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Friday, March 9, 2018

14th US Colored Infantry and Their Leader Col. Thomas Jefferson Morgan

At least twelve men from Williamson County served in the 14th US Colored Infantry.  They all enlisted between October 15 and December 15, 1863.
Col. Thomas Jefferson Morgan
The men all served under Col. Thomas Jefferson Morgan, who I view as Tennessee's own and maybe better version of Col. Robert Gould Shaw of the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry. When the War broke out in April 1861, Morgan was a 21-year-old senior at Franklin College in Indiana. He enlisted in the 7th Indiana Volunteer Infantry as a private. In August 1862 he re-enlisted as a 1st Lieutenant in the 7th Indiana under Col. Benjamin Harrison and saw service in Kentucky and Tennessee. 

The Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, and granted African American men the right to serve in the US Army as enlisted soldiers.  

The Nashville Daily Union, October 1,1863, Page 1
Recruiting Station open at Gallatin

Morgan wrote in his memoir that he "early advocated [for] the organization of colored regiments" and thus in October 1863 applied for a position as an officer in the US Colored Troops in Nashville. At this time, recruiting stations were being opened around middle Tennessee to encourage African American men to enlist in the USCT - including one in Gallatin (see newspaper notice at left).  All of the men from Williamson County who enlisted in the 14th USCI enlisted at Gallatin, although I suspect they were largely living in or near Williamson County immediately before the War.  How they wound up in Gallatin is still a bit of a mystery.  I suspect that they were either taken there or went there because of a large "contraband" or refugee camp that had developed there under the command of General E. A. Paine.

Morgan was accepted into the USCT and appointed a Major. From there, he was sent to report to Major George L. Stearns who was in charge of recruiting the troops.

On November 1, 1863, Morgan reported to Gallatin, Tennessee to organize the 14th US Colored Infantry. Years later he wrote a short memoir about this time with the 14th. I have transcribed much of it below with some commentary because it provides such a unique insight into what the men from Williamson County were doing during their years in the 14th, and also the attitudes toward black men in the service at that time - not just by their officers but also by the public.

    By order of Major Stearns, [November 1, 1863] I went to Gallatin, Tennessee, to organize the 14th United States Colored Infantry…There were at that time several hundred negro men in camp, in charge of, I think, a lieutenant. They were a motley crowd—old, young, middle-aged. Some wore the United States uniform, but most of them had on the clothes in which they had left the plantations, or had worn during periods of hard service as laborers in the army.

    An article in a Nashville newspaper describing an interaction
    between a slaveholder in Gallatin attempting to regain 
    control over two newly enlisted soldiers in the USCT
      ...They had not passed a medical examination, had no company organization and had had no drill. Almost immediately upon my arrival, as an attack was imminent, I was ordered to distribute another hundred muskets, and to 'prepare every available man for fight.' I did the best I could under the circumstances, but am free to say that I regard it as a fortunate circumstance that we had no fighting to do at that time. But the men raw, and, untutored as they were, did guard and picket duty, went foraging, guarded wagon trains, scouted after guerillas, and so learned to soldier —by soldiering. 

      As soon and as fast as practicable, I set about organizing the regiment. I was a complete novice in that kind of work, and all the young officers who reported to me for duty, had been promoted from the ranks and were without experience, except as soldiers. The colored men knew nothing of the duties of a soldier, except a little they had picked up as camp-followers. 

      Company Descriptive Card
      For Sgt. Isaac Dalton of
      Williamson County
      Showing Name of A.H. Dunlap
      Fortunately there was one man, Mr. A. H. Dunlap [see Sgt. Isaac Dalton's Company Description card at left with Dunlap's name on it], who had had some clerical experience with Col. Birney, in Baltimore, in organizing the 3rd U. S. Colored Infantry. He was an intelligent, methodical gentleman, and rendered me invaluable service. I had no Quartermaster; no surgeon; no Adjutant. We had no tents, and the men were sheltered in an old filthy tobacco warehouse, where they fiddled, danced, sang, swore or prayed, according to their mood. 

      How to meet the daily demands made upon us for military duty, and at the same time to evoke order out of this chaos, was no easy problem. The first thing to be done was to examine the men. A room was prepared, and I and my clerk took our stations at a table. One by one the recruits came before us a la Eden, sans the fig leaves, and were subjected to a careful medical examination, those who were in any way physically disqualified being rejected. Many bore the wounds and bruises of the slave-driver's lash, and many were unfit for duty by reason of some form of disease to which human flesh is heir. In the course of a few weeks, however, we had a thousand able-bodied, stalwart men. 
      The Recruiting Office
      Image from The Black Phalanx: A History of the Negro Soldiers of the United States in the Wars of 1775-1812, 1861-'65

