"Owing to the character of the troops I thought it advisable to go part of the way with the first train."

"King's Missouri Battery, for which horses could not be impressed in the time required, was on platform cars saved with the train, from which they "fired repeatedly into the charging columns of the enemy."

 

 


 

 

"From this position they bore down on me at a full gallop.  My men were steady and cool, and with a well-directed fire scattered them in every direction."

When Yankees Fought Yankees

Galvanized Troops in Battle During the War Between the States

by Brian Chastain

 

Part 2

 

O'Neill's Regiment

 

 

In the hopeful days of autumn 1864, while Gen. John B. Hood prepared for his advance into Tennessee, Col. John G. O'Neill, 10th Tennessee Infantry, received orders on October 11 to proceed to Millen, Georgia and other points deemed necessary, "for the purpose of recruiting from the Federal prisoners" for Bate's Division in the Army of Tennessee.23  The 2nd, 10th, 20th, and 37th Tennessee had been consolidated into one regiment, under Lt. Col. William Shy, under whom it fought at Nashville that December.24

 

John G. O'Neill had served as captain of Company A, 10th Tennessee Infantry, later becoming major.  He was promoted to colonel September 11, 1864, after the colonel of the regiment was mortally wounded at Jonesboro, Georgia August 31, 1864.26

 

 

O'Neill's recruiting efforts were highly successful.27  He made a special requisition for camp items including skillets and tea pots, "for recruits who have joined the Confederate States service."  They were received at Augusta the 7th of November 1864.  He signed as J. G. O'Neill, Col. 10 Tenn. Regt., Comdg. Recruits.28  A communication from Montgomery, Alabama on December 10, 1864 from Col. George Wm. Brent, Assistant Adjutant-General to Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor, stated, "About 500 enlisted foreigners, under Colonel O'Neal, of Hood's command, leave per first boat unarmed.  If needed, they might be used between Corinth and Huntsville."29  (The former federal soldiers he recruited were, in many cases, not foreign born, as addressed below.)

 

 

The historical sketch of the 10th Tennessee found in Tennesseans in the Civil War includes the following: "There now follows a curious note.  Federal reports of the engagement at Egypt Station, Mississippi, on December 28, 1864, state that among the prisoners taken in that fight, there were 253 men, former Federal soldiers, prisoners of war at Andersonville, Georgia, who had enlisted in the 10th Tennessee Infantry Regiment in order to get out of prison.  The question was raised as to whether they should be treated as prisoners of war, or traitors to the Union.  There is no mention in Confederate records of any men from the 10th Tennessee being engaged in that fight..."30

 

 

The account is valuable in bringing these facts to light, but requires clarification on several points.  Most of O'Neill's initial recruits came from Camp Lawton at Millen, Georgia, with a few from Camp Sumter, Andersonville, Georgia.  A large number from Camp Sumter were added later.  The total number of former federal soldiers captured while serving in the Confederate ranks at Egypt, Mississippi was 254, not 253.  The federal judge-advocate who investigated the situation reported them as "Corpl. M. J. Adams, Sixty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers and 253 others..."  Finally, there was no Confederate record of the 10th Tennessee fighting at Egypt because by that time O'Neill had raised an entire regiment, which was described in Confederate records and correspondence as O'Neal's (O'Neill's) Regiment.  Union records refer to the prisoners captured there as belonging to the 10th Tennessee Infantry – Rebel.

 

 

 

 

Battle of Egypt Station MS, December 28, 1864

 

 

The recruits enlisted by Col. O'Neill were originally intended to fill the ranks of the colonel's 10th Tennessee Infantry and other units of Bate's Division in the Army of Tennessee, but the exigencies of the moment dictated otherwise.  The regiment moved by boat and railroad from Montgomery to Meridian, Mississippi, then Mobile, Alabama.31  Lt. Col. Will. M. Levy, Assistant Adjutant and Inspector-General at Meridian notified Maj. Gen. Dabney H. Maury at Mobile December 22, 1864 that "O'Neal's regiment, 450 strong, leaves here this evening for Mobile to report to you."32

 

Union Brig. Gen. Ben. Grierson led an expedition from Memphis on December 21 to destroy the Mobile & Ohio railroad.  His cavalry division of 3 brigades numbered 3,652 besides Grierson and his staff.33  The only CS troops in the area consisted of a camp of 250 dispersed cavalry at Cotton-Gin, collected by Brig. Gen. Samuel J. Gholson.  These appear to have included stragglers, men who had been on detailed duty, and others without horses, which were being gathered to be returned to the front.34

 

 

