07 December 2018 by Published in: Union Cavalry No comments yet

The following article, by a correspondent embedded with the Army of the Cumberland’s Cavalry Corps, appeared on page four of the July 8, 1863 issue of The New York Herald. The entire issue is fascinating, as it covers the fall of Vicksburg, the retreat from Gettysburg, and Tullahoma. Nearly all of page four is devoted to the Tullahoma Campaign, which is often overlooked as compared to the other two campaigns.

Headquarters, Reserve Corps
Army of the Cumberland
Shelbyville, Tenn., June 28, 1863


The corps of reliable gentlemen have been under a cloud since the movement of the army commenced, left Tuesday. I dislike to acknowledge that all my efforts to enlighten Herald readers in regard to movements on the right have proved futile, but they have this far. A special order denies us the use of the telegraph, and minute hairsplitting about “passes” prevents employment of messengers. However, things have assumed such shape today that I venture to tell how Stanley’s cavalry–temporarily under Gordon Granger’s command–came into possession of this stiff little Union burg. God prosper, henceforward, every loyal man in it. They have suffered enough.


The “reserve corps,” with General R. B. Mitchell’s cavalry division, moved from Triune on Tuesday morning; the infantry eastward, on the old Murfreesboro road, the cavalry southward, on the Eaglesville pike, directly through the enemy’s country. The infantry, General A. Baird’s division, reached Salem, four miles from Murfreesboro, in good order, without molestation.


consisting of the Second Michigan and Ninth Pennsylvania regiments, came upon the rebel pickets just outside the little hamlet called Middleton, eleven miles from Triune. The rebels showed a force about equal to ours, and evinced a desire to obstruct our further advance. They were driven slowly along the execrable road, through the village, till they reached a dense woods beyond it, when they made a desperate stand, opening on our advance with two pieces of artillery. They held the woods and a ploughed field in front of it for an hour, shouting savagely and firing extremely wild.


General Mitchell, impatient at the delay–for night was near at hand–ordered the Second and Ninth to dismount and charge across the field. The passage over the moist, ploughed ground, in the face of the enemy’s fire, was extremely difficult for dismounted men. But these two regiments had an excellent reputation to sustain, and they made the trip, reserving their fire till they approached within thirty yards of the rebel line, then delivering it with precision and rapidity. The graybacks could not stand it, and broke and fled most frantically, leaving eight dead men and sixty or seventy dead horses, but carrying off their wounded and the two guns. The enemy proved to be Brigadier General Martin’s command—part of Wheeler’s cavalry force. 0ur loss was two killed and six wounded. The cavalry camped near the field that night. Three log houses in the village—nearly half its complement of tenement–were accidentally burned during the melee by Tennessee cavalry of Mitchell’s command, who knew them to be the property of violent rebels.


Next day, after another skirmish at Fosterville in which the rebels were again discomfited, the cavalry reached Christiana, on the Shelbyville pike, eight miles and a half from Murfreesboro, where they found Colonel Minty’s and Ed. McCook’s brigades of General Stanley’s cavalry, commanded by General Stanley in person. Infantry and artillery having come over from Triune via Salem in the meantime, quite an imposing force encamped at Christiana in the pouring rain on Wednesday night, and were ready for the offensive in any direction when the day came. Here, I learned that the Twentieth army corps (McCook’s) had passed down the pike in the direction of Shelbyville on Tuesday, and all day long General Granger waited for orders and listened to the sound of McCook’s cannon in the front, six miles away. The rain and the mud were fearful.


were afloat that Sheridan’s division of McCook’s corps had met the rebels, and had been driven back in disastrous rout; that a vast force of enemies were approaching the reserve corps on the Shelbyville road; but Gen. Granger was unable to get hold of any positive information respecting either of the exciting topics. So isolated was the reserve that two days passed before we knew exactly where to find Rosecrans’ headquarters. During Thursday and Friday there was considerable skirmishing between pickets of the opposing parties, and our infantry were several times drawn up in line of battle, to await and repel an attack.


