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7th Tennessee Cavalry
History of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry 1861-1865

1861

When the first seven states seceded from the Union in the winter of 1860-61, most Tennesseans hoped the crisis would be resolved peacefully. The previous decade had seen an economic boom in the state that would be jeopardized by a sectional conflict. The voters had decided to stay in the Union, but had also expressed the belief that the federal government had no right to coerce the seceded states. Any hope of a sensible resolution was shattered with the opening shots at Ft. Sumter and the declaration by the Lincoln administration of its intent to invade the South. Understanding that these invading armies would have to come through Tennessee, the mood quickly changed and the state joined the Confederacy on June 8, 1861.

In the western portion of the state, where pro-secession sentiments had been strongest, some units had already been formed. One of these was the Haywood Rangers, which had been organized in April, at Brownsville, by Captain R. W. Haywood. This cavalry company was sent to Jackson in late May to be mustered into state service. A new election of officers was held, with L. W. Taliaferro becoming Captain. Lieutenant William L. Duckworth of this company would later become the Colonel of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry. The Haywood Rangers remained in Jackson until the middle of July, when it was ordered to Fort Wright, at Randolph, and then to Missouri. On September 7, the Rangers became Company D, of Logwood's 6th Tennessee Battalion. Comprised of six companies from West Tennessee, this battalion would later form the nucleus of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment.

During the fall and winter of 1861-62, the 6th Battalion operated in western Kentucky. An early encounter with the enemy that September showed many lessons for these volunteers to learn. A detachment from Company C was on a routine scout near Elliot's Mills, when the Yankees ambushed it. For ease of carry, the Confederates had strapped their shotguns to their saddles. Totally surprised and unable to get to their weapons, the detachment was routed. There were no casualties, but they learned to keep their weapons on their persons after that incident. The 6th saw little action during the Battle of Belmont. Company D, along with Neely's company, had been detached in October and by March 1862 were at Island No. 10 and then Fort Pillow. In this first year of war the troopers camped in relative comfort- at least compared to what was to come later. A-frame tents were available and when they were in one location more than a day, the men would make floors out of planks or palates. Each company had at least two wagons and the men often carried trunks and chairs. Food was in abundance and some of the men brought their servants to cook.

1862

In late March, Colonel William H. "Red" Jackson, a former captain of artillery, was commissioned to raise a cavalry regiment in West Tennessee from Logwood's Battalion and other independent companies. While he was in the process of assembling his command at Union City, the Federals made a surprise attack upon the camp and routed Jackson's cavalry and the 21st Tn. Infantry, which was camped with them. Twelve wagons were lost and the encampment was burned. Both White's and Hill's companies lost their camp chest and colors. It was an inauspicious beginning for one of the South's most famous cavalry regiments. "I set in to be a soldier after that," remembered Serg. Black of Hill's company, whose trunk containing books of poems and other luxuries was taken by the Yankees.

Colonel Jackson withdrew his fledgling regiment to Trenton and set to training and organizing what was then called the 1st Tennessee Cavalry. On April 15, the Haywood Rangers arrived to join the regiment and was designated Company D. The regiment redeemed itself on May 5, when five companies under Captain Ballentyne of Company C attacked and routed three companies of the 5th Iowa Cavalry at Lockridge Mill, near Dresden, Tennessee. It was one of the rare incidences during the war that fighting with sabers took place. Captain Ballentyne particularly distingushed himself in hand to hand combat.

For the rest of May, the regiment would cover the retreat of the Confederate army from West Tennessee. On May 15, White's company was disbanded; the term of enlistment having expired. By early June, however, three more companies, K, L and M had joined the command. On June 10, 1862, the regiment was officially organized at Abbeville, Mississippi by the order of Brig. Gen. Villepigue and a few weeks later would be designated the 7th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment. Though it was summer, the men had to keep fires burning day and night to combat insects with the smoke. Buffalo gnats pestered the horses during the day and mosquitoes tormented the men at night. Sitting in the smoke was sometimes the only relief.