To meet the impending threat, Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor, commanding the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, sent Maj. John S. Hope, his assistant inspector-general, to coordinate communication and concentration of troops.35  Maj. Gen. Maury placed Lt. Col. William W. Wier in command of forces sent from Mobile north toward Corinth, Mississippi by rail.  Capt. Houston King's Clark Missouri Battery, O'Neill's Regiment, and Metts' Battalion were on the first train, which departed at 4 pm Saturday, December 25.  Wier's own 1st Confederate Veteran Infantry would follow on another train the next day.36

 

 

Lt. Col. Wier gave his reason for accompanying the first train to Enterprise, Mississippi.  "Owing to the character of the troops I thought it advisable to go part of the way with the first train."  This was a reference to O'Neal's Regiment of former federal soldiers.  The journey went smoothly, since Wier added, "The troops all being quiet and orderly, I placed Lieutenant-Colonel Burke, commanding O'Neal's Regiment, in command of the whole, and remained over to bring up my own command..."37  Lt. Col. Burke was in command of O'Neill's Regiment because Col. O'Neill was still at work recruiting prisoners of war.  The first train arrived at Enterprise about 4 am Monday.  Burke's train reached Meridian shortly, where Maj. John S. Hope of the department staff boarded.  He reported that Burke arrived with 700 infantry and a 4-gun battery without horses, the infantry armed, but without ammunition.  Hope drew 17 boxes of ammunition, and moved the train north.38

 

 

Wier also had concerns about his own regiment.  His 1st Confederate Veterans, made up of men returning to duty from military hospitals having not yet rejoined their units, included "troops from almost every regiment in the Tennessee army."  He feared that some would get off the train since many had homes or friends along the route.  Wier's second train arrived at Enterprise without incident at 4 am Tuesday the 28th.39  Wier was well suited to his new regiment, having recovered from a wound received at Peachtree Creek near Atlanta on July 22, 1864, while Lt. Col. of the 37th Mississippi Infantry.40

 

 

Further north, Hope left the troops and took the engine to Okolona for water.  There he learned, at 4:30 am December 27, that the enemy was within 5 miles.  Being an open prairie accessible by three roads, with no cover for the troops, Hope determined not to defend Okolona.  He also learned that Gen. Gholson was in front of Grierson's column, but was without ammunition.  Hope removed 14 train cars to Egypt to keep them from the enemy, sent a courier to Gholson, and returned to confer with Burke.41

 

 

Lt. Col. Burke moved 270 men to a railroad bridge 2 ½ miles south of Okolona, "that being the only point where there was any timber or cover on the prairie close to the railroad."  The train was held in readiness to carry Burke's men back to Egypt Station if necessary.  At 9:30 am Gen. Gholson personally arrived at Burke's position, informing Maj. Hope that his 250 cavalry could only observe and report the movements of the enemy, not having one round of ammunition in the command.42

 

 

By mid-day, while Grierson occupied Okolona, Gholson's troopers fell back on Burke's position.  Maj. Hope was at Egypt, "making disposition of forces, as directed by Lieutenant-Colonel Burke."  That evening Burke fell back to Egypt, placing all of the troops in position to defend the railroad.  The 17 boxes of ammunition were .58 caliber, but Gholson's weapons were .54 caliber.  During the evening, Burke found one box of .54 caliber ammunition for Gholson's cavalry.  It appears that Gholson, entitled to command by his rank, did not exercise command of the whole force, at least until his cavalry had ammunition.  Prior to that time he only informed Burke and Hope of enemy movements.43

 

The urgency of the situation – a few cavalry without ammunition falling back before more than 3500 federals; Burke's command arriving and making dispositions for defense; artillery arriving on the train but having no horses – was intensified by the anticipated arrival of Wier's troops.  Maj. Hope expected Maj. Gen. Frank Gardner, commanding the District of Mississippi and East Louisiana and present at West Point, to arrive on the train with Wier's regiment about 5:30 am.

 

Order of Battle – Egypt Station MS, Dec. 28, 1864

 

 

Union Forces: Grierson's Cavalry Division – Brig. Gen. Ben. Grierson44

Provost Guard & Escort – Co. F, 2nd Iowa Cavalry (40)

Pioneers – Lt. Lewis (50 negroes)

1st Brigade – Col. Joseph Kargé (1101)

                2nd New Jersey Cavalry – Lt. Col. P. Jones Yorke

                7th Indiana Cavalry – Capt. J. H. Elliott

                4th Missouri Cavalry – Capt. Hencke

                1st Mississippi Rifles (in the rear & not engaged)

2nd Brigade – Col. E. F. Winslow (825) (not engaged)

                3rd Iowa Cavalry – Col. John W. Noble

                4th Iowa Cavalry

                10th Missouri Cavalry

3rd Brigade – Col. E. D. Osband (1726)

