Report of Col. William P. Carlin, Thirty-eighth Illinois Infantry, Commanding Second Brigade.
December 26, 1862-January 5, 1863.--The Stone's River or Murfreesborough, Tenn., Campaign.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XX/1 [S# 29]
HEADQUARTERS SECOND BRIGADE, FIRST DIVISION,
RIGHT WING, FOURTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
January 6, 1863.
Lieut. T. W. MORRISON,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of this brigade since leaving Knob Gap, near Nolensville, December 27, 1862:
The brigade took up the line of march on the morning of the 27th, in a heavy rain, in the direction of Triune, bivouacking within 1 mile of that place, where it remained during the 28th, moving on the morning of the 29th in the direction of Murfreesborough.
That night we bivouacked on Blackman's farm, 4 miles west of that town.
Early on the morning of the 30th we crossed Overall's Creek, on the right of the Wilkinson pike, and took up position in a heavy wood south of Ass Griscom's house.
At 2 p.m. I was ordered to advance.; passed through a corn-field, entering another heavy wood, where my skirmishers first met those of the enemy. Before making this advance, Brigadier-General Davis, commanding division, informed me that my brigade was to direct the movements of the division, and that Colonels Post and Woodruff, commanding, respectively, the First and Third Brigades, were ordered to keep on a line with me. My skirmishers, under Lieutenant-Colonel McKee, Fifteenth Wisconsin Volunteers, continued to drive those of the enemy through the wood for about one-fourth of a mile when I halted and sent a request to Colonels Post and Woodruff to keep pace with my advance.
At this point my skirmishers, having suffered severely, were withdrawn, and my battery (Second Minnesota, Capt. W. A. Hotchkiss) opened on the enemy with canister and spherical case, inflicting serious damage. I then threw forward another line of skirmishers, under Lieutenant-Colonel McMackin, Twenty-first Illinois Volunteers, which advanced so slowly that my front line of battle soon closed upon it, driving in, however, the skirmishers of the enemy. My first line of battle was now within 180 yards of the enemy's line, at the house of Mrs. William Smith.
At this point a battery, about 100 yards west of the house, opened with canister upon the Twenty-first Illinois Volunteers, and another, on the east of the house, 250 yards distant, on the Fifteenth Wisconsin Volunteers, killing and wounding a number of my men. Here it was my intention to halt until the First and Third Brigades should come up, on my right and left, respectively; but Col. J. W. S. Alexander, commanding Twenty-first Illinois Volunteers, without instructions from me, ordered his regiment to charge on the battery in his front. His command was moving, with a shout, at double-quick step, within 80 yards of the battery, already abandoned by its cannoneers, when a very heavy fire was opened upon it by infantry, which lay concealed behind fences and outhouses, on the right and left of the battery. This fire killed and wounded a large number of the Twenty-first Illinois Volunteers, and threw the left companies into some disorder, when the regiment was halted and formed on the right of the Fifteenth Wisconsin Volunteers.
The fight was now fairly opened, and continued vigorously until night by the front line of my infantry and the battery which had been placed between the two regiments. The batteries in our front were soon silenced, but another was then opened on my right flank, distant about 500 yards, which completely enfiladed my lines and considerably injured us ; but this, too, was driven out of sight by Captain Hotchkiss, after a vigorous and well-directed fire.
Again I sent a request to Colonels Post and Woodruff to come up, but they continued to remain in rear of my lines. I maintained my position during the night, having at dark relieved my front line by the Thirty-eighth Illinois and One hundred and first Ohio Volunteers.
My loss during this day, in killed, wounded, and missing, was about 175 officers and men. Before daylight on the morning of December 31, perceiving indications of an advance by the enemy, I retired my battery about 200 yards. At daylight the enemy advanced. Seeing that the troops on the right and left of my line would not come up, I fell back, with my infantry on a line with my battery, and made a stand; the Twenty-first Illinois Volunteers about 200 yards to the rear, and on the right of the One hundred and first Ohio Volunteers; the Fifteenth Wisconsin Volunteers were posted on the rocks in front of my battery, and the Thirty-eighth Illinois Volunteers on the left of the One hundred and first Ohio Volunteers.
