Minty’s Bad Day

Several episodes between the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga deserve attention as we think about how operations in east Tennessee played out through the fall of 1863.  I’ve mentioned the railroads and waterways that brought reinforcements to Chattanooga.  And while the Federals were working hard to reinforce and supply Chattanooga, the Confederates were (while not fighting amongst themselves) trying just as hard to interdict the supply lines to Chattanooga.

In early October, Confederate cavalry raids buzzed about Tennessee like bees over a flower garden.  The largest of these was a raid led by Major-General Joseph Wheeler with a couple of understrength, worn out cavalry divisions.  Wheeler aimed to move to cross well upstream of Chattanooga and then strike the overland supply lines behind Waldon’s Ridge.  From there he could turn on Murfreesboro and the railroad which was at that time bringing reinforcements from the Army of the Potomac.

Wheeler, with a little delay, started his raid on October 1, 1863. Civil War Daily Gazette is doing a good job of explaining the movements and actions of this raid.  So I refer you there for maps and background details.

Two aspects of this raid have always intrigued me.  Again, turning to the movement of the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps at this same time, I wonder how those men felt about the raid.  Not so much if they were surprised at receiving such a warm reception.  Rather, as veterans who’d dealt with the likes of General J.E.B. Stuart and Colonel John Mosby, how did they compare Wheeler and the western cavalrymen?  I’ve not seen any formal comparisons in the wartime sources.  Would be interesting to, perhaps, settle some bar-side arguments about who was the better cavalry leader.

Another point about this raid involves one of my personal favorites – Colonel Robert H.G. Minty.  Eric Wittenberg has a short “forgotten cavalrymen” post on Minty.  I’ve mentioned his actions at Reed’s Bridge opening the battle of Chickamauga.  Like Eric, I consider Minty one of the best Federal cavalry brigade commanders of the war.  But often overlooked is Minty’s relief from command during the Wheeler-Roddy Raid.

On October 6, Brigadier-General Robert Mitchell had the first and second divisions of the Cavalry Corps, Army of the Cumberland, in direct pursuit of Wheeler.  The previous day, Wheeler had demonstrated in front of Murfreesboro.  Now the Confederates were turning south for the Tennessee River.  Along the way, Wheeler intended to damage to the railroad lines between Murfreesboro and the Duck River.  All through October 6 the cavalry sparred on the roads southwest of Murfreesboro.


The pursuit continued the next day, with both sides having crossed over the Duck River.  Brigadier-General George Crook, commanding the Second Division of Mitchell’s cavalry, took up the pursuit towards Farmington.  After some mounted charges that drove Wheeler’s troopers back, Crook felt the opportunity to at last corner his foe.

About three-fourths of a mile from Farmington I found him posted in force in a dense cedar thicket. I at once dismounted my infantry, deploying them on each side of the road. When I attacked Davidson’s division in the morning, breaking through it, part of his column went to the right. Fearing that it would turn my flank I sent back instructions to Colonel Minty, whose position was in the rear of the column, to move to the right and anticipate them.

I supposed that Colonel Minty had carried out my instructions, but when I arrived at Farmington I learned from one of my staff officers, much to my chagrin and surprise, that Colonel Minty was not with me. …

Finding the enemy vastly superior to me, I left one regiment of cavalry to protect my rear, holding the other two regiments as a support to the infantry, the country being impracticable for the cavalry to operate in.

Crook went on to explain how the Confederate artillery and cavalry pressed his position, only halted by fire from the Chicago Board of Trade Battery’s guns followed by a charge of Crook’s attached infantry.

Had Colonel Minty, with his brigade, been there at the time the enemy broke, I should have thrown him on the left flank, and as things turned out since, I would have captured a large portion of [Wheeler’s] command, together with all his artillery and transportation.

Likewise, Mitchell noted Minty’s late movement in his report of the day’s activity:

I neglected to mention that in the morning, while returning from Shelbyville to join the First Division, I found Colonel Minty’s brigade still in camp, he claiming that he had had no orders to move out.  I immediately ordered him to move at once and join his command, knowing that General Crook had intended and supposed he had marched, and that he was in his place with his command.

As result of this, Minty was relieved of command.  Minty’s First Brigade was combined with Colonel William W. Lowe’s Third Brigade, with Lowe assuming overall command.  Minty had gone from hero to scapegoat in just over two weeks.

Minty would demand a court-martial on the charges leveled for his actions of October 7.  In February 1864 he was acquitted. I don’t have access to the court-martial proceedings.  But secondary sources allude to confusion about Crook’s orders (wouldn’t be the only time, now would that?) and specifically what was directed.

Minty returned to command of his brigade that spring.  He led it in the Atlanta Campaign, and occasionally held the temporary post of division command.  The following spring, Minty’s brigade was part of Brigadier-General James Wilson’s cavalry raid. In May 1865, Minty was involved with the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, with his 4th Michigan Cavalry getting credit … or at least part thereof.

Before October 7, 1863, Minty’s resume looked good.  I would argue that had the incident outside Farmington not taken place, Minty would have risen to full command of a division and likely played a leading role in either the east or west.  Instead, one black mark on the record stalled Minty’s rise.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 30, Part II, Series 51, pages 670 and 686-7.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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