Saturday, April 7, 2012

New Madrid, Island 10, and Tiptonville, Continued...

We pick up where we left off  in Matthew H Jamison's 1862 account, Recollections Of Pioneer and Army Life.
"During our second night under the rebel batteries our company was on the outposts, where in the silence we could hear much that was going on behind the enemy's lines.  There was a "racket" throughout most of the night, their lights were gleaming, their band played continuously, and there was the rumble and tumult as of reinforcements coming in.  The truth proved to be, they were going on board their transports in a panic, evacuating all their works. leaving valuable property behind them.  At daylight we found their tents standing. lights burning in them and breakfast on the tables, and military stores in quantity and the heavy guns in the fort fell into our hands.  The result was that during the unequal duel which extended throughout the previous day, a canter shot from the rebel fort nearly buried Colonel Smith of the 16th Illinois and another broke the muzzle off one of our gig guns, putting it out of the game.  The captain smiled grimly (a man in a fight always smiles "grimly," I believe, if he is able to work his facial muscles at all) and landed another shot a little closer than before; at all events, the captain took a look at the enemy's coign of vantage after we got possession of it, and found one of his guns dismounted and household furniture piled up in a heap.

Along with our work on this day there was something doing down at Point Pleasant--pointed but unpleasant for the rebel Commodore Hollis, which shut him out of the mixup.  The Mississippi is a nice stream to travel on if you have the stuff which entitles you to a first-cabin passage and a "Northern Line" table to lunch at with a seat on the right of the captain, and provided there are no hunting parties out looking for big game.  Up to this hour in the Commodore's life he had smooth sailing, but on a night a Yankee battery was neatly fitted into a depression made for it at the "Point" and a lot of our best wing shots stood in the rifle-pits, looking bland and smiling out over the water, and, as usual, the unsuspicious Commodore came along with his flock of "Turtles," and our boys scared him so he has not been heard of to this day.  As a further diversion, during the afternoon the rebels formed a small infantry force out of our sight and played the old trick of marching it around and around through the fort as a continuous line of reinforcements, but really dropping out of sight behind the fort and coming in again, and endless chain.  We were unbelievers and smiled as we looked at the performance.

General Pope made the following official report of these operations:  "The 10th and 16th Illinois, commanded respectively by Colones J. D. Morgan and J. R. Smith, were detailed as guards to the proposed trenches and to aid in constructing them.  They marched from camp at sunset on the 12th instant, and drove in the pickets and grand guards of the enemy as they were ordered, at shouldered arms, without firing a shot; covered the front of the intrenching parties and occupied the trenches and rifle-pits during the whole day and night of the 13th, under furious and the incessant cannonading from sixty pieces of heavy artillery.  At the earnest request of their Colonels, their regimental flags were kept flying over our trenches, though they offered a conspicuous mark to  the enemy.

"The coolness, courage and cheerfulness of these troops, exposed for two nights and a day to the furious fire of the enemy at close range, and to the severe storm which raged during the whole night of the 13th, are beyond all praise, and delighted and astonished every officer who witnessed it."

General Pope says in another connection, referring to this movement:  "One brigade, consisting of the10th and 16th Illinois, under Colonel Morgan, of the 10th, was detailed to cover the construction of the battery and to work in the trenches.  They were supported by General Stanley's division, consisting of the 27th, 43rd, and 63rd Ohio.  Captain Mower, of the 1st U.S. Infantry, with Companies A and H of his regiment, was placed in charge of the siege guns.

"The enemy's pickets and grand guards were driven in by Colonel Morgan from the ground selected for the battery, without firing a shot, although the enemy fired several volleys of musketry.  The work was prosecuted in silence and with the utmost rapidity until at 3 o'clock A. M. two small redoubts, connected by a curtain and mounting the four heavy guns which had been sent me, were completed, together with rifle-pits in front and on the flanks by the whole of the enemy's heavy artillery on land and water."....

....Concurrently our friends were busy up at the Island.  Colonel Roberts (that gallant, deeply lamented hero of the 42nd Illinois, who fell at Stone River), with a picked squad of his boys, dropped in upon General McKown at vespers and spiked his guns, and on a stormy night the "Pittsburg" ran the rebel batteries and got safely down to the New Madrid landing, where we were waiting for it.  Withal, the opening along the bayous for the transports had been completed, and while our brigade stood in arms on the shore, lo! a steamer came walking, as it were, out of the woods, landed, and took us aboard.  There was a rebel earthwork on the opposite shore and the "Pittsburg" dropped out into the stream and sent a few plunging shots at it.  There was no response, and the transports carried us promptly to the Tennessee shore, and a foot-race began to interpose our force across the rebel line of retreat from the Island above.  Our brigade had the advance; quick time was made, and before night came on we had taken up our positions with strong picket forces out.  Our own company occupied an outpost, where we took prisoners in number equal to our own strength--regular Arkansas travelers; armed with frontier "toothpicks," home-make, on the anvil, and rifles, muskets and revolvers and every description of shot-gun that had been made up to that time;one of these a giant shot-gun that only a giant could carry or wish to fire.  During the night the commander of the rebel army at the Island, whose forces we had barred in their efforts to escape, sent in a communication asking for terms of surrender.  These having been agreed upon, the rebel army (infantry and batteries) filed onto open ground, nearer the river, in the vicinity of a hamlet named Tiptonville, close at hand, and stacked their arms.  I cannot say that the stars in their courses contributed to our success in these operations, or that our foe lacked courage and skill.  I am sure that those rebel soldiers of the Southwest lacked nothing essential to the real soldier.  The use of fire-arms, and fighting of one kind or another, was an everyday affair with them--almost a pastime; and I feel that I am stating the exact truth in saying that those backwoodsmen whom our company corraled as prisoners at our outpost could, man for man, have "wiped the ground" with us on a fair field and no favor.