My men were falling rapidly on the front line, and, wishing to increase the fire on the enemy, I sent an order to Colonel Alexander to advance and form on the right of the One hundred and first Ohio Volunteers, and to Colonel Heg, Fifteenth Wisconsin Volunteers, to form on the left of the Thirty-eighth Illinois Volunteers, and to my battery to retire. To my surprise, I received a reply from Colonel Alexander that he was already so hotly engaged that he could not come forward. The startling intelligence was also at this moment communicated to me, by one of my orderlies, that all our forces on our right had left the ground. Immediately afterward a heavy fire of musketry and artillery from the enemy, from my right flank and rear, unmistakably announced that I was also attacked from that direction.
On my left Woodruff's brigade had left the ground. My command was thus exposed to fire from all points, except the left of my rear. When too late to retire in good order, I found that I was overpowered, and but a moment was wanting to place my brigade in the hands of the foe. I decided to retreat by the left flank, when my horse was shot under me and myself struck, and all my staff and orderlies dismounted or otherwise engaged, which prevented me from communicating the order to the regimental commanders. The rear line, then consisting of the Twenty-first Illinois Volunteers, was the first to withdraw, by the order of Lieutenant-Colonel McMackin, then commanding, Colonel Alexander having been wounded. Colonel Stem and Lieutenant-Colonel Wooster, of the One hundred and first Ohio Volunteers, having been shot down, and the ranks of the regiment dreadfully thinned by the fire of the enemy, it gave way and retreated. The Thirty-eighth Illinois Volunteers held its position until the enemy was within a few steps, and then retired. This regiment would have suffered far more severely in its retreat had not a heavy fire from the Fifteenth Wisconsin Volunteers, judiciously posted by Colonel Heg to its left and rear, kept the enemy in check until it had left the wood and partially reformed along the fence, on the right of the Fifteenth Wisconsin Volunteers, where an effective fire was kept up, holding the enemy at bay.
This only gave the foe on our right and left the more time to envelop us. All that now remained of my brigade crossed two open fields and entered a wood about 200 yards east of Griscom's house.
The regiments were painfully reduced in numbers, but I formed a line at this point, and several volleys of musketry and artillery were fired with destructive effect upon the ranks of the enemy; but the foe was still on our right at Griscom's house, with none of our forces at that point to oppose them, and being informed that General Davis had ordered a still farther withdrawal, I retired my command about half a mile to our rear, and again endeavored to rally the men, but it was evident that they were so utterly discouraged that no substantial good could result, while no supports were in sight.
At another point, about half a mile farther to our rear, I rallied all who could be found, and took a strong position in the edge of a cedar grove, holding it until the enemy came up, when my men fired one volley, and broke without orders. I conducted them to the rear, passing through the lines of our reserves, and halted at the railroad, where we remained during the afternoon collecting our scattered men.
During the two days' fight the loss of officers was so great that some companies had not one to command them, and others not even a sergeant. Our regimental colors were all borne off the field flying, though four color-bearers in succession, of the Twenty-first Illinois Volunteers, were shot down, and two of the color-guard of the Thirty-eighth Illinois Volunteers, three of the color-guard of the Fifteenth Wisconsin Volunteers, and four of the color-guard of the One hundred and first Ohio Volunteers fell. Our artillery was all brought off in safety.
I have to report the loss of many officers, who were ornaments to our army, and who will be mourned by all who knew them. Col. L. Stem, One hundred and first Ohio Volunteers; Lieut. Col. David McKee, Fifteenth Wisconsin Volunteers, and Lieut. Col. M. F. Wooster, One hundred and first Ohio Volunteers, were unsurpassed in all the qualities that make up the brave soldier, the true gentleman, and the pure patriot. Capt. James P. Mead, Thirty-eighth Illinois Volunteers, fell, shot three times, while bravely fighting the enemy with his revolver after his regiment had retired. Lieut. John L. Dillon, Thirty-eight Illinois Volunteers, commanding (Company E, fought with a musket until he was shot once, when he drew his sword and cheered on his men till he fell dead. Other instances of equal gallantry were observed in the other regiments, but to recount all would give my report an undue length. The long, sad list of killed and wounded forms the truest eulogium on the conduct of the troops composing this brigade, and it is by that list I wish it to be judged.
Of the 10 field officers of the regiments, 3 were killed and 2 wounded. Seven horses were shot under the regimental, field, and staff officers. Of my orderlies, Private Pease, Company B, Thirty-sixth Illinois Volunteers, had his horse shot under him while carrying my orders. Private Knox, same company, also had his horse shot under him, and while endeavoring to procure another horse for me was wounded by a grape-shot and again by a Miniť ball, and Corporal Hart, Thirty-eighth Illinois Volunteers, was stunned and disabled by a cannon ball.
