Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Report of Col. Joseph H. Lewis, C. S. Commanding Sixth Kentucky Infantry on the Battle of Stones River

CAMP TULLAHOMA, TENN., January 10, 1863.
Capt. T. E. STAKE, Asst. Adjt. Gen., Trabue's Brigade, Breckinridge's Division.
SIR: Herewith is a report of what concerns my own command of the recent battles at Murfreesborough, Tenn. For a clear understanding of the part taken by this regiment I will, as far as my limited opportunities allowed me to observe, describe the field of its operations. At the ford, 1 mile below the turnpike bridge, the river, whose general course is northward, bends toward the west and continues in that direction half a mile, when, by a curve at right angles, it takes its previous northward course, and continues it for I mile or more to a ford at which the enemy crossed during the engagement Friday afternoon. The left of Breckinridge's division and of Hanson's brigade extended to the river a few hundred paces below the first-named ford. At the point of the second curve a rocky bluff sets in and continues to the lower ford, except at a point 600 or 800 yards below, where there is a slight depression. For this distance the ground is timbered sufficiently to afford protection to the enemy. The ground rises gradually from thence 400 or 500 yards to an eminence fully as elevated as the hill on which Cobb's battery was placed. On the opposite [side] of and bordering on the river, 300 yards below the first-named ford, commences a bell of timber about 100 yards wide and extends nearly to the second bend of the river. Bounded on the south and west by the river, on the north by thick woods and partly on the east by a thicket, is a large field, on rather, two fields, containing between 60 and 80 acres. The field toward the south was covered with tall weeds, and upon an eminence in it, about the height of the bluff on the opposite side, a battery was placed and earthworks thrown up early Wednesday morning. About 400 yards north of this in the other (a corn-field), was a mound considerably more elevated, upon which Cobb's battery was placed and rifle-pits dug. North of this was thick woods extending up to the river and down it about half a mile to an old field cleared up to the river. Here the east bank was high and rocky, but less elevated by 30 feet than the bluff on the opposite side. At the termination of this field was a piece of woodland of a wedge shape, extending down the river about 300 yards and to within a short distance of the ford. Separating the woodland and old field was a rail fence running perpendicularly to the river. From this point to the ford the ground gradually fell away, while the bluff on the opposite side, though bare of timber, continued nearly the same elevation to the ford. Sunday, the 28th ultimo, the brigade commanded by the late brave and lamented Brig. Gen. R. W. Hanson left the camp and took position on a ridge opposite the upper ford. Monday, the 29th, about 2 p.m., the Ninth and Sixth Kentucky and Forty-first Alabama Regiments and Cobb's battery moved into the field first described, Company A, under Capt. C. B. McClaskey, of this regiment, being thrown forward to the high mound, in connection with a company from each of the other two regiments. Very soon thereafter they became engaged with the enemy, when the regiments and battery were moved forward to and occupied the mound, this regiment taking position in a thicket 200 paces to the right, the Forty-first immediately in rear, and Ninth to the left of the battery, the skirmishers having taken position beyond in the corn-field. Afterward, about dusk, Company G, Capt. Gran Utterback commanding, was moved to the left of Company A, but before getting into position the two companies were attacked by a large force of the enemy and driven back over the brow of the hill; but upon discovering the presence of the regiments the enemy precipitately retreated across the river and made no further demonstration that night. The regiments and battery which, previous to the attack, had commenced to move, were then marched about 400 yards to the rear, leaving our skirmishers in possession of the hill. Two men of Company G, and Lieutenant [J. B.] Holman, of Company E, were wounded in this attack. Subsequently, during the night, this regiment again moved forward near the line of skirmishers, and about daylight took position in the thicket above described. Tuesday (30th) this regiment continued in the same position, annoyed considerably by sharpshooters and the enemy's batteries until nightfall, when, being relieved by the Second Kentucky, it, except the two companies, moved 500 yards to the rear. Wednesday (31st) the regiment about daylight occupied the belt of woods before described, in order to watch the enemy on the bluff opposite and to protect the battery placed in the field that morning. We remained here until 3 p.m., and then, exposed to a fire, moved across the field to the rear of Cobb's battery, which was then under fire. While in the woods we were constantly exposed to shells from the enemy, and at one time from our own batteries on our left, endeavoring, by firing over us, to reach the enemy's battery farther down the river. While here, 2 men of Company D, 1 of Company C, and 1 of Company 11 were wounded. Thursday (1st) the regiment remained in the vicinity of Cobb's battery. Friday (2d) we occupied the same position till the afternoon, keeping two companies forward as skirmishers. Captain [Gran] Utterback and 1 man were wounded, the former mortally, while daringly opposing the enemy's skirmishers. He was a brave man and faithful officer. About 3 p.m. the brigade, except the Ninth Regiment, left to protect the battery, moved by the right flank to within half a mile of the enemy posted in the strip of woods near the lower ford, which has heretofore been described. Here the line of battle parallel to the river was formed, this regiment being on the extreme left. When the forward movement commenced, impediments in front made it necessary for this regiment to move in rear of the Second Kentucky until open ground was reached, causing considerable effort to regain its right position. We were also afterward embarrassed by a pond of water and an impenetrable thicket, causing a movement by the right of companies to the first for a short