      I was quite as solicitous about their mental condition as about their physical status, so I plied them with questions as to their history, their experience with the army, their motives for becoming soldiers, their ideas of army life, their hopes for the future, &c, &e. I found that a considerable number of them had been teamsters, cooks, officers' servants, &c, and had thus seen a good deal of hard service in both armies, in camp, on the march and in battle, and so knew pretty well what to expect. In this respect they had the advantage of most raw recruits from the North, who were wholly 'unusued to wars' alarms.' Some of them had very noble ideas of manliness. I remember picturing to one bright-eyed fellow some of the hardships of camp life and campaigning, and receiving from him the cheerful reply, 'I know all about that.' I then said, 'you may be killed in battle.' He instantly answered, 'many a better man than me has been killed in this war.' When I told another one who wanted to 'fight for freedom,' that he might lose his life, he replied, 'but my people will be free." 

      The result of this careful examination convinced me that these men, though black in skin, had men's hearts, and only needed right handling to develope into magnificent soldiers. Among them were the same varieties of physique, temperament, mental and moral endowments and experiences, as would be found among the same number of white men. Some of them were finely formed and powerful; some were almost white; a large number had in their veins white blood of the F. F. V. [First Families of Virginia] quality; some were men of intelligence, and many of them deeply religious.

      Acting upon my clerk's suggestion, I assigned them to companies according to their height, putting men of nearly the same height together. When the regiment was full, the four center companies were all composed of tall men, the flanking companies of men of medium height, while the little men were sandwiched between. The effect was excellent in every way, and made the regiment quite unique. It was not uncommon to have strangers who saw it parade for the first time, declare that the men were all of one size.' 

      In six weeks three companies were filled, uniformed, armed, and had been taught many soldierly ways. They had been drilled in the facings, in the manual of arms, and in some company movements.

      November 20th [1863]

      Gen. G. H. Thomas commanding the Department of the Cumberland, ordered six companies to Bridgeport, Alabama, under command of Major H. C. Corbin. I was left at Gallatin to complete the organization of the other four companies. [Note: Thomas Scales (Co A), Isaac Dalton & Samuel Polk (Co B), Robert Spratt (Co C), and Peter House & Samuel L. Thomas (Co D) of Williamson County were sent to to Bridgeport, Alabama. In fact, Samuel Thomas deserted from near there on January 23, 1864.]

      When the six companies were full, I was mustered in as Lieutenant-Colonel. The complete organization of the regiment occupied about two months, being finished by Jan. 1st, 1864. The field, staff and company officers were all white men. All the non-commissioned officers,—Hospital Steward, Quartermaster, Sergeant, Sergeant-Major, Orderlies, sergeants and corporals were colored. They proved very efficient, and had the war continued two years longer, many of them would have been competent as commissioned officers.

      When General Paine left Gallatin, I was senior officer and had command of the post and garrison, which included a few white soldiers besides my own troops. Colored soldiers acted as pickets, and no citizen was allowed to pass our lines either into the village or out, without a proper permit. Those presenting themselves without a pass were sent to headquarters under guard. Thus many proud Southern slave-holders found themselves marched through the street, guarded by those who three months before had been slaves. The negroes often laughed over these changed relations as they sat around their camp fires, or chatted together while off duty, but it was very rare that any Southerner had reason to complain of any unkind or uncivil treatment from a colored soldier.

      About the first of January [1864] occurred a few days of extreme cold weather, which tried the men sorely. One morning after one of the most severe nights, the officers coming in from picket, marched the men to headquarters, and called attention to their condition: their feet were frosted and their hands frozen. In some instances the skin on their fingers had broken from the effects of the cold, and it was sad to see their sufferings. Some of them never recovered from the effects of that night, yet they bore it patiently and uncomplainingly."

      Around this time, Col Morgan was joined in his efforts by Chaplain William Elgin.  He kept a diary this time and writes about his days with the 14th USCI.  One of his first efforts was to create schools for the men and wrote on January 8th that he had, "prepared a tent for teaching in, organized five classes and began the work of educating the Regiment, resolved to do my utmost toward the mental, moral and spiritual culture of the men."

      Continuing Col Morgan's memoir -- "In January I had a personal interview with General Thomas, and s
      ecured an order uniting the regiment at Chattanooga. We entered camp there under the shadow of Lookout Mountain, and in full view of Mission Ridge, in February 1864."

