CAPTAIN: I respectfully submit the following report of the action of the troops under my command in the late engagement with the enemy near Pittsburgh, on the Tennessee River:
On the morning of the 4th instant, while in command of the advance forces at Monterey, Tenn., I received orders to hold my command ready to march at a moment's notice, and on the morning of the 5th we crossed Lick Creek and moved as far as Mickey's, or what is known as the Bark road, leading from the direction of Corinth to the Tennessee River.
In obedience to orders, my brigade was under arms and ready to march at 2 o'clock on the following morning, and stood from that time until daylight in a hard, drenching rain, as the orders to march had been countermanded on account of the darkness and extreme bad weather.
At dawn the First Brigade of this division, under command of Brigadier-Gladden, filed past me, and we, falling into its rear, moved forward until our march was arrested by the column of Major-General Hardee, the rear of which had not got in motion when we reached its encampment. After some delay we moved on to a position about 2 miles in front of the enemy's line. On reaching the ground I found our line of battle deployed, and General Gladden's brigade [which it was at first intended should be held in reserve in the second line on my right] was deployed into line of battle, and thrown forward into the first line, on the right of Major-General Hardee's command, to fill the interval between his right and Lick Creek; and there being still a vacancy between the right of General Gladden's brigade and the creek, my brigade was extended en echelon in the rear of and to the right of General Gladden, and held in line by battalions at half distance doubled on the center.
Upon an examination of the country it was apparent to me that our progress would be much retarded if we attempted to move by battalions in double column on the center, and, upon the suggestion being made to Brigadier-General Withers and Major-General Bragg, it was ordered that the supporting line should move by the right of companies to the front.
In this order we commenced the march early on the morning of the 6th. The space between Owl and Lick Creeks was about a half mile narrower where we first deployed our line of battle than it was in front of the enemy's line, and as the space between General Gladden's left and Lick Creek increased as we advanced, it became necessary that my brigade should move up into the front line, on the right of General Gladden, which was done, and being now in the front line, skirmishers from each regiment were at once thrown forward.
In obedience to orders from General Withers the right of this brigade was advanced by a gradual left wheel, so that when we first encountered the enemy we were marching in a northeast direction, and met him in line of battle in front of his first encampment on our right.
When we arrived in sight our line of battle was formed, and the brigade moved steadily forward in the following order: The Tenth Mississippi Regiment, in command of Col. R. A. Smith, on the right; the Seventh Mississippi Regiment, Lieutenant Col. H. Mayson, commanding, second; the Ninth Mississippi Regiment, Lieutenant. Col. W. A. Rankin, third; the Fifth Mississippi, Col. A. E. Fant, fourth; the Fifty-second Tennessee, Col. B. J. Lea, on the left, and Gage's battery of light artillery in the rear.
When within about 150 yards of the enemy the line was halted and a heavy firing ensued, in which a number of our men were killed and wounded, and Colonel Lea and Major T. G. Randle, of the Fifty-second Tennessee Regiment, lost their horses. After several rounds were discharged the order to charge bayonets was given, and the Tenth Mississippi Regiment [about 360 strong], led by its gallant colonel, dashed up the hill, and put to flight the Eighteenth Wisconsin Regiment, numbering nearly 1,000 men. The order to charge having alone in the first charge, though it was quickly followed by the Ninth and Seventh Mississippi, when the whole line of the enemy broke and fled, pursued by these three regiments through their camps and across a ravine about half a mile to the opposite hill, where they were halted by command of General Johnston.
The Fifth Mississippi and Fifty-second Tennessee, having been left behind in the charge, were moved up to their positions, and the Fifth Mississippi was now placed next to the Tenth Mississippi.
The enemy was re-enforced and drew up in our front, supported by a battery of artillery and some cavalry. We were about to engage them again, when we were ordered by General Johnston to fall back, which was done.
The enemy, supposing we were in retreat, fired several volleys of musketry at us, whereupon we faced about, returned their fire, and they ceased firing. Being commanded to remain here until we should receive further orders, we rested about half an hour, when a guide [Mr. Lafayette Veal] was sent to conduct us still farther to the right, where we learned that the enemy were attempting to turn our flank.