distance. Besides all this, while the line of battle was at first parallel with the river, at the time of attack the left had been swung around, so that nearly a right angle was made with the stream. The line of battle was so much longer than the front of the position held by the enemy that it was impossible for the whole force to reach the place of attack simultaneously, and on that account several of the regiments overlapped, so that the Second Kentucky, although next to mine on the right, did not have the full space requisite, yet, as it was, its left, when swung around, rested near the bluff, precluding entirely a movement by this regiment any farther in line of battle. Nevertheless, I preserved the line of this regiment until the river was reached. Upon reaching the eminence that hid us at first from the enemy, they were discovered at the distance of 150 yards, posted behind the fence above referred to and in the woods. The order having been previously given by General Hanson, our forces opened fire upon them as soon as discovered, and, with a shout, moved briskly forward to the charge, driving the enemy precipitately from the fence down the river toward the ford. When our line reached the fence, the alternative for me was either to be left entirely in rear of our lines and out of the fight, or to move by the right flank along on the edge of and under the bluff down the river. The second I adopted unhesitatingly, and was carried out with such alacrity and bravery by my officers and men that they pursued the enemy to the ford and even across the river at the ford. On account of the want of space to maneuver, and the considerable change of direction that had to be made to face the enemy, as before stated, some confusion occurred after reaching the woods, and no line of battle was kept, and there was great danger from the fire of our own men. Following my regiment to the ford of the river as soon as my efforts to stop the firing of those in rear would allow me, I discovered a large body of the enemy just in rear behind the crest of the opposite bluff, advancing. A considerable number of men from the different regiments of the brigade had by this time posted themselves behind a picket fence, and were firing on both the advancing and retreating enemy. A large number of the Yankees were at the time sheltered behind the bank of the river, displaying the white flag. Brigadier-General Hanson, on account of his wound, not being at any time present on the left after the fight commenced, and knowing that what I supposed was the object of the attack had been obtained in driving the enemy out of the woods across the river, I did not hesitate to order the firing at that point to cease, with a view to form the men so as to meet the advancing re-enforcements, or to fall back in good order, which I feared would have to be done, for the high bluff on the other side of the river gave the enemy a fearful advantage of position in addition to that of numbers; besides, about midway the timber we were exposed to a murderous fire from their batteries. This order of mine was for the other object of securing the prisoners spoken of above, who, to the number of at least 100, were captured and sent to the rear. Before any line could be formed, a heavy fire from partially concealed infantry and artillery, against which our firing availed little, was poured in the regiments; consequently it was impossible to restore perfect order. I am satisfied that, so far as this regiment is concerned, and for it only have I a right to speak, the enemy paid more than double in numbers, though not one tithe in actual worth, for every one of my men struck. About one-third of my entire command was killed and wounded, though it is remarkable, and at the same time gratifying, that of the great number hurt so few are either killed or severely wounded. Companies G and B having previously been sent forward as skirmishers, were not with the regiment. Company B, however, crossed the river above, and behaved well, as I learn. Accompanying this report, and as a part of it, is a list of all the casualties since the battle commenced. Where there was so much bravery, zeal, and good conduct displayed by officers and men of this regiment throughout, I dislike to discriminate. I cannot, however, forbear referring to the unflinching courage of Color-Sergeant Stotts, who carried the standard in the thickest of the fight until struck down, and to the daring and fidelity of Orderly Sergt. J. Beverly Lewis, of Company C, who seized the colors from the wounded Stotts, and with them rallied and encouraged the men until he fell. Both these brave men were left wounded on the field. Adjt. Samuel H. Buchanan, with the chivalry that ever characterizes him in battle, when Lewis fell took the colors. There is no more faithful and attentive officer in camp or gallant man in action. Taking the colors from Adjutant Buchanan, I called for some one to bear them, when Private Adams, of Company D, promptly took and bravely bore them during the rest of the engagement. Maj. W. L. Clarke behaved with coolness and bravery, though I can conscientiously say of every officer and man engaged in the action that he behaved worthy of the old senior of Kentuckians. Fully one-half the regiment crossed the river through water waist-deep, and only fell back when driven by overwhelming numbers and certain capture threatened them. The regiment left camp Sunday (28th) with 269 officers and men. By sickness, for want of shoes, and casualties, the actual number on Friday was 231 officers and men. The whole number killed, wounded, and missing during the entire engagements was: Killed, 2; wounded. 66; missing, 10; total, 78. Of those wounded, several were left on the field and at Murfreesborough, and, of the missing, I fear all are prisoners and some killed or wounded, for they had all crossed the river, and one of them, Lieut. E. P. Thompson-the last seen--he, with pistol, was firing on the advancing enemy. It is due to him to say that, detailed as commissary, he was not required to go into action, but he during that week discharged his duties as commissary, and, as an officer on the field, shared the hardships and dangers throughout.
Very respectfully,JOS. H. LEWIS, ColonelCommanding Sixth Kentucky Volunteers.

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