Lost from the O.R. Volume II: The 15th Missouri at the Battle of Stones River

The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, the massive 128 volume postwar work issued by the War Department, serves as the cornerstone of our understanding of the military history of the Civil War. Within its thousands of pages reside after action reports, correspondence, court martial proceedings, charts, maps, a veritable mountain and gold mine of information that has delighted (and infuriated) historians since its publication in the 19th century. But even then, it was recognized that not every report made it into the O.R., some were, in a phrase, "lost to history."
Daily Missouri Republican, St. Louis, Missouri, January 26, 1863

A superb attempt was made to address this deficiency during the 1980s and 1990s when Broadfoot Publishing printed 100 more volumes of material in the Supplement to the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion which is available here. Amazingly, even with 228 volumes of reports, once in a while something new is discovered that was missed. I'm proud to present one of those missing after action reports: Lieutenant Colonel John Weber’s report of the 15th Missouri Infantry at the Battle of Stones River.
The four regiments of Schaefer's brigade started the battle in reserve behind General Joshua Sill''s First Brigade and Colonel George Roberts' Illinois brigade on the left. General Sill requested two regiments from the reserve to support his line shortly after the battle began, and Lieutenant Colonel Weber was one of the last officers to see General Sill alive. 
The 15th Missouri was part of Colonel Frederick Schaefer’s Second Brigade of General Philip Sheridan’s Third Division of General Alexander McCook’s right wing. The 15th Missouri, along with the 2nd Missouri, 44th Illinois, and 73rd Illinois (the Preacher Regiment), tried valiantly to stem the Confederate tide in the early morning hours of December 31, 1862, but was pushed back to the Nashville Pike with heavy losses, the 15th Missouri reporting 12 killed, 55 wounded, and 5 missing.  

Weber’s report was published in the January 26, 1863 edition of the Daily Missouri Republican in St. Louis, Missouri.

            We have hereby the honor of transmitting to you the subjoined report of our regiment, the 15th Missouri Volunteers, on the ever-memorable days of the 30th and 31st of December.

            On the 30th, in the morning, we left our muddy camping ground and moved onward into the neighboring bush, at the distance of about one mile. There we took up our position as Reserve Corps, formed into line of battle, and remained in this attitude until the close of the day, when the orders were given to cross the cornfield and to bivouac in the timber which bordered said field.

            Early in the morning of the 31st December, my regiment, along with the 44th Illinois under my command, were ordered to join General Joshua Sill’s brigade, to act as reserve. General Sill gave me the directions as to the place which I had to occupy. We had hardly time to form into battle line before the enemy opened fire and rushed upon us in superior numbers. At the same time, I received a dispatch from General Sill informing me to advance as rapidly as possible. The order was immediately carried into effect, and in less than five minutes, we, the reserve, faced the front of the enemy. Showers of balls were poured in upon us, but my boys, with undaunted courage, stood firm in their appointed place, so that the enemy was really forced to give way. Whilst we were moving forward double quick, the artillery endeavored to withdraw the two pieces which were lying before us. With great trouble, they succeeded in withdrawing one of them, whilst to our regret they had to leave the other in the enemy’s hands.
Collapse of the Federal Right Wing at Stones River at depicted by William Travis

            During this fierce attack, we are sorry to say, fell Captain Melchior Zimmerman, who acted as Major, Adjutant Schroeder, Lieutenant Charles Kellner [Co. E], and the color Sergeant Frederic Grundlehner [Co. B]. The two former were carried away from the battlefield heavily wounded; and here we state with great concern, that Captain Zimmerman has already succumbed under his wounds, whilst the two latter breathed out their last on the spot. Several more were more slightly wounded.

            At this juncture, the enemy pressed us in so great a number that he outflanked us, so that we were in danger to be surrounded. Perceiving our unenviable situation, I gave the order to retreat slowly, which was executed in the best order, with constant firing.

