Hooping, Yelling, and Rushing Around Like Madmen: An Indianan Captured on Wheeler's Ride

     The supply wagons of General Alexander McCook's corps had been sitting near LaVergne for hours on December 30, 1862 awaiting orders to move forward. Ten miles south on the Nashville Pike, the Federal army was closing in on Murfreesboro, but the long hours of waiting made the train guards and teamsters nervous. Shortly after 2 o'clock, things got beautifully worse as Ordnance Sergeant John J. Gallagher of the 81st Indiana later recalled.

"About 2 o'clock some of the boys went to the wagons to lay down and take a nap.  As they were fixing to make themselves comfortable, they looked out from the back of the wagons toward the road and beheld a sight that caused their hearts to beat quickly, for as far as they could see there was nothing but the enemy's cavalry galloping about, dressed in the well-known butternut clothing, hooping, yelling and rushing around like madmen in every direction.  The boys seized their guns and ran to the nearest house and breathlessly awaited further developments. No one seemed to have any command or authority over the men or train," he wrote.

    Within minutes, Gallagher and most of the 150 supply wagons near town had been captured. Wheeler's men took particular delight in capturing McCook's headquarters wagon including a Christmas turkey and one of the General's oversizing frock coats, along with bundles of military papers including ordnance reports and personal correspondence. As for Gallagher, his captors ordered him to mount a mule and follow along, giving him the opportunity to witness the rest of Wheeler's raid

    Sergeant Gallagher's account of Wheeler's raid was originally published in George W. Morris' regimental history of the 81st Indiana published in 1901.

This William Travis painting depicts a Union supply column under attack by Wheeler's cavalry in the period of the Stones River campaign. During that campaign, Wheeler's troopers actually made two circuits of the Army of the Cumberland, with the first raid on December 30th proving to be the more damaging of the two. Their second ride took place on January 1st and 2nd and ran into considerably stiffer Federal opposition, particularly at LaVergne where the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics made a name for themselves by successfully defending the town. Sergeant John J. Gallagher of the 81st Indiana had the misfortune to be captured on December 30th at LaVergne during Wheeler's first circuit, but was only held a few days before being given a field parole. 

When the regiment was getting ready to leave Nashville there were some changes, as such a move made it necessary.  Corporal John J. Gallagher, of Co. B, was appointed ordnance sergeant, and all the old guns, accouterments, etc., belonging to the regiment was turned over to him, as well as the regimental ammunition. Everything was loaded into wagons and ordered inside of the entrenchments at Nashville.  There were several wagons in the detail, for they had all the regimental baggage along with the balance. 

After remaining in Nashville until December 29th they started out for the regiment.  The train of wagons numbered about three hundred.  When the train left Nashville, it was a beautiful morning and everything looked bright and cheerful. They traveled all day until about two or three o'clock, when they reached a little town about fifteen miles from Nashville [LaVergne].  Here the train halted and corralled for the night in the town, the inhabitants having left, the houses being deserted. As there were two wagons from our regiment, they drove up alongside of a one-story frame house and the drivers commenced unharnessing the mules.  While doing so, orders came to send a wagon back on the road six miles for corn for forage, which was in a camp lately held by the enemy.  Sergeant Gallagher was one of the detail to go back with the wagons.  The order came from an unauthorized source, but the boys did not refuse to go.  When they got out on the pike, they found several other wagons detailed for the same purpose, each containing a guard. They went the six miles in a sweeping gallop back toward Nashville, one of the hardest wagon rides they had ever experienced, and they all felt as if every bone in their bodies were broken. 

They arrived at the camp and drove into the field, found the corn in large quantities posted their pickets at the proper distance, and commenced loading as quickly as possible.  In a few moments their wagons were loaded, and they drove out on the pike and hurried back to camp. In a short time, supper was ready, and, having a good appetite from their pleasant ride, they did full justice to it.  They soon retired to rest, taking up their quarters in the wagons.  Of course, they did not sleep much. They were up early in the morning and found a drizzling rain falling, making everything look miserable. It made the boys feel gloomy, but after breakfast everything was gotten ready to move in case an order came to do so, but they laid there hour after hour and no order came.  Of course, the boys could not account for it. They could hear of no fighting in front, yet there was no order to move.

