A Lauderdale County Web
46th Regiment, Mississippi Infantry
Part V: The End of
After the fall of Atlanta, LTG John B. Hood moved north from the city. As soon as General William T. Sherman learned that LTG Hood had crossed the Chattahoochee River, he, leaving a corps behind to guard Atlanta and protect the Chattahoochee bridge, followed in pursuit of Hood with 5 corps of U.S. troops.
Hood dispatched LTG Alexander P. Stewart’s Corps in an attempt to destroy the Western and Atlantic Railroad, Sherman’s primary supply artery. Stewart arrived at Lost Mountain, Georgia on 2 October 1864 and destroyed the railroad near Big Shanty, Georgia. Stewart then sent MG Samuel G. French, on the evening of 4 October, on a night march to attack the railroad at Allatoona. French’s specific mission was to “fill the cut.”
The expression referred to the railroad pass through the rugged, mountains of the area. Allatoona was protected by three lines of entrenchments, two sets of breastworks built into the mountain, and a star fort at the top of the ridge line, overlooking the cut or pass. Some of these defensive features had been created by the Confederates earlier in the year, when they held the position.
When French arrived, he politely offered the Union forces an opportunity to surrender:
BG John M. Corse, commanding the Union defenders of the Allatoona Pass, had no intention of surrendering or withdrawing from his positions. He was, after all, positioned in strong fortifications with multiple lines of defense. Shortly after receipt of French’s surrender demand, he replied:
French, true to his word, attacked, and the bloody fight, as French had promised, a “needless effusion of blood” ensued. After pounding the enemy lines for more than two hours with artillery, French’s first wave immediately overran the enemy trenches. However, BG Corse was able withdraw into the star fort, where he was more easily able to defend his positions. However, in the process, he lost more than one-third of his troops.
French, after Corse had withdrawn into the star fort, made repeated attempts to force the Union forces out of their positions. However, he was not able to succeed. Finally, running dangerously short of ammunition and fearing that Sherman was en route to reinforce Corse, French withdrew.
The bloody battle continued for three or four hours. In his after action report General French said: "Among the killed from Sears' Brigade is Col. W. H. Clark, Forty-sixth Mississippi. He fell in the advance near the enemy's works with the battle-flag in his hands. He was an excellent and gallant officer." Clark had fallen during the third assault of the enemy redoubts. Of the 46th Mississippi Regiment, three officers were killed, 1 wounded and 4 were missing. The total causalities of the regiment were, 18 killed, 26 wounded and 56 missing.
Of Company B, 46th Mississippi, Chambers reports that SGT J. P. Williamson, PVT Aderbert McNair and PVT J. V. Reddock were killed on the field of battle. PVT George Robertson was missing. PVT W. P. Sullian was slightly wounded in the knee. “COL William H. Clarke was killed while gallantly leading the third and last charge.” Chambers also noted some significant losses of other companies “CPT B. D. Anderson of Company H and 1LT G. D. Davis of Company G were also killed.”
During the second charge at Allatoona, Chambers himself was wounded and, in his journal, he reports the fall of his comrade at arms and friend, LT R. B. Henderson of Company K. “Henderson staggered and began falling, crying as he did so, ‘Brother Chambers, I am gone!’ I caught him, and easing him down dropped on my knees beside him, grasping his hand in mine. Both hands were bleeding freely.” It was Chambers whose hands were wounded. Chambers continues, “He slightly pressed my hand, and as another ball struck him, he exclaimed, ‘Oh, brother, I have received my third wound!’” This same bullet also struck Chambers, “I felt the bullet cutting my clothing and equipment, and felt a stinging, bounding blow on my shoulder. “Good bye!” he [Henderson] exclaimed. It was the last word he ever spoke, for there was a spasmodic clasp of his fingers, then their grasp relaxed. I glanced at his face; a ball had entered his brain. He was dead.”
After the tragic action at Allatoona Pass, French and the 46th Mississippi rejoined Stewart’s Corps proceeding to destroy the railroad between Resaca and Dalton. On 13 October, French’s Division attacked and captured a blockhouse at Tilton, Georgia, a few miles south of Dalton. The blockhouse was a common site along railroad rights-of-way of the period. It is a structure, a fortification, built (usually) of extremely thick timbers, with rifle slots incorporated, that has been positioned near a railroad bridge to defend the structure. The blockhouse at Tipton had been attacked at least two other times. It had been successfully defended against a troop of 300 Confederate cavalry on one occasion and was attacked by LTG Joseph Wheeler’s forces on another. When French arrive at the blockhouse, he found it defended by 350 men of the 7th Iowa who defended the position courageously for nearly seven hours. Finally, French called in artillery support, rendering the blockhouse into splinters. As the position became indefensible Union LTC Archer surrendered, and French destroyed the bridge and defending fortifications.
