Civil War Wednesday: The Battle of Brown’s Mill

Major General William T. Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 42 on July 25, 1864, once again communicating his plans for taking the city of Atlanta. Sherman’s horse soldiers received special mention in the orders, which indicated the troopers’ main mission rested on destroying portions of the rail network lining the city.

Brigadier General Edward McCook.

Brigadier General Edward McCook.

Saddles began filling on the morning of July 28; soon, two brigades under Brigadier General Edward McCook left a dusty trail as they rode toward the Macon and Western Railroad. After destroying large sections of this line, the horsemen turned their sights toward the Atlanta and West Point Railroad. A surprise awaited the riders as they traveled the Ricketyback Road when Southern iron of a different form – the cavalry soldiers with Major General Joe Wheeler – twisted the Federals’ plans, much as they had intended to warp the tracks of the Atlanta and West Point.

Hard fighting, often hand-to-hand, took place along the Ricketyback Road, and when Confederate reinforcements, in the form of the 1st and 9th Tennessee Battalions blocked the intersection onto the Corinth Road, the battle turned into a rout. Wheeler smelled blood, rose in his saddle, and encouraged his soldiers from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas to “Follow me! My brave Men!” McCook, shaken with the sudden onslaught, sat in his saddle, almost as if in a daze, mumbling, “What shall we do? What shall we do?” Colonel James Brownlow, son of Tennessee’s infamous “Parson” Brownlow had the answer. Escape! As Brownlow maneuvered toward the Chattahoochee River, at a position near Franklin, McCook and company rode toward the New River. The brave soldiers of the 8th Iowa fought a strong rearguard holding action, which allowed several Federal troopers to avoid a trip to Andersonville’s Camp Sumter. Local African-Americans served as guides for both fleeing forces, as they attempted to navigate through the unfamiliar territory.

Major General Joe Wheeler.

Major General Joe Wheeler.

Early on the morning of July 31, lead elements of Wheeler’s force caught up with Brownlow’s command and took several prisoners. Crossing the Chattahoochee proved a very slow process, and those boys in blue remaining on the “wrong” side of the river became prisoners. In his after-action report, McCook stated, “At Brown’s Mill…I was surrounded by an overwhelming force.” A fitting summation for a costly defeat, one Sherman echoed in a communication to Washington, “The loss of this cavalry is a serious one to me.”

One bright moment for the Federals did emerge from their suffering at Brown’s Mill, when Private George Healey with the 5th Iowa Cavalry received the Medal of Honor for assisting in the capture of five Confederate soldiers. Federal casualties during the action numbered 1,400 with almost 1,300 taken as prisoners; Wheeler lost around 700 dead, wounded, or missing.

[1] David Evans, Sherman’s Horsemen: Union Cavalry Operations in the Atlanta Campaign (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 261.

[1] Ibid., 264.

Images courtesy Library of Congress.

mikeMichael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.

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Civil War Wednesday: Nurses

Period Illustration depicting nurses.

Period Illustration depicting nurses.

Prior to the Civil War, no professional nursing schools existed in the United States, and males occupied the vast majority of all nursing positions, with the “Catholic Sisters of Charity” representing the only professionally trained group of female nurses at the outset of war. During the conflict, this newfound vocation for women, also provided opportunities for free persons of color, slaves, and convalescent soldiers. At war’s end, more than 20,000 women provided angelic care to wounded soldiers.

Many female nurses came from middle and upper-class families, so income probably did not serve as the prime factor, which motivated them to risk their own health while tending to the needs of others. In the North, white nurses earned $12 per month, while African American nurses received $10. In the South, where inflation ran rampant, a nurse working in early 1865 earned a monthly salary of $40. In 1892, Congress approved a $12 per month pension for those women who served in Federal hospitals.

Clara Barton

Clara Barton

Clara Barton, an employee of the U.S. Patent Office prior to the war, began her nursing career after the July 1861 Battle of Bull Run/First Manassas. Throughout the war, she followed the Federal armies from Virginia to South Carolina, instilling a level of professionalism and introducing standard practices and procedures for nurses. After the war, she assisted family members in locating their loved ones – men fallen on some distant field or incarcerated in one of many Southern prisons. In 1881, she formed the American Red Cross.

Kate Cumming

Kate Cumming

Alabamian Kate Cumming served as a nurse for the Confederacy in the western theater from April 1862, until the termination of hostilities. She experienced many of the same emotional struggles as nurses elsewhere, as witnessed in a September 1862 diary entry: “There is a good deal of trouble about the ladies in some of the hospitals of this department. Our friends here have advised us to go home, as they say it is not considered respectable to go into one [hospital]. I must confess, from all I have heard and seen, for awhile I wavered about the propriety of it; but when I remembered the suffering I had witnessed, and the relief I had given, my mind was made up to go into one if allowed to do so.”[1]

In April 1863, after almost one year spent tending the wounded, Cumming lamented, “It is sad to see so many dying with no kindred near them to sooth their last moments and close their eyes. What a sacred duty is here left undone by our women! I do not say all are guilty of this neglect, for I know there are many good women who have their home duties to attend to, and others who have not strength physically…”[2]

A poem, which Cumming penned after the war, perhaps captures the essence of the trials Civil War nurses endured North and South.

