Wilkinson Crossroads with the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry

     The record of the 15th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry during the Stones River campaign, also known as the Anderson Troop, is perhaps the most mixed up of any regiment in either army. Before the campaign even began, a significant number of the men of regiment refused to march, they mutinied, and Major Adolph Rosengarten led only roughly 300 men of the regiment south. Within days, both Rosengarten and his second in command Frank Ward were  dead from battle wounds, the Troop was under the command of a captain, and the troubles with the mutineers at Nashville continued. However, during the campaign, two members of the Troop so distinguished themselves as to be awarded the Medal of Honor (Private John Tweedale of Co. B and Private John G. Bourke of Co. G), while two other members of the Troop (Sergeant Henry C. Butcher of Co. C and Private Samuel B. Holt of Co. L) captured a Confederate battle flag belonging to the 3rd Alabama Cavalry. 

    The focus of today's post however is the bloody confrontation that occurred near Overall Creek just east of Wilkinson's Crossroads on the afternoon of December 29, 1862 in which Majors Rosengarten and Ward were both struck down. The Anderson Troop was at the vanguard of the Right Wing marching towards Murfreesboro on the Wilkinson Pike when it ran into heavier opposition than expected. It was the outposts of General Braxton Bragg's Army of the Tennessee. 

“C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre.” 
(The charge was magnificent, but it was not war.)
Major Adolph G. Rosengarten, 15th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry
Killed in action December 29, 1862 at Overall's Creek. "The first volley killed Major Rosengarten and also Colonel Palmer's horse Zollicoffer, a blooded black known to all the men, which the major was then riding," Adjutant Josiah Reiff later wrote. "Seven balls pierced the major. The horse was also riddled with bullets." The 15th Pennsylvania retreated, leaving the body of Rosengarten on the field. When the army advanced the next day, his body was discovered, laying "with his head between the hind feet of his black horse Zollicoffer."

Private A.D. Frankeberry, Co. K, 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry:

    Saturday evening, December 28, 1862, about 300 of the Anderson Cavalry were in camp near Triune, Tennessee. Major Adolph Rosengarten was in command of the regiment. I was detailed as orderly to Major Rosengarten and on reporting to him, I was sent to the headquarters of Major General [David S.] Stanley, then in command of all the cavalry of the Army of the Cumberland, for orders for the movement the next day. General Stanley directed the Major to move with his command in advance of the infantry towards Murfreesboro on the road via Wilkinson's Crossroads. 

    At daylight on Monday, December 29th, all the regiment was in the saddle at an early hour and moved forward. I went with the Major to Generals [Alexander] McCook and Jefferson C. Davis; the latter commanding the advance of the infantry. The orders given to the Major were to strike the Rebels, push them to the bridge over Overall's Creek, hold the bridge, but not to cross over. Co. K had the advance and the column moved at a rapid rate, and at about 2 p.m. we struck the Rebel pickets and started to drive them toward Murfreesboro. The column soon reached the bridge and halted. Up to this moment, I rode constantly by the side of the Major. I had on my cavalry jacket; the Major told me to take it off and put on my blouse. I did so while in the saddle. When we halted the column was not closed up, and the Major directed me to inform each company commander to close up in columns of four. I rode back and so informed each company commander and then reported to the Major that the column was closed up. What orders, if any, were given to the Major while I was a sent I do not know; but in a very short time the command was given by the Major, and we crossed over the bridge and moved about three-fourths of mile down the pike toward Murfreesboro, when the command halted. Major Rosengarten rode back to Major Ward, and had a few words with him. Major Ward's battalion turned into a field on the right, formed a line at right angle with the pike, advanced and soon opened fire on the enemy.

