Mississippi Swampers are Born: Battle of Belmont and Shiloh

      The Mississippi Swampers were organized at Memphis, Tennessee on June 11, 1861.  It’s origins go further south though.  Robert J. Humphreys was the popular sheriff of Tunica County, Mississippi and had served from 1853 to 1860.  He decided to organize a company to defend the county and the new Confederate States of America.  The men who would come to make up this organization would be from both Tunica and Coahoma counties.  Some would be wealthy planters and others would be lowly farm laborers. Nevertheless, their destinies were all linked with this new company and many of them would never make it home to see the Mississippi Delta again. 

      A party was held at Austin ,which was the county seat of Tunica, for the men.  They were showered with kisses and prayers.  Everybody expected the war to end quickly and then they would would return home as heroes. The Swampers were actually mustered into service by the State of Tennessee between May 25 and July 11, 1861.  From Memphis, they were ordered north to New Madrid, Missouri.  On August 8,1861, the men from Tunica and Coahoma counties officially became part of the Confederate States army for a period of one year. They were soon joined by other Mississippi companies and it was decided to create a battalion under Captain A.K. Blythe who had just got promoted to Lt. Colonel. Company officers for Humphrey’s Company were Captain R.H. Humphreys; 1st Lt. James Moore; 2nd Lt. R.G. Kelsey; and Brev. 2nd Lt. Andrew W. Byrns.  The company was stationed at Camp Blythe when Lt. Colonel A.K. Blythe wrote the following letter to General Polk in Memphis:

Camp Blythe.  August 27,1861

Captain D.L. Herron is hereby detailed to go to Memphis, Tennessee  and procure from Major General Polk, CSA, authority to have five companies added to this Battalion of Mississippi infantry commanded by me and General Polk has authority therefore if not to obtain his influence with the department to have the battalion increased to a regiment.

Lt. Colonel A.K. Blythe

The companies of the 1st Battalion Infantry at that time were the following:

  •  Tombigbee Rangers of Lowndes County, mustered into state service at Columbus February, 1861.  Captain Samuel F. Butler
  • Mississippi Swampers of Tunica and Coahoma Counties, mustered into state service at Memphis June 11, 1861. Captain Robert H. Humphreys
  • Blythe Rifles of Yalobusha County, mustered into state service at Preston April 27, 1861
  • Palo Alto Confederates of Chickasaw County, mustered into state service at Palo Alto July 27,1861
  • Pettus Rangers of Marshall County mustered into state service at Holly Springs on August 25,1861

      Andrew King Blythe was born in Tennessee in 1819 and had moved to Columbus, Mississippi by 1847.  He joined the 2nd Mississippi Infantry as Captain of Company A known as the Lowndes Guards in the Mexican War. The regiment arrived in Mexico after the fighting had ended in Northern Mexico.  They suffered severe losses to disease in Mexico as occupation troops.   Blythe was appointed U.S. District Attorney of the Northern District  of Mississippi in 1848 by President James K. Polk.  He joined the States Rights Democrats and represented Lowndes County in the state legislature. In 1857, Blythe served as U.S. Consul general to Cuba.  When it looked like Mississippi would secede, he quickly formed a military company known as the Blythe Rifles.  Because of his military experience, he was soon promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and created the 1st Mississippi  battalion. 

      On September 21, 1861 the 1st Mississippi Battalion Infantry was listed as part of Brigadier General Benjamin Cheatham’s 1st Brigade.  This unit moved to Columbus, Kentucky.  It was here that General Cheatham trained and organized these new troops under his command and readied them in case of  battle.   General U.S. Grant, before he would become famous, gave the Mississippians their first taste of combat. On November 7th, Grant moved south and took over Belmont, Missouri directly across the river from Columbus.  General Polk sent Gideon Pillow with four regiments to attack Grant and drive him back. The two sides fired volley after volley into each other before the Southerners suddenly retreated.  Polk decided to reinforce Pillow and ordered General Cheatham across the river with additional troops.  This detachment included  Blythe’s First Battalion.  With a larger force now, the Confederates began to push the Federals backward.  Grant’s men fled  to their transports and safety.  The First Battalion was in this attack that pushed the Northerners back to their boats.  They were praised for acting as veterans under fire for the first time. Company B suffered no casualties in this battle. 

The Battle of Belmont, Missouri

belmont

      The 1st Battalion Mississippi Infantry was joined by a new company at Columbus in December 1861.  They were the Amite Rangers organized at Liberty in October 1861.  Soon other companies joined them and by early 1862, the First Battalion was known at Blythe’s Regiment of Mississippi Volunteers and were organized in the following way: 

  • Company A – Captain Samuel F. Butler
  • Company B – Captain R.H. Humphreys
  • Company C – Captain James R.M. Du Berry
  • Company D – Captain James Dockery
  • Company E – Captain Thomas J. Black
  • Company F – Captain D.F. Coopwood
  • Company G – Captain Thomas L. Faulkner
  • Company H – Captain B.G. Brown
  • Company I –  Captain Benjamin F. Sawyer
  • Company K – Captain W.L. Huff
  • Company L – Captain W.W. Wood ( joined after Shiloh )