The regiment made brief excursions into West Tennessee, capturing a Union troop train at La Fayette Station on June 25, routing a wagon train in the same area on June 30 and participating in a brief raid under Col. Joseph Wheeler in late July. It would be the "Armstrong Raid", at the end of August, that would give the 7th its first bloodbath. Moving into West Tennessee with a force of about 2600 men, Gen. Frank Armstrong encountered a mixed force of Federals at Middleburg on August 30th, forcing them to withdraw into their works at Boliver. The 7th operated as dismounted skirmishers on the Confederate right and suffered no serious casualties. The next two days, however, would be different. Armstrong's command moved north along the railroad, capturing a couple of outpost on the 31st and making an abortive attack on ten companies of Union infantry at Medon; in which the 7th suffered heavily. The next day, moving toward Denmark, the Confederates encountered a small regiment of infantry and a section of artillery, commanded by Col. Elijah Dennis at Britton Lane. Armstrong attacked the well-placed Federal position piecemeal, with the 7th charging dismounted across a cornfield into a murderous fire. The Federal position and the two guns were finally taken in a combined assault, only to be abandoned when another Federal regiment arrived on the field. The Confederates crossed the Hatchie River and withdrew to Mississippi. The tremendous loss of life severely demoralized the troopers of the 7th, who instinctively knew they had been badly handled.

On September 8, Federal cavalry near Coldwater, Mississippi routed part of the regiment, along with a detachment of the 1st Mississippi. This was followed in early October by the disastrous campaign on Corinth and although the 7th Tennessee performed capably, it was obvious again that they had been badly led. A portion of the regiment was surprised by a large Union force at Lamar, Mississippi on November 8 and was again routed. Milton Hubbard, Company E, recalled that they were moving along a road in a column of fours when the enemy attacked their flank. The order "Fours right about" was given, but only the front half of the column heard it, causing both halves to be facing each other. The Federal cavalry attacked vigorously and the Confederates, already confused, stampeded. The Yankees captured several troopers, including Captain Taliaferro of Company D. The captured men were soon exchanged. The men of the 7th Tennessee vowed to never let such an embarrassment happen again- it never did.

For the next month the regiment fought a series of rear-guard actions against the advancing Union army; honing their skills under fire and learning to fall back in good order. Grant's overland campaign against Vicksburg had begun and it seemed that the outnumbered Confederate army would be powerless to stop them. Then, in late December, General Earl Van Dorn led about 2500 troopers, including the 7th Tennessee in a raid on the Federal supply base at Holly Springs. After riding 100 miles in two nights and one day, the Confederates took the garrison by surprise on the morning of the 20th. The vast stores of supplies were completely destroyed and Grant was forced to abandon his campaign. This achievement bolstered the confidence of the regiment and proved that they could, if properly led, make a decisive difference at a time when fortunes had seemed so desperate.

1863

The regiment spent the winter camped along the Tallahatchie River, guarding the approaches from New Albany to Panola. A former infantryman, John Johnston, who joined the 7th at that time, recalled, "My first impressions of a cavalry camp were unpleasant. In the first place the men and horses all camped together and the odor and filth were not agreeable and then the men with whom I was now connected seemed more profane and wicked than the old soldiers of the 6th Infantry who seemed more refined and religious. But I soon found some good friends and altogether the old 7th was a very fine regiment."

Many changes had taken place in the structure of the regiment. Col. Jackson had been promoted to Brigadier General and assigned a command in Middle Tennesseee under Van Dorn. Company A went with him as his escort. Lt. Col. Stocks was made Colonel, but soon resigned because of illness. Maj. Duckworth, formerly of Company D, assumed command and would be promoted to Colonel later in the year. Companies B and C were detached for special service while the remainder of the regiment, along with the 2nd Arkansas and 2nd Missouri, were placed into a brigade under Gen. James Chalmers, a former infantry brigade commander. In March, Company A was engaged in a series of conflicts at Franklin and Spring Hill, winning high distinction for their conduct.

In June, Gen. Chalmers and part of his command marched to the Mississippi River to disrupt the movement of river transports bound for Vicksburg. They encountered an enemy cavalry force on June 19, just southwest of Hernando and routed it, capturing many men and most of their equipment. Gen. Chalmers commended the 7th Tennessee for its marksmanship with their Colts in the fight and Company C, returning from special duty, was conspicuous for saving the command's wagon train from capture. The remainder of the summer was spent drilling and scouting in North Mississippi and West Tennessee.

Early in October, the regiment participated in a raid against the enemy lines along the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. After skirmishing at Lockhart's Mill and Salem, the command surprised the Federal garrison at Collierville on October 11. A train carrying Gen. Sherman and his staff was at the post at the time and they were forced to take cover at the depot. They and the troops at a nearby fort made a desperate resistance against the Confederate assault. The 7th's troopers referred to the peculiar whiz of the enemy bullets as "bullets with corn husk tied to 'em". The command managed to burn a couple of boxcars before being forced to withdraw. Lt. Livingston of Company D distinguished himself during the campaign and directed a skillful rear-guard action against the enemy pursuit to the Tallahatchie. On November 3, Companies C and D captured a blockhouse near La Fayette Station by riding into the midst of the Federals and entering the blockhouse before any resistance could be made. On November 10, Lt. Col. Duckworth was commissioned Colonel of the regiment.