      Top Middle: Col. Thomas J. Morgan, 14th USCT, Commd'g 1st Col'd Brig A.C. Middle Row L to R: Capt Avery, 42 USCT; Capt Rumyens, 14th USCT; Major Grubbs, 42 USCT; Capt Cleland, 44 USCT; Lieut. Turner, 18 USCT; Capt Martin, 14 USCT. Lower right, L to R: Lieut. Spring, 44th USCT; Lieut. Thornton, 14th USCT.
      Photo retrieved from

      As Chaplain Elgin described their arrival in Chattanooga - "January 24th - Arrived in Chatttanooga by rail from Gallatin - distance 177 miles. Ours being the first Regiment of colored troops ever in Chattanooga and the first seen by most of the Cumberland Army, attracts great notice from the army. The command meets a far more cordial reception than we had expected. Went into camp one-half mile south of town in full view of the Tenn. River, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge."

      From Colonel Morgan -- "During the same month Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, from Washington, then on a tour of inspection, visited my regiment, and authorized me to substitute the eagle for the silver leaf.

      Chattanooga was at that time the headquarters of the Army of the Cumberland. Gen Thomas and staff, and a considerable part of the army were there. Our camp was laid out with great regularity; our quarters were substantial, comfortable and well kept. The regiment numbered a thousand men, with a full compliment of field, staff, line and non-commissioned officers. We had a good drum corps, and a band provided with a set of expensive silver instruments. We were also fully equipped; the men were armed with rifled muskets, and well clothed. They were well drilled in the manual of arms, and took great pride in appearing on parade with arms burnished, belts polished, shoes blacked, clothes brushed, in full regulation uniform, including white gloves. On every pleasant day our parades were witnessed by officers, soldiers and citizens from the North, and it was not uncommon to have two thousand spectators. Some came to make sport, some from curiosity, some because it was the fashion, and others from a genuine desire to see for themselves what sort of looking soldiers negroes would make.

      Bridgeport, Tenn. (i.e. Alabama), 1864, 
      showing ruins of Nashville & Chattanooga R.R. 
      bridge and construction of a pontoon bridge, 1864
      About November 20, 1863, General Meigs, Quartermaster-General, then at Chattanooga, requested of Major Stearns what colored men could be spared for fatigue duty at Bridgeport, Ala. In accordance with this request four companies of the Fourteenth U. S. Colored Infantry were sent from Gallatin. They remained at Bridgeport engaged in fatigue duty till about the 1st of February, 1864 when the regiment was reunited at Chattanooga. At Chattanooga the regiment was set to work upon fortifications. ...

      At the time that the work of organizing colored troops began in the West, there was a great deal of bitter prejudice against the movement, and white troops threatened to desert, if the plan should be really carried out. Those who entered the service were stigmatized as 'n***** officers,' and negro soldiers were hooted at and mal-treated by white ones.

      General Lorenzo Thomas
      Adjutant General of the Army
      Apropos of the prejudice against so called n***** officers, I may mention the following incident: While an officer in the Fifth Indiana, I had met, and formed a passing acquaintance with Lieut.-Colonel , of the — Ohio Regiment. On New Year’s Day, 1864, I chanced to meet him at the social gathering at General Ward's headquarters in Nashville. I spoke to him as usual, at the same time offering my hand, which apparently he did not see. Receiving only a cool bow from him, I at once turned away. As I did so he remarked to those standing near him that he ' did not recognize these n***** officers.' In some way, I do not know how, a report of the occurrence came to the ears of Lorenzo Thomas, the Adjutant-General of the Army, then in Nashville, who investigated the case, and promptly dismissed the Colonel from the United States service.

      Very few West Point officers had any faith in the success of the enterprise, and most Northern people perhaps, regarded it as at best the dubious experiment. A college classmate of mine, a young man of intelligence and earnestly loyal, although a Kentuckian, and a slave-holder, plead with me to abandon my plan of entering this service, saying, ' I shudder to think of the remorse you may suffer, from deeds done by barbarians under your command.'

      General George H. Thomas

      General George H. Thomas, though a Southerner, and a West Point graduate, was a singularly fair-minded, candid man. He asked me one day soon after my regiment was organized, if I thought my men would fight. I replied that they would. He said he thought' they might behind breastworks' I said they would fight in the open field. He thought not. 'Give me a chance General,' I replied, and I will prove it.' 

      Our evening parades converted thousands to a belief in colored troops. It was almost a daily experience to hear the remark from visitors, 'Men who can handle their arms as these do, will fight.' General Thomas paid the regiment the compliment of saying that he ' never saw a regiment go through the manual as well as this one.' We remained in 'Camp Whipple' from February, 1864, till August, 1865, a period of eighteen months, and during a large part of that time the regiment was an object lesson to the army, and helped to revolutionize public opinion on the subject of colored soldiers. 

      Chicago Tribune, April 1, 1864, page 3
      Portion of article describing the 14th USCI in Chattanooga
      [During this time period, the 14th USCI was visited by a paymaster who wrote a very interesting article for the Chicago Tribune newspaper about his visits to the 12th, 13th and 14th USCT regiments to pay the soldiers.  In his comments about his visit to Chattanooga to visit the 14th he remarked on Col. Morgan's youthfulness but said - as a rather backhanded complement - that he had a "peculiar aptitude for securing respect and obedience and for begetting in the negroes an appreciation of their approved condition, and developing their manhood."  The author remarked that the camp of the 14th was "a model of order."]