The wounds I might have healed –

The human sorrow and smart;

And yet it never was in my soul

To play so ill a part:

But evil is wrought by want of thought

As well as want of heart.[3]


[1] Kate Cumming, Kate, the Journal of a Confederate Nurse. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998), 65.

[2] Ibid., 99.

[3] Ibid., 4.

Michael Shaffer

Michael Shaffer

Michael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.

The Civil War Center

The Civil War Center

 

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Civil War Wednesday: Rome, Georgia

Forrest

Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest

In April 1863, the Federal forces set their sights on destroying the main line of supply for Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s army – the Western & Atlantic Railroad. Colonel Abel Streight developed a raiding plan, whereby his troopers, mounted on mules, would traverse the rugged terrain from their launch point near Eastport, Alabama. Once on the trail, the Federals would head toward Dalton, Georgia, where they planned to sever Bragg’s rail supply out of Atlanta. Brigadier General Grenville Dodge received orders to cooperate with Streight; his role consisting of a feint toward Tuscumbia, Alabama in an effort to attract the attention of Confederate forces in the region. Unfortunately, for these soldiers, they attracted the attention of Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Streight and company corralled their 1,250 mounts, mostly mules, near Eastport, Alabama. As the blue-clad soldiers slept soundly in their tents, Southern soldiers approached the camp, opened the gates to the stockade, and released the Federal’s hooved transportation. Two days later, Streight’s men had collected most of the strays and resumed their trek eastward. On April 29, Forrest turned his sights from Dodge and began his pursuit of Streight. The quick riding Confederate horsemen closed the Federal lead, and on April 30, Forrest struck the rear of Streight’s force at Day’s Gap. Forrest’s command suffered 65 casualties, the general’s brother William among the wounded, but perhaps the biggest blow to the Southern effort occurred when the Federals captured two of Forrest’s artillery pieces. The rather incensed chieftain issued direct orders to his force. “Whenever you see anything blue, shoot at it, and do all you can to keep up the scare.”[1]

Colonel Abel Streight

Colonel Abel Streight

Riding vigorously, the Southern troopers continued the chase, and made rapid progress until encountering the Black Creek, where they found the lone bridge spanning the stream destroyed. Thanks to the efforts of a local resident, young Ema Samsom, who saddled up behind Forrest and took him to a nearby crossing, the chase quickly resumed. As the Northern troops neared the confines of Rome, they began to tire. Miles of bone jarring time in the mule-saddles, having missed several meals, and the constant harassment received from Forrest and company began to take a toll. Skirmishing outside Gadsden, Alabama resulted in the mortal wounding of Colonel Gilbert Hathaway, further dampening the spirits of Streight’s raiders. The blue-clad troopers continued to close the gap on Rome, since Forrest’s screening of their right flank had diverted their path away from the original target of Dalton. John Wisdom, a mail carrier and former Rome resident, spotted the Yankee troopers, and rode for several hours to alert the citizens of his hometown of the approaching Federal force.

The citizens of Rome rallied into action, rushed to guard the bridge providing access to the city, and started constructing barricades along the main road. Streight’s men had had enough, and they pleaded with their colonel to surrender, an action Streight refused until afforded the opportunity to ascertain the actual strength of the Southern force. Forrest complied, and in yet another of his many brilliant ruses of the war, successfully fooled his Northern opponent into thinking his numbers far superior than the 600 or so soldiers remaining.[2] Forrest orchestrated a creative parading of the same troops and the deployment and redeployment of the same artillery pieces, until finally, Streight, in an exasperated manner exclaimed, “Name of God! How many guns have you got? There’s fifteen I’ve counted already.” [3] After Streight surrendered his army on May 3, he learned the actual numbers Forrest fielded against him and proceeded to demand a retraction of his surrender and the resumption of fighting. Forrest responded, as only the “Wizard of the Saddle” could, “Ah, Colonel, all is fair in love and war you know.”[4]

In a post-war account of the raid, a member of Streight’s party commented on the actions of Forrest during the campaign. He praised the Southern cavalryman when noting, “His movements were timed as if he knew the object of Streight’s expedition, and he could not have moved more certainly to thwart it if he had seen a copy of General Rosecrans’ order.”[5] The Rome Courier editors captured the thoughts of many in the city in penning a headline for an article recounting the raid and capture – “Great Victory! Great Joy! The Yankees in Rome at Last.”[6]


[1] Brian Steel Wills, The Confederacy’s Greatest Cavalryman: Nathan Bedford Forrest (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992), 113.

[2] Brian Steel Wills.

[3] Ibid., 119.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Gilbert C. Kniffin, “Streight’s Raid Through Tennessee and Northern Georgia in 1863,” in Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States War Papers, District of Columbia, reprint 1887-1915 ed. (Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing, 1998).

[6] Rome Courier, “Great Victory! Great Joy!,” Confederate Union, May 12, 1863. http://milledgeville.galileo.usg.edu/milledgeville/view?docId=news/fuw1863/fuw1863-0074.xml&query=Streight&brand=milledgeville-brand (accessed March 12, 2013).

ms2Michael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.

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