Some of these companies were not at full strength, and several were soon consolidated or transferred.  Blythe’s Regiment was apparently never at full regimental strength and there is a great deal of confusion in the records.  These are the notes under each company taken from the Compiled Service Records:

  • Company A – Companies A and D were temporarily consolidated December 26,1862.
  • Company B – Companies B and C were temporarily consolidated December 26, 1862
  • Company C – Companies B and C were temporarily consolidated December 26, 1862
  • Company D – Companies A and D were temporarily consolidated December 26, 1862
  • Company E- Companies F, E, and L were temporarily consolidated December 26, 1862
  • Company F – Companies F, E, and  L were temporarily consolidated December 26, 1862
  • Company G – This company appears to have been consolidated with Company I about July 1862 which consolidated company was known as Company I until about November 1862 it was transferred to 24th Regiment Alabama Infantry and became Company K of that organization.
  • Company H – Companies H and K were temporarily consolidated December 26, 1862
  • Company I – Company G was consolidated with this company about July  1862.  This company was originally Sawyer’s Independent Company Alabama Volunteers, became Company I and finally Company K, 24th Regiment Alabama Infantry
  • Company K – Companies K and H were temporarily consolidated December 26, 1862

Captions and Records: These are the companies with records for Blythe’s Regiment:

  • Company C 
  • Field and Staff records
  • Company A
  • Company B
  • Company D
  • Company E
  • Company F
  • Company G
  • Company H
  • Company I
  • Company K
  • Company L 

It appears that the regiment had eleven companies at one point, but not very long.  At Shiloh, Captain Wood’s company had not joined yet.  Therefore, it went into Shiloh with companies A – K.  Company L joined the regiment on April 16, 1862 according to records. Companies G and I were then consolidated in July 1862.  In November 1862, this joint company was transferred to the 24th Alabama Infantry.  This reduced the regiment in numbers as it was going into the Battle of Murfreesboro.  Blythe’s Regiment was consolidated with the 10th Mississippi Regiment on January 22, 1863. Blythe’s Regiment was then designated the 44th Mississippi Infantry on June 6, 1863.  About April 9, 1865, the 44th was consolidated with the 7th, 9th, 10th and the 41st Mississippi Infantry regiments along with the 9th Battalion Mississippi Sharpshooters into a new regiment known as the 9th Mississippi Infantry.  This was shared up front so as the story of the Mississippi Swampers is told, these changes will not have to be covered as much.  

       Blythe’s Regiment was listed in Colonel Preston Smith’s Brigade of Polk’s Grand Division. On the eve of Shiloh in April 1862, Brigadier General Bushrod Johnson commanded this brigade.  Colonel Smith had returned to his 154th Tennessee Regiment. It included Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment, 2nd Tennessee, 15th Tennessee, 154th Tennessee, and Polk’s Tennessee Battery.  Field officers for the regiment were Colonel Andrew King Blythe, Lt. Colonel David Herron, and Major James Moore.  Moore had been promoted when the new regiment was created from the battalion.  The Swampers must have been happy that one of their own was now a field officer, but they wouldn’t have time to enjoy it for long as the men readied themselves for Shiloh.  Company B was commanded by Captain R.H. Humphreys; 1st Lt. R.G. Kelsey; 2nd Lt. T.R. Sadler and 3rd Lt. John T. Willis.  

Lieutenant Colonel David Herron

Lt. Colonel Herron Blythes Regt.

       In April 1862, General Albert Sidney Johnson led his Confederate Army north to attack the enemy located around a tiny church called Shiloh along the Tennessee River. This battle began on April 6th.  Around 8:30 am, General Johnson was bringing up his men toward the Rea Field.  As this was happening, General Braxton Bragg ordered his right two regiments to move against the 77th Ohio and Waterhouse’s battery.  These two regiments were the 154th Tennessee and Blythe’s Regiment.  Their first assault ended in failure and Polk’s battery was wrecked. At 9:30, the two regiments were ordered to attack the Union position again.  This time they would be joined by the entire brigade along with other supports. Colonel Blythe rode out in front of his regiment and ordered the advance.  As the attack began, Blythe moved ahead of his men.  Suddenly he was struck by a blast of canister from Union artillery and knocked from his horse.  When the regiment reached him, they found that Blythe had been struck in the heart by an iron canister ball and instantly killed.  The regiment never hesitated and continued their advance on Waterhouse’s battery and it’s supporting infantry.  Within minutes, Lt. Colonel David Herron was killed and Major Moore took charge.  General Johnson was wounded by a shell fragment and forced from the field leaving Preston Smith to take charge of the brigade.  Captain Humphreys fell dead in this charge. The Federals began to withdraw, but sheer numbers were beginning to tell. Before the Federals could withdraw their battery completely, it was cut off and most of it captured.  They fell back in the afternoon for ammunition and encamped for the night around Shiloh Church with only about 200 men left. Some of the regiment would fight in a limited action on the 7th, but the first day had wrecked it.  Colonel Preston Smith led the brigade in fighting around the Sarah Bell field on the second day, but only a portion of the regiment could join in this fight. By the afternoon on the 7th, it was over. Both sides had suffered severely, but the Confederates withdrew to Corinth. Colonel Blythe’s body would be taken back to his wife in Columbus and Lt. Colonel Herron would be carried home by his servant to Coffeeville.  In his after action report, General B.F. Cheatham made the following statement about Blythe’s Regiment:

“This regiment at all times eminently manifested the high spirit which has alway characterized the soldiers of Mississippi and no braver soldier than it’s heroic leader was lost to our cause.”