      My Lieutenant-Colonel and I rode over one evening to call on General Joe Hooker, commanding the 20th Army Corps. He occupied a small log hut in the Wauhatchie Valley, near Lookout Mountain and not far from the Tennessee river. He received us with great courtesy, and when he learned that we were officers in a colored regiment, congratulated us on our good fortune, saying that he 'believed they would make the best troops in the world.' He predicted that after the rebellion was subdued, it would be necessary for the United States to send an army into Mexico. This army would be composed largely of colored men, and those of us now holding high command, would have a chance to win great renown. He lamented that he had made a great mistake in not accepting a military command, and going to Nicaragua with General Walker. 'Why,' said he, 'young gentlemen, I might have founded an empire.'

      While at Chattanooga, I organized two other regiments, the 42nd and the 44th United States Colored Infantry. [Two Williamson County men enlist in the 42nd USCT in Chattanooga and six enlist in the 44th - including Pvt Granville Scales.] In addition to the ordinary instruction in the duties required of the soldier, we established in every company a regular school, teaching men to read and write, and taking great pains to cultivate in them self-respect and all manly qualities. Our success in this respect was ample compensation for our labor. The men who went on picket or guard duty, took their books as quite as indispensable as their coffee pots."

      This description of teaching the men under his command to read and write was well-described in Chaplain Elgin's diary.  He stated that of the 1,000 men they were hoping to bring to literacy, only about 50 could read upon enlistment.

      Continuing Col. Thomas' memoir -- "It must not be supposed that we had only plain sailing. Soon after reaching Chattanooga, heavy details began to be made upon us for men to work upon the fortifications then in process of construction around the town. This almost incessant labor, interfered sadly with our drill, and at one time all drill was suspended, by orders from headquarters. There seemed little prospect of our being ordered to the field, and as time wore on and arrangements began in earnest for the new campaign against Atlanta, we grew impatient for work, and anxious for opportunity for drill and preparations for field service.

      I used every means to bring about a change, for I believed that the ultimate status of the negro was to be determined by his conduct on the battlefield. No one doubted that he would work, while many did doubt that he had courage to stand up and fight like a man. If he could take his place side by side with the white soldier; endure the same hardships on the campaign, face the same enemy, storm the same works, resist the same assaults, evince the same soldierly qualities would compel that respect which the world has always accorded to heroism, and win for himself the same laurels which brave soldiers have always won.

      Personally, I shrink from danger, and most decidedly prefer a safe corner at my own fireside, to an exposed place in the face of an enemy on the battle-field, but so strongly was I impressed with the importance of giving colored troops a fair field and full opportunity to show of what mettle they were made, that I lost no chance of insisting upon our right to be ordered into the field. At one time I was threatened with dismissal from the service for my persistency, but that did not deter me, for though I had no yearning for martyrdom, I was determined if possible to put my regiment into battle, at whatever cost to myself. As I look 
      back upon the matter after twenty-one years, I see no reason to regret my action, unless it be that I was not even more persistent in claiming for these men the rights of soldiers. 

      I was grievously disappointed when the first of May,1864, came, and the army was to start south, leaving us behind to hold the forts we had helped to build.

      I asked General Thomas to allow me, at least, to go along. He readily consented, and directed me to report to General 0. 0. Howard, commanding the 4th Army Corps, as Volunteer Aide. I did so, and remained with him thirty days, participating in the battles of Buzzard's Roost, Resaca, Adaireville and Dallas. At the end of that time, having gained invaluable experience, and feeling that my place was with my regiment, I returned to Chattanooga, determined to again make every possible effort to get it into active service. ...

      General James B. Steadman, who won such imperishable renown at Chickamauga, was then in command of the District of Etowah, with headquarters at Chattanooga. I laid my case before him; he listened with interest to my plea, and assured me that if there was any fighting to be done in his district, we should have a hand in it.

      Dalton, GA— August l5th, 1864, we had our first fight, at Dalton, Georgia [Second Battle of Dalton (Wheeler's Raid)]. General Wheeler, with a considerable force of confederate cavalry, attacked Dalton, which was occupied by a small detachment of Union troops belonging to the 2nd Missouri, under command of Colonel Laibold. General Steadman went to Laibold's aid, and forming line of battle, attacked and routed the Southern force. My regiment formed on the left of the 51st Indiana Infantry, under command of Col. A. D. Streight. The fight was short, and not at all severe. The regiment was all exposed to fire. One private was killed, one lost a leg, and one was wounded in the right hand.