Moving by the right flank, we filed to the right, directly south, until we recrossed the ravine behind us, and when we reached the summit of the opposite hill we moved in a southeast direction until our right rested upon the edge of Lick Creek bottom. Here again we were ordered to rest, which we did for some half hour, when we again started forward. A few skirmishers of the enemy, having secretly advanced close to our left, fired upon the Fifty-second Tennessee Regiment, which broke and fled in most shameful confusion. After repeated efforts to rally it this regiment was ordered out of the lines, where it remained during the balance of the engagement, with the exception of two companies, Captains J. A. Russell and A. N. Wilson, who, with their commands, fought gallantly in the ranks of the Fifth Mississippi Regiment.
When the orders were received from General Withers to move on, skirmishers were thrown out in front of the whole line, and placed in command of Major F. E. Whitfield, of the Ninth Mississippi Regiment, who led them with great coolness and with marked ability and skill. Our orders were to swing around, with our right resting on the creek bottom, and to drive the enemy before us toward Pittsburgh, and we accordingly moved forward, advancing most rapidly on the right and gradually wheeling the whole line. In this order we were marching when our skirmishers developed the enemy concealed behind a fence, in thick undergrowth, with an open field or orchard in his front. The width of this orchard was about 350 or 400 yards, and behind it was a very steep and perfectly abrupt hill, at the foot of which ran a small branch. At the base of this hill ran the Hamburg and Pittsburgh road, skirting the orchard at its base and then turning to the right running alongside of it, the orchard being to the right of the road. The ground from the branch to the fence, where the enemy was concealed, was a gradual ascent, and our line was in full view of the enemy from the time it crossed the stream. The Ninth Mississippi was now on the left, and there was a space of about 30 yards between its left and the Hamburg and Pittsburgh road. As soon as I discovered the position of the enemy I ordered up Gage's battery, which until now had not been engaged, and put it in position on the hill above the branch.
My line moved on across the orchard in most perfect order and splendid style, and to my great surprise not a shot was fired until we came within about 40 yards of the fence, then a heavy fire was opened on us in front, and at the same time a column was seen coming at double-quick down the Hamburg and Pittsburgh road, with the evident intention of getting in our read and cutting off the whole brigade. As soon as this column was fairly in sight, coming over the opposite hill, Gage's battery opened a well-directed fire on its head, and it was scattered in confusion, and at the same moment our infantry made a charge in front, and after a hard fight drove the enemy from his concealment, though we suffered heavily in killed and wounded.
After this fight our ammunition was exhausted, and, the wagons being some distance behind, we lost some time before it was replenished. As soon. however, as the ammunition could be distributed we moved on, with the right resting on the edge of the Tennessee River bottom, with the same orders as before.
When we had gone about a quarter of a mile we again encountered the enemy in a strong position on a hill with a deep ravine in his front, and a very stubborn fight ensued, in which we lost many gallant men, among them the Rev. M. L. Weller, chaplain of the Ninth Mississippi Regiment, a pure man and ardent patriot and a true Christian, and Captains R. J. Armstrong and T. C. K. Bostick, of the Fifth Mississippi Regiment, who fell gallantly leading on their respective companies.
Here again Gage's battery did good service, though it was some time before it could be brought into position, owing to the rough nature of the ground and the want of roads, and I here take occasion to say that I cannot speak too highly of the energy, skill, and labor displayed by the men of this battery throughout the day in cutting their way through a thickly-wooded country over ravines and hills almost impassable to ordinary wagons.
After about an hour's hard fighting the enemy again retreated, leaving many of his dead on the field. About this time the gunboats from the river began to throw their shells among us, and we pressed rapidly forward in line of battle toward the center, where the battle seemed to be raging fiercely. We were soon met by an officer, stating that he belonged to General Crittenden's staff, and that he had been hotly engaged with the enemy and needed assistance. As near as I could judge of the position of affairs our troops were then in a line of battle running from south to north, and facing east, or a little north of east. My line was running from east to west, and facing north. Moving at a double-quick, over several ravines and hills, we came upon the enemy and attacked him on his flank. This was the fourth fight in which my brigade had been engaged during the day, and after a severe firing of some duration, finding the enemy stubbornly resisting, I rode back for General Jackson's brigade, which was lying down in reserve in my rear and to my left. I did not see General Jackson, but finding Colonel Wheeler, called upon him to take up the fight, which he did with promptness and vigor.