I deem it my duty to call the special attention of the general commanding the Fourteenth Army Corps to Col. John W. S. Alexander, Twenty-first Illinois Volunteers, and Col. Hans C. Heg, Fifteenth Wisconsin Volunteers. While every field officer under my command did his duty faithfully, Colonels Alexander and Heg, in my opinion, proved themselves the bravest of the brave. Had such men as these been in command of some of our brigades, we should have been spared the shame of witnessing the rout of our troops and the disgraceful panic, encouraged, at least, by the example and advice of officers high in command.
Lieut. Col. D. H. Gilmer, commanding Thirty-eighth Illinois Volunteers, was always at his post and attending to his duty. Maj. Isaac M. Kirby, One hundred and first Ohio Volunteers, took command of the regiment after the fall of the brave Colonels Stem and Wooster, and conducted it to the rear, reduced to about 100 men.
Capt. W. A. Hotchkiss, commanding Second Minnesota Battery, and all his officers and men, deserve credit for their gallantry in the fight, and energy in preventing the loss of the battery.
Among the staff officers of this army who made themselves useful in rallying the scattered men, Dr. L. F. Russell, Second Minnesota Battery; Lieut. S. M. Jones, Fifty-ninth Illinois Volunteers; Captain Thruston, aide-de-camp to Major-General McCook, and Chaplain Wilkins, Twenty-first Illinois Volunteers, came especially under my observation.
On the night of December 31 this brigade was ordered to take up position near the Nashville pike, 4 miles from Murfreesborough.
January 1, 1863, slight skirmishing with the enemy continued during the day, in which we killed several, capturing 13 prisoners and paroling 11 others, wounded.
At 3.30 p.m. January 2, while hard fighting was progressing on our left, I received orders from General Rosecrans to report to him in person. He directed me to take my command to the left, form it in two lines, and, should I find our forces repulsed by the enemy, to allow our men to pass through my lines, and, on the approach of the enemy, give a whoop and a yell, and go at 'em. With a brigade which, in three days' hard fighting, had been reduced from 2,000 to 700 and greatly discouraged, I felt serious apprehension that I would not be able to fulfill the expectations of the general, and, to prepare him for such a result, I informed him of the condition of my brigade. He said, "Tell them they must do it for us and for the country." I told him I would do my best. My men fell into ranks with the utmost alacrity and marched to the scene of the conflict, a great portion of the way on the double-quick, crossing Stone's River at a ford. All apprehensions that I had previously entertained now vanished. I felt confident that they would not only charge the enemy, but would repulse them. Before reaching the ground designated, however, I learned that the enemy had already been driven back in confusion. I continued my march, and, under the direction of Brigadier-General Davis, placed my command in the advance, relieving the command of Colonel Hazen. It was now dark. We maintained our ground till the morning of January 4, when we returned to our position on the right.
My loss in killed, wounded, and missing in the engagement at Knob Gap, near Nolensville, December 26, and the battles of December 30 and 31, 1862, and in front of the enemy east of Stone's River, January 2 and 3, 1863, is as follows:
Aggregate 21st Illinois 2 55 7 180 ---- 59 303 38th Illinois 2 32 5 104 ---- 34 177 101st Ohio 4 19 2 121 ---- 66 212 15th Wisconsin 2 13 5 65 1 33 119 2d Minnesota Battery ---- 3 1 5 ---- 1 10 Total 10 122 20 475 1 193 821
I cannot close this report without expressing my obligations to the following named officers of my staff for their zeal, fidelity, and courage in all the severe engagements embraced in this report, viz: Capt. S. P. Voris, Thirty-eighth Illinois Volunteers, acting assistant adjutant-general; Capt. W. C. Harris, Thirty-eighth Illinois Volunteers; Lieut. Albert Woodbury, Second Minnesota Battery, and Lieut. Walter E. Carlin, Thirty-eighth Illinois Volunteers. Also to my faithful orderlies, Pease, Knox, Amick, and Hart. Private Alexander C. Hosmer, One hundred and first Ohio Volunteers, my clerk, though not required to go into the battle, was constantly at my side to carry my orders.
Regimental reports and lists of casualties are herewith inclosed; also a report of the engagement at Knob Gap, near Nolensville, December 26, 1862.
A topographical sketch, showing the ground passed over and positions occupied by this brigade on December 30 and 31, 1862, is herewith inclosed.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. P. CARLIN,
Colonel Thirty-eighth Illinois Volunteers, Commanding.
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