"Pork & Beans" Writes of Stones River and the Regular Brigade

A correspondent known as “Pork & Beans” wrote a series of 18 letters that were published in the Toledo Commercial from January 1863 through April 1864. As best as can be determined, P&B was a sergeant serving in Battery H of the 5th U.S. Light Artillery, and although we never learn his name, his letters provide an intimate portrait of life in a regular artillery battery in the western theater.

Today’s post features portions from three letters that P&B wrote before and following the Stones River campaign. Battery H was assigned to the Fourth Brigade (The Regular Brigade) of Lovell Rousseau’s First Division of the Center Corps and took part in the severe fighting at the cedars and along the Nashville Pike on December 31, 1862. P&B writes about the organization and condition of the army before the battle, provides some insights into the fighting on December 31st, a fine account of Wheeler’s raid on the Nashville Pike on January 1, 1863, and finally some commentary on the impact of Stones River on the Regular Brigade. A second Stones River account from this battery by John Carroll of Cleveland was previously featured on this blog in July 2018 and can be viewed here

Camp Andy Johnson, Nashville Tennessee
December 23, 1862[1]
          Once more in our camping ground from last spring. The neighboring country has the same desolate and forlorn appearance, if anything more desolate; few fences are left standing and an elegant mansion in the process of erection remains the same as it was in March. The hand of the artisan has been silenced, and given place to the destroyer of peace and happiness- rebellion. What a theme for pondering over can be gathered from the destruction everywhere visible in and around the city of Nashville. Once the pride of every Tennessean, now the bone of contention between two determined and powerful adversaries. What a season of bloodshed has passed since we last pitched our tents in this beautiful spot. What have we accomplished? Is the rebellion more nearly closed? Let wiser heads answer. And now let us look forward to a more vigorous and effective prosecution of the war on our part.
Unidentified soldier of Co. A, 3rd Battalion, 16th U.S. Infantry
General Rosecrans has by recent order constituted a new brigade of regulars to form part of the Third Division under General Rousseau. The troops composing the brigade are the battalions of the 15th, 16th, 18th, and 19th Infantry along with Captain Guenther’s (formerly Terrill’s) Battery H of the 5th Artillery. What has caused this change I am unable to say and can see no immediate benefit to be derived from it. Time will no doubt reveal the object and I will let you know. Battery H is now filled up and ready to do any kind of fighting. The majority of the new men came from the 51st Ohio Volunteers. They seem to relish the change and we appreciate them as a great acquisition to the battery.

Camp of Regular Division, Nashville Tennessee
January 10, 1863[2]
          A calm now hovers over the scenes of the late bloody conflict. The dead have been laid to rest where the fell so gloriously in supporting the supremacy of the stars and stripes over the traitorous rag of Rebeldom. The wounded, the worst victims of the fray, are being cared for as well as medical skill and friendly hands can do away from the many luxuries necessary for the comfort of wounded men.

The regular routine of a soldiers’ duty goes on as if nothing had happened; bands play at guard mountings and parades, officers and soldiers can be seen in groups gossiping over the many incidents of the battle. A laugh arises, as something funny comes up (even amid the din and roar of battle incidents occur to excite the risibilities) but more frequently, when talking of some brave comrade gone, something like a tear may be seen to glisten in the eye of him who on the field laughed at danger and in the excitement of battle mat have passed by his own brother laying a mangled corpse. So many others must ere this have given you accounts of the fight that I scarce think it worth my while to write on the subject, yet as a few of my own personal observations may amuse if not instruct, you are welcome to them.

The battle may be said to have begun on Wednesday morning about 7 o’clock when the Rebels made an attack on our right wing and surprised the Second Division commanded by General Richard Johnson (the same who surrendered his cavalry force some time ago). The slaughter was dreadful, two batteries were taken (Edgarton’s and Cotter’s), the majority of horses had gone to water, and few if any of them hitched to their pieces. Four of Cotter’s pieces were subsequently regained. The infantry had not their arms loaded and those who did not escape by flight were either killed or captured; General Willich was captured and General Sill killed.

