Blythe’s Regiment, From Kentucky to Stones River

On June 27, 1862, Braxton Bragg took over the Army of the Mississippi at Corinth.  Whatever his critics might say, he did a miraculous job rebuilding the beaten force that had retreated from Shiloh in April.  By July, the Army of the Mississippi numbered around 36,000 men and were healthy and ready for action.  Because of the slow advance of the Federal Army, he had the time to strengthen his forces and bring order to disorder. Blythe’s Regiment was reorganized as well.   Captain Jacob Hunter Sharp of Company A was elected Colonel.  James Moore of Company B became Lt. Colonel, and John Thompson was Major.  Colonel Sharp would not command the regiment in the upcoming battles though.  He was absent on sick leave in July 1862.  Sharp was  then detached to command the post at Chattanooga so Lt. Colonel Moore and Major Thompson would lead the regiment through the next few months of trial.

General Bragg decided to move in July toward Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The army linked up with General Kirby Smith there and the plan was launched for the invasion of Kentucky.  Hearing of the news that the Confederates had shifted, the Union commander did likewise.  Both left forces around Corinth to deal with Mississippi.  General reorganized his army into two wings.  The Right Wing was commanded by General Leonidas Polk and the Left Wing was commanded by General William Hardee.  Blythe’s Regiment was part of the Right Wing, 4th Division, 2nd Brigade commanded by James R. Chalmers.   His brigade consisted of the following regiments:

  • 7th Mississippi Infantry – Colonel W.H. Bishop
  • 9th Mississippi Infantry – Colonel Thomas W. White
  • 10th Mississippi Infantry – Colonel Robert A. Smith
  • 29th Mississippi Infantry – Colonel E.L. Walthall
  • Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment- Lt. Colonel James Moore
  • 9th Battalion Mississippi Sharpshooters – Major W.C. Richards
  • Ketchums Battery

On August 27th, Bragg’s army moved north across the Tennessee River.  By September the Confederates were entering Kentucky.  The Federal Army was moving backward trying to contact the northward bound Rebel Army.  General Polk ordered Chalmers Brigade to advance toward Cave City, Kentucky.  This would prove to be a fatal move, because it was near the Munfordville.   Things had been doing great up until that point.  When Confederate cavalry located a Union garrison at Munfordville,  General Chalmers was asked to come help take the city.  The Union force was commanded by Colonel J.T. Wilder.  Wilder was unknown to everyone then, but would eventually become one of the most well known Union officers of the war.  His raw recruits had been sent there to guard a railroad bridge. Since he believed that the rest of the Federal army was on the way to relieve him, he made the decision to stay and fight.  Wilder was on his own though, because the Union commander had no intention of moving to support him since he thought Bragg was moving elsewhere.

At dawn, General Chalmers attacked driving in the Federal pickets a mile in advance of Wilder’s main fortifications. Without stopping, the Confederates advanced on Wilder’s main line.  The Federals waited until Chalmers’ men were within 30 yards of their rifle pits and opened fire.  Volley after volley was fired into the Rebels.  His men fell back and advanced again.  Finally, Chalmers’ beaten men returned to their original lines.  Under a flag of truce, the Confederates collected their dead and wounded.  Wilder’s casualties were 37 men killed or wounded.  Chalmers’ casualties were 285 and he retreated back to Cave City. This was the first check of the Army of the Mississippi in the campaign for Kentucky.   Within a few days, General Bragg had brought his entire army up and ordered Munfordville to be taken. Although he had not ordered Chalmers to attack, he couldn’t allow this small force to hold out.  On September 17th, Wilder surrendered and  General Chalmers was ordered to take position there.  Blythe’s Regiment was commanded by Lt. Colonel James Moore and Major John C. Thompson during this engagement.

Report of Major John C. Thompson, Blythe’s Regiment, of operations September 14,1862:

At about 7 a.m. on Sunday, the 14th, the Blythe Mississippi Regiment, consisting of 281 rank and file commanded by Lt. Colonel James Moore, was ordered to leave the railroad depot at Woodsonville, to proceed to the battleground distance about 3/4 of a mile, and report to Colonel R.A. Smith commanding the 10th Mississippi.  Having no guide, and being unacquainted with the position of the regiment, we had be guided by the sound of the guns.  When arrived near the breastworks of the enemy, we were saluted with heavy and successive volleys of musketry.  Colonel Moore was at the center, Captain W.P. Malone on the left, and I on the right of our regiment.  Their fire was immediately returned and was kept up with animation on both sides for about 2 hours, when I was informed that Colonel Moore was shot down.  Proceeding to the center, I found him lying on the ground apparently mortally wounded.  I immediately ordered the firing to cease and the men to lie close to the ground.  The orders were given to induce the enemy to believe that we had withdrawn under cover of the smoke.  The firing by the enemy having partially ceased, the men were ordered to fall back quietly and with as little noise as possible.  The retreat was made in fine order, and we halted at a distance of 80 to 100 yards to ground where we were partially protected by a slight elevation.  The line was formed, but seeing that we were still exposed, I again ordered them to fall back a distance of about 100 yards where they were again halted and formed.  The falling back was done in fine order and without loss or injury of a man.  About this time, a flag of truce was sent in.  The Blythe regiment was animated with the most heroic spirit and throughout the conflict displayed a coolness and courage that defied all obstacles.  The retreat was made without loss, and when the line was reformed, the same eagerness was displayed which has been exhibited at the onset.  The regiment is entitled to high commendation for it’s conduct on the occasion.  Casualties were  4 killed and 38 wounded.