            At some distance from out former place, we took up a new position. There our boys had again an opportunity given them to display their bravery. With a well-tempered courage and impetuosity, they rushed upon the enemy, and forced him back to the line he occupied at the outset. By this movement, we succeeded in recovering the piece which was at the first charge we were obliged to leave in their hands. By these maneuvers, we kept the enemy at bay for about three fourths of an hour.

            But now it was reported to me that the boys had not more ammunition, and at the same time the enemy, as if multiplying himself on this spot, moved towards us with several batteries and a line of infantry six columns deep. What was to be done here but to retire slowly and cautiously until I had reached the open field; but there I saw to my dismay that the enemy was surrounding us on every side and threatened my brave boys with destruction; the more so since the other regiments had already left the ground. With all dispatch, I gave the necessary orders, and reached unscathed my brigade, where I took up the position appointed me.
Nashville Pike near the National Cemetery in a photo dating from the early 1900s. 

Colonel Schaefer gave the order to move across the pike into the cedar bush; the enemy followed in our tracks. There, being deprived of ammunition, I took up as favorable a position as circumstances would allow in order to shelter my boys from the deadly missiles. In about half an hour, the whole brigade was marched through an open field to the railroad where, at last, we were supplied with 50 rounds of ammunition. Immediately after, our brigade was formed into two battle lines in an easterly direction from the railroad. There we lay on the ground, partly to protect ourselves and partly to take a dead aim at the enemy.

            After a while, the order ‘forward’ was given, the right wing moving along the railroad track to the border of a not far distant woodland. There a change of front was affected, necessary because the enemy moved towards us from the opposite right side. In order to shelter ourselves, we occupied the railroad track on both sides of which the ground was rising some four or five feet, from which place, by an incessant fire, the ever-advancing regiments of the enemy were mowed down. About an hour we maintained this position, until I perceived that the enemy, at a distance of half a mile, planted a piece of artillery on the same track, whilst the infantry moved toward us in great numbers to fall in our back. Without delay, I gave the order to take up the former battle line, at the same time advancing some 30 steps, so as to have a better sight of the enemy. Volleys after volleys were poured into them, in consequence which, the enemy had to retreat with great loss. A deadly fire was sent after them until our ammunition was again exhausted. During this hot engagement, we lost our gallant commander of the brigade, Colonel Frederick Schaefer, as well as Lieutenant Christian Gueinzuis [Co. B], of our regiment, and a number of several wounded.

            Hence the command of the brigade devolved upon Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Laiboldt, who deployed the brigade into regimental platoons, in which position we remained until further orders.

            Between seven and eight o’clock, we were by higher command ordered to fall back to draw some provisions and to take possession of our camping place in order to refresh, somewhat, our weary limbs. Thus ended this eventful and ever memorable last day of the year 1862.
Union lines near the Nashville Pike on January 2, 1863. As reported by Lieutenant Colonel Weber, the 15th Missouri did not see any action during the first days of January but no doubt suffered from cold, hunger, and Confederate shells like everyone else in the line. 

            First of January 1863 at 1 o’clock a.m., we received marching orders. At 2 o’clock, we advanced about one-fourth of a mile facing west, by which movement, we were connected with the left of wing of General Jefferson C. Davis’ division. We remained in this situation until dawn, then sent off some skirmishers to hunt up the enemy. Meanwhile, our brigade raised a firm breastwork, in order to batter the enemy more effectively, but there were no signs of the enemy until late in the afternoon. At last he appeared at gunshot range, and barricaded himself behind the farm and outhouses which lay before us. The left wing opened fire as well as two pieces of our battery, which made them take to their heels. At this juncture, about a hundred surrendered of their own accord. About this time the enemy disappeared and we heard nothing more than here and there a skirmish or picket fire.

            Second of January, we encountered no enemy.

Third of January, we encountered no enemy.

Fourth of January, we encountered no enemy.

Nothing more remains to be said than to bear my testimony to the gallant and honorable deportment of my officers as well as privates.

John Weber, Lieutenant Colonel of the 15th Regiment Infantry, Missouri Volunteers, commanding


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