Defending the Confederate Cavalry on the Atlanta Campaign

     It was a common joke amongst the infantry that “no one had ever seen a dead cavalryman,” and tensions between the two branches of service tended to always run on a low simmer, flaring up during active campaigning. For one Confederate trooper, the constant jeering and criticisms from the ”web feet” became too much and he sought vindication by writing the following missive in defense of the cavalry.  

    The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain had just been fought a few days before when the Southern Confederacy ran the following letter from a disappointed trooper in the 1st Tennessee Cavalry lamenting the dismissive attitude that had been adopted against his branch of service and longed for the return of the heady days when Forrest and Morgan made the Confederate cavalry the terror of the Federal army.

    “It has become so much a matter of habit to disparage and depreciate the cavalry that the wonder now is that we ever fight at all, no matter what the odds are in our favor---for the utter want of confidence in us affected by the artillery and infantry is sufficient to destroy the morale and effectiveness of the best troops in the world,” he wrote. “To the sharp bite and sly inuendoes of the “web foot” who thus revenge themselves on us for being fortunate to fight “critter back,” are also added the curt criticisms of the press and the jeers of the citizens, who are kind enough to saddle on us, the whole weight of the depredations committed by the army.”

          The author of the following missive is unknown except that he was serving in the 1st Tennessee Cavalry and had seen action at the battle of New Hope Church in late May. This letter ran on the first page of the June 29, 1864 edition of the Southern Confederacy and appears on the blog courtesy of Chris Cash.

 

This unidentified Confederate soldier is depicted holding a breech-loading Maynard carbine. As the war progressed, the cavalry of the Army of Tennessee increasingly found itself outnumbered and outgunned by its Federal opponents. This was a novel situation as the Confederate cavalryman had proven himself a tough and resourceful opponent during the first years of the war, and led by daring leaders such as John H. Morgan and Nathan Bedford Forrest, they had played hob with the plans of many a Union general. 

Camp 1st Tennessee Cavalry near Marietta, Georgia

June 24, 1864

 

Editors Southern Confederacy

The unvarying candor and elevation of tone, which I have long admired and appreciated in the Confederacy has suggested to me a hope that you will aid me in an act of justice where it is denied by other would-be arbiters of public sentiment.  It is the duty of the soldier to suffer all things for the cause to which he is pledged---the peril of battle and the trying restrictions of military discipline.  These call into requisition all the patience and fortitude of the rear; and he endures them, for endurance is essential to success.  That there are unnecessary evils harder to be borne than these; they arise from the complaints, the injustice and discouraging exhibitions of public opinion; they are enemies in the rear, more formidable than the invader himself.

 

            I have been pained to notice, as an instance of this, that several leading journals have permitted the appearance of paragraphs and correspondence reflecting severely and most unjustly on an arm of the service, without which no army, however otherwise well-appointed and confident, could hope to sustain itself with any hope of success.  It has become so much a matter of habit to disparage and depreciate the cavalry that the wonder now is that we ever fight at all, no matter what the odds are in our favor---for the utter want of confidence in us affected by the artillery and infantry is sufficient to destroy the morale and effectiveness of the best troops in the world.  To the sharp bite and sly inuendoes of the “web foot” who thus revenge themselves on us for being fortunate to fight “critter back,” are also added the curt criticisms of the press and the jeers of the citizens, who are kind enough to saddle on us, the whole weight of the depredations committed by the army.---Even “Special,” of “Appeal” in his letter of the 20th, demonstrated our utter worthlessness in those terms. The reputation of our cavalry has suffered very much since the retreat from Dalton, and there is hardly an hour but we hear a wish expressed for the presence of our citizen cavaliers, Forrest and Morgan, who would so accomplish everything with the large cavalry force we have, which is at present a burden to us.

 

            Will “Special” be kind enough to inquire a little more particularly into this matter?  Has he been much in the rear on the retreat from Dalton; and has he been often on the front since we turned to bar the further advance of the enemy?  Does he not know, whatever may here have been the antecedents of the cavalry, that the whole army freely admits that during the entire campaign the gallantry and valuable services of this arm of the service, have erased every record of former delinquencies---just as the heroism, courage and patient endurance of the artillery and infantry arms, have made us in some measure forget that unfortunate affair at Missionary Ridge?  Has not the cavalry shared, equally with the rest of the army, the fatigue and exposure of trenches?  And has it in a single instance been driven from the positions as assigned to it on any part of the line?  Can “Special” forget that we have performed all the duties of infantry while occupying the works, having at the same time the flanks and rear of the army to protect, as cavalry, a duty sufficiently arduous itself?  And yet we are a “burthen,” says “Special.”  How long think you, would that harmless individual occupy the comfortable quarter in Marietta, indi[c]ting his strictly veracious and impartial letter to the Appeal, if he did not know that the cavalry is watching the rear.  Beware, the cavalry and a Yankee raid would very soon mover “Special” ---his letter from the from the front would be dated from behind the Chattahoochee.