The dinner hour arrived, so they sat down to dinner, and after dinner wandered around and smoked their pipes to help pass away the time.  Still no order came to move.  About 2 o'clock some of the boys went to the wagons to lay down and take a nap.  As they were fixing to make themselves comfortable, they looked out from the back of the wagons toward the road and beheld a sight that caused their hearts to beat quickly, for as far as they could see there was nothing but the enemy's cavalry galloping about, dressed in the well-known butternut clothing, hooping, yelling and rushing around like madmen in every direction.  The boys seized their guns and ran to the nearest house and breathlessly awaited further developments. No one seemed to have any command or authority over the men or train.

In the midst of the excitement some of the boys found they had no caps on their guns, although when they started, they had their pouches full. They were soon furnished with plenty of caps. They were huddled together on the porch of the house, having full view of the enemy, who were yelling and going in every direction and firing at the wagons of the train.  Someone in the party counseled prudence and not to fire, as we were so largely outnumbered, and it would go hard with us if we did so.  Before we could decide what to do, a company of the enemy's cavalry came dashing down upon us with pistols and carbines in both hands, pointing at us and yelling like fiends, ordering us with curses to surrender and march out from where we were posted, and do so as quickly as possible.  All this took place in less time than it takes to write it.  We were ordered, in no very polite manner, to march quickly up to a hill a few hundred yards in our front.

81st Indiana monument at Chickamauga

Our men could be seen running in all directions, and we could see the enemy in every direction galloping about, showing plainly that we were surrounded before the charge was made upon us.  While we were hurrying toward the hill, we were stopped by several Rebs, who demanded to know if we had any pistols about us, as they were anxious to get them. They did not make much off of us in that line.  When we were first taken prisoners we were ordered to throw down our arms, but some of the boys did not hear the order at the time, and were carrying them with them toward the hill when they were stopped by the Rebs, who informed them, in their usual polite style, that if they did not drop their guns they would soon hear from them in another manner not pleasant to our feelings, and of course the boys, not wishing to put them to any trouble on their account, threw the guns down, and their accouterments also. 

On arriving at the top of the hill we came upon a line of our men drawn up in two ranks.  We were ordered to fall in with them, and a Rebel harangue was made to us by Colonel [William S.] Hawkins, C. S. A.    The speech was made in a quick, excited manner and we were ordered to hold up our right hands and swear that we would not take up arms against the Southern Confederacy until honorably exchanged.  As soon as this was done the men broke ranks and scattered in every direction. Everything was done in the midst of excitement. Rebel horsemen kept yelling and riding in every direction.   By this time all of our trains were fired and burning rapidly.  We asked permission from a Confederate officer if we could go down to our wagons and secure some of our things.  Our request was granted, and we flew, not having time to run, but found them all in a blaze.  One of our wagons contained our headquarters, baggage and equipment, together with the adjutant's desk containing the   books and papers of the regiment, as well as the regimental state colors.  All of which were destroyed.  We endeavored to save our knapsacks but found them laying by the side of the wagons torn open and the contents confiscated by some lucky Reb, leaving behind only some blankets, and other little notions they did not want. 

General Joseph Wheeler's performance during the Stones River campaign ranked him amongst the foremost of Confederate cavalry leaders. His brigade performed superb service in delaying Crittenden's advance on the Murfreesboro Pike while his two rides around the Federal army during the battle created much chaos with Rosecrans' supply arrangements. 