I sent a staff officer to command my brigade to lie down and rest until they received further orders, and then followed up General Jackson's brigade myself until I came upon Major-General Bragg, commanding in the thickest of the fight, to whom I reported my action. I had been there but a few minutes, however, when some of our troops were driven back in confusion, and General Bragg called out to "bring up Chalmers' brigade." I rode back immediately to where I had ordered my men to halt, and found that they had not understood the orders and had pressed on after the retreating foe. Riding rapidly after them, I reached them just after the enemy had raised the white flag and a number of the enemy had surrendered to the Ninth Mississippi, which was then some distance in advance of any other Confederate troops.
Colonel Shaw, of the Fourteenth Iowa Regiment, and a senior captain, commanding some companies of the Twenty-eighth Illinois Regiment, surrendered to Major F. E. Whitfield, and the colonel of the Eighteenth Missouri, with a portion of his command, surrendered to Lieutenant Donald McKenzie, Company K, Ninth Mississippi Regiment.
About a quarter of an hour after the surrender some of our troops, supposed to be of General Polk's division, made their appearance on the opposite side of the surrendered camps, and were with great difficulty prevented from firing upon the prisoners. The cavalry very soon arrived, and the prisoners were turned over to them and were carried to the rear.
It was then about 4 o'clock in the evening, and after distributing ammunition, we received orders from General Bragg to drive the enemy into the river. My brigade, together with that of Brigadier-General Jackson, filed to the right and formed facing the river and endeavored to press forward to the water's edge, but in attempting to mount the last ridge we were met by a fire from a whole line of batteries protected by infantry and assisted by shells from the gunboats. Our men struggled vainly to ascend the hill, which was very steep, making charge after charge without success, but continued to fight until night closed hostilities on both sides. During this engagement Gage's battery was brought up to our assistance, but suffered so severely that it was soon compelled to retire.
This was the sixth fight in which we had been engaged during the day, and my men were too much exhausted to storm the batteries on the hill, but they were brought off in good order, formed in line of battle, and slept on the battle field, where I remained with them.
Early on the following morning I received notice that the enemy was advancing, and was ordered by General Withers to fall back about a half mile and form on the right of General Jackson's brigade and follow him over to the left, where it was supposed the fight would be. We fell back and waited for General Jackson to file past to the left, intending to follow him, as directed, but before we could get away the enemy came charging rapidly upon us, and the fight of the second day commenced. We waited quietly until the enemy advanced within easy range, when we opened fire upon him and he fled.
We then attempted to move by the left flank so as to follow General Jackson, when we were again attacked and a fight of about one hour and a half ensued, from which we retired after having exhausted our ammunition.
During this engagement Major F. E. Whitfield was severely wounded in the hip and brought to the rear.
Our ammunition wagons not being at hand, we fell back to the first camp that we had taken from the enemy, where we found an abundant supply of the appropriate caliber.
I had sent a staff officer to General Withers about an hour before for assistance, and re-enforcements now arrived, under my gallant commander, Brigadier-General Withers, who, it gives me pleasure to testify, was always found at the right place, at the right time, guiding and supporting whatever portion of his division needed assistance. I formed the re-enforcements, consisting of the Crescent Regiment Louisiana Volunteers, a Tennessee regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel Venable, and an Alabama regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Chadick, into line and moved them forward to meet the enemy, after having turned over the command of my own brigade to Col. R. A. Smith, of the Tenth Mississippi Regiment, with instructions to hold himself 1,000 yards in the rear in reserve. The re-enforcements skirmished a while with the enemy, but when the first serious charge was made upon them they broke, and Colonel Smith was compelled to bring my brigade again to the front. The fight raged fiercely for some time, and my men were compelled to retire in some confusion, being overwhelmed by the superior number of the enemy.
After retreating about 300 yards they were rallied and drawn up in line at the foot of a hill. The enemy pursued slowly until he came within range of our fire, when he was boldly met, and in turn driven back, until we had again occupied the ground we had previously left. Here the enemy was re-enforce and the fight renewed, and we were gradually being driven back down the hill again when Col. Preston Smith arrived with the One hundred and fifty-fourth Regiment Tennessee Volunteers and Blythe's Mississippi Volunteers, who came gallantly to our assistance and took position on our right. Believing that one bold charge might change the fortunes of the day, I called upon my brigade to make one more effort, but they seemed too much exhausted to make the attempt, and no appeal seemed to arouse them. As a last resort I seized the battle-flag from the color-bearer of the Ninth Mississippi Regiment, and called on them to follow. With a wild shout the whole brigade rallied to the charge, and we drove the enemy back and reoccupied our first position of the morning, which we held until the order to retreat was received, when we fell back in good order, the enemy not daring to pursue. Colonel Wheeler, of the Nineteenth Alabama Regiment Volunteers, was, with a small remnant of his regiment, fighting with the Mississippians, on foot himself, and bearing the colors of his command.