Period map drawn up by Captain Nathaniel Michler in 1863 showing Murfreesboro and the battlefield located northwest of the town. Wilkinson's Crossroads took its name from it being the intersection of the the Old Nashville Stage Road and the Wilkinson Turnpike. Majors Ward and Rosengarten and their command was shot up closer to Overall Creek a mile or so to the east of the Crossroads. The Right Wing entered the battlefield along Wilkinson's Pike and on December 30th, pushed southeast into the cotton fields and woods to take what ultimately became the right flank of the Union army at Stones River. Confederate resistance stiffened the further east the Federals pushed. 

     Major Rosengarten moved to the head of the column in the pike and ordered it to advance. We soon saw the rebels in force, with barricades across the pike. They were also to the left of us, and we again halted opposite a heavy woods, on the right of the pike. The Major gave the command “fours right!” which brought us in line facing the woods. Numbers one and three were then ordered to dismount and open the rail fence. This done, the men remounted and the Major gave the command “forward, gallop, march!” and when partly through the woods the command “charge!” and in a moment afterward we received a volley of musketry from the rebels, who were behind a fence which ran parallel with the pike. This volley killed Major Rosengarten and many others. I was within five or ten feet of the Major when he was struck, and saw him throw up his arms and fall backward from his horse. He was on the extreme right of the line, next to the enemy. My duty placed me close to his right. Sergeant Alexander S. Drake was close to me on my right and was killed by same volley. Seeing the hopelessness of doing anything, and also seeing a Rebel force moving to cut us off, someone gave the order to fall back to the bridge at the creek. Major [Frank] Ward had led his part of the command through a field and into the woods in which Rosengarten fell, his line being at right angles to ours, when he, Ward, was mortally wounded and died a few days after.

     These were the last acts and words of Major Rosengarten as they were impressed on my memory that afternoon, and I can never forget the day and events. That night we encamped and all our hearts were full of sadness, because so many of our comrades were not with us. They, with thousands of others, had rendered up their lives in defense of Liberty and Union, Right and Truth, and that our country should have but one flag and be but one nation.

Corporal Charles H. Kirk, Co. E, 15th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry:

    I was a Corporal in Company E at that time, and had been selected to carry the Company guidon. For doing this I was not required to carry a carbine. We had forded Overalls Creek and were grouped around a large house. Major Ward was with us. There was a level stretch of country for a half mile to the front and then woods. Animated by a boyish spirit I waived my guidon, and immediately saw a puff of smoke from the woods, then the sound, and lastly, with a vicious thug, a bullet went into a tree at my back. “Take care, Corporal!” said the Major. “That was a close shot.”

     At this time a party of Confederate cavalry was seen in our front, making good time for Murfreesboro, and instantly the boys took up the cry, “There they go! Charge them! Go for them!” Major Ward, who was close to me, yelled, “No, don't go! My orders are to go only this far.” Still the yells continued. Some of the men advancing, the Major said, “Damn you! if you will go, I'll go too - charge!” and then all started, without semblance of formation, most of them down the road and others through a gate across a corn field, where the stalks had been cut and put in shocks.

     I was yelling as loud as anyone and waiving my guidon like I had seen in pictures, but had never done the like of it before or since, when, somehow, I don't exactly know how, the stick of the guidon got caught in a corn shock, and my next recollection was lying on the ground trying to remember what had happened. My horse stood by me, and I soon concluded to get on him and continue the charge. I got in the road, but the detachment had passed in the woods, out of sight. I saw a few men, down a lane to my right, on which was a frame house, and I went down it to join what I supposed to be some of our own party. As my horse still kept up his run, it did not take long to cover the ground between us, but what anxious moments they were, for the four men in the road, carried muskets, while all of ours carried short carbines. Then, as I got nearer, I saw they had a butternut-colored uniform, instead of the blue we wore. I was too close to them to stop my horse, and doubt if I could have done so anyhow, but in a flash came to me the drill with lances I had seen when I visited my brother Will in his regiment, Rush's Lancers. Down came my guidon to a “charge lance.” My first adversary sat stolidly on his horse, fingering the trigger of his musket; his comrades were in the rear of him, but all my thoughts were on him and I think his were on the peculiar weapon I carried, and his ignorance of its effectiveness magnified its power, for when I got within a dozen paces of him he dropped his musket to the ground and raised his right hand in token of surrender. The others followed his example at once, and for a few moments I had four prisoners on my hands. Soon some of our men came up, only one of whom I now recall, Joe Rue.