Company B suffered the following casualties at Shiloh: 

  • Captain R.H.Humphreys – killed April 6, 1862
  • 1st Lt. R.G. Kelsey – wounded April 7, 1862
  • Corporal J.C. Barnett – wounded April 6, 1862
  • Private J.W. Blundell – wounded April 6, 1862
  • Private Robert Boyle – mortally wounded April 6, 1862
  • Sergeant Thomas Bratton – wounded April 6, 1862
  • Private M.L. Dearing – wounded April 6, 1862
  • Private B.A. Dooley – severely wounded April 7, 1862
  • Private E.F. Fitzgerald – killed April 6, 1862
  • Private John Grutch – wounded April 6, 1862
  • Drum major Z.M. Holloway – killed April 6, 1862
  • Private S.H. Hudson – wounded April 6, 1862
  • Private N.S. Kirby – wounded April 6, 1862
  • Private Jesse McInvale – wounded and captured April 6, 1862; died April 10, 1862
  • Private Theodore Oliphant – Killed April 6, 1862
  • Private J.B. Owen – wounded April 6, 1862
  • Private C. Weathers – mortally wounded April 6, 1862
  • Private J.W. Witter – wounded April 6, 1862

Company B records describe the saga of Shiloh in the following description:

“Left Columbus, Kentucky the 1st day of March.  Arrived at Humbolt March 4th.  Left there the 13th and arrived the same evening at Bethel.  Left there April 1st.  Arrived at Purdy the same evening.  Left there the 5th for Shiloh.  Went into the engagement about 8 o’clock am on the 6th.  About the same time on the 7th.  The company suffered severely and so did the regiment losing our Colonel, Lt. Colonel, and Captain.  Left the battlefield about 3 o’clock pm and arrived at Corinth on the 9th over the worst roads man or beast ever traveled.”

blythe plaque at shiloh

      Shiloh completely changed the way the country looked at the Civil War.  Everyone realized it was going to be a long and bloody affair.  Some men faltered and others rose to leadership and bravery.  The Swampers saw all of these reactions in it’s members in the days following Shiloh.  The regiment and companies had to reorganize after the battle.  In fact, the entire army went through several shuffles of leadership and changes in make up.  The Confederates retreated back to Corinth where the regiment was transferred to Trapier’s Brigade of Wither’s Division, Bragg’s Corps. Then the regiment was transferred to the brigade of General James R. Chalmers.  The entire army retreated further south to Tupelo and were there in much of May and June, 1862.  

        Blythe’s Regiment was reorganized and the Twelve Month Volunteers were forced to sign up under the Conscript Act for 2 years or the war on May 8, 1862 while they were still at Corinth.  They left Corinth on May 28th and marched 3 days to Clear Creek.  After camping there 5 days, the men followed the railroad down to Tupelo.  On May 8th, James Moore was promoted to Lt. Colonel in command of the regiment. Robert George Kelsey had been promoted Captain of Company B on April 15th and was in charge of the Swampers.  Sergeant J.C. Campbell was promoted to 3rd Lt. on April 15th.  J.F. Stewart was 2nd Lt. and T.R. Sadler was 1st Lt.  With this new organization, Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment joined the rest of the Confederate Army as Braxton Bragg decided to take it North for the invasion of Kentucky.  

                                                         To Be Continued: 

Sources:

Rowland, Dunbar: Military History of Mississippi, 1803 – 1898, taken from Official and     Statistical register of the State of Mississippi, 1908, pp 354 – 360.

Shiloh National Park facebook page, Blythe’s Regiment, October 28,2015

Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers who served in Organizations form the State of Mississippi.  Microcopy No. 269, The National Archives and Records Services Administration, Washington. 1959

Losson, Christopher; Tennessee’s Forgotten Warriors:Frank Cheatham and his Confederate Division, The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville 1989. pp 30 – 39

Daniel, Larry J. The Battle That Changed the Civil War: Shiloh, Simon and Simon; 1997  pp 169,182,262,274,275 – 276.

Featured Image: The Sixth Mississippi Infantry at Rhea’s Field-Battle of Shiloh. Artist Rick Reeves, The Civil War. http://www.pinterest.com

Portrait Image: Lt. Col. David Luckie Herron, Blythe’s Regiment Mississippi Infantry. http://www.pinterest.com

Battle of Belmont: Amazon.com: Battle of Belmont, Missouri- Grant vs Polk poster. http://www.amazon.com

Johnson’s Brigade Historical Marker tablet image. hmdb.org

History of the Sheriff’s Office- Tunica County Sheriffs Office:https://www.tunicamssheriff.com>history

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