but three brigades," should have been You have but three divisions, &c. We make this correction simply to place ourselves right, not that we consider the mistake of writing brigades when we purposed and believed we had written divisions either did or should have altered the determination at last arrived [reached?].
Will you, general, do us the justice to transmit this explanation to the general commanding, and oblige, very respectfully, &c.,
B. F. CHEATHAM,
Major-General, C. S. Army.
J. M. WITHERS,
TULLAHOMA, TENN., April 2, 1863.
Lieut. Gen. LEONIDAS POLK,
GENERAL: I have your letter of the 31st ultimo, and thank you for the explanations you give me. I never supposed that you intended the construction to be placed on that part of your report which I feared might be.
Still, I apprehend that many persons, not reading critically, may infer that I was responsible for the failure to gain a complete victory, since it is stated that four of my brigades were ordered to report to you; that they came in detachments of two each, at long intervals, and too late to accomplish the result, which would have been the utter rout of the enemy if they had arrived in time.
Many may say, since I was ordered to report four brigades to you, how did it happen that they came in two detachments, the first two hours after the time, and the other still an hour later, when their timely arrival would have changed the face of affairs?
It occurs to me that the inference will be unfavorable to my conduct, although not conclusive against me. Of course, you could not know when I received the orders, nor with what alacrity I obeyed them, except from my own report. All I could request would be the exclusion of an inference that, in obeying an order to report to you with four brigades, I had delayed two hours with half the force, and three hours with the remainder. The question, as it affects me personally, is not, did the brigade arrive too late for the opportune moment, but, is it inferable from the report that I was responsible for it. If an erroneous construction is placed on your report, it may work me great injury, since it will be read by many thousands through the Confederacy.
With the kindness and frankness which has always marked your intercourse with me, you say that if it had occurred to you that this construction might be put upon your language, you would have so shaped it as to make such an interpretation impossible, and that, if I think it of any importance to me, you will endeavor to have the correction made before your report is printed.
Under the circumstances that surround me, it will be grateful to my feelings if you can, in the way you deem best, exclude the construction to which I have referred.
Very truly, your friend,
JOHN C. BRECKINRIDGE.
HEADQUARTERS POLK's CORPS, ARMY OF TENNESSEE,
June 15, 1863.
Hon. JAMES A. SEDDON, Secretary of War:
SIR: The reports of General Polk, of the battle of Shiloh, General Bragg, of Perryville, and Bragg and Breckinridge, of Murfreesborough, have appeared in the public papers, and, it was understood, by permission of the War Department.
The large body of Tennessee troops serving under General Polk were anxious to see his report of the battles of Murfreesborough and Perryville, and as there was no reason to suppose the Government would object to granting permission for the publication of these reports, which has been accorded in the case of those of other general officers, and as many errors appeared in the copy of General Polk's report of Shiloh, I sent to the gentleman through whom these reports were being published in the Knoxville Register, its Richmond correspondent, "S. L.," a corrected copy of General Polk's report of the battle of Murfreesborough, and wrote him, under date of May 5, as follows:
I send you a carefully revised copy of General Polk's report of the battle of Murfreesborough. *** This report is sent you predicated on the supposition that its publication has been authorized, and that the Secretary of War will give you access to the originals in the Department. Should he, however, refuse, you will not, of course, use the report.
The publication not appearing, I asked Mr. B. B. Minor to call at the War Office and see if there was any objection to its publication. This he did, and I am this morning in receipt of a note from him saying:
I find objections are entertained to the publication of the reports of the battles of Perryville and Murfreesborough. It is now under advisement whether to publish them prior to and outside of the usual mode. No access will be allowed to them at present.
In the mean time, since Mr. Minor left, these headquarters for Richmond, the Knoxville Register, of the 6th, announced that it would, the next day, publish General Polk's report of the battle of Murfreesborough, which had been forwarded by its Richmond correspondent, "S. L," the party to whom the corrected copy had been sent, and the report was accordingly published, as inclosed. I have thought it due to myself and to General Polk to make these statements to the Department, in explanation of the appearance of the report.
Since writing the foregoing, I have, in answer to all inquiry, received the following dispatch from the editor of the Register:
I had no express authority of the Government for publishing General Polk's report, but as my correspondent at Richmond had been allowed access to official copies of the other reports, and it expressed no disapproval of their publication, I inferred its consent.
J. A. SPERRY.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. B. RICHMOND,
P. S.--Mr. Minor, in his communication, informs me that no supplementary report of the battle of Murfreesborough had been received at the War Department. Such a report was made and forwarded to your office, and this postscript is added in explanation of its publication with the main report.
The explanation of this publication is little satisfactory. Express authority of the Department should be obtained before the copy of any official paper is intrusted to the agents of the press, who are under a strong temptation to publish as news whatever may be interesting to their readers.
J. A. S.,
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