 

The rough terrain and thick woods of northern Georgia such as this scene from the Resaca battlefield did not lend themselves to extensive cavalry operations, but Confederate troopers put up quite a fight at Pickett's Mill as alluded to in this cavalryman's letter. 

            The great reason, without doubt, why the cavalry is so mercilessly and persistently criticized is that we take so little trouble to vindicate or exalt ourselves.  The achievements of this or that brigade or regiment of infantry are vaunted a hundred times where you had one cavalryman bold enough to puff his own command.  Permit me to say with all due modestly, that we try to emulate our great exemplar, Forrest, by writing with our swords alone the history of our exploits. 

 

Let me give you example:  The engagement of the 27th ultimo near New Hope Church.  For three hours a Tennessee Cavalry brigade, commanded by Col. James T. Wheeler, and General Allen’s Confederate brigade, withstood the attack of Howard’s Yankee corps, who pressed us heavily the whole time with overwhelming numbers.  We had no works to shelter us from the enemy’s fire, but we stood to it stubbornly nor permitted our assailant to gain a single inch of the ground we held.  About an hour before sunset, we were relieved by a portion of Cleburne’s division.  Our loss was very severe---the 1st Tennessee losing fully one third of its men.  It was admitted on all sides that the fighting was the most desperate in which the cavalry had been engaged since the war.  And yet, in all the newspaper accounts of the affair, I do not see the cavalry so much as mentioned; the praise is all given to Cleburne, notwithstanding the fact that we fought the same enemy, fought them an hour longer than Cleburne and held the identical position occupied by Lowrey’s brigade at the close of the battle---and our returns show  a great loss, in proportion to the number engaged than this division of infantry which was fortunate enough to receive all the praise.

 

This unidentified Confederate wears a gray overcoat festooned with a secession cockade. 

            Far be it from me to take ought away from the hard earned and enduring fame of Gen. Cleburne’s invincible command, (I hardly believe that their equal can be found in any army of the world) but am I unreasonable in asking for the cavalry their just due, when earned a so great a sacrifice and by the display of gallantry and heroism, of which the badly informed correspondent and envious “web-foot” insinuate that they are not capable?  I am aware that a mere defense like this cannot influence discussion in the Army, for here our deeds and conduct are open before all, but it is hardly wise that we should be discouraged and disheartened by these constant and habitual efforts of certain newspaper correspondents to place us in an unfavorable and even ridiculous light before the public. 

If it be our duty to hazard our liberty and lives for your protection, do not brand us as cowards-men will hardly fight any the better with such an assumption on their standards.  We have all noticed with considerable gratification that you are just and impartial in your estimate and views of the relative efficiency of the different arms of the service---making no disagreeable comparisons, and it is for this reason that I have ventured to request the publication of this our somewhat inadequate vindication. 

 

H.H.

 

Source:

Letter from H.H., 1st Tennessee Cavalry, Southern Confederacy (Atlanta, Georgia), June 29, 1864, pg. 1

Comments

  1. Love it. Thank you for posting this. The 1st Tenn. Cavalry was in Ashby's Brigade (temporarily led by Col. J.T Wheeler) of Humes Division. They were paired with the 9th, 2nd and 5th TN Cav's. Ashby's Brigade would lose over 161 of their roughly 700 man Brigade at Pickett's Mill.
    https://www.westerntheatercivilwar.com/post/a-volcano-of-fire-rediscovering-ashby-s-tennessee-cavalry-brigade-at-pickett-s-mill

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Most Popular Posts

Arming the Buckeyes: Longarms of the Ohio Infantry Regiments

Dressing the Rebels: How to Dye Butternut Jeans Cloth

Bullets for the Union: Manufacturing Small Arms Ammunition During the Civil War

The Vaunted Enfield Rifle Musket

Straw Already Threshed: Sherman on Shiloh

Charging Battery Robinett: An Alabama Soldier Recalls the Vicious Fighting at Corinth

A Fight for Corn: Eight Medals of Honor Awarded at Nolensville

In front of Atlanta with the 68th Ohio

The Legend of Leatherbreeches: Hubert Dilger in the Atlanta Campaign

Federal Arms in the Stones River Campaign