Twenty regiments of Stanley’s cavalry moved toward Shelbyville from Christiana, Generals Granger, Stanley and Mitchell at the head of a column of fours which stretched along the pike a distance of four miles. It was a splendid show of strength, and calculated to terrify any force we expected to meet. Four miles in front of Christiana, the cavalry came upon the pickets of the rebel force stationed al Guy’s Gap, and skirmishing began. The rebels were driven luck till we discovered their line of battle formed across the pike at the entrance of the gap.


is naturally a very strong position, and we expected to find it fortified extensively and to meet with a stubborn resistance. The cavalry was deployed to the right and left, and the bugles of the twenty regiments sounded the advance. Ten minutes were sufficient to give us possession of the gap, from which we could see the rebels fleeing along the straight pike toward Shelbyville in the utmost confusion. While the force directly in front were engaged seizing the gap, the regiments on the right were engaged with a strong column of rebels which had been unearthed in that quarter. This column, we afterward learned, was the command of Colonel Cruse, Forrest’s right bower, who was marching from the vicinity or Eaglesville and Triune, across the country, to join General Wharton’s cavalry, near Hoover’s Gap. The presence of Colonel Cruse on our right was unknown to the rebels who held the Gap in front, and his meeting with our cavalry so near Shelbyville was unexpected. He retired with the loss of three men, made a detour toward Shelbyville, and attempted to cross the pike again. Here he met the advance of the Union column, in full pursuit of the rebels from the gap, and his passage was again blocked. This time he gave it up for a bad job and retreated towards Middleton, whence he had come. Since we have heard from Cruse in the vicinity of Triune, and presume he is endeavoring to reach Wharton by way of Columbia.


From a prisoner I learn that Forrest is unable to fight just now, being in a dangerous condition from a wound received in the Spring Hill live fracas. I am convinced that up to the time we appeared in front of Guy’s Gap the rebels knew nothing of our advance in form. I am convinced, also, that had been blessed with sunshine instead of pouring rain all the while, General Rosecrans’ plans for the destruction of Bragg’s army would have succeeded before now.


The rebel troops who made the stand at Guy’s Gap (Martin’s brigade, of Wheeler’s command) were hotly pursued five miles further down the pike, to the outer line of fortifications around Shelbyville, four miles from the town. Those outer works consisted of a line of rifle pits with flanking batteries, extending from Duck river on the left to Hog mountain on the right–a distance of eight miles. They had been built regardless of expense, and their completeness, location and finish showed them to be the work of a skillful engineer. Reaching this line of works, the rebels paused in their mad flight und made hasty preparation for another stand. A twelve-pounder
cannon, belonging to Wiggins’ rebel battery, was placed in position to rake the pike. The Seventh Alabama Cavalry supported the piece, and opened fire on the head of the Union column as it appeared before the works.


was sounded, the Union cavalry rode further up the pike, clamored over the earthworks, sabered such misguided beings as showed a belligerent disposition, and the line of rifle pits was ours. The rebels succeeded in getting away with their guns, but 459 privates, with all the officers of the Seventh Alabama cavalry, were temporarily lost lo the rebel service, prisoners of war. Three brigades of Infantry and two regiments of cavalry, a portion of General Leonidas Polk’s command, had evacuated the position five hours before, and retreated through Shelbyville toward Tullahoma.


The Fourth United States cavalry and Seventh Pennsylvania in the advance were close upon the heels of the rebels as they entered Shelbyville. The chase for the last four miles was of the most exciting character. Houses along the road were filled with Union people, who came to the roadside fences, shouted, clapped their hands, hooted at the pale and panting rebels, and cheered the pursuers on. Here and there a jaded rebel horse would drop, with the blood gushing from its mouth and pouring from its wounded sides; the next instant ferocious blue jackets would be upon its terrified rebel rider, with keen sabre in hand, demanding unconditional surrender or swift death. Rebel canteens, haversacks, broken muskets, clothing and corn meal were strewn along the pike throughout the whole distance, from the earthworks to
the town, and dead bodies were numerous.