While we were picking at these a Reb came along and was going to deprive us of them on the supposition, we supposed, that to the victor belongs the spoils, but with some little persuasion we were permitted to keep them but it was very little benefit we derived from them after all.  While packing them up we were ordered by a petty, saucy-looking Reb to go and catch a mule, and be quick about it, too.  As some of the boys did not wish to misunderstand him, they asked him what he wanted, when he informed us in a style not to be misunderstood, with a volley of words not necessary to mention here, that we had better hurry, or we should hear something (the enemy had a very polite way of speaking to prisoners during that time).

So looking around, we saw several of the men catching mules and mounting them, and not wishing to trouble the gentleman any more we ran to where some mules were tied and unloosed them, threw our blankets on them, and, after several attempts, mounted them.  It being the first time some of us had the honor of appearing on a mule, some of the mules having nothing but halters around their necks, we had quite a time to manage them, as we had no chance to get a bridle.  After we were mounted it took some time to get his muleship to start, but after sundry and repeated kicks, vigorously applied with our heels to his sides, given under the greatest excitement of mind at the time, we got them to move out toward the pike, where we found a number of our men halted under guard and all on mules, waiting for further orders.

"After we were mounted, it took some time to get his muleship to start, but after sundry and repeated kicks, vigorously applied with our heels to his sides, we got them to move out toward the pike," Gallagher wrote. 

A gloomy feeling crept over us by this time, for we saw, a fair prospect of a long ride with the Rebs and perhaps prison in the end, which was under the circumstances, calculated to make us feel gloomy.  Some of the boys never having rode a mile on horseback in their lives, they could not help feeling that it would go hard with them galloping through woods and fields on the back of a mule without saddle or bridle, surrounded with rough men, and enemies at that.  Shortly after we joined the prisoners we were ordered forward under guard toward the head of the column.  As far as we could see there were enemies in every direction. They were at halt while we were moving forward.  Some of them were in crowds in the woods, around boxes of plunder taken from our trains.  Clothing was being distributed among some of them, and in every direction could be seen broken trunks, valises, etc., that belonged to our officers, laying scattered over the ground as we rode along.  We ran across some pretty rough Rebs.  We were cursed every once in a while, and what little things we had were taken from us.  There was no help for it; it was useless to appeal to their officers.  Every few minutes the officer of the guard would shout out, "Close up prisoners!" when we would all start off in a gallop for a short distance, and then dwindle down to a slow trot.  At last, we arrived at the head of the column, when we were ordered to halt.

         We could not help but smile at some of our crowd, for they looked so ridiculous. Sergeant Lahne, of our regiment, was a very tall man -- over six feet and very lean.  He had unfortunately mounted a very small mule and the consequence was his feet nearly touched the ground, and his whole attention seemed to be engaged in steering clear of stumps and trees.  While we were halted some of the Rebs talked with us and asked us what we came down there for, and if we thought they had horns growing out of their heads.  They said we were being whipped all around, that we could never subdue the South, and a lot of other stuff.  We answered several of their questions, but as several more of their companions joined in, we thought it best to dry, up and say nothing. One of them wanted to buy Neil McClellan's boots, but he said he did not want to sell, for if he had he would have been compelled to take pay in Confederate script. 

"While we were halted, some of the Rebs talked with us and asked us what we came down there for and if we thought they had horns growing out of their heads," Gallagher noted. "They said we were being whipped all around, that we could never subdue the South, and a lot of other stuff. We answered several of their questions, but as several more of their companions joined in, we thought it best to dry up and say nothing." 

A great many of them were dressed in citizens' clothes, which caused us to, suppose that a number of the citizens in the immediate vicinity of Nashville had purposely joined this gang to war upon our trains in the rear, of our army men who no doubt bore a good loyal name on the books of the provost marshal at Nashville.  Our supposition proved to be true in some respects, because the next day, whenever we passed a home, the men in citizens' clothes would drop from the ranks, ride up and dismount and that was the last we would see of, them. There was no honor among them; they were a perfect set of cutthroats; nothing was disgraceful with them as long as it benefited their cause.

