A Lauderdale County Web
46th Regiment, Mississippi Infantry
Part III: Polk Retreats! Meridian is destroyed.
After the surrender of Vicksburg, BG Baldwin’s Brigade, including the 46th Mississippi, were furloughed for 60 days and directed to report to an assembly point at Enterprise, Mississippi afterward. However, according to Chambers, a few days after arriving home later in July, 1863 a presidential proclamation was issued granting a 40 day furlough. However, less than a month later, Chambers got word of yet another proclamation declaring all paroles given, not only those at Vicksburg but also to the garrison at Port Hudson, null and void and directing all military personnel to report, immediately, assembling at the parole camp at Enterprise.
There appears to be some confusion about the parole and liberty granted to the troops departing Vicksburg. Although Chambers reported to the camp early in September, he was among the first of the 46th Mississippi to return and was temporarily directed to assemble with the 4th Mississippi who were already well enough represented to have some military organization to their camp. Most of the next two months were concerned with waiting for enough of the regiment’s troops to report and to reestablish order and discipline. Unfortunately, many of the soldiers were disheartened and demoralized by the defeat at Vicksburg and failed to report at all. During this period there were several trips to various areas of the state, by loyal and dedicated officers and soldiers from the camp to collect stragglers and deserters.
On 20 October 1863 the regiment, along with the 4th Mississippi was once again reviewed by President Davis and four days later, the Brigade received word that they had been officially exchanged. This, of course, instigated another flurry of activity, as soldiers were given leave to round-up as many of the absent and AWOL personnel as possible. Chambers went to Williamsburg to collect his company commander CPT T. D. Magee who was on an authorized leave at the time. After conferring briefly, the two headed out in different directions to locate and notify as many of the company as possible. However, the unit personnel having been collected to the extent possible, when orders were not forthcoming, the brigade began to settle in for the winter, building cabins and setting up a more permanent installation. This activity was halted abruptly on 9 November 1863 when the unit was notified to be ready to move at a moments notice.
Although marching orders did not arrive at once, the preparation for the Brigade’s anticipated deployment continued. By 20 November 1863 the reconstituted brigade consisted of approximately 2,279, officers and enlisted. Regiments represented were the 4th Mississippi, the 35th Mississippi, the 39th Mississippi, the 40th Mississippi and, of course, the 46th Mississippi, all infantry regiments of considerably less that full strength.
Departing Enterprise on the morning of 22 November 1963, the brigade preceded by a somewhat circuitous route and various modes of transport, including march, steamboat and several different railroad lines ending their move near Atlanta, Georgia. General Joseph J. Johnston had been ordered to direct the units of the brigade to Missionary Ridge for the purpose of reinforcing MG Braxton Bragg. Johnston had been directed to send the reinforcements on 2 November and may have issued the appropriate orders immediately but, for some reason, the brigade did not receive the order to march until sometime during the day on 21 November.
The unit reached Atlanta about 8 am on the morning of 26 November 1863 and, although they had not been ordered to proceed further, they were nevertheless placed on a troop train and moved toward Chattanooga. However, they only went as far north as Dalton, Georgia and, after observing thousand of stragglers of MG Bragg’s army during the retreat from the tragic Battle of Missionary Ridge, returned to Resaca, Georgia, about 85 miles from Atlanta. MG Bragg had been decisively defeated at Chattanooga on 23 through 25 November.
Initially the brigade encamped in Resaca but was soon moved to the nearby Sugar Valley area where, on 20 December 1863, LTC William K. Easterling resigned his commission. Major William H. Clarke was promoted to LTC and CPT Constantine Rea promoted to Major. This would have left CPT T. D. Magee as the senior captain and next in line for promotion to field grade.
After the brigade arrived in the Resaca area and during its’ stay there, it was assigned to BG William Henry Talbot Walker’s Division of MG William J. Hardee’s Corps. However, having arrived too late to assist in the engagements in Tennessee, command of the brigade was returned to LTG Leonidas Polk and he was directed to report to MG Dabney Herndon Maury at Mobile, Alabama.
General Polk had been a bishop in the Episcopal ministry and served as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. During the war had acquired a, perhaps, unwelcomed moniker, " the Fighting Bishop."
After arriving in Mobile on 26 January 1864, the unit performed routine duties in defense of the city until on the afternoon of 5 February 1864 they were alerted for yet another deployment. Departing Mobile on 6 February on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad they arrived in Meridian on 7 February. LTG Polk had apparently intended to deploy the unit immediately to reinforce MG S. D. Lee’s attempt to repulse the Union General William T. Sherman in his expedition to Meridian and, in fact, much of the brigade were deployed in the general direction of the enemy forces, however, the 46th Mississippi was held in reserve and, in any event, within hours those elements of the brigade that had been deployed were recalled and, along with the 46th Mississippi, ordered back to Mobile.
Polk, perhaps being over cautious, feared for the loss of Mobile above all else. It was the south’s sole remaining seaport on the Gulf. He eventually began a withdrawal of his forces from Meridian to the east before the unabated and unhindered advance of Sherman. This action left the important railroad city of Meridian exposed to the wrath of Sherman, who burned nearly the entire city to the ground leaving no more than two or three structures standing. Continuing his swath of destruction, he tore the railroad tracks for miles in all directions from its roadbed, burning the crossties to destroy them and to generate the heat that he used to soften the rails. He then proceeded to wrap the softened iron rails around trees in the general vicinity of the tracks where they were left to cool, useless. It would be more that 7 months before the railroads were repaired and running through the area again.
Of his visit to Meridian, Sherman would report, “For five days, ten thousand men worked hard, with a will in that work of destruction, with axes, crowbars, sledges, clawbars, and fire, and I have no hesitation in pronouncing the work well done. Meridian no longer exists.”
The experience of withdrawing before an enemy and leaving this important section of the southland exposed was discouraging and disheartening to the troops of the brigade. All along the way back to Mobile, men began to slip away in the night, deserting their units. Some said they were going to defend their homes and protect their families along Sherman’s path; others that they were simply tired of the fight and that they believed that the Confederacy was, at last, a lost cause. Whatever the reasons for the desertions, when the 46th Mississippi returned to MG Maury, it contained only 146 men.
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