      Death Record and Inventory of
      Effects for Private Henry Prince
      Killed in Action at Dalton, August 15, 1864
      Note that within his effects was a stereoscope for
      looking at photographs
      Company B, on the skirmish line killed five of the enemy, and wounded others. [Note : Isaac Dalton and Samuel Polk from Williamson County were in Company B] To us it was a great battle, and a glorious victory. The regiment had been recognized as soldiers; it had taken its place side by side with a white regiment; it had been under fire. The men had behaved gallantly. A colored soldier had died for liberty. Others had shed their blood in the great cause. Two or three incidents will indicate the significance of the day. Just before going into the fight, Lieutenant Keinborts said to his men: 'Boys, some of you may be killed, but remember you are fighting for liberty." Henry Prince replied, 'I am ready to die for liberty.' In fifteen minutes he lay dead,— a rifle ball through his heart,—a willing martyr.

      During the engagement General Steadman asked his Aide, Captain Davis, to look especially after, the 14th colored. Captain Davis rode up just as I was quietly rectifying my line, which in a charge had been disarranged. Putting spurs to his horse, he dashed back to the General and reassured him by reporting that 'the regiment was holding dress parade over there under fire.' After the fight, as we marched into town through a pouring rain, a white regiment standing at rest, swung their hats and gave three rousing cheers for the 14th Colored. ...

      Private John Wm Woodward
      14th USCI, Co. I
      [During this period, Pvt. John Wm Woodward of Williamson County was sick.  He was a member of Company I and died August 23, 1864 in Chattanooga of chronic diarrhea. He is buried at the Chattanooga National Cemetery in Plot: J.]

      Pulaski, Tenn.-- September 27th, 1864, I reported to Majdr-General Rousseau, commanding a force of cavalry at Pulaski, Tenn. As we approached the town by rail from Nashville, we heard artillery, then musketry, and as we left the cars we saw the smoke of guns. Forest, with a large body of cavalry, had been steadily driving Rousseau before him all day, and was destroying the railroad. Finding the General, I said: 'I am ordered to report to you, sir.' 'What have you?' 'Two regiments of colored troops.' Rousseau was a Kentuckian, and had not much faith in negro soldiers. By his direction I threw out a strong line of skirmishers, and posted the regiments on a ridge, in good supporting distance. Rousseau's men retired behind my line, and Forest's men pressed forward until they met our fire, and recognizing the sound of the minie ball, stopped to reflect. 

      The massacre of colored troops at Fort Pillow was well known to us, and had been fully discussed by our men. It was rumored, and thoroughly credited by them, that General Forrest had offered a thousand dollars for the head of any commander of a face with Forest's veteran cavalry. The fire was growing hotter, and balls were uncomfortably thick. At length, the enemy in strong force, with banners flying, bore down toward us in full sight, apparently bent on mischief. Pointing to the advancing column, I said, as I passed along the line, 'Boys, it looks very much like light; keep cool, do your duty.' They seemed full of glee, and replied with great enthusiasm: 'Colonel, dey can't whip us, dey nebber get de ole 14th out of heah, nebber.' 'Nebber, drives us away widout a mighty lot of dead men,' c, &c.

      When Forrest learned that Rousseau was re-enforced by infantry, he did not stop to ask the color of the skin, but after testing our line, and finding it unyielding, turned to the east, and struck over toward Murfreesboro....

      Our casualties consisted of a few men slightly wounded. We had not had a battle, but it was for us a victory, for our troops had stood face to face with a triumphant force of Southern cavalry, and stopped their progress. They saw that they had done what awaited the next opportunity for battle, which was not long delayed.

      Decatur, Ala.— Our next active service was at Decatur,Alabama. Hood, with his veteran army that had fought Sherman so gallantly from Chattanooga to Atlanta, finding that his great antagonist had started southward and seaward, struck out boldly himself for Nashville. Oct. 27th [1864] I reported to General R. S. Granger, commanding at Decatur. His little force was closely besieged by Hood's army, whose right rested on the Tennessee river below the town, and whose left extended far beyond our lines, on the other side of the town. Two companies of my regiment were stationed on the opposite side of the river from Hood's right, and kept up an annoying musketry fire. Lieutenant Gillett, of Company G, was mortally wounded by a cannon ball [Sgt. Abraham McGavock from Williamson County was in Company G], and some of the enlisted men were hurt. One private soldier in Company B, who had taken position in a tree as sharpshooter, had his right arm broken by a ball [Sgt. Isaac Dalton and Pvt. Samuel Polk from Williamson County were in Company B]. Captain Romeyn said to him, 'You would better come down from there, go to the rear, and find the surgeon.' 'Oh no, Captain! 'he replied, 'I can fire with my left arm,' and so he did. "Another soldier of Company B, was walking along the road, when hearing an approaching cannon ball, he dropped flat upon the ground, and was almost instantly well nigh covered with the dirt plowed up by it, as it struck the ground near by. Captain Romeyn, who witnessed the incident, and who was greatly amused by the fellow's trepidation, asked him if he was frightened? His reply was, 'Fore God, Captain, I thought I thought I was a dead man, sure."