                2nd Wisconsin Cavalry (6 companies detached that morning)

                4th Illinois Cavalry – Capt. A. T. Search

                11th Illinois Cavalry – Lt. Col. Otto Funke

                3rd US Colored Cavalry (deployed late in the battle)

Union Strength: 3742 plus division staff; about 2400 engaged45

 

 

Confederate Forces:46

Wier's Command – Lt. Col. William W. Wier

                O'Neill's Regiment – Lt. Col. Michael Burke (500)

                Metts' Battalion (dismounted men of Ferguson's cavalry brigade)

                   – Capt. Michael A. Metts47 (200)

                Clark Missouri Battery – Capt. Houston King

                1st Confederate Veterans Infantry – Lt. Col. William W. Wier (500)

Cavalry – Brig. Gen. S. J. Gholson (250)

                Not a brigade, but a camp of dispersed cavalry collected to be returned to the front.

                A few horsemen under Capt. J. C. Shoup reported to Wier at the end of the battle.

Confederate Strength: About 1500

 

 

Fighting broke out at Egypt at 7:30 according to Hope, or around 8:15 according to Col. Joseph Kargé, commanding Grierson's 1st Brigade.  (The discrepancy may be accounted for by the difference between the appearance of federal troops and the beginning of skirmishing, and the the general assault.)  Hope was then with the train half a mile south of Egypt.48  Col. Kargé deployed his own 2nd New Jersey Cavalry on the left, and the 7th Indiana and 4th Missouri on the right.  The 2nd New Jersey took severe punishment in front of the stockade on the east side of the railroad, occupied by Burke's men.  The regiment lost 90 killed and wounded.  Kargé attacked the stockade from two sides, finally forcing its surrender.  Having exhausted their ammunition, Burke surrendered about 500 men, including 1 lieutenant colonel (Burke) and 15 line officers.49  About the time Burke surrendered, Brig. Gen. S. J. Gholson was severely wounded (the federals mistakenly reported him killed or mortally wounded50) on the Confederate left.51

 

Col. E. D. Osband, commanding Grierson's 3rd Brigade, had arrived on the field to support the 1st Brigade.  The 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry had been detached to hold nearby Pikeville, and to guard the brigade supply train.  The 4th and 11th Illinois Cavalry participated in the main Union attack.  They charged and dispersed Gholson's scant cavalry force, which had been well posted behind a railroad embankment on Kargé's right.  For comparison, Osband's brigade numbered 1726.  These 2 of his 4 regiments must have numbered over 800 men, opposed to Gholson's 250.  Having driven the Confederate cavalry from the field, the Illinois troopers joined the attack on the stockade.  The 3rd US Colored Cavalry was also present, apparently deployed late in the battle.52

 

Col. Kargé reported that after fighting alongside the 2nd New Jersey for a time, the 7th Indiana and 4th Missouri, led by Gen. Grierson, went after the train with King's Battery.53  Grierson moved between Egypt and the train, and simultaneously charged the train with another column.  Attempt was made to move the train, but not having sufficient steam to move the whole, several cars were left so as to enable the defenders to save the train from capture.  King's Missouri Battery, for which horses could not be impressed in the time required, was on platform cars saved with the train, from which they "fired repeatedly into the charging columns of the enemy."54

 

At 8:30 am Wier's train had still not arrived.  Leaving Burke and Gholson in their desparate struggle, Maj. Hope moved his train south to retrieve Wier's 500 men.  His train met Wier's several miles below Egypt.  Maj. Gen. Gardner had not accompanied Wier from his headquarters at West Point.55  The second train had encountered difficulties which caused some delay.  King's Battery, on Hope's train,  informed Lt. Col. Wier of conditions at Egypt, and reported the enemy in pursuit.56

 

Wier immediately formed his veterans in line of battle and advanced up the railroad at double-quick time, to a hill half a mile to 1 mile from where they left the cars.  Upon reaching this position, the federals were moving to attack, and the Confederate skirmish line was already firing.  Wier reported that "They moved around my right flank, causing me to change my front.  From this position they bore down on me at full gallop.  My men were steady and cool, and with a well-directed fire scattered them in every direction."  Here the veterans captured one stand of colors.  The federals retreated "to their former position near Egypt, but in full view.  They immediately formed their line of battle across the railroad, two other columns moving out of the woods to join them."57  Wier repulsed the enemy about 10:30 am, preventing Grierson from continuing south.  Hope observed that after retreating from the 1st Confederate Veterans, the federals formed in three lines of battle: one north of Egypt, one east, and one south of Egypt fronting Wier.58

 

