The "Glory" Business: The 7th Minnesota at Nashville

     Captain Theodore George Carter (1832-1922), of Co. K of the 7th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry wrote much about his experiences during the Civil War, but his education in the "glory" business as he learned it at the Battle of Nashville gives a modern historian pause, considering how much we rely on the O.R. and other official reports when endeavoring to produce Civil War history. 

    "I never thought much about the glory business until I began to read history from the Rebellion Record; I now see how it is done," he wrote in 1904. Carter's article below describes how his regiment captured the guns of the Pointe Coupee Battery on December 16, 1864 at the Battle of Nashville, but that credit for the capture ended up being shared with a neighboring brigade commander and a soldier from another brigade. "The two brigade commanders got together (I think they were politicians) and agreed to divide the guns," he wrote. Another Union soldier was given credit for capturing the guidon of the battery which led Carter to acidly comment that "all of this should teach soldiers that when they capture anything, they should rummage around and see that there is not anything left lying on the ground and take the whole aggregation with them."

   At Nashville, the 7th Minnesota was assigned to the Third Brigade of the First Division of the 16th Army Corps which  consisted of the 12th and 35th Iowa regiments, 7th Minnesota, 33rd Missouri, and Battery I of the 2nd Illinois Light Artillery under the command of Colonel Sylvester G. Hill; Colonel William R. Marshall of Carter's own regiment assumed brigade command upon Hill's death on December 15, 1864. 

    Captain Carter's account was published in the December 1904 issue of Confederate Veteran

Captain Theodore George Carter, Co. K, 7th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry
(Find A Grave)

    Previous to the battle, our regiment, as part of the Third Brigade, First Division, 16th Army Corps, lay along the outer line of works in front of Nashville, our right resting on the railroad running to Johnsonville. On the morning of December 15th, we marched out through the fog and formed in column of brigades on the left of the Harding Pike, and about a mile and a half in advance of our works. Here we deployed into line and I think that our regiment was on the extreme left of our corps. We then marched in line of battle for some distance when it was discovered that there was a long interval to our left which was unoccupied. We lay here until some time in the afternoon our of range of small arms, but subject to the fire of a battery on a high point just to the left of the Hillsboro Pike, which was annoying, the guns being well-served by experienced gunners. Late in the afternoon, we were ordered to storm the works in our front, being stone walls with a redoubt on the right of the Hillsboro Pike, just opposite the battery mentioned above.

    We advanced on the run down a gentle slope and through open woods until out of breath, when we lay down for a few minutes; then we ran down across a little brook and lay down under cover of the slope ascending the redoubt. We went into the redoubt, or such portion of our regiment as fronted on it did, which included my company. Of course all of this was not done without opposition on the part of the Confederates. We suffered from the direct fire front from the works assaulted, and also from a cross fire enfilading our line part of the time from the fort on the hill across the pike. We had scarcely gained possession of the works when the fort across the way opened upon us, not regarding the fact that there were about as many Confederates with us inside of the redoubt as there were of our own men.

The December 15th attack against the Confederate left flank; the Third Brigade under Colonel Sylvester G. Hill pushed against Redoubt No. 3 as depicted in this map from the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society

    It is almost a miracle that anyone was left alive in that redoubt for the gunners cut their fuses so that every shell burst inside it and there did not seem to be 10 seconds interval between the discharges. Colonel Sylvester G. Hill, our brigade commander, gave the order to charge the fort on the hill, and was shot through head the next moment. Our major heard the order and repeated it; we jumped down from the wall and, led by Colonel William R. Marshall, crossed the pike and climbed the hill, the Confederates leaving the fort as we got to it. We followed on through the woods until dusk when we bivouacked for the night. As we followed the Confederates who evacuated the fort on the hill, we did not leave anyone to take possession of the guns and I saw a line of our troops advancing toward it from the front, but several hundred yards distant. The bravely marched up to it and carried the works, and received the credit, which their commander claimed in his report and which, so far as I know, was never disputed, as the reports were never seen until published by the government.

Colonel Sylvester G. Hill
35th Iowa
Killed in action December 15, 1864

    I have just looked over the reports of Colonel Wolfe, commanding the Third Brigade, Second Division, detachment of the Army of the Tennessee (by which we were designated at Nashville instead of the 16th Army Corps) and find that he claims that his skirmishers captured the fort, but from General A.J. Smith's report it seems the 4th Corps captured it. It might be interesting to ascertain how many guns were captured at Nashville, taking the statements of our generals and subordinate commanders as being correct.

    Although tired out with the day's experiences, the night was so cold that I could get no continuous sleep. We were aroused long before daylight of the 16th and made a long and weary march, halting at some newly constructed works, probably the abandoned Confederate line of the day before. Here we halted, but in a few moment an orderly rode up on the gallop, and the next moment, the bugle sounded assembly followed by the march. We swung to the right, with my company on the moving flank, and it was hard work to get through the woods. , but finally we came put in a road, crossing which we went into a field and into a ravine which led up to the rear of the Bradford House. In this ravine we stopped to catch our breath and found it a good place to be in, as a brisk cannonading was being carried on over our heads, one of my men being wounded from a piece of shell while resting there.

