This Dreadful Carnage: A Word from the 58th Alabama

    The 58th Alabama saw action for the first time at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863. "If the conduct of the regiment on Saturday was gallant, on Sunday it was heroic," wrote its commanding officer Colonel Bush Jones. "Though the regiment was never in a battle before, its bearing was that of veterans. The heavy loss in killed and wounded mournfully attests to its gallantry and heroism and its readiness to face danger in obedience to orders." The 58th went into the fight with 30 officers and 258 enlisted men and suffered 56% casualties at Chickamauga: 162 of the 288 present were shot down, 26 of them killed, 136 wounded. 

     It was the daring charge upon the entrenched Federal line that the 58th Alabama took part in on the second day of the battle that gutted the regiment. "The regiment started with 300 men and in one hour from the first yell, only 102 could be mustered for duty," one of its survivors noted. "The failure was not their fault. They had been ordered to accomplish an impossibility- to take the breastworks without support. They did everything that gallantry and bravery dictated to perform the almost hopeless task. The affair, though badly managed, reflected much credit upon the officers and men of the 58th Alabama and shows the want of judgment in high places somewhere."

    The following account from "Libbie" of the 58th Alabama saw publication in the October 7, 1863 edition of the Montgomery Weekly Advertiser

Button of the Alabama Volunteer Corps (Courtesy Army of Tennessee Relics)

58th Alabama Regiment, two miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee

September 28, 1863

    The battle of the 19th and 20th was the bloodiest and most desperate of the war, and as such is universally acknowledged by the soldiers throughout the army and notwithstanding the immense loss of human life, (the saddest feature of war), we have many reasons for congratulation among ourselves and cause for thanks and gratitude to God for the victory with which he crowned our arms. The preface to the bloody picture was written on Friday the 18th by heavy skirmishing and much cannonading on both sides which resulted in more casualties than is common in such engagements.

    It is not my intention to give a description of the battle, but rather to state briefly a few facts in regard to the part performed by this regiment, recently the 9th Alabama Battalion commanded by Colonel Bush Jones. Bate's brigade, to which the 58th Alabama belongs, was engaged three successive days and lost, proportionately, more than any other in the whole army. It was led into the fight Saturday evening at 3 o'clock and after a few rounds the command "fix bayonets" was given, and immediately could be heard the order "forward." 

Lt. Col. John Washington Inzer
58th Alabama

    With zeal and alacrity the whole brigade rushed toward the enemy with a yell that caused a perfect panic among the craven-hearted foe, who retreated in confusion and disorder, throwing away knapsacks, haversacks, guns, and in fact everything that impeded their flight. Then could be seen Yankees falling and biting the soil that they came to invade and large numbers, frightened almost beyond reason, waving their hats and handkerchiefs in token of submission and running for the Rebs, kneeling at their feet and pleading for mercy. Of course, they were treated in accordance with the usages of war and sent to the rear and put under the care of the provost guard. In this charge, the brigade took a battery of four pieces and quite a number of prisoners. [In his after action report, Colonel Bush Jones claimed partial credit for capturing the battery, stating that the 36th and 38th Alabama regiments also helped to carry the guns.] 


    This was the closing fight of the day, and soon night came and darkness stopped the dreadful carnage, and again quiet and stillness reigned supreme, but only to be followed by another Sabbath of blood and suffering. 

    Early in the morning was renewed practical war by Cleburne on the right, Stewart in the center, and Hindman on the left. The enemy made a desperate stand and endeavored to drive back our right. But all was in vain and it only resulted in a decided victory for us, we capturing a whole brigade of the enemy. In the center, the enemy had taken a strong position, naturally, and strengthened it by very formidable breastworks. Our advancing columns formed a perfect parallelogram with their three different points which were on each our our flanks and our immediate front, each front having four pieces of artillery, making twelve in all. 

This battle flag belonging to the combined 32nd-58th Alabama regiment was issued in early 1864 and includes their battle honors for Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain. The crossed cannon at center indicates that the regiment was credited with capturing Federal artillery at Chickamauga. There is some dispute as to exactly whose guns were captured; they were either the pieces belonging to the 26th Pennsylvania Battery or Confederate pieces that originally belonged to Captain William Carnes' Tennessee battery that were subsequently recaptured from the Federals by the men of Bate's brigade. 

    Thus was posted the enemy when a charge was ordered on our side and the 58th Alabama went forward with a speed, zeal, and determination that showed how earnest they were in the desperate undertaking before them. [This would have been at Poe Field.] But ah what a sad fate awaited them. They had been ordered to accomplish an impossibility- to take the breastworks without support. The failure was not their fault. They did everything that gallantry and bravery dictated to perform the almost hopeless task. In this charge, we were crossfired with grape, canister, and musketry from every direction save our rear. The regiment started with 300 men and in one hour from the first yell, only 102 could be mustered for duty. We advanced to within 100 yards of the fortifications and there stood and fought until it seemed almost suicide to remain longer when all that were not killed or wounded, except a few, fell back to a better position. These few consisted of Lieutenant Colonel [John Washington] Inzer, Major Harry Thornton, Lieutenant James F. Holiman [Co. B], and Lieutenant Albert T. Goodwyn with his company [K] and who was the only officer to who managed to keep his men under the murderous fire and did not retire until ordered to do so by higher authority. This affair, though badly planned, reflected much credit upon the officers and men composing the 58th Alabama regiment and shows the want of judgment in high places somewhere.

Captain Edward F. Crenshaw of Co. B, 58th Alabama was wounded during the battle but also noted for his heroism, specifically cited for helping to capture the Federal battery on the evening of September 19th. Crenshaw had previously served in the 17th Alabama before moving on to the 58th Alabama. After the war, he took up the practice of law in Greenville, Alabama. 
Two different views of Captain Crenshaw are shown here.

    Report says that Brigadier General William Bate was only yielding obedience to orders by making this charge, and that General Alexander P. Stewart ordered it in ignorance of the enemy's position. However, we have gained a glorious victory, and are now not only ready and willing but anxious to meet old Rosy again in battle array. He is now strongly entrenched in Chattanooga and what the program is for the future time alone can tell. 


Letter from "Libbie," 58th Alabama Infantry, Montgomery Weekly Advertiser (Alabama), October 7, 1863, pg. 2

Official report of Colonel Bush Jones, 58th Alabama from the O.R.

Captain Samuel D. McClellan, Co. F, 58th Alabama Infantry
Courtesy of Stan Hutson


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