By 11 am there was no longer any firing at Egypt.59  Wier fortified his position, sent Hope with the train to Prairie Station, about 8 miles south, for water for the locomotive, to return with the battery immediately.60  Col. E. F. Winslow arrived on the field with Grierson's 2nd Brigade after the fighting had ended.61  His arrival doubtless accounts for one of the three federal battle lines observed by Hope.  Grierson remained in position about 2 hours, then withdrew.  About 4 pm Capt. J. C. Shoup reported to Wier with a few horsemen.  These were likely to have been among Gholson's command for two reasons: no other Confederate troops were in the vicinity, and Shoup was an officer of the general staff rather than commander of a particular unit (fitting the description of Gholson's command).  Now able to get information, Wier sent scouts in every direction, ascertaining that Grierson had moved west, leaving his wounded at Egypt.62  Thus closed the battle of Egypt Station.  It had been unnique in many respects on the Confederate side – use of the railroad to move troops, a veterans unit in action, and artillery firing from platform cars on the railroad.  Most curious of all was the engagement of former Union troops against Union troops in battle, and the fact that many of them were northern born rather than foreign born.63

 

 

Casualties

 

Grierson withdrew from the field leaving his dead and many of the wounded behind, in the care of Surgeon John L. Krauter of the 1st Brigade.  He did not report his casualties specific to the battle, but his brigade commanders did.  Col. Kargé reported the 2nd New Jersey had 19 killed and 71 wounded; the 7th Indiana had 2 killed and 11 wounded; the 4th Missouri had 1 officer reported wounded and captured, and 1 man wounded, for a total of 105.  Col. Osband listed his losses as 1 killed and 17 wounded from the Illinois regiments, not reporting any loss from the colored troops.  The total reported federal loss was 123, including 22 killed and 101 wounded.  Kargé left 1 officer and 39 men with Surg. Krauter.  Osband left 9 of his wounded on the field.  In another area of gain and loss, the federal 1st Brigade captured 124 horses on the expedition, but left 210 behind.64

 

Surg. F. H. Evans, C. S. Army, arrived at Egypt Station on December 30 with orders to remove the wounded.  He found 35 wounded yankees with Surg. Krauter and a hospital steward, along with 7 Confederate wounded.  Wier reported that his regiment accounted for 3 of those wounded, leaving Gen. Gholson and the 3 others as casualties of the Burke/Gholson area of the battle.  He also reported 7 federal dead left on his portion of the field south of Egypt.  The low CS casualty rate can be attributed to their defensive positions at the stockade and behind the railroad embankment.  Evans remarked that "nearly all of the Federal prisoners are seriously wounded."  Krauter informed Evans that 12-15 federals had died prior to Evans' arrival.  (That number must have been 13 since 48 were left on the field and 35 were still alive.)  One Confederate was left at Egypt "in a dying condition," and 1 Confederate and 1 Union soldier died in transit to West Point.  Gen. Gholson, who had been left on the field, had lost his left arm, but would survive the war.65  Taking all of the reports together, the CS loss was 2 mortally wounded and 5 wounded.  Grierson's loss was 22 killed, 14 mortally wounded, 53 wounded and carried off, and 34 wounded and captured.

 

Col. Kargé reported taking 500 prisoners, including 1 lieutenant colonel and 15 line officers, at the stockade.66  Burke is documented in federal correspondence to be the lieutenant colonel captured at Egypt.67  To account for the 500 prisoners at the stockade, it should be noted that only Burke's, Metts', and Gholson's troops were present on that part of the battlefield.  Burke commanded 700 infantry, composed of O'Neill's Regiment infantry and Metts' Battalion, acting as infantry.  Remembering that O'Neill's Regiment had been estimated by department staff at 450-500 men on December 10 and 22, Metts' Battalion therefore numbered 200-250.  Capt. Metts was listed on a roster in March 1865, indicating that he was not captured at Egypt Station.  Correspondence between department staff officers in Alabama in December 1864 and January 1865 refers to the dismounted men of Ferguson's brigade.  This indicates that Metts' command escaped capture at Egypt Station and transferred back to Alabama intact.  Gholson's 250 cavalry were not among the captured, having been driven from the field by the Illinois cavalry according to Union Col. Osband.68 

 

Although the reports of Lt. Col. Wier and Maj. Hope made no reference to the 500 remaining men of Burke's and Gholson's commands (except the statement that some mounted men under Capt. Shoup reported to Wier at the close of the battle), this must be why, after disengaging, Grierson formed 3 lines of battle facing 3 directions as Maj. Hope had observed – to meet any counterattack from the 3 Confederate forces he knew to be present (Metts', Gholson's, andWier's).  With the surrender of part of O'Neill's galvanized troops, their history takes another strange turn.

 

{Continued in Part 3}