A large body of cavalry, Texas Rangers and the 2nd Georgia, made a rush past the right wing to attack the ammunition train which was on the Nashville Pike in the rear of our center, but were gloriously repulsed by the 4th U.S. Cavalry and detachments of the 3rd Ohio and 2nd Indiana I think. The 4th rushed on them as they have many times done on the Kiowa and Comanche Indians, and made many of the Southern braves bite the dust and captured a large number of prisoners. One sergeant brought in 13 men to my own knowledge.

The fighting was very severe in the center by 10 o’clock. The first dash made by the Regular Brigade into a thicket was a deadly one. Major [Stephen] Carpenter of the 19th was killed and Major [John] King of the 15th was wounded. Terrill’s old battery came nigh being captured before it fired a gun and the loss of the 15th, 16th, 18th, and 19th Regulars was severe. By 11 o’clock the cannonading was deafening; the right had been strengthened, a large cavalry force on the flanks, and to nightfall there was little or no cessation and even after nightfall the Chicago Board of Trade battery poured in several tremendous rounds into a copse of small cedars where the Rebels were trying to sneak in.

The center rested for the night on the very ground on which it occupied during the day. The right, McCook’s wing, had regained its foothold while the left had advanced. The battle was renewed with increased vigor on New Year’s morning from the left to right. Fears were entertained about noon that we would have to fall back, the baggage train and the battery wagons and forges had been ordered to Nashville but ere night by the heroism and bravery of our officers and men, the scale was changed.

I was amongst those ordered to Nashville. When about two miles beyond a small town called LaVergne, the train was fired upon by two pieces of artillery and a simultaneous attack was made by a large force of Rebel cavalry. Such skedaddling you never heard of. I had two horses shot in my forge and the jam in the stock was broken. Captain [Elisha] Culver of Co. K of the 3rd Ohio Cavalry rallied some men and made a splendid dash on the Rebels, driving them off in every direction, killing and wounding several. He is a brave man and led some brave spirits.

The Rebels burned up several baggage wagons in our rear but those in front got through safely to Nashville, unless I except the several wagons which were abandoned by the drivers. A battery which was sent along for our protection was nearly all abandoned by its members. Yet Captain Culver was not the man to leave it on the road. He rigged up the pieces and one was driven to Nashville by a little Negro about 12 years old with only two horses. When we got one of the pieces in position, we found that the ammunition chests were empty, but after a long search in the caissons we found five rounds but not a friction tube or lanyard to fire them off. What think you of such protection for a train? [This battery contained two guns belonging to the 8th Wisconsin Battery, a 6-pdr smoothbore and a 10-pdr Parrott. Lieutenant Henry Stiles reported that these guns were sent to the rear by order of Colonel William Woodruff and that one man was taken prisoner and three horses killed when the guns were taken by Wheeler’s cavalry.]

Terrill’s old battery, commanded by the brave Captain Guenther, took on the field the flag of the 2nd Arkansas regiment [more likely the 30th Arkansas flag actually carried off the field by the 2nd Ohio Infantry. See blog post here.] and will retain it as a drop in the cup of revenge for the death of the brave General Terrill at Chaplin Heights. During this fight the battery fired over 600 rounds and the greater part of this was canister, showing what close quarters there were in. The battery did not lose a man  and only five slightly wounded. The Rebels have named it the “wild cat battery” and they may depend on it that that Terrill’s much-loved Napoleons will yet bring sorrow to many rebellious firesides.