The area of the Wilkinson Turnpike between Wilkinson's Crossroads and Overall Creek. The farm at the far right of the map near the intersection of the Wilkinson Pike and a farm lane called Gresham Lane is the Gresham House which became an important field hospital for the Right Wing on December 31, 1862. It was here that General Joshua Sill's body was left for a period of time and General James Rains of the Confederate army was killed not very far from Gresham's. 

     Captain Norman Smith now appeared with his Company, coming in from the right, and some firing took place in front. The Captain ordered us to advance as skirmishers, across a cotton field, and in the forward movement I divided my attention between the enemy we expected in front and a new Confederate uniform, which a colored man told me had been dropped off the saddle by the rebel officer who had just gone on ahead. I did not find the uniform, but found the enemy behind the fence just in front of us. They reached it first; two of them occupied the panel just in front of me, while in the next panel I saw a bareheaded man crawl through, who came running to us. He had no hat or accouterments, and his head was smeared with blood from a wound, and as he came nearer I saw it was Sam Jamison, of Company L, who, in the mix up over to the left, had been batted over the head by a Rebel, was captured and escaped, all within a few minutes.

     The skirmishers in front were making it hot for us now, and all on our end of the line moved for the woods, from which came yells and heavy firing. I passed Major Ward coming back, supported by a man on each side, a deathly pallor on his face, but telling us in feeble tones to “go on.” I went to within twenty-five yards of the fence, from behind which came shots at irregular intervals. I saw my friend Wash. Airey, dismounted and with saber drawn, calling to the boys to “come on!” and I remember thinking what a dangerous position that was, for he was not over ten yards from the rebel line of battle and looked every inch the gallant officer he was. I saw several of our men lying on the ground and horses rearing; one seemed to me to spin around on his hind feet. just near me were Lieutenant De Coursey and Sergeant Will Kimber. “This is pretty hot here; let's get out,” said De Coursey. “Just one shot more,” returned Kimber, and gave it, but got one in return square in the forehead. We were all getting out now, and a little depression in the ground gave us cover and the chance to retreat in good order, and all firing from the front ceased, and was succeeded by some horrible, agonizing cries from some of our wounded back on the field. We fell back to near Wilkinson's crossroads and slept in the woods all night. It was a quiet bivouac, and many silent thoughts went out to those of our comrades who lay stiff and stark on the field of action, toward Murfreesboro.

Private Isaac C. Davis, Co. B, 15th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry

Sergeant Simeon Lord, Co. E, 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry:

    During our march, in the formation of, two squadrons, to the battlefield of Stone River, Major Rosengarten halted the one under his immediate command at Overalls Creek, resting there to hear from Major Ward's squadron that had charged over the creek ford to develop the enemy. We had not long to wait before we heard heavy firing that indicated that the Confederates, were hotly contesting Major Ward's advance. A comrade and I had been riding on the left of our squadron as flankers. On our rejoining it the command halted. Major Rosengarten gave me a verbal order to Major Ward to “fall back this side of Overalls Creek.” Hastily crossing the creek bridge, thence into the timber on the right, I met our men falling back. I inquired for Major Ward, and the reply was, “He is killed.” I hurriedly returned to Major Rosengarten and so reported.

     After recalling Major Ward, it comes within our privilege to ask if Major Rosengarten had known the Rebel infantry were in position behind the highest kind of a worm fence waiting to repel cavalry, should he have led us in a second charge over the same ground, there to lose his own life, so soon after the mortal wounding of Major Ward in the first forlorn assault? The fence itself was an obstacle that would halt any cavalry charge, enemy or no enemy behind it. In the last charge a trooper, pistol in hand, dashed up to the fence, riding abreast of it, firing into the very faces of the enemy. If he lived to return to his command it was luck and a marvelous escape.