      Friday, October 28, 1864, at twelve o'clock, at the head of three hundred and fifty-five men, in obedience to orders from General Granger, I charged and took a battery, with a loss of sixty officers and men killed and wounded. After capturing the battery, and spiking the guns, which we were unable to remove, we retired to our former place in the line of defense. The conduct of the men on this occasion was most admirable, and drew forth high praise from General Granger and Thomas.

      Hood, having decided to push on to Nashville without assaulting Decatur, withdrew. As soon as I missed his troops from my front, I notified the General commanding, and was ordered to pursue, with the view of finding where he was. About ten o'clock the next morning [October 29], my skirmishers came up with his rear guard, which opened upon us a brisk infantry fire. Lieutenant [Charles] Woodworth [of Company K], standing at my side, fell dead, pierced through the face. General Granger ordered me to retire inside of the works, and the regiment, although exposed to a sharp fire, came off in splendid order. As we marched inside the works, the white soldiers, who had watched the maneuver, gave us three rousing cheers. I have heard the Pope's famous choir at St. Peters, and the great organ at Freibourg, but the music was not so sweet as the hearty plaudits of our brave comrades.

      As indicating the change in public sentiment relative to colored soldiers, it may be mentioned that the Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the 68th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, requested me as a personal favor to ask for the assignment of his regiment to my journey of 
      244 miles, we returned to Chattanooga, but not to remain.

      Nashville, Tenn. —November 29, 1864, in command of the 14th, 16th and 44th Regiments U. S. C. I., I embarked on a railroad train at Chattanooga for Nashville.

      [Pvt. Willis Green, from Williamson County, of Company F was identified as "sick in a hospital in Nashville beginning November 24, 1863" (probably 29th). It appears that upon his arrival in Nashville he went straight to the hospital.  He was there for several months and on April 19, 1864 he deserted from General Hospital No. 16.  He had likely heard news of Robert E. Lee's surrender and believed the war was coming to a close and decided to start his life as a free man. In January of 1867 he married his wife in Gallatin and the couple appear on an 1870 Census there.]

      On December 1st, with the 16th and most of the 14th, I reached my destination, and was assigned to a place on the extreme left of General Thomas' army then concentrating for the defence of Nashville against Hood's threatened attack. [Note this is in response to Hood's attack on Franklin and in preparation for the Battle of Nashville. Col. Thomas was placed in charge of the 1st Colored Brigade composed of the 14th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 44th U.S. Colored Troops.]
      The train that contained the 44th colored regiment, and two companies of the 14th, under command of Colonel Johnson, was delayed near Murfreesboro until Dec. 2nd, when it started for Nashville. But when crossing a bridge not far from the city, its progress was suddenly checked by a cross-fire of cannon belonging to Forest's command. I had become very anxious over the delay in the arrival of these troops, and when I heard the roar of cannon thought it must be aimed at them. I never shall forget the intensity of my suffering, as hour after hour passed by bringing me no tidings. Were they all captured? Had they been massacred? Who could answer? No one. What was to be done? Nothing. I could only wait and suffer. [See the story of Private Granville Scales of Williamson County who was one of the members of the 44th injured and taken prisoner of war in this event.] ...

      Some of the soldiers who escaped lost everything except the clothes they had on, including knapsacks, blankets and arms. In some cases they lay (in the water hiding for hours, until they could escape their pursuers.

      Soon after taking our position in line at Nashville, we were closely besieged by Hood's army; and thus we lay facing each other for two weeks. ...

      On December 5th, before the storm, by order of General Steadman, I made a little reconnaissance, capturing, with slight loss, Lieutenant Gardner and six men, from the 5th Mississippi Regiment. December 7th we made another, in which Colonel Johnson and three or four men were wounded. ...

      But the great day drew near. The weather grew warmer; the ice gave way. Thomas was ready, and calling together his chiefs, laid before them his plan of battle. ...

      The morning dawned with a dense fog, which held us in check for some time after we were ready to march. ...

      On the morning of December 15th [1864]...As soon as the fog lifted, the battle began in good earnest. Hood mistook my assault for an attack in force upon his right flank, and weakening his left in order to meet it, gave the coveted opportunity to Thomas, who improved it by assailing Hood's left flank, doubling it up, and capturing a large number of prisoners.