In early December, Gen. Forrest led a small command into West Tennessee to recruit and gather conscripts for a new cavalry corps. Although the 7th Tennessee was not with him on the raid, they did assist in giving a good start to the movement and again covered Forrest's successful return at the end of he month. They returned to their camps along the Tallahatchie on December 31, and prepared for a hard winter. The men had adapted well under Chalmers to a changing style of warfare. The sabers were gone now; the revolver being used exclusively as their mounted weapon and the regiment had a reputation of deadly accuracy with the Navy-36. Through captures, the shotguns had been replaced with more accurate carbines and rifles and the dismounted men had been placed in a company of sharpshooters. All of this would serve them well for they were about to be led by the most innovative and dangerous cavalryman of the war- Bedford Forrest.

1864

Despite the harshness of the winter, the troopers of the 7th enjoyed the respite from combat and spent the first weeks of the year gathering clothes from home, recuperating their horses and dancing to the popular reels of the day. They were elated at the prospect of serving under a commander who had known nothing but success and as the ground began to thaw in early February, Forrest organized his new command in preparation for the upcoming campaign. The 7th Tennessee was placed in a brigade under the general's brother Jeffrey Forrest and Companies A and B were recalled to join the regiment. By the middle of the month, a Federal expedition under Sooey Smith had left Memphis and was advancing toward the prairie region of Mississippi. The Northern strategy was now to wage war on the civilian population as well and as rumors of depravations by the Yankees filtered into the Confederate camps the resolve was strengthened to strike a decisive blow against the ruthless invaders. Smith's force went as far as West Point, whereupon it began to withdraw. The 7th Tennessee was the first unit to strike them, with the fighting continuing to Okolona. There on the 22nd the Federals rallied and charged the Confederates. The 7th, being in the lead, bore the brunt of the attack, but instead of meeting the enemy in a mounted engagement, the regiment dismounted and waited until the Yankees were nearly on top of them. They poured a murderous fire into the enemy cavalry, which broke their line and drove them back in confusion. Gen. Forrest, who was with the 7th at that time, ordered the regiment to counterattack. The 7th drove the enemy completely from the field and captured an artillery battery. This first major action by the 7th under Forrest garnered praise that would endear the regiment to him for the rest of his life. The victory had been personally costly for the general, for his brother, Jeffrey was killed in the conflict. The 7th led the pursuit for the next three days while the Federals retreated in disorganized fashion to Memphis.

With the enemy temporarily subdued, Forrest moved into West Tennessee and established his headquarters at Jackson. On March 22, he ordered Col. Duckworth to take the 7th Tennessee with Faulkner's and McDonald's small commands and capture Union City while Forrest and the main body would move on Paducah. Union City was defended by the 7th Tennessee U.S., which had been recruited in the same area as the 7th C.S. and the determination to defeat these "Tories" was strengthened by a personal challenge by Forrest himself. Finding the town heavily fortified, Duckworth decided to bluff the garrison into surrender by mounting a log on wagon wheels to resemble artillery and sounding bugle calls to give the impression that Forrest's whole force was arriving. After some brisk skirmishing, a demand for immediate surrender was sent under Forrest's name. Col. Hawkins, the Federal commander, asked to meet with Forrest himself. Duckworth sent another dispatch in Forrest's name explaining that he was not in the habit of "meeting officers of inferior rank", but would send Col. Duckworth, under authority to arrange terms. The ruse worked and Hawkins surrendered the post and 700 men to the jubilant Confederates.

The 7th did not participate in the attack on Ft. Pillow, it being stationed at Randolph at the time guarding the approaches from Memphis. In early May the regiment returned with the rest of Forrest's command to North Mississippi. Gen. Sherman was about to start his Atlanta campaign and was concerned about the prospect of Forrest attacking his supply line in Middle Tennessee. He ordered the Union commander in Memphis, Gen. C.C. Washburn, to send an expedition to hunt down Forrest and in early June Gen. Samuel Sturgis left Memphis with nearly 10,000 men to do just that. It was none too soon for Sherman, for Forrest was indeed preparing to move into middle Tennessee.

