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

Writing 30 years after the Battle of Corinth, James A. McKinstry of the 42nd Alabama recalled his experiences storming Battery Robinett with Colonel William P. Rogers of the 2nd Texas and expressed guilt that it was perhaps his action that brought about the colonel’s demise.

“On seeing a line of Federals approaching, and before giving the situation a thought, I immediately raised my gun and fired full into the breast of a Federal sergeant, who was in front of the column, and only a short distance from us. 'Twas then that Captain George Foster shouted, "Cease firing, men! cease firing!" and waved his handkerchief, then I realized the true situation. 'Twas too late! That fatal volley had been turned on our little band from the muzzles of 1,500 muskets. I was still standing just as I was when I fired my last shot, and within a few feet of Colonel Rogers, when a Minie ball went crashing through my left hip and turned me half round; another went tearing through my right shoulder, which changed my position to front; and another ball crushed through my left shoulder, causing me to drop my gun and my left arm to fall limp by my side. I looked, and, lo! every one of the fifteen men who were standing with me had fallen in a heap. I looked again, and not a Confederate was in sight. I have always thought that perhaps if I had not fired my last shot that day, we might have been permitted to surrender without being fired upon.”

          Private McKinstry’s vivid recollections of Corinth first saw publication in the July 1896 edition of Confederate Veteran.

 

In one of the most gruesome images of the war, Confederate dead are piled up in front of Battery Robinett in a photograph taken on October 5, 1862. Colonel William P. Rogers of the 2nd Texas lays against a tree stump at the far left while leaning up against him is Captain George W. Foster of Co. A, 42nd Alabama, both officers of whom James McKinstry's writes in his memoir of Corinth. Today, a monument marks the burial site of Colonel Rogers at the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center.
(L.M. Strayer Collection)

For thirty years I have been urged by comrades to put in print what I saw and did in the storming of Battery Robinette, at Corinth, Miss., October 4, 1862, but for reasons of my own I have until now refused to do so. In a recent issue of the Confederate Veteran my name appears in connection with a mention of that terrible charge, and my gifted college chum, also gallant comrade, Dr. John A. Wyeth, of New York, renews the request that I give to surviving comrades a description of the charge, and the death of Colonel William P. Rogers, Captain Charles W. Foster, and the brave 13 who fell with them, as I recollect it, and I consent.

In doing so, I wish to preface my description by saying that I am not accustomed to write for publication, and that I do not claim to be mathematically correct as to time, position, and distance in what I say; but merely give the recollections that were indelibly impressed upon the mind of a barefooted boy, who went as far, and who saw and felt as much, as any one that day.

          I was a private in Company D, 42nd Alabama Regiment, Moore's Brigade, Maury's Division, Price's Corps; and Colonel Rogers' regiment (the 2nd Texas) was a part of our brigade and acted as skirmishers in that engagement. I was only 17 years of age and weighed less than 100 pounds. Being the smallest member of the company, my position was on the extreme left, which rested upon the regimental colors.

On Friday, the 3rd of October, we stormed the outer works of the Federals, and carried them. The first shot fired at our regiment was a shell that exploded a few feet in front of our colors. It killed and wounded 11 men, including the color bearer. I was knocked off my feet by the concussion, but not otherwise hurt. The flag was instantly raised by Corporal J. A. Going (now of Birmingham, Alabama), and we were soon in possession of the works.

Private James A. McKinstry
Co. D, 42nd Alabama

          We had several running fights during the day, as the Federals were driven from the outer to the inner fortifications. We lay on our guns during the night, and just before daylight we took position in a skirt of woods, directly in front of Robinette and some four or five hundred yards from it. We were discovered at dawn, and Forts Williams, Robinette, and College Hill opened a terrific enfilade fire of shot and shell upon us. We lay flat upon our faces, and the shells passed a few feet over us (we thought these feet were only inches), doing but slight damage.

          We remained in this position, hugging the ground, for four mortal hours before the signal gun was fired and the order to charge was given. The forts caught the sound of the signal gun and ceased firing. We raised the rebel yell, and made a rush for the opening, some fifty yards in our front. There we were met by a deadly volley of shrapnel shells from the three forts, and our men fell dead and wounded all along the line.

          In front of us was the most obstructive abattis that it was my misfortune to encounter, or to see, during the war. Beyond this in our front, to our right and to our left, were the forts belching destruction into our ranks; yet our men did not waver or halt, but over the tops, under the limbs, around the stumps, along the fallen trunks of the trees, like squirrels, they scrambled in their effort to reach the fort in front.

Forts Williams and College Hill were soon devoting their attention to the columns in their respective fronts; and when about half through the abattis, Robinette changed shells for grape and canister on us. Our yells grew fainter, and our men fell faster; but at last, we reached the unobstructed ground in front of the fort, which was still a hundred yards away.

          Minies had been added to the missiles of death by the battery's infantry support; still we moved onward, and our badly scattered forces rallied on the flag. Twenty steps further, and our colors went down again. Corporal Going had fallen with a bullet in his leg. Comrade Crawford, of Company A, dropped his gun, and, almost before the flag had touched the dust, hoisted it again, and shouted: "On to the fort, boys!" A few steps farther, and the guns of the fort again changed their charges; now whole bags of buckshot were being belched from the cannons' mouths into our now nearly annihilated ranks, and our flag went down the ill-fated third time to rise no more on that battlefield.