Camp of Center, First Division, 14th Army Corps, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
January 23, 1863[3]
          “New brooms sweep clean” so it has been said, but I am inclined to the belief in the old woman’s remark “old ones know where the dirt is.” This preface has been caused by the change of commander for this division. We are now under the command of Brigadier General Robert S. Granger, a West Pointer having his first appointment from Ohio. His present commission as brigadier dates October 20, 1862 and he ranks as Major of the 5th Infantry September 9, 1861 in the regular army. I have no other acquaintance with his history than the foregoing which I take from the Army Register. His first order brought his first appearance through several camps. This morning shortly after reveille he rode around and saw all of his men under arms before clear day. Now this is all very good, very military, very West Pointish. We have all see such beginnings, we have also seen them wear out by degrees, until the sight of our commanding generals, even in daylight, was something to be remembered. Let us trust that such will not be the case with our new commander. Even an occasional visit from our superior officers is something, and if it does no good it certainly does no harm.
General Lovell H. Rousseau
          We have lost General Rousseau, he having taken command in Kentucky, I believe. This is indeed a loss for the army, but rest assured he will soon put a topper on the Morganites, the Wheelerites, and others of that ilk who have for so long a time made Kentucky their field of operations in destroying railroads, burning bridges, robbing, stealing, and even worse. Rousseau carries with him an enviable reputation for bravery and military ardor, and above all, he has the prayers of every man who ever knew or saw him on the field of battle. Brave to a fault, he feared not danger and his presence urged men to do the most daring deeds.

I honestly and firmly believe that there are men on this army who would not know their division commanders were they to see them. You may ask, do they know Rosecrans? I will answer, if being through every camp over and over again and on the late battlefield seemingly everywhere, then indeed they know and more than that, they love and honor him. “Old Rosey,” as he is ever familiarly spoken of around the camp fires, is assuredly the idol of this great western army.
General William S. Rosecrans
CDV dating from early 1863 with 20th Army Corps
photographer backmark
Author's Collection

We earnestly pray that no demonstrations may enter into the heads of the “powers that be” in Washington to deprive us of “our General.” Enough harm has already been done to our cause by the ever-changing tactics as  practiced in the army. Officers have been condemned for the most trivial mishaps without a hearing, and noodles and nobodies put in their places. Politicians of doubtful military qualifications received appointments as colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors in the new regiments raised for the regular army, and have never yet seen the field; some in face have scarcely left their farms and firesides. Where for instance is the colonel of the 18th Infantry? [Henry Carrington] Here are two battalions of his regiment that have been in the field for over twelve months while he (I am credibly informed) has been making politics not war; nor the perfection of his regiment his aim, but instead has been gallivanting all over the state with some 400-500 men of the Third Battalion when he has two battalions in the field not numbering more than 500-600 men for duty. The 15th Infantry since Major King got wounded at Stones River has been commanded by a captain [Captain Jesse Fulmer] who does not know how to maneuver a company, let alone a battalion, and only by the prompting of the adjutant can he get along at all. The 16th and 18th are in no better fix. From the foregoing data you can form an idea of what the Regular Brigade is, numbering scarcely more men than one good regiment. Their commissary and quartermaster departments are conducted in the most slovenly manner by inexperienced soldiers and the men know it, they feel it.

I see frequent allusions made to matters concerning the regular army officers in the eastern papers as to their being elected to places of trust. I cordially agree with the comments in the main, although I have the misfortune to be a “regular.” I am not blind enough to imagine that my officers are the “ne plus ultra” and so far above their brothers of the volunteers in honesty, sobriety, and business tact to entitle them only to the fat offices. On the contrary, experience has taught me that officers of the old army who were quartermasters and commissaries were not at all times “the right men in the right place.” True, they understand making our papers- red tapism is fully satisfied- the vouchers are there, no matter how they may be trumped up. Now gentlemen, I find that by far the best adapted for the positions I have alluded to are the officers of the volunteer force who from their mercantile education and business tact push things through, and not at all times tormenting those they do business with, with papers, endorsed and approved, until it would take a Philadelphia lawyer to find out what they were. Foraging as we are now in an enemy’s country and giving vouchers, of course, would it not be well for responsible men to at least oversee this matter?

[1] “From Rousseau’s Division Before the Battle,” Pork & Beans, Toledo Daily Commercial, January 9, 1863, pg. 2
[2] “From Nashville,” Pork & Beans, Toledo Daily Commercial, January 16, 1863, pg. 2
[3] “From Murfreesboro,” Pork & Beans, Toledo Daily Commercial, February 2, 1863, pg. 2


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