The 7th had been placed into a small brigade with the 18th Miss. Battalion under Col. E.V. Rucker and was the first to make contact with Sturgis' force. After skirmishing with the Federals at Ripley, Rucker withdrew to Baldwyn to join Forrest. On June 10, Forrest struck the Yankee column at Brice's Crossroads. Rucker's brigade, upon arriving on the field, was ordered to dismount and engage the enemy cavalry posted in some woods across a cornfield. Of course, in Forrest's terms that meant "attack". Rucker's men charged across the muddy field into a galling fire and were repulsed with heavy loses, but reformed and attacked again. Seeing his men faltering under the heavy fire, Lt. Col. Taylor of the 7th rode up and encouraged his men to push on. In a rain of bullets, the men of the 7th dragged the enemy's defenses of brush and fence rails out of the way and poured through the gap, mixing with the Yankees in hand-to-hand combat. Pistols came into play and carbines were used as clubs in some of the most desperate fighting the regiment would experience, until the Federal line finally gave way and retreated. Exhausted, the men of both sides ceased firing and there was a lull in the battle. When the fighting resumed, Forrest attacked with his entire force, driving the Federals back to Tishomingo Creek, where their retreat turned into a rout. Forrest took up the pursuit with vigor and though the 7th had been worked hard for several days, it spearheaded the pursuit until they reached Ripley the following morning. The victory had been costly for the regiment- 62 men killed and wounded out of about 350 effective men. Included in the killed were Adjutant William Pope and Captain Tate of Company E.

A month later, the Federals, under A.J. Smith, tried again. The Confederates attacked them at Harrisburg, just west of Tupelo, but with different results than at Brice's Crossroads. Forrest's superior, Gen. Stephen Lee was present and the two generals never got coordinated with the attacks. This time the Federals were ready for them and the result was a series of piecemeal assaults by the Confederates that were easily beaten back. The slaughter was tremendous; Col. Rucker was wounded twice and in the 7th Tennessee alone, 74 men were killed or wounded. Milton Hubbard remarked afterward, "I could but notice the smallness of the companies, and when on the march the regiment did not string out as it formerly did." Forrest, who had been wounded in the foot was reported to have said to Lee after the fight, "If I knew as much about West Point tactics as you, the Yankees would whip Hell out of me every day!" Smith was forced to retreat back to Memphis, but was practically unscathed. Lee was transferred to the Army of Tennessee and Forrest was left with a depleted command whose ranks he would never again refill.

The regiment recuperated near Okolona. Cornbread and bacon was the staple ration now; flour and beef being near impossible to get. The men slept in unoccupied houses or under "shebangs" fashioned from captured Yankee gum blankets. They, "had not stretched a tent for more than a year," recalled Milton Hubbard. In early August, the Federals, under Smith, advanced toward Oxford and the 7th along with the rest of Chalmers' division moved out to meet them. The outnumbered Confederates contested every inch of ground, but were forced to retreat south of Oxford. Here, Forrest arrived with the rest of his command, and sensing that Smith was hesitant to move further south, he took part of his men on a daring raid into Memphis. The rest of his troopers, including the 7th, stayed behind to hold the Yankees in check. Smith managed to capture Oxford before he got the message that Forrest was in Memphis and when ordered to withdraw, burned the town before he left. This reprisal did not hide the fact that the "Wizzard of the Saddle" had humiliated them again.

Forrest reorganized his Corps in early September and the 7th was placed in a brigade composed of Tennessee regiments under Rucker. Some of the colonels, including Duckworth and Neely, disapproved of Rucker's appointment, believing that one of them should command the brigade. When they refused to obey the order, Forrest had them arrested and dismissed them from their regiments. Lt. Col. Taylor took command of the 7th and Duckworth did not return until the last days of the war. Personal ambition had brought an inglorious end to an otherwise fine officer.

Forrest was at last able to do what he had wanted to do all summer- launch a raid into Middle Tennessee. On September 21, his whole command crossed the Tennessee River near Florence and captured the garrison at Athens on the 23rd. He destroyed the railroad all the way to Pulaski and then divided his force, sending half to take Huntsville and the other, including the 7th, to go as far as Spring Hill, which was reached on October 1st. With the enemy closing in on him, he turned south and made for Florence, where he planned to re-cross the river. The 7th Tennessee was the rearguard and held the pursuing Federals until the rest of the command had crossed the river. In their endeavor to accomplish this, the regiment was cut off and surrounded. The captains of the six companies present made a bold decision to disperse and slip out of the trap, then reorganize in West Tennessee. Companies D and E escaped together and with the help of a guide, crossed the Tennessee River at Morgan's Creek in Decatur County.