         When we halted, we were placed in the center of the column.  There were about 46 prisoners altogether, mostly teamsters.  For a while we moved pretty rapidly through the woods.   After we had ridden about two hours our legs became very painful.  We came across one man from northern Alabama who said that he held out for the Union as long as possible, but when his state seceded he went with her, and now he felt sure the South would succeed. He seemed to be a Christian man, and from his conversation we thought a kindhearted man, and, although we were enemies, we could not help but respect him.

Most of the time we rode very fast, but just a little before dark we came to a halt.  Our companions told us to look through the timber and we would see something, as they were about to make a charge. We did so and could see a small town (which we afterward learned was Nolensville), and near it were five or six United States army wagons.  We could see the boys in blue walking about, and some of them appeared to be getting supper.  Presently a long yell was given and a long line of Rebel cavalry charged down upon them and their wagons. They ran in every direction, but it was in vain, for what was a handful of men against thousands of the enemy.  No doubt the enemy felt glorious over such a charge as that, and some of them did, too, because shortly afterward we saw several of them under the influence of whiskey taken from a sutler's wagon that was captured with the rest.  These wagons were all burnt the same as were ours; and with a small addition of fresh prisoners, we took the road again. 

When we got on the pike, we started off on a regular gallop, which continued for some time, then we wheeled into the woods again and rode some distance, it being by this time nearly dark.  Just about dark we arrived at the camp they had picked out for the night. The night was very cold and quite a number of fires were burning in every direction. In a few moments we were told to march up into a field a short distance and dismount and build fires.  A guard was detailed to watch us for the night.  Some of the men got rails, and our fires were soon burning. All the mules were tied to a fence close at hand.  Most of the boys were nearly famished for water. This was certainly the most exciting day we had spent in the army so far; we felt so stiff and sore from riding that we could hardly move about.  We had eaten nothing since dinner and our present surroundings did not give us any appetite. We did not have much for supper; a few crackers and a little piece of bacon, that was captured from us, was all we had. 

Some of the enemies that were dressed in our clothes came and talked with us to see what they could find out, thinking that they could deceive us because they were dressed in blue, but they were mistaken.  General Rosecrans soon afterward put a stop to it by issuing an order that all Rebs caught in our uniform would be hung, which was, a good thing at the time.  We laid down by the fire and tried to sleep, the night being very cold, and, having no blankets, we felt chilly.  About the time we began to doze, an order came to jump up and be ready to March; so, we got up, feeling so stiff we could hardly move.  It was about 2 o'clock in the morning, and the last day of the year 1862.

Colonel John Timberlake
81st Indiana Infantry

         There was continued firing of guns all night on their outposts, for what reason we could not find out.  We began to feel interested in what they were going to do with us.  Some said we would be paroled and others said they would send us to Richmond, Va.  We were kept in a state of suspense until the order came to mount a mule and march out.  When we got out on the road we halted and stayed there several hours. Finally, the order came to move forward.  Some of the boys were so sore and stiff they could not ride on the sharp backs of mules.  When daylight came, Sergeant Gallagher asked an officer, who seemed to be in command, if he could not get a saddle as he was notable to ride in his present condition.  He said he would not.  After riding for several miles, he got off of his mule and tried to walk, but as soon as he got on the ground, he was ordered, with curses, to mount again, and as his mule was gone, he could not do so, but just then Mell Bruner came along and took him up on his mule behind him.  That relieved him some, and of course, being with one of his own company, and from the same town, he felt more like he was at home, or, at least, among friends; but they did not fare so well. 