On 26 through 29 October, the regiment participated in the battle at Decatur, Alabama during which Hood was prevented from crossing the Tennessee River by an inferior force of 5,000 Union troops. Hood withdrew to Tuscumbia. Later, on 20 November, Hood was able to successfully cross the river.
Hood then moved against MG John M. Schofield forces at Pulaski, Tennessee. Schofield quickly withdrew from Pulaski to Columbia, Tennessee, arriving on November 24, ahead of LTG Nathan B. Forrest's cavalry. The encounter was designed to fix the Federal forces while Hood crossed the Duck River to the north.
On 29 November the regiment moved with Stewart's Corps toward Spring Hill, Tennessee in an attempt to halt the Federal forces moving through the area. Although there were several half-hearted skirmishes, the Federals were able to block the southern forces until their passing had been completed.
As an interesting side comment, Spring Hill, Tennessee is located Maury County, Tennessee, which is the birth place of both MAJ Constantine Rea, formerly of the 46th Mississippi, and by this time deceased, having fallen on the battlefield in July of 1864 and his mother, Frances Moody Rea. Rea’s son, Richard Nathan Rea, was likely serving, by now, with Company F of the 46th Mississippi, the company having been organized in Lauderdale County, Mississippi by his father. One must wonder if he was aware of the family significance of this event.
In any event, the Federal troops having slipped away, Hood followed them to Franklin, Tennessee on the Harpeth River. Commencing what would become knows as the Battle of Franklin, Stewart's Corps attacked about four in the afternoon on 30 November 1864. LTG French’s Division was on the right of the Confederate line as the assault began. The first line was carried, but to reach the second line of works, Sears' Brigade was subjected to a withering crossfire of small arms and artillery. Maj. T. D. Magee, at this time in command of the 46th Mississippi, was among the wounded. He fell before the earthworks were reached. Some of the troops were able to reach the ditch in front of the works before being wounded but were penned down by suppressing enemy fire. There they remained until next morning, when the Federal troops were withdrawn.
Those members of the 46th Mississippi who, pressing forward with courage and valor, were able to reach the most advanced positions were the following.
Sears' Brigade suffered devastating losses which were reported as 30 killed, 168 wounded, and 35 missing. What was left of the brigade marched on to Nashville. At this time, some companies were detached with Bate's Division in support of LTG N. B. Forrest in the siege of Murfreesboro. These companies were also in battle at Overall's Creek on 4 December and at Murfreesboro December 7.
By December 9 the effective strength of the entire regiment was 210 men. They marched back to Nashville over icy roads, many of them were barefooted. They fought in Walthall’s line, on 15 through 16 December. Walthall's remnants of two divisions were almost surrounded before they gave way and were forced to withdraw.
In his after action reports LTG Stewart writes, “Brigadier-General Sears, late in the day, lost a leg, and subsequently fell into the enemy's hands." MAJ E. T. Freeman of LTG French's staff reported that, "A solid shot passed through his horse and struck him just below the knee; the lower part of his leg was amputated. It was found impracticable to bring him out, so he was left near Pulaski. Captain Henderson and Lieut. Harper were both very badly wounded and left in the enemy's hands. I was slightly wounded in the foot by a shell."
Walthall’s Corps crossed the Tennessee River, on 26 December, and marched to Tupelo, Mississippi. LT Richard N. Rea of Company F, 46th Mississippi wrote in a letter to his family that, "My shoes fell from my feet between Franklin and Columbia, and I was forced to march all the way down to Tupelo, a distance of about three hundred miles, barefooted, in a constant snowstorm and sleet the like of which I never saw before or since."
MAJ Freeman wrote, on 10 January 1865 that, "The whole army cannot muster 5,000 effective men. Great numbers are going home every day, many nevermore to return, I fear. Nine-tenths of the men and line officers are barefooted."