It was half past six o’clock when the Unionists reached the town. Four pieces of Wiggins’ rebel battery were planted in the public square, facing towards Murfreesboro, and rebel cavalrymen were flying to and fro in wild confusion. General Wheeler himself was in command. The force, we afterwards learned, was five regiments of cavalry with the four pieces of cannon above mentioned. The cannon in the square opened on our brave fellows, and Wheeler rode about like a madman, trying to get his rebels in shape to make a fight. General Granger sent Lieutenant Colonel Minty with a flanking force of four regiments to our left, and ordered the Fourth United States cavalry and Seventh Pennsylvania to charge into the square and take those guns at all hazards. The charge was made in the presence of an admiring audience of Shelbyville people, who lined the sidewalks, filled the windows and covered the housetops and porches, regardless of bullets, which were flying through the streets from both directions. It was so fierce and desperate that Wiggins was able to fire but one shot from his cannon before he lost three of them. This single round ball cut down six men and four horses. The fourth piece was dragged out of the square, down past the railroad depot, across the Duck river bridge, and started on the gallop toward Tullahoma.


beggars description. Men and horses crowded upon it inextricable confusion, the stream filled with rebels struggling to gain the opposite bank, our exasperated soldiers firing at them in the water; Wheeler frantically calling for volunteers to stay the Union torrent long enough for his escape. The First rebel cavalry answered his call, and made a really gallant stand, checking our advance momentarily, while Wheeler and his body guard dashed into the stream and swam for dear life and liberty. Upwards of fifty rebels were drowned in the passage of this stream, among them Major Reid, Wheeler’s adjutant general, and Major Buford, Forrest’s chief of
staff. Wheeler himself, thanks to the bravery of the First rebel cavalry, escaped. The regiment was destroyed or captured almost wholly to save a little major general. The flanking force of Colonel Minty by a citizen in regard to the location of the Tullahoma pike, and the number of fences they expected to encounter. They did not succeed in cutting off the retreat, and the remnant of the rebel force, who were so warlike in the morning, got off towards Tullahoma dispirited and dismayed.


Thus, Saturday night at eight o’clock, General Granger was in possession of Shelbyville, with eight hundred prisoners, three pieces of cannon, twenty thousand bushels of corn and other stores, besides inflicting upon the rebels a loss nearly three hundred killed and wounded. Our total loss since leaving Christiana amounted to eighteen killed and three wounded. It was cheering to meet so many loyal people as we met in Shelbyville. The town has not been belied. Old people and young people, young men and maidens, waving little copies of the Stars and Stripes, stained and dusty from a year’s concealment in secret places, greeted us with “Thank God, you’ve come at last!” The Union feeling is so universally evinced that I did not wonder longer why the rebels “could not bear the town of New Boston.”

Colonel Brownlow’s First Tennessee cavalry participated in the attack. Many of his men were residents of Shelbyville in peaceful times. It was a sweet morsel to these men to fight rebels in the neighborhood of their former homes. A young Tennessean of BrownIow’s regiment rode up before his father’s door while the fight was going on. He dismounted hurriedly and embraced his aged parents, who hardly recognized him at first. The young warrior exchanged short greetings with them, the gray haired man holding his son’s carbine, the feeble mother grasping the bridle of her son’s horse, while the young man eagerly drank the water his pretty sister brought to him—a very pretty but fleeting picture of the “wanderer’s return.” The tableau was dissolved by the old man thrusting the gun into the soldier’s hand, bidding Charley “go on and get your revenge.” The restless Colonel was full of the spirit of his father. He jumped from his horse, kissed his sweetheart, whom his quick eye had singled out from a throng of excited maidens, mounted, again and joined in the charge. Another of Brownlow’s men—his wife looking on then shot the man who had driven him from Shelbyville in front of his own door. Incidents of this character were plenty.

The town of Shelbyville has been treated much better by the rebels since Buell left than one would expect. They left it last night, threatening to return today and burn it, but I fancy it is safe for the present.

The June 27, 1863 Battle of Shelbyville, addressed in detail here, is one of the most fascinating cavalry battles in the war. Minty’s single brigade, augmented by Col. William Brownlow’s First Middle Tennessee Cavalry, made a saber charge that broke and routed two full division of Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry corps. Wheeler went flying into the Duck River, barely escaping capture. I know of no other similar cavalry charge during the entire course of the Civil War. But it has gotten little attention over the years. I aim to correct that.

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