A Frenzied Charge Into the Cedars: Stones River with the 9th Texas

    In writing his memoirs years after the war, Private John Henry King of Co. D of the 9th Texas Infantry provided one of the finest accounts of the Confederate assault on the cedars at the Battle of Stones River. I've featured several accounts on this blog from Federal participants in this particular sector of the battlefield, but King's is the first to present the story from the other side, and he has quite a tale to tell.

    The 9th Texas Infantry was the only Texas infantry regiment then attached to the Army of Tennessee; four dismounted cavalry regiments served in Ector's brigade of McCown's division while the hard riding 8th Texas Cavalry was serving in Wharton's brigade of Wheeler's cavalry. The Texans were assigned to General Preston Smith's brigade of General Benjamin Frank Cheatham's division of Leonidas Polk's Corps. General Smith was away during the Stones River campaign and his brigade was ably led by Colonel Alfred Vaughan of the 13th Tennessee; the other regiments of the brigade included the 12th, 13th, 29th, 47th, and 154th Tennessee regiments, a company of sharpshooters, and Captain William L. Scott's Tennessee battery. 

    Colonel Vaughan took 1,823 men into battle on the morning of December 31, 1862, and by the end of the battle had lost 705, a loss rate of 38.6% which gives one a small sense of the severity of the fighting King and his comrades experienced in the cedars. The 9th Texas took 24 officers and 299 men into action and lost 122, about par with the rest of the brigade from a loss standpoint. It was a tough and bloody fight pushing Negley's and Rousseau's men out of the Slaughter Pen, as John King's pen will amply attest...

A common soldier's butternut jacket and kepi similar to one worn by many of the Army of Tennessee's veterans at Stones River. Federal accounts often commented favorably on how this earth tone helped provide the Confederates with an advantage of camouflage. 

    On 30th or 31st of December 1862 Battle of Murfreesboro or Stones River came on. Rosecrans commanded the Federals. He had succeeded Buell. The battle began about noon on the 30th. Wheeler’s Cavalry on our left wing (I then supposed). McCown’s Division. on our extreme left. Cheatham’s Division next toward the right. Preston Smith’s Brigade being Cheatham’s left. Ours was Polk’s Corps, Genl. Withers’ Division fought all evening two miles N. W. from town. One mile from and N. of River, in front of our Division, the enemy tried to advance their lines after nightfall, under pretext of removing their wounded, between the lines, after having got permission to remove them. Then the fusillade opened from both sides. I never hear such musketry for half an hour before. Withers repulsing with his brave Alabamians. We supported Robertson’s Battery all evening on a hill, a battery of 12 pounders. We lay on our arms that night covered with the stars. It was bitter cold.

 

About daybreak, McCowan’s Division on our left, which was composed in part, of Ector’s Texas brigade (dismounted Cav.) and McNair’s Arkansas brigade brought on the engagement, by charging the enemy, while they were at breakfast, and watering their artillery horses. The enemy were routed in that part of the field. Wither’s Division in our front (Cheatham’s) deployed out of line to take the Federal line in the rear. We of Cheatham’s Division moved in and took his place. From some cause, the place our regiment had to fill, was wide enough for a whole brigade. The left wing may have obliqued to the left, from us or Smith obliqued correspondingly to the right from us unintentionally. General Preston Smith a fine officer, was gone to see his sick wife, and Colonel Alfred Vaughan was in command of the brigade. He took our regiment which was on the left of the brigade, by a left oblique, to a cornstalk field 200 yds. wide, with a cedar brake, and woods, and bench rocks on the N. W. of the field.


.69 caliber Minie ball

At the word forward; we moved out into the field 100 yds. from the fence, facing the woods pasture. The fence was a heavy cedar rail fence six feet high, almost new. At the word halt and fire at will; the regiment fired two rounds. Then Charge! Charge! We did so, but the fence could not be easily passed, and we let down gaps, and charged through the gaps with dead and wounded men. My cousin Doc. King, was the first man struck in the regiment by my side, in the stalk field; he hollowed for me, I told the infirmary corps to carry him to the hospital, and I would come to him after the battle. His screams were in my ears all day. He was shot through the hips, with a Belgian musket ball, big as a man’s thumb. He died in 16 days. I never got to see him. He was the only relation I had in the regiment. He was a fine soldier.

 

Colonel William Hugh Young, 9th Texas

Our Adjutant R.F. Lucket was killed at our first stand in the morning. Our Colonel William Hugh Young had three horses killed under him; that morning the 31st. But we routed those Yankees out of that cedar brake. We were frenzied, every last one of us. We run them from behind three fences, through woods pasture, and piled them up in the fence corners four to five in a place. If they had not moved we would have bayonetted every one of them. They retreated back across a large farm, a mile across it. We stood at the edge, and behind trees, and poured volley after volley into them, a whole brigade of them. We dotted that field with them, and followed them across the field to near the timber.

 

The other regiments in our brigade were a half a mile behind to our right, fighting all the time. But McCown on our left, was still charging, and the enemy still fighting and falling back. General Cheatham, seeing our danger sent a courier after us, with orders to fall back a piece, and wait till our support came up. We did so and behind a fine farm house, a temporary hospital of the enemy, full of their wounded, and a squad of Federal soldiers and a Colonel not wounded. We sent a guard in and brought them out. General Cheatham at that moment came loping up to us. The Federal Colonel saluted him with “What Confederate Genl. have I the honor of saluting?” with a smile, “Frank Cheatham, sir,” said the General. You’re giving us hell today. What regiment is this?” “The 9th Texas.” “They are fighters, General,” General Cheatham replied “Yes, if I had 50,000 such troops I could bridge Jordan and storm Hell in a week by God!”