The reasons for our success include some curious facts.  Precisely fifty years in advance of our appearance before New Madrid a great convulsion of Nature had changed the features of the landscape from the mouth of the Ohio River to the St. Francis.  Where once had been level farming lands and high plateaus covered by the ancient forest, appeared lakes of great depth or depressions difficult to pass.  The seismic disturbances of 1811-16 (for they covered the interval between these years) involved this whole region and were the severest in the immediate vicinity of our operations.  No disturbance of the kind recorded since the landing of Columbus could compare with it.  The best authorities state the movements were of two kinds--a perpendicular and the horizontal; that the latter was the most destructive; that it moved in immense waves, increasing in size as they progressed until they were the height of the trees, which tossed and tumbled together, the earth opening and discharging great volumes of water, sand, coal and rock.  Whole districts of fertile country were covered to a depth with white sand, and in other places the earth and forest sank, forming lakes some of them twenty miles in length.  Adjutant Theodore Wiseman, of our brigade, assured me that previous to the war he had passed in a hunting-boat with his fowling-piece over submerged forests in this region, the trees standing upright where they had sunk.  The grave-yard of the New Madrid and large tracts of land with it were swallowed up by the great river, and chasms and crevices appeared across which the few inhabitants of the country crawled upon trees where they happened to span these gulfs.  As a result of this earthquake the region around Island No. 10--which since the close of the war has wholly disappeared in the current of the Mississippi--extending on down the river and embracing all the country on both shores below New Madrid, was so broken up by lakes and the scars of theis convulsion that the passage out from the Island by an army under the restrictions of an investment was not a job to be relished by the most competent of military commanders.  The difficulties of the situation were greatly increased by high water.  The Father of Waters was rolling one of his immense spring tides to the sea and was a majestic spectacle.  The tributary streams were overflowing, and I have said enough to show that the Confederacy was in hard luck in her struggle with Nature, to say nothing of John Pope and his army.

A field battery of the Washington artillery (the pride of the South), manned by young bloods from New Orleans, was a part of the trophies of this campaign.  These gallant young French creoles and their beautiful brass guns won our sympathies, and I had an interesting talk with lieutenant of the company as we stood on the shore looking out over the great river.  He was courteous, intelligent, undismayed by their ill fortune, and had a rock-rooted faith that the South would never be overcome.  Our prisoners followed those of Fort Donelson to Rock Island, while a fleet of transports assembled at New Madrid, and convoyed by the flotilla of gunboats, the Army of the Mississippi descended the river to a point on the Arkansas shore in the vicinity of Chickasaw Bluffs, the next fortified stronghold place to dispute our passage.  It was a notable scene--our descent of the river; so many of the steamers. often  in full view, crowded with troops; hesitating at intervals on the broad bosom of the water, at a signal of caution from the iron-clads which were the advance guard, on the discovery of one of the enemy's "Turtles," half hid around the point of an island, when the boom of one of our rifled chasers woke the deep echoes of the desolate region."

When you consider the terrible casualties and fighting at Shiloh at the same time as the fall of Island 10, the outcome seems unbelievable.  Matthew Jamison's account doesn't dwell too long on the action away from his location, but there are several websites that provide a larger view of the action.  (Click 1)   (Click 2)    (Click 3)  (Click 4)  The soldiers who cut a path for the transports to slip past the batteries of Island 10 were pivotal in this important battle, and had to be darn glad when their Herculean task was finished.  The regiments who sat in trenches before the fort at New Madrid had to endure shelling, but they weren't swinging axes, pulling on crosscut saws, and handling waterlogged timber. The surrender of the Confederate forces at Tiptonville without a fight was a rare, nearly bloodless victory in a war that was going very differently over at Pittsburg Landing.

A sad note to finish on is a thought about the Confederate soldiers who were shipped north to Rock Island.  Civil War POW camps were bad places to be on both sides of the conflict, and these men had three long years ahead of them.  I imagine that a good many of these fellows are buried in the cemetery at the Rock Island Arsenal.

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