      Thus the first day's fight wore away. It had had stubbornly resisted, but had been gallantly driven back with severe loss. The left had done its duty. General Steadman congratulated us, saying his only fear had been that we might fight too hard. We had done all he desired, and more. Colored soldiers had again fought side by side with white troops; they had mingled together in the charge; they had supported each other; they had assisted each other from the field when wounded, and they lay side by side in death. The survivors rejoiced together over a hard fought field, won by a common valor. All who witnessed their conduct, gave them equal praise. The day that we had longed to see had come and gone, and the sun went down upon a record of coolness, bravery, manliness, never to be unmade. A new chapter in the history of liberty had been written. It had been shown that, marching under a flag of freedom, animated by a love of liberty, even the slave becomes a man and a hero.

      ... During that night Hood withdrew his army some two miles, and took up a new line along the crest of some low hills, which he strongly fortified with some improvised breast works and abatis. Soon after our early breakfast, we moved forward over the intervening space. My position was still on the extreme left of our line, and I was especially charged to look well to our flank, to avoid surprise.

      The 2nd Colored Brigade, under Colonel Thompson, of the 12th USCT was on my right, and participated in the first days' charge upon Overton's Hill, which was repulsed. I stood where the whole movement was in full view. It was a grand and terrible sight to see those men climb that hill over rocks and fallen trees, in the face of a murderous fire of cannon and musketry, only to be driven back. White and black mingled together in the charge, and on the retreat.

      Battle of Nashville
      Chromolithograph by Kurz & Allison
      Library of Congress
      When the 2nd Colored Brigade retired behind my lines to re-form, one of the regimental color-bearers stopped in the open space between the two armies, where, although exposed to a dangerous fire, he planted his flag firmly in the ground, and began deliberately and coolly to return the enemy's fire, and, greatly to our amusement, kept up for some little time his independent warfare.

      When the second and final assault was made, the right of my line took part. It was with breathless interest I watched that noble sprang upon the earthworks, and the enemy seeing that further resistance was madness, gave way and began a precipitous retreat, our hearts swelled as only the hearts of soldiers can, and scarcely stopping to cheer or to await orders, we pushed forward and joined in the pursuit, until the darkness and the rain forced a halt.

      The battle of Nashville did not compare in numbers engaged, in severity of fighting, or in the losses sustained, with some other Western battles. But in the issues at stake, the magnificent generalship of Thomas, the completeness of our triumph, and the immediate and far- reaching consequences, it was unique, and deservedly ranks along with Gettysburg, as one of the decisive battles of the war.

      When General Thomas rode over the battle-field and saw the bodies of colored men side by side with the foremost, on the very works of the enemy, he turned to his staff, saying: 'Gentlemen, the question in settled ; negroes will fight.' ...

      After the great victory, we joined in the chase after the fleeing foe. Hood's army was whipped, demoralized, and pretty badly scattered. A good many stragglers were picked up. ...

      After we had passed through Franklin, we had orders to turn about and return to that city. I was riding at the head of the column, followed by my own regiment. The men were swinging along, "arms at will," when they spied General Thomas and staff* approaching. Without orders they brought their arms to 'right shoulder shift,' took the step, and striking up their favorite tune of 'John Brown,' whistled it with admirable effect while passing the General, greatly to his amusement. 

      We had a very memorable march from Franklin to Murfreesboro, over miserable dirt roads. About December 19th or 20th, we were on the march at an early hour, but the rain was there before us, and stuck by us closer than a brother. We were drenched through and through, and few had a dry thread. We waded streams of water nearly waist deep; we pulled through mud that seemed to have no bottom, and where many a soldier left his shoes seeking for it. The open woods pasture where we went into camp that night, was surrounded with a high fence made of cedar rails. That fence was left standing, and was not touched —until—well, I do believe that the owners bitterness at his loss was fully balanced by the comfort and good cheer which those magnificent rail fires afforded us that December night. They did seem providentially provided for us.

      During the night the weather turned cold, and when we resumed our march the ground was frozen and the roads were simply dreadful, especially for those of our men who had lost their shoes the day before and disappeared to return no more, and we were allowed to go back to Chattanooga, glad of an opportunity to rest. Distance travelled, 420 miles.

      [This long, difficult ordeal must have taken its toll on Williamson County's members of the 14th USCI. Sgt. Isaac Dalton was sick in General Hospital No. 4 in Chattanooga in January and February 1865.]

      We had no more fighting. There were many interesting experiences, which, however, I will not take time to relate. In August, 1865, being in command of the Post at Knoxville, Tenn., grateful to have escaped without imprisonment, wounds, or even a day of severe illness, I resigned my commission, after forty months of service, to resume my studies.