    Directly the regiment began moving to the right by the flank and as my position in line of battle when on the march was on the left of my company, and as the ravine was narrow and the company strung out in a single file, it took me some time to run to the head, which saved my life, for when within about 20 feet of my proper position, the regiment coming out of the ravine on to the ground around the Bradford House, a shell from the Pointe Coupee Battery (Louisiana troops) burst and killed the rear man of the company in front of mine and the first man of my company.

    We went into line at right angles to the Granny White Pike, our left slightly in advance of the home, but a little to the right of it, the 12th Iowa being between us and the pike. Here we lay in the rain skirmishing until about 3 p.m. when we saw one of our regiments of the extreme right of our line (on Shy's Hill) begin a charge on the Confederate works. As we saw them go over the works and heard the cheering, we realized that the business was "catching" and that in a few minutes we would have to do the same thing. About the time the first regiment had reached the Confederate works the next one over it started, and in that order they kept on until but a short distance away from us, when our colonel, who was commanding the brigade that day, rode from our right and rear and ordered us to charge. 

    There was no intention of charging the Confederates on the 16th as we had received orders to entrench and our details sent for entrenching tools had nearly reached our lines when the charge took place. Colonel Marshall told me a few days after that he went to General Smith's headquarters and urged the General to make a charge and the General said, 'No, there will be no charge. We are going to entrench.' While talking, he heard the noise of the charge, the increased fire, and the cheering, and said to General Smith 'They are charging now.' General Smith replied 'No, I don't understand that there is to be a charge.' But the colonel did not wait for any more words; he put the spurs to his horse and dashed up and ordered the charge. [Colonel Marshall earned a brevet promotion to brigadier general and served two terms as governor of Minnesota, serving from 1866-1870.]

Colonel William R. Marshall
7th Minnesota

    We rose and throwing down the fence, advanced on the run until we reached the Confederate rifle pits made of rails where we halted for breath. The field was a hard one to travel over as the mud was ankle deep. Directly we advanced, the regiment obliqued to the right to get through the only gap in the wall; in fact, the only one for a long distance either way. My company was directly in front of the Pointe Coupee Battery which had poured grape, canister, and shrapnel into us from the moment we started and the supporting line had also done their share with their rifles. The works, a stone wall built up very high with rails laid part of the way from the top and sloping to the ground toward us, had no opening in our front, except a slight notch at the top, just to the left of the battery. The greater portion of my company had, as was right, touched elbows to the right, while ten or twelve had touched to the left, and as I was looking to the front calculating how we could get over the wall, I had not noticed the oblique movement. As soon as I saw it, there being a wide gap in my company, I told the boys that we would go right ahead. 

    We reached the wall just as the break came, and the notch in the wall was so high and I was so badly used up with a stitch in the side, that the boys had to boost me up to the notch, through which I climbed and dropped to the ground just as my colonel came along inside the line on the gallop calling out 'Lay down your arms and surrender!' There were but four or five men in the battery, one being the commander Captain Alcide Bouanchaud, and they had ceased resisting. I told the men who were with me to follow me, and went to the support of my colonel who was apparently alone and surrounded by thousands of Confederates. In the morning, before we advanced, I had told my second lieutenant James B. Turrittin, that in the event of our capturing any cannon that day, to take the guard and stay with them. This he did, as our company after getting inside of the works advancing by the left flank, were the first to reach the battery. 

    And now I learn from "history" if the reports of the officers are "history," that the brigade directly on our right captured the battery and in fact, the brigade commander with his staff, rode down and ordered my lieutenant to take his men and rejoin his regiment. But the lieutenant told him flatly that he would only be relived by his own officers. The two brigade commanders got together (I think they were politicians) and agreed to divide the guns, each taking two. I also learn from the same source that the command on my left, which did not start until after we did, also captured those same guns, and they even went one better, for one of their men captured the guidon of the battery, and received notice in general orders and a Congressional medal for bravery in action; all of which should teach soldiers that when they capture anything, they should rummage around and see that there is not anything left lying on the ground and take the whole aggregation with them. Such is glory. I never thought much about the glory business until I began to read history from the Rebellion Record; I now see how it is done. 

    [The soldier that was given credit for captured the guidon of the Pointe Coupee Battery was Private William May of Co. H of the 32nd Iowa Infantry; he was awarded the Medal of Honor. In Carter's own brigade, Corporal Luther Kaltenbach of Co. F of the 12th Iowa was credited with capturing the flag of the 44th Mississippi; Private Andrew J. Sloan of Co. H of the 12th Iowa was given credit for capturing the flag of the 1st Louisiana Battery. Both men awarded the Medal of Honor.]





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