Bruner had to get off and walk, so that left him on the mule by himself.  In a short time, he felt so badly that he had to get off of that mule, but no sooner was he off than he was cursed and given orders to mount again, and that quickly.  Not having any mule to mount, one was brought to him. He got on it and soon caught up, but in a short time he was feeling so badly that he could not stay on him. He got off again, another mule was brought and one of the toughest Rebs in the gang took charge of him. After cursing him for some time, he ordered him to mount.   He told him he could not, as felt too weak.  They came to a house and he ordered one of his men to get a bridle and saddle.  After it was put on the mule he was ordered to mount, telling him if he got off again, he would give him the contents of his gun.  He did not ride over five hundred yards before he felt so badly that he fell off of the mule on the side of the road. One of the officers came back and asked what was the matter; they told him that a prisoner was keeping them behind. The officer proved to be General Wheeler, their commander.  Just then another mule came along, and he mounted him and managed to catch up with the other prisoners.  They were all glad to see him, especially Bruner.  They all rode on until about 11 a. m., when they came to a large farmhouse.  A halt was made and they were brought into a large yard and ordered to dismount and bring corn for the mules.

         While they were there, an officer came to some of the boys and took them into the house, where they found a lot of Rebel officers and some of our men.  An officer asked if any of them could write, and they told him they could.  So, he gave them a copy of a parole and told them to write some copies off for the men, and he would sign them.  After they had written about a dozen they took them to the officer, whose name was Hawkins.  While the paroles were being signed, some of the boys both Union and Rebel, were in the cook house, where a Negro woman was cooking some corn dodgers for them.  On each side of the stove were Union and Rebel soldiers watching closely the cakes and before they were hardly done, either one or the other would grab them and run off.  The old cook would sometimes slap their knuckles with her ladle for being so smart; the Union boys thought that she generally favored them.

         An officer came out and told them that General Wheeler's orders were that they should give up their overcoats and blankets.  They did not like that order very much, so some of them played off sick and got to keep them. They were then ordered to fall into line, and a speech was made to them, informing them they were regular prisoners of war and that they must respect their paroles or suffer the consequences, and that they had better remain at home than to come down there burning and pillaging; that they could never conquer the South. They were then told that they had better march back to Nashville and that they had better have a white flag ahead of them, as the road was full of guerrillas, who, if they did not see the flag, might fire on them.

Orderly Sergeant Edmund T. Bower
Co. I, 81st Indiana

         While all this was taking place the Battle of Stones River was going on, for they could hear firing in front. Several Rebel horsemen rode up, their horses covered with foam, and said the Confederate Army was driving Rosecrans, that Cheatham was driving his right wing back, and before night the whole Yankee Army would be in Nashville. Our men were ordered to move out on the road Nashville.  When they started, a drummer boy fixed a white handkerchief to a pole and marched ahead of them, and they bade a glad farewell to the Rebel cause.  Before they left, they noticed quite a commotion among them, which they supposed was caused by some news they had gotten from the battlefield.  Our men had been with them about 24 hours, and they said there was more misery and suffering crammed into that short space of time than they ever endured in all their lives. 

The Federals were taken prisoners about 3 p. m., December 30, 1862, and up to the time they were paroled had ridden 60 miles. After getting out on the pike they found there were 46 of them, all told privates, teamsters, wagon masters, drummer boys, non-commissioned officers and a captain.  They formed themselves in company order, and, with the white flag flying before them, took up their march to Nashville, some 30 miles away.  They could still hear the sound of the battle that was going on at that time.  Toward night they stopped at a log house on the road and stayed all night, some of the boys going to a neighboring straw stack and getting straw, which made comfortable beds.  The night was pretty cold, but they had a good fire in the fireplace,

         The next morning, New Year's Day, they were on the road again, and arrived on the outskirts of the city in due time but were stopped by the pickets.  They stated to the guard who they were, and were ordered to report to the provost marshal, who ordered them to report to the barracks, which was a large brick building, known as the Zollicoffer House.  While they were in Nashville they had a visit from two members of the regiment-James LeClare and Peter Bohart -- who were, wounded at Stone River, and shortly afterward Lieutenant Colonel Timberlake called on them. 


Morris, George W.  History of the 81st Regiment of Indiana Volunteer Infantry in the Great War of the Rebellion, l86l to l865...A Regimental Roster, Prison Life, Adventures, Etc.  Louisville:  Franklin, 1901


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