      I cannot close this paper without expressing the conviction that history has not yet done justice to the share borne by colored soldiers in the war for the Union. Their conduct during that eventful period, has been a silent, but most potent factor in influencing public sentiment, shaping legislation, and fixing the status of colored people in America. If the records of their achievements could be put into such shape that they could be accessible to the thousands of colored youth in the South, they would kindle in their young minds an enthusiastic devotion to manhood and liberty." - Thomas Jefferson Morgan

      The men of the 14th US Colored Infantry would serve on duty at Chattanooga and in the District of East Tennessee until July, 1865. From there they were sent to Greenville and served in the Dept. of the Tennessee until March,1866.They mustered out in Nashville on March 26, 1866.
      Williamson County's Veterans of the 14th US Colored Infantry
      • Sgt. Isaac Dalton was born on Apr 27, 1848 in Williamson County. He was a farmer under slavery. On November 15, 1863 when he was 18 years old he enlisted in Company B of the 14th USCI in Gallatin.  December 1, 1864 he was promoted to corporal; Jan/Feb 1865 sick in hospital General Hospital No. 4 Chattanooga; March 1, 1866 appointed Sergeant; March 26, 1866 mustered out; On August 12, 1868 he married Mary Jane Scales in Williamson County.  found in the 1890 Veterans’ Census District 14 Williamson County; buried in a family cemetery on Murfreesboro Road; living descendants still in Williamson County - Tree
      • Willis Green, enlisted in Company F, on 1 Nov 1863, at Gallatin when he was a 24 year old farmer. He was born in Williamson County about 1839. Sick in hospital in Nashville beginning Nov 24, 1863. On April 19, 1864 he deserted from General Hospital No. 16.
      • Peter House, born in Franklin, Williamson County was described at enlistment as dark brown, 5’4” tall. He enlisted when he was a 27 year old porter in Company D on 1 Dec 1863 at Gallatin. He saw action at Dalton August 1864. He was charged $7.55 in September 1865 for transportation (perhaps on furlough?). In Nov/Dec 1865 he was on daily duty in the Drum Corp; he mustered out March 26, 1866 in Nashville
      • Andrew G. Johnsonenlisted Company F, on 1 Nov 1863, at Gallatin. He was born in Williamson County around 1841. When he enlisted he was a 22-year-old farmer. He mustered out March 26, 1866. He may have been a laborer on Nashville fortifications before enlistment - "Andrew Johnson, owner R. Johnson, #641"
      • William Johnson was born in Williamson County around 1843. He may have been a laborer on Fortifications. He enlisted in Company K, on 15 Dec 1863, at Gallatin when he was a 20 year old farmer. He mustered in Feb. 27, 1864 in Chattanooga. He was sick in pest hospital Chattanooga since Feb. 21, 1866. His records state: “owner David Johnson, Williamson County, Tenn.” A discharge was furnished April 20, 1866 – I think he was sick so he wasn’t there to muster out with his unit but it states he was on the muster roll of his unit.
      • Abraham McGavock, was born in Williamson County around 1842. He was a farmer when he enlisted at 21 years old in Company G, on 15 Nov 1863, at Gallatin. He was appointed corporal April 1, 1865. He mustered out March 26, 1866 in Nashville and died shortly after the war. His full story is explored in this blog post.
      • Samuel Polk, was born around 1845 in Williamson County. He worked as a farmer under slavery and enlisted at 18 years old in Company B on 15 Nov 1863, at Gallatin. He deserted January 23, 1864 from near Bridgeport, Alabama
      • Thomas Scales was born around 1835 in Williamson County. He enlisted in Company A, on 15 Oct 1863, at Gallatin, Tennessee, when he was a 28 year old farmer. In July & August 1865 he was on daily duty as a fireman in Knoxville, Tennessee. On March 26, 1866 he mustered out in Nashville.
      • Robert Spratt was born in 1841 in Williamson County. He worked as a teamster under slavery. He enlisted in Company C, on 1 Nov 1863, at Gallatin. He died Dec. 2, 1865 in the Post Hospital in Chattanooga. He is buried at the Chattanooga National Cemetery, Plot: J, 3546
      • George Steel (Steele) was born in Williamson County in 1844. He enlisted in the Company F, on 1 Nov 1863, at Gallatin. He mustered out March 26, 1866 in Nashville. He retained his rifle.
      • Samuel L. Thomas, was born in 1845 in Williamson County. He was an 18 year old farmer when he enlisted in Company D, on 1 Nov 1863, at Gallatin. On March 26, 1866 he mustered out in Nashville.
      • John Wm Woodward was born in 1845 in Williamson County. He was an 18 year old farmer when he enlisted in Company I, on 15 Dec 1863, at Gallatin. He mustered in as an under cook in Gallatin on Jan. 1, 1864. On January 18, 1864 he was sick in General hospital No. 1 in Gallatin. He died August 23, 1864 in Chattanooga of chronic diarrhea. His records include an inventory of his effects. He is buried at the Chattanooga National Cemetery inPlot: J.

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