The regiment was only lightly engaged in the rest of the Kentucky campaign.  The main battle for Kentucky was at Perryville which was fought on October 8, 1862.  This was a Union victory.  Bragg’s army retreated to Knoxville, Tennessee and eventually around Shelbyville.  The Union Army advanced to Nashville.

On December 26, 1862, the 10th Mississippi and Blythe’s Regiment were consolidated with Colonel Sharp and Major Thompson retained for duty.  Records for the regiment are not abundant for this time period, but it appears the two units continued to operate in a semi independent state until January 1863.

According to J.N Thompson, who years later wrote in the Confederate Veteran Magazine, the regiment was quarantined from the rest of the brigade and army after Major Thompson’s servant returned from Hernando with small pox.  The regiment’s guns were taken and redistributed to rest of the brigade.  His story was supported in an unpublished report of the battle by Major Thompson.  Blythe’s regiment would have to make do the best they could in one of the bloodiest battles of the Western War.

As the two armies began to move closer to each other around Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Chalmers’ Brigade was posted to the right of the Confederate Army.  They occupied the high ground southeast of the Cowan House near the intersection of the Nashville Turnpike.  To compensate for the open ground, Chalmers had his men dig trenches.  This was done on December 29th.  By the 30th, skirmishing had increased and the Confederates got an order to attack the next morning. The Battle of Stones River, or Murfreesboro, began on December 31st.  Fighting intensified from left of right so it was some time before General Chalmers was ordered to advance.

There was a small wooded area near where Chalmers was stationed.  This was known as the Round Forest and it was surrounded by fields of cotton and winter wheat.  The remains of the Cowan farm house, which had burned, and outbuildings were nearby.  Union General John Palmer realized that this was an important position and ordered his men to occupy and get ready to defend it.  William Hazen deployed his brigade about 8 a.m. into this area.  The 6th Kentucky formed aside the Nashville Turnpike. The 10th Illinois formed in the woods behind Battery F, 1st Ohio artillery.  The 41st Ohio was next in line supporting the 10th Indiana artillery.  Quickly the Federals set up whatever breastworks they could to await the Confederate advance they knew was coming.  The 9th Indiana south of the Turnpike.  Here they waited and watched as the Confederates readied themselves to attack.  General Cruft’s brigade was to the right of Hazen’s men. These would be the men that the Mississippi Swampers would face on the 31st.

At 11 a.m. Brigadier General Chalmers received the order to attack the enemy on his front.  As the men neared the Cowan house, they were met by a destructive fire which slowed them somewhat.  General Chalmers got them moving again, but the brigade split around burned buildings.  Most of the regiments followed Chalmers south of the farm, but the 9th Mississippi and Blythe’s Regiment moved to the north.  According to Colonel Thomas Sedgewick of the 2nd Kentucky in Cruft’s Brigade, “They moved forward in splendid style.” Of all the Mississippians who charged that day, the men of Blythe’s Regiment were probably the most insecure.  Two days earlier they had been issued new weapons after their’s had been taken because of being quarantined.  According to Major Thompson, they were “refuse guns.”  Thompson went on to describe them in the following way, ” Many of these guns were worthless – some being bent, some cocked could not be pulled down, some whose hammers had to be carried in the men’s pockets until time to commence firing, others so foul as to render it impossible to ram home the cartridge, many without ramrods and only one bayonet in the lot.”  Because of this lack of weapons, he ordered his men to find sticks or use whatever they could find.  Blythe’s Regiment was then ordered forward.

General Chalmers got the left of his brigade to within fifty yards of the Federals before being stopped.  Volley after volley were exchanged with the 2nd Kentucky and 31st Indiana of Cruft’s Brigade. For 30 minutes, the Mississippians stood in the open ground firing and falling by the dozens.  Chalmers was hit by a shell fragment and carried from the field without his staff informing the next ranking officer.  The ground in front of the 31st Indiana was covered by so many bodies that the field was labeled the “Mississippi Half Acre.” With their commander gone, the left regiments of the brigade fell back disorganized.  Some fought with other commands or simply hid behind the remains of the Cowan House.

chalmers brigade plaque

The 9th Mississippi and Blythe’s Regiment were also stopped south of the Cowan farm.  The 9th remained near the farmhouse, but Major Thompson led his regiment further north toward the 41st Ohio.  After clearing away Federal skirmishers, Blythe’s Regiment stopped on a small rise and opened fire on the 41st with what weapons they had.  After an hour, the 41st Ohio withdrew looking for ammunition.  The 9th Indiana took their place forcing Major Thompson to withdraw to a low area out of the battle.  Here they remained watching attack after attack into the Round Forest by their comrades.  Later that night the brigade was brought back together, but they were out of this fight.  The two armies remained in place until January 31st when General Bragg withdrew further south.  The Battle of Stones River was another Union victory.  The casualties of the regiment were 4 killed, 31 wounded, and 17 missing.  Casualties of Company B were one killed; 1 wounded; 1 wounded, captured, and died.

Sources:

Compiled Service Records of the Confederate Soldiers who served in the Organization from the State of Mississippi; National Archives Microfilm Publicaitons; 1959; rolls 406 – 409.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies: Serial 022 Page 0959, Chapter XXVII. Siege of Mumfordville, KY

Cozzens, Peter: The Battle of Stones River: No Better Place to Die, University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 1990.

Losson, Christopher: Tennessee’s Forgotten Warriors-Frank Cheatham and his Confederate Division.The University of Knoxville Press, Knoxville-1989.

 

 

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