It was a time of great despondence and great suffering. In his journal, on 15 January, William Pitt Chambers wrote, "The regiment numbers about 150 men, about half of whom are barefooted. All are ragged and dirty and covered with vermin. There are, perhaps, twenty guns, but not a single cartridge box in the regiment. The men are jovial enough regarding their condition, but when one speaks of the prosecution of the war they are entirely despondent, being entirely convinced that the Confederacy is gone. Captain [D. D.] Heslip, of Company E, is in command of the regiment. Major Nelson, of the Fourth [4th Mississippi Infantry Regiment], commands the brigade, which is attached to Walthall's Division. I do not think there is a stand of colors in the brigade." On 19 January 1865 CPT James B. Hart of Company E assumed command of the regiment.
By 1 February 1865, French’s Division had been detached from the corps and was order back to Mobile. On 10 March the reports indicate that Sears’ Brigade was commanded by COL Thomas J. Adair, the 46th Mississippi Regiment was under the command of CPT J. A. Barwick.
On 8 February, the unit was again deployed. There were rumors that they were headed for South Carolina but the transport was halted at Meridian. Shortly afterward, LTG Richard Taylor, now commanding the Department of Mississippi, Alabama and East Louisiana, spoke to the men. All the troops wanted was to be released from service and to go home. Since the surrender had not formally been accomplished, he was unable even to grant furloughs.
MG Frederick Steele, commanding the Union expedition from Pensacola, reported that on 1 April an outpost four and a half miles in front of Blakely was carried by assault and the battle flag of the 46th Mississippi was captured. Seventy-four prisoners were taken in the engagement.
During the actions in and around Blakely, LT Richard N. Rea of Company F was wounded and several others were missing in action.
During the fall of Fort Blakely on 9 April 1865, still more of the 46th Mississippi were lost to Federal prisons. These soldiers were taken to Ship Island, where they were, finally, paroled in May.
At Cuba Station, Alabama, the sparse remnants of the regiment still at large learned of the capitulation of LTG Richard Taylor, commanding the department, at Citronelle, Ala., 4 May 1865. The group proceeded to Meridian where they were paroled, effectively ending the War for Southern Independence and the regimental history of the 46th Mississippi Infantry Regiment.
The history of the 46th Mississippi, even thought it spans merely 4 years in the history of this country, remains epic in its’ proportions. It is, in microcosm, a tale of two armies, either of which could have easily defeated the most powerful armies of other nations, driven to destroy one another.
Some will say it is a story of slavery and freedmen, a story of an industrialized north versus an agrarian south, perhaps even a story of Cavaliers against Puritans. But, above all, it is the story of people, a determined, single-minded people, fighting to protect their friends and loved ones and it is a story of personalities, like those of Constantine Rea, T. D. Magee, Claudius Sears, William Baldwin, Leonidias Polk, and, by now, an old friend, William Pitt Chambers. They were truly soldiers of the highest and finest order.
These important men, some of whom gave all that they had and all that they would ever be defending a way of life that has today, long since vanished, have earned in their blood and tears, their places in history. It is fitting that, from time to time we stop to reflect on what once was, remembering their courage, valor, and gallantry and, above all, their legacy. The dead, no matter how honored, are not truly dead until they are not remembered.
Let, then, this history of the 46th Mississippi Infantry Regiment end appropriately with the closing words of William Pitt Chambers:
“And so the war is over. When I consider all that I have seen and heard, all that I have learned of men and motives, I am constrained to ask myself ‘What is it all for?’ I have learned things of men that I wish I had never known, and I have learned things of God that I trust will secure my entrance into the rest that [remains] for His people… May the spirit of God guide and direct us in all our ways.”
In addition to those works cited below, this article was developed with the research assistance of Mr. Ward Calhoun and The Constantine Rea Historical Society. Much on Mr. Calhoun's own research and his publications as well as information provided by the Society have gone into this article. To purchase Mr. Calhoun's publications, please contact the Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History for a list of his works. Their website can be found at the following link:
Ainsworth, BG Fred C. and Kirkley, Joseph W., "The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 3 - Volume 9" Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899.
Baumgartner, Richard A., "William Pitt Chambers Blood and Sacrifice" The Civil War Journal of a Confederate Soldier." Huntington: Blue Acorn Press, 1994.
Davis, Jefferson, "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Volume 1." New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1881.
Dodge, MG Grenville M., "The Battle of Atlanta and Other Campaigns, Addresses, Etc." Council Bluffs, Iowa: The Monarch Printing Company, 1911.
Edmiston, Fred W., "Lauderdale, Mississippi's Empire County: Volume 1: The Early Years, 1830-1865." Meridian: Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History, Inc., 2005.
Vandiver, Frank E., "Plowshares into Swords: Josiah Gorgas and Confederate Ordnance" Austin: Texas A&M University Press,, 1994.
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