150 Years Ago: Wiggins Battery delaying the Federals

Back in November I highlighted the story of the “Gallant Pelham” using his horse artillery to delay the Federal advance at Unison. Allow me to offer a similar display of artillery, technically not “horse artillery” but at least accompanying cavalry, in the West. But this story is best framed by the words of those on the receiving end.

First, Captain John Mendenhall, commanding the artillery of the Left Wing of the Fourteenth Corps:

This army marched from camp, near Nashville, December 26, the left wing marching on the Murfreesborough Pike.

December 26, about 3 p.m., our advance was brought to a stand-still, near La Vergue, by a rebel battery. It was opposed by a section of artillery serving with the cavalry, which, being unable to dislodge them enemy, our advance battery (Captain Standart’s, Battery B, First Ohio) was, after a little delay, put in position an opened fire, soon silencing the enemy battery.

The Federal infantry pressing down the pike towards La Vergue was the brigade of Brigadier General Milo Hascall. In his report, Hascall indicated the Confederate artillery contested his advance to Stewart’s Creek. Hascall resumed the advance on the 27th, delayed somewhat by bad weather. But the rain was not the only thing holding up the advance.

… At half a dozen points on the way we were resisted by the enemy’s artillery; but Lieutenant Estep’s Battery, assisted by Maj. S. Race, in command of the artillery of the division, soon dislodged them, and we moved forward without allowing ourselves to be even temporarily detained, until we came to the eminence just in front of our camp, and which overlooks the bridge at Stewart’s Creek.

Lieutenant George Estep, 8th Indiana Battery, gave the Confederate gunners credit in his report of the action:

.. I could at no time (on account of the disposition of the enemy to retire) get an opportunity to fire more than two or three shots. I fired in all 42 rounds; that these were damaging to the enemy or his guns I am unable to tell.

But at last gaining a view of the bridge over Stewart’s Creek, Hascall’s attempts to gain the objective were again frustrated by the Confederate artillery:

Here we found the enemy had a battery planted on the hill beyond Stewart’s Creek. We had no sooner planted a section of Estep’s battery and opened upon them than they promptly returned our fire. The fearful accuracy of their fire soon convinced us that this was a different battery from that with which we had been contending all day, as every shot from them either struck or pieces or came within close proximity. Having no long-range guns in Estep’s battery, I sent to the rear for some out of another battery, and as soon as they had got in position the enemy’s fire was silenced.

Estep was on the receiving end of this Confederate fire:

In the last position which I took, commanding the Stewart’s Creek Bridge, I fired 8 rounds, and received about the same number in return; one of the enemy’s shots took a spoke from the wheel of one of my gun-carriages. I am happy to say no other damages were done.

The delay, as the Federals contended with this unnamed battery, allowed the Confederates to fire the bridge over Stewart’s Creek. Although the Federals (the 3rd Kentucky, if memory serves me) were able to secure the bridge and put out the fires, damage was done. As I mentioned yesterday, the engineers spent some time repairing the bridge there in order to facilitate the advance.

But Hascall didn’t face multiple Confederate batteries on December 26-27. He faced one. Captain Jannedens H. Wiggins’ Clark County (Arkansas) Battery supported Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry brigade, which was contesting the advance. Of the action Wiggins wrote:

On the evening of December 26, the enemy advanced upon La Vergne, and one section of the battery was advanced, under Lieutenant J.W. Clloway, to engage the enemy. During the engagement that evening we lost 3 horses and had 2 men wounded. That night the section under Lieutenant Calloway retired about a mile, and one section under Lieutenant J.P. Bryant was left in La Vergne on picket.

On the morning of the 27th, Lieutenant Calloway, with his section, was ordered to the front to engage the enemy again, while Lieutenant Bryant, with his section, was posted on a hill to the left of the pike and in rear of La Vergne, to relieve the retreat of Lieutenant Calloway. The battery retired to Stewart’s Creek that evening, engaging the enemy by sections alternatively. Loss that day, one horse. One section, under Lieutenant Braynt, was left on picket at Stewart’s Creek until Monday morning, the rest of the battery retiring further to the rear.

Wiggins indicated that the battery delayed the Federal advance again on December 29, using the same tactics. Throughout the next days, the battery split to support Wheeler’s cavalry operations and also Major General John C. Breckinridge’s division. Concluding his report, Wiggins reported, “The stock was very much exhausted, not having been unharnessed in six days.”

Again, let us say that given good placement, cool gunners, and solid leadership, horse artillery could hold an enemy at bay. That held true in 1862 in both Eastern and Western theaters of war.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 20, Part I, Serial 29, pages 453-4, 465, 475, and 965.)

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