 

Major General Benjamin Franklin Cheatham

The sun was getting up in the S. E.. The enemy in the brakes, in blue uniforms. The blue smoke standing over the ground like a fog. We, in our gray uniform, (which looked white) magnified ourselves to the enemy. We advanced about 50 or 60 yds. from the fence; while the cannonading was terrific, tearing the timber down over us. We got the impression, that the order was given to halt. We halted; knelt down, and fired about 20 rounds before the Colonel could get us to forward. But, before we charged into that cedar brake, we lost 135 men killed and wounded; out of 253 men. My company (D) went into Battle with 47 men rank and file and lost 25 killed and wounded, 10 killed and 15 wounded. 

 

We had a harmless lunatic whose name was Dobbs. He had been a preacher and a politician, but he became demented before the war. He volunteered anyhow. He was an arrant coward. He was a tall, stoop-shouldered, wild hollow-eyed, dish-faced, wild-eyed, long-harried specimen, with an old dilapidated white hat with a hole in the top. As General Cheatham rode up we were all lying down flat as fox squirrels on the ground, and mud by a mill pond, for we were being shelled by three or four batteries at once. Dobbs, seeing the General jumped up with his old hat in hand roared “Three cheers for Genl. Cheatham!” About that time, it seemed a ½ a ton of bullets and shells and missiles flew over us; Dobbs turned end and chuck he went into the mud, like a dapper, not finishing his sentence. We lay there on the ground and laughed at him. He had surely been a politician. We held the battlefield long enough (three or four days) to bury our dead and carry off the ordnance arms and captured baggage which was 10,000 stand of arms and 73 cannons and 5,000 prisoners. Then I was thrown out on picket 200 yds. in front within 60 to 80 yds. of the enemy picket line, after dark, and in the cedar brake. The weather cold and cloudy. Our three lines 200 yds. apart each had thrown up, rifle pits of rocks and logs, and built brush log and cedar fence.

Sergeant James Otey Gloster, 13th Tennessee
Killed in action at Stones River


There was a cessation in the battle on January 1st. But on the 2nd, Bragg threw Breckenridge’s Division on the extreme right, against the enemy. Charge after charge failed to move the enemy, and our forces were slaughtered to no purpose. We held the field four or five days. We moved the enemy on the left wing five or six miles. I was detailed with 20 others, to go back over the track of our brigade, over the battlefield, and identify our dead and bury them. We did so. We carried together in 12s and 24s, feet together, dug holes, and lay them down, and threw dirt over them. No coffin, no shroud, no stone, to mark their resting place. Nor no salute. When we had finished our gruesome task, we were ordered to go over the same ground and bury the dead Federals. We carried them together in 24s, and when we had got ready to bury them, General Bragg (as was his custom after a battle) fell back at night, and took up a position at Shelbyville and Tullahoma, 30 miles to the first place.

 

Our cannon and the enemy’s kept up their desultory shelling and firing (minute guns) all the while, and the pickets did the same. I was sick of fighting, and had not had a night’s sleep in a week, soon as I was placed at my post on the picket line, I sat down behind a little cedar tree, in the mud, and within 100 or 150 yrds. of the enemy’s breast works. I soon fell asleep. I awakened about 1 o’clock, chilled through and through. I slipped to the nearest post, and found no picket there, -- to the next and found none there; I looked back at our fires, at the lines and the fires flickered with a faint light. I thought my God have they called in the pickets and left me out here, and they preparing for a general charge. If so I will be shot to pieces. I lit out to the rear, in a brisk walk; coming to the front lines, I found the trenches deserted; not a soul there. I struck a trot to the 2nd line; no one there. I then run for the 3rd line and no one there. Then I felt like an orphan. I knew Bragg’s Army had all retreated, and left me to cover their retreat, and so they had. It was 6 miles back to Murfreesboro. I had to cross the battlefield five miles across by myself, in the dark, but I got a move on me. I ran into, and over the enemy’s unburied dead, which we had piled, preparatory to burying. When I got within a mile of town I found a regiment of cavalry drawn up in a line.

 

This sector of the battlefield amongst the cedars became known as the Slaughter Pen for the heavy casualties, Confederate and Federal, that occurred here. A series of limestone outcroppings and dense forest made combat an even more challenging endeavor for the two armies. This land has been preserved as part of the National Battlefield park. 

Day was slightly breaking; the cavalry halted me to know who I was. They told me to move up, that they were expecting to be attacked any minute. I moved, and just as I got into town, I heard the firing and as I got out of the South side of town, the enemy was firing and charging on our cavalry in the North side of town. About 10 or 11 a.m. I overtook my command which had given me up for captured. We afterward learned that Genl. Rosecrans, who was commanding the Federals there, was retreating also, toward Nashville, and had left a few troops and firing a few minute guns, on the line to keep up a show but, that his rear guard, found that Bragg was retreating, so the enemy rushed back, and claimed the victory. 

 

We kept up our retreat, (Polk’s Corps) till we reached Shelbyville, Generals Cheatham and Polk at the head of our Division The ladies of the town, had assembled and beseeched the Generals to not go on to Tullahoma, and leave them and the country to be laid waste. So General Frank Cheatham swore he would die, before he would move his command another foot on that retreat, so Polk’s Corps was halted and went into camp, and General Bragg was notified that the Tennessee troops refused to retreat further, and we took up winter quarters then till May at Shelbyville.

 

Source:

Account of Private John Henry King, Co. D, 9th Texas Infantry, Ben K. Green Papers, AR326, Special Collections Division, University of Texas at Arlington

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