In this last charge, so gallantly made, the Ninth Mississippi sustained a heavy loss in the fall of its brave commander, Lieutenant. Colonel William A. Rankin, who fell mortally wounded after having led his men fearlessly throughout the whole of the first and second day. Most of my command behaved well. Colonel R. A. Smith, of the Tenth Mississippi Regiment, was particularly distinguished for his bold daring, and his clarion voice could be heard above the din of battle cheering on his men.
Major F. E. Whitfield, of the Ninth Mississippi Regiment, led the skirmishers during Sunday, and deserves great credit for his courage and coolness. He was wounded in the hip early on Monday morning, and taken from the field. Colonel Fant and Major Stennis, of the Fifth Mississippi Regiment, and Lieutenant-Colonel Mayson, commanding the Seventh Mississippi, were all conspicuous in the thickest of the fight. All the Mississippians, both officers and men, with a few exceptions, elsewhere reported, behaved well. The Fifty-second Tennessee, except two companies under Captains J. A. Russell and A. N. Wilson, who fought with the Fifth Mississippi, behaved badly. Gage's battery did manful service on the 6th, but on the 7th was not in the fight.
I cannot conclude without mentioning the signal service rendered me by the gentlemen of my staff. To Capt. Henry Craft, assistant adjutant-general, I am greatly indebted for the order and system established in a new brigade, composed very largely of troops never before placed in brigade, and having but little knowledge of their respective duties. On the field he rendered all the service required of him, and had his horse slightly wounded when bearing an order. First Lieutenant. George T. Banks, aide-de-camp, was always at his post, and in a most fearless manner discharged all the duties of his hazardous position. First Lieutenant. W. T. Stricklin, adjutant of the Third Mississippi Regiment, who made his escape from Fort Donelson after its surrender, being ordered to report to me for duty, was placed on my staff as acting inspector-general, and bore himself gallantly during the fight.
Captains R. S. Crump, acting commissary of subsistence, and James Barr and Lieutenant. M. M. Shelley, both of the late Tenth Mississippi Regiment, rendered me efficient service as volunteer aides. William A. Rains, sergeant-major, and Fleming Thompson, private in Company K, both of the Ninth Mississippi Regiment, two brave Mississippi boys of but seventeen years of age, accompanied me on horseback, and in the absence of staff officers bore orders under the heaviest of the fire. Sergeant-Major Rains deserves especial notice for having carried an order with promptness and precision on Sunday evening, when we were attacking the batteries, under the heaviest fire that occurred during the whole engagement.
I must also acknowledge the valuable assistance rendered by our guide, Mr. Lafayette Veal, of McNairy County, Tennessee, who remained with us closely, and was ever ready to give any information and aid in his power. Without him our movements would have been comparatively in the dark and much retarded, while with his guidance we were enabled to move rapidly toward our desired end. Colonel Clanton's First Regiment Alabama Cavalry held themselves on our right to support us, and though they rendered no especial service, their presence may have protected our flank from an attack; and I cannot conclude without mentioning Colonel Clanton himself, who remained almost all the times with my brigade, and, though constantly exposed to the most dangerous fire, exhibited the most fearless and exemplary courage, cheering on those who seemed inclined to falter or grow weary, and with a detachment of his cavalry supplying us with ammunition when our wagons could not reach us.
It is impossible to say with accuracy how many prisoners we took, as they were turned over to the cavalry as fast as they surrendered singly and in squads, and once in a large body without being counted; but the number cannot fall far short of 1,600. We went into the fight 2,039 strong. Of these about 400 were of the Fifty-second Tennessee Regiment, 300 of whom were not engaged in the fight, leaving us only 1,739 men. Of these we had 82 killed and 343 wounded, a return of which has been heretofore made, giving the names of the killed and wounded and the character of the wounds.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, captain, your obedient servant,
JAMES R. CHALMERS,
Brig. Gen., Comdg. Second Brigade, Withers' Div.,
Second Corps, Army of the Mississippi.
Shiloh NPS historian Stacy Allen describes the fateful struggle between James Chalmers' Mississippians and the Ohioans and Illinoisans of Col. David Stuart's command on the battlefield tract that the Civil War Trust is working to save in 2012.