A Deadly Crossfire of Artillery: The 19th Alabama at Stones River

   

Private Parris P. Casey, Co. I "Cherokee Rangers," 19th Alabama Infantry died September 29, 1863 at the age of 23 and is buried at the Casey Family Cemetery in Cherokee Co., Alabama. 

    The Battle of Stones River started out badly for the men of Colonel John Quincy Loomis’ brigade of Alabama and Louisiana troops. It was scarce 7 o’clock when the 2,000 men of the brigade formed into line aiming to march across a cornfield and assail at Federal position in their front occupied by the brigades of General Joshua Sill and Colonel William Woodruff. Noticing the Alabamians forming in their front, the 8th Wisconsin Battery and the 4th Indiana Battery started to shell the woods that provided cover for the Confederates, bursting shells in the tree branches overhead and showering the men below with tree shards and shell fragments.

Lieutenant Colonel Samuel King McSpadden, 19th Alabama Infantry


Among the first casualties was the brigade commander Colonel Loomis. The colonel had already been wounded the day before while conducting the fight to defend Captain Felix Robertson’s battery from an assault staged by the 21st Illinois and 15th Wisconsin of Colonel William P. Carlin’s brigade (see story here). “On the morning of December 31st, soon after putting the brigade in motion, I was so unfortunate to receive another injury from a falling limb that disabled me for the day and the command of the brigade was turned over to Colonel John G. Coltart,” Colonel Loomis reported. And thus shaken, the brigade marched into the field under a heavy fire and dropping men at every step.

The nature of the ground and paucity of accounts makes recreating the action of Loomis’ brigade a difficult task, but thanks to the pioneering work of Lanny Smith, the long-lost reports of Colonel Loomis, Colonel Coltart, and the various regimental commanders of the brigade were published in his 2010 volume on the Confederate army at Stones River. The brigade consisted of the 19th, 22nd, 25th, and 26th (later 50th), and 39th Alabama infantry regiments, Yancey’s 17th Battalion, Alabama Sharpshooters, and the 1st Louisiana Regulars. The brigade went into action with roughly 2,000 men and suffered 672 casualties, nearly a third of those present and the bulk of those casualties were incurred in the brigade’s charge on the morning of December 31st.

Sticking with the theme of the “19,” today’s post will focus on the fight of the 19th Alabama which was the senior regiment in Loomis’ brigade. The 19th Alabama was organized at Huntsville, Alabama on August 14, 1861, under the command of Colonel Joseph Wheeler, a regiment of ten companies raised from Blount, Cherokee, Chilton, Coosa, Jefferson, and Pickens counties. Each company went into the field with a distinctive name as follows:

A: Pickens Rough and Readys

B: Blount Continentals

C: Jefferson Warriors

D: Cherokee Guards

E: Jake Curry Guards

F: Davis Guards

G: Cherokee Mountaineers

H: Cherokees

I: Cherokee Rangers

K: Blount Guards


 

Colonel John Gordon Coltart was working as a bookseller in Huntsville when the war broke out and served as a captain in the 7th Alabama. When that regiment mustered out of service in early 1862, he was commissioned colonel of the 26th/50th Alabama and was wounded at Shiloh. Colonel Loomis' injury at the outset of the Battle of Stones River thrust him into brigade command. Coltart was wounded again during the Battle of Atlanta and ended the war in command of a division. He died in 1868 at Tuscaloosa, Alabama at the age of 42. (Photo courtesy of Stan Hutson)

The regiment left for garrison duty at Mobile and was placed under the command of General Braxton Bragg who later became their army commander. While Bragg is largely perceived today as being wildly unpopular with his troops, there was a cadre of soldiers who remained loyal to Bragg to the end and the core of that cadre were the men of General Jones Withers’ division who had served under Bragg in the early months of the war, the 19th Alabama among them. In early 1862, the 19th was placed under the command of General Adley Gladden in an all-Alabama brigade with the 22nd, 25th, and 26th/50th regiments and transferred to Corinth to join up with General Albert Sidney Johnston’s army. The regiment suffered heavy casualties during the battle of Shiloh and took part in Bragg’s Kentucky campaign but missed the battle of Perryville.

The regiment went into action on December 31, 1862, at Stones River under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Samuel K. McSpadden and lost 154 men out of the roughly 600 who were in the ranks. Sergeant Ambrose Doss of Co. C commented that “the Shiloh battle was not a comparison to this and as sick as I was, I saw more dead men in one field than I saw in the whole Shiloh battle. But we drove the enemy all the time. All this time that we were out was the worst cold and rainiest time ever experienced.”

Colonel Loomis' brigade marched across the cornfield under a crossfire of artillery from the 8th Wisconsin Battery of Woodruff's brigade and the 4th Indiana Battery of Sill's brigade. The brigade wheeled right then left and was able to shake Woodruff's small brigade loose from its position for a short time before being driven back to their original line by General Sill's counterattack spearheaded by the 36th and 88th Illinois. Captain Abner H. Flewellen of Co. F of the 39th Alabama called it "the tightest place I was ever in. I went into the charge with 22 men and lost two killed and nine wounded. We reached the battery or very near it and captured one piece but were compelled to fall back under a heavy fire to where we first started."

Colonel Coltart reported that “we were ordered forward about 7 o’clock wheeling gradually to the right. This movement brought us across a large cornfield. The enemy was strongly posted on a wooded hill on the opposite side, supported by a battery of artillery. The brigade advanced with steadiness and coolness under a heavy fire by which they suffered much and succeeded in driving the enemy from his position and entering the wood. The enemy now advanced with reinforcements and the brigade fell back in some confusion to their original position”

Colonel McSpadden had a little more to add about his regiment’s fight in his official report. “Early Wednesday morning, the brigade was ordered to right wheel. This movement threw my regiment fronting to the late position of Manigault’s brigade. A heavy fire was opened upon my left which wounded several of my men. I was then ordered to wheel the regiment to the left and advance. After crossing a field, we entered some woods, where a heavy fire was opened on us but for a quarter of a mile we drove the enemy without intermission, advancing some 200 yards beyond the corner of an old field to our right. We were receiving a heavy fire from the enemy who were advancing from that direction when we were ordered to retire, which we did but in some confusion. After arriving at our original line of battle in the rear, we rallied and again made a charge upon the woods when we succeeded in driving the enemy beyond our reach. In these two engagements, many of the men fell dead and wounded.” He reported 8 men killed, 143 wounded, and 3 missing.


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