Saddler William McGee, Co. K, 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry:

    I am writing this on the 42nd anniversary (1904) of that desperate charge we made, under the command of Rosengarten, at the battle of Stone River. The other battalion, under Major Ward, was acting independently of us, but both met disaster at the same fence, behind which stood a line of Rebel infantry. It was the bloodiest situation I was ever in, but my head was clear through it all, and mv recollection of it is as vivid now as it was the next day after it was all over.

     Our advance halted for a few moments at the bridge over Overall's Creek, probably because that was as far as we were ordered to go; but over to our left Major Ward's battalion started after some of the enemy's cavalry, and then we were ordered forward “by fours” down the pike toward Murfreesboro. Soon the order came to trot, and when heavy firing took place from Ward's party it became a very fast trot. Then Sergeant Major Washington Airey came running through the woods from our right and hailed Major Rosengarten, when the command came to a halt. Airey told the Major that Ward was badly wounded and liable to fall into the hands of the enemy, and “would he charge up and get him away?” The next command was “fours, right wheel!” and the next “charge!” and away we went at “advance carbine,” yelling like madmen, and thus we went until we reached a high stake-and-rider fence, on the other side of which were swarms of rebel infantry. I halted about thirty steps from the fence, and luckily my horse was standing in a depression, and so the bullets all went over my head.

Major Frank Biddle Ward, 15th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry
Wounded in action December 29, 1862, died of wounds January 4, 1863. "Major Ward was the first man hit on our side," remembered Adjutant Josiah C. Reiff. "He wore that day the ordinary blouse of a private soldier and carried a carbine. The fatal ball pierced his left breast near the heart, coming out below his shoulder blade. His horse was shot at the same time and, supported by two of the men, he walked to the rear out of the line of line and then sank to the ground. Dr. Mish, our assistant surgeon, bathed his wound and tried to lessen the excruciating pain he suffered. Even the pain could not quench his martial spirit, for he still cheered the men in a weak and feeble voice which a few moments before had been so strong and lusty."

     Sergeant Alexander Drake, who had ridden beside me all day, then a few feet from me on higher ground, was shot and fell from his horse dead. I fired two shots at the men behind the fence, but all the time looking to the left and right to see what was to be done next. Over to the left I saw Major Rosengarten going at full speed a few feet from the fence, and my thought was that he was hunting a gap through it so as to lead us into the field. I saw him fire one shot down a ravine that ran across his path and turn his horse to the left, when a volley was fired from the ravine. The horse turned a half somersault and fell on his back, with the Major underneath. We all then turned, without orders, and got out as fast as we could.

     On going back we came to where Sergeant William P. Rockhill [Co. C] was lying on the ground, shot in the thigh. There was one comrade with him, who begged for help to carry him out of danger, as we were still under fire. I dismounted and turned my horse over to someone to lead out, and soon got two others, and the four of us carried him in a blanket, each man holding a corner, back to within a short distance of the bridge, and then laid him down beside the road where the ambulance could come and get him. I did not get my horse till noon of the next day, although I started on the hunt for him at once.

     If a Frenchman had been there he would doubtless have said: “C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre” (the charge was magnificent, but it was not war). The mistakes we made were, first, in attempting to charge at “advance carbine.” To do it a soldier should have three hands, one to manage his horse and the other two to fire and load his carbine. The other was in making the charge. If we had followed Sergeant Airey to the right oblique, instead of going straight tip through the woods, we would have come to where Major Ward was lying, comparatively out of danger, and the only excuse I heard of for making our charge was to save him. But it is easy after the thing is over to discover reasons why we should not have done what we did. We had had such an easy time with the enemy, up to this time, that our heads were swelled with the idea that we could do anything we wanted to, and the result was a lot of dead and mangled comrades.


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