          Poor Crawford had caught nine buckshot—seven in his breast and two in his arm; but we, only a remnant now of those who started, pressed on and reached the outside of the fort, and for a moment had protection; but before we could scarcely catch a breath, hand-grenades came flying thick and fast over the walls of the fort, and, falling in the dust, which was ankle deep, began to explode under our feet, filling the air with dust and smoke, and wounding our men. It took but a moment, however; to put a stop to this; for, having been educated in the tactics of fort defense, we quickly answered the command of a comrade, "Pick them up, boys, and pitch them back into the fort;" and immediately these infernal machines were bursting upon the inside among those who first threw them.

Before the dead were gathered, this is how they fell in front of Battery Robinett. Colonel Rogers lays at the left center while his slain horse lies at the center of the picture. His body was later propped up against a tree stump and the other dead gathered around him prior to being buried. One can see some evidence of the abatis that McKinstry describes in his account both on the left of the photo and with the fallen tree stretching to the right.
(Photographic History of the Civil War Volume 2) 


          Someone at this juncture shouted, "Over the walls, and drive them out;" and up the steep embankment we clambered. Comrade Luke was on my right, and Comrade Franks was on my left. As we scaled the top of the parapet, a volley of musketry met us. Luke went on over, Franks was killed with a bullet in the forehead, and, as he fell backward, he clinched me around the neck and carried me tumbling back with him to the bottom of the ditch on the outside. I was considerably rattled by the fall; but I heard Luke shout from the inside of the fort," Come on, boys; here they are;" and I picked up my gun to go back to him, when I saw a "blue coat" jump from behind a stump, on the right of the fort, and run back in the direction of Corinth. He was only a few steps from me, and I held my gun on him and tried to fire but could not. He soon got behind the fort, so that I could not see him, and I took my gun down to see what was the matter and found that in my excitement I had only half-cocked it.

          Firing had almost ceased, and I heard the shout of "Victory! victory!" and I thought we had won the day. I ran to the left of the fort whence the shout of victory came, and joined a small squad of our men that were standing a few paces from the fort. Colonel Rogers and Captain Foster were in this squad. On seeing a line of Federals approaching, and before giving the situation a thought, I immediately raised my gun and fired full into the breast of a Federal sergeant, who was in front of the column, and only a short distance from us.

    'Twas then that Captain Foster shouted, "Cease firing, men! cease firing!" and waved his handkerchief, then I realized the true situation. 'Twas too late! That fatal volley had been turned on our little band from the muzzles of 1,500 muskets. I was still standing just as I was when I fired my last shot, and within a few feet of Colonel Rogers, when a Minie ball went crashing through my left hip and turned me half round; another went tearing through my right shoulder, which changed my position to front; and another ball crushed through my left shoulder, causing me to drop my gun and my left arm to fall limp by my side. I looked, and, lo! every one of the fifteen men who were standing with me had fallen in a heap. I looked again, and not a Confederate was in sight.

An image of Battery Robinett dating from 1863 with an X marking the spot where Colonel Rogers of the 2nd Texas was killed during the battle. 

The battle was lost, and our men had fallen back to the cover of the woods. Desperation seemed to seize me; and, though the blood was spurting from six gaping wounds, and I was already staggering from weakness, I took my dangling left arm up in my right, and, in the face of that deadly fire, I turned and ran for a quarter (in full view of that column of Federals, who were popping away at me every step that I took), and on for half a mile before I fell. He who seemed to take special care of the boys was certainly with me in my desperate flight; for, though hundreds of Minies passed uncomfortably near my ears, I was not hit in the back, nor was I captured. I lay on my back for three months without being able to turn over; but twelve months from then I, with a discharge in my pocket, was again with General Moore in the battle above the clouds, and on with Johnston to Atlanta.

          I have only to add that Crawford, after being shot down, saved our flag by tearing it from the staff, pulling it in his bosom, and crawling out with it. Poor Luke was killed inside the fort. Of the 33 men belonging to our company who went into the charge that morning only 11 answered to roll call next day.

          Reading the accounts of the battle published in the papers afterwards, and remembering to have heard Capt. Foster shout, "Cease firing, men," and seeing him after I fired waving his handkerchief, I have always thought that perhaps if I had not fired my last shot that day we might have been permitted to surrender without being fired upon. Consequently, while I've always loved to talk about it, I've never thought that I would like to see my terrible experience in that battle put in print. So far as I know, I am the only person near Colonel Rogers when he fell who was not killed with him. 

To learn more about the Battle of Corinth and the fighting at Battery Robinett, please check out these posts:

Brigham's War Part 3: Letters from the 27th Ohio Infantry

Our Kirby: Colonel Joseph L. Kirby Smith and the 43rd Ohio at the Battle of Corinth 

The 63rd Ohio and the Struggle for Battery Robinett 

Within a Square of the Tishomingo Hotel: At Corinth with the 42nd Alabama 

Up to Time and Up to Contract: A Missourian Recalls Corinth

A Buckeye Remembers Scenes of Horror After the Battle of Corinth

Source:

“With Col. Rogers When He Fell,” Private James A. McKinstry, Co. D, 42nd Alabama, Confederate Veteran, Vol. 4 (July 1896), pgs. 220-22

Comments

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

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