Near the end of October the regiment assembled at Jackson, Tenn. and joined Forrest in his raid on Union river transports and gunboats on the Tennessee River. They managed to capture 3 transports and a gunboat, and for a short time some of the 7th manned the boats as sailors. On November 4, Forrest shelled the Union supply depot at Johnsonville, destroying the transports and supplies there.

On November 7th, the regiment and the rest of Forrest's command crossed the river at Perryville and joined Hood on his ill-fated campaign into Tennessee. The regiment led the advance, driving Wilson's Union Cavalry back and fighting a sharp engagement near Columbia on the 23rd. They cornered the Federals at Spring Hill, only to have the infantry commanders let the enemy slip away in the night. The 7th was on the Confederate left during the carnage at Franklin and took up the pursuit the next day of Scofield's Federals until they reached Nashville. Here, Rucker's brigade anchored the left flank until the Battle of Nashville. On December 15, the Federals attacked and broke the Confederate line. The 7th was nearly cut off and had to run a gauntlet of fire to escape. Col. Rucker fought a half dozen Federals in hand-to-hand combat before being wounded and captured.

Forrest, who had been at Murfreesboro with the rest of his cavalry, reunited his command and with the help of a small contingent of infantry, formed a rearguard defense. The weather had turned bitter with freezing rain and sleet and many of the men were without shoes. Still, they held back Wilson's pursuing cavalry until what was left of Hood's army crossed the Tennessee. It was a heavy sacrifice. A letter from Private Emmet Hughes of Company E, to his sister tells of their condition at the time, "I am unwell and barefoot and no chance to get anything...Send me a pair of boots if you can get them if not a pair of shoes... anything to keep my feet off of the ground... I am broke down my horse broke down sick and six men left our company last night. There is only ten men with the company and forty-seven with the regiment."

1865

What was left of the regiment reached Verona, Mississippi in early January and were furloughed home to recuperate and refit. To their credit, everyone returned to the ranks, including most of the stragglers and absentees. They sensed that the final chapter in the four-year tragedy was about to take place and they wanted to be counted in the ranks when the end came- it was a matter of honor.

About March 1st, the 7th was placed in a division commanded by their old Colonel, Gen. William H. "Red" Jackson. Near the end of the month, the Wilson Raid began and Jackson's division was put into motion for Selma, the expected target of the raid. The Yankee cavalry had never been better led and equipped and coupled with the fact that Wilson had captured a copy of Forrest's orders and knew his intentions, the end was never in doubt. On April 1, Jackson ran into Croxton's Union division near Tuscaloosa and pushed the Federals some 15 miles toward Scottsville. On April 3, the Federals were pursued to the Cahawba River where they burned the bridge, preventing the Confederates from crossing. They fired a few shells from a distance at Company A. This was the last time the 7th would come under fire. Selma fell and Wilson turned his legions toward Georgia. Jackson's division went into camp at Sumterville, Ala. and awaited their fate.

In early May, the regiment camped near Gainsville, where they were told they would be surrendered. The evening before the surrender, the surviving members of the 7th Tennessee gathered at the headquarters tent where their regimental colors stood. It had been made from the bridal dress of a lady from Aberdeen, Mississippi. As they held its silken folds for the last time their thoughts turned to the many battles that had been fought under their banner and the nearly 170 souls that had given their lives in the regiment. The flag was cut into fragments and distributed among the men as a souvenir of their service. The next day, May 13th, they received their parole papers, signed by Gen. Elijah Dennis, their opponent at Britton Lane and a farewell address from Gen. Forrest. They mounted their old war horses and formed companies for the last time, then each group began the long journey home- and the 7th Tennessee Cavalry was no more. There would be no fanfare or victory parades- just the embraces of loved ones, the thankfulness for life, and the satisfaction of duty faithfully performed.

Bibliography

Seventh Tennessee Cavalry- Lindsey's Military Annals of Tennessee- 1888

History of the Seventh Tennessee Cavalry-J.P. Young- 1905

Notes of a Private- Milton Hubbard- St. louis- 1909

The Civil War Reminiscences of John Johnston- Tennessee Historical Quarterly- 1954

Letters of John Aden- Civil War Collection- microfilm-ms 73-100

Reminiscences of a Scout, Spy, and Soldier of Forrest's Cavalry- William Witherspoon- Jackson, Tn.- 1910

Letters of Emmet Hughes- from As They Saw Forrest- Robert Henry- McCowat Mercer Press- Jackson, Tenn.- 1956