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COMPANY A, FIFTH REGIMENT

MISSISSIPPI CAVALRY

William A. Clayton


Introductory note: My mother's great grandfather, William B. Peery, commanded Company A, Fifth Mississippi Cavalry (and later commanded the regiment). This study began as an effort to learn what he did in the war. Very few records exist of individuals below flag rank and indeed very few records exist of individual companies (the smallest unit of civil war time army organization). In trying to learn what William B. Peery did in the war I searched every reference I could find to his name, but they were very few. I then expanded my search to records of his company and then the regiment. In many cases the only reference to his company (in a specific battle) is a list of the number of killed and wounded which at least proved that his company took part in the battle. Therefore what began as a study of one individual has evolved into an history of the fifth cavalry regiment with emphasis on Company A.


The 5th Mississippi Cavalry regiment was organized between September and November of 1863 under Colonel J. Z. George. Company A had previously been a company of state troops under Captain William B. Peery. I have not researched this in depth but it appears that the other companies of the regiment were made up primarily of existing state troops. (See Organization notes for more details.) The first recorded action of the regiment took place on September 26, 1863.

On September 28, 1863 Colonel J. Z. George sent the following report to General Wheeler. [Note that J. Z. George held a commission as Brigadier General from the state of Mississippi but his Confederate rank was that of Colonel.] "Boonshill, Tennessee. I have been engaged under Colonel Holmon, who has been operating in Middle Tennessee under your orders. He has been captured, as perhaps you have learned. He engaged the enemy near Winchester, Tennessee on the 26th instant, killing and capturing a considerable number; but the enemy having sent a considerable force to attack us in our rear, which resulted in the capture of Colonel Holmon, two lieutenants, and some twelve or fourteen privates, the command is here without any person with proper authority to take command. I shall endevor to hold it together until I can hear from you or some other proper authority. The command is increasing rapidly both from volunteers and soldiers left behind in the retreat of our army. I believe we will soon have a command of 1500 or 2000 good, effective men, mounted, armed with such arms as can be found through the country. We are deficient in ammunition."

In his report of operations preceding the raid on Collierville, Tennessee in October 1863, Brigadier General James R. Chalmers wrote that when he moved from Oxford to Salem on the 5th he left "the new Regiment, commanded by Colonel George, which was not fully organized, to picket the river." The Regiment did not take part in the raid into Tennesse, but Colonel George with sixty men met the forces on their retreat and participated in the fight at Wyatt. [Since only a small portion of the Regiment was involved here, there is no way of knowing if company A was involved but since they were soon "fully organized" it can be assumed that company A was involved in all subsequent actions of the Fifth Regiment.]

On October 18, 1863 General Chalmers ordered that "the troops of this command will be reorganized as follows: Slemons' Brigade commanded by Colonel W. F. Slemons, Second Regiment Arkansas Cavalry; Third Regiment Mississippi State Cavalry; Seventh Regiment Tennessee Cavalry; Colonel George's Regiment Cavalry; and McLendon's Battery of six pounders . . . Colonel Slemons will establish his headquarters at Wyatt and will guard the crossings on the river from that place to Panola." On October 22, 1863 he reported that, "I have succeeded in collecting and organizing the scattered and independent cavalry in North Mississippi into some military order and have divided my command into three brigades . . . Slemons' Brigade, Colonel W. F. Slemons commanding; Nineteeth Battalion Cavalry, Colonel J. Z. George commanding." [Note this is the only mention in any reports of Colonel George's command as the Nineteenth Battalion. In all subsequent reports they are simply refered to as "George's Regiment" with no numerical designation until, begining in February 1864, they are consistantly reported as the Fifth Regiment. The effective strength of George's Regiment as given in this report was 350 men; the total effective strength of Slemons' Brigade being 1,330.]

In the first days of November 1863 General Chalmers was ordered by Johnston to harass the rear of Sherman's corps and destroy the railroad behind him. He made a demonstration between Memphis and La Grange and crossed at Quinn's mill on the 3rd capturing the picket of 27 men. He then attacked the Federal forces at Collierville. Colonel Hatch (commanding Union forces) reported "Mounted and dismounted men came forward in fine style, the howitzers of the Second Iowas firing rapidly. The Regiment, lying on the ground, waited till the enemy's cavalry were within fifty yards, sprang to their feet and poured in a severe fire from revolving rifles. A few men reached the guns; among them General George and two officers." Colonel Slemon's report on this action says in part, "Colonel George, with a gallantry discarding caution, dashed on ahead of his men and fell into the hands of the enemy." General Chalmers reported his loss as 6 killed, 63 wounded, 26 prisoners. Of these totals 4 killed and 14 wounded were from the Fifth Regiment. Colonel George was temporarily replaced by Lieutenant Colonel James A. Barksdale who is listed on the organization chart of 24 December 1863 as "commanding George's Regiment." [Note: Colonel George had been captured and spent the rest of the war as a POW at Johnson Isle but Confederate records continued to refer to the regiment as "George's regiment"]

On November 26, 1863 Colonel Slemons was ordered to move from Panola, Mississippi to the vicinity of Chulahoma to make a junction with Colonel McCulloch and these orders state that "a supply of cartridge boxes, belts, etc. for George's Regiment will be sent up from Grenada by special train," however orders sent out the next day say, "The enemy are on a raid from Corinth 800 to 1000 strong and four pieces artillery. I am endeavoring to close in on them. They are at Chesterville tonight 12 miles from Tupelo. Delay your movements and remain in vicinity of Abbeville."

At this point the weather and swollen rivers, rather than the yankee, seems to have become the main antagonist. On November 29, 1863 General Chalmers sent out a letter praising Colonel R. McCulloch, his officers and men, for their "energy and skill" in rebuilding the pontoon bridge across the Tallahatchie at Wyatt "under difficulties which seemed almost insurmountable," but on the next day Lee reported that "The bridges at Wyatt and Panola were carried off . . . Chalmers has not crossed . . . The enemy are aware of our presence and are prepared for us, and he telegraphed to Chalmers "I have been unable to cross the river here and fear your bridge at Wyatt is gone again . . . I will cross as soon as I can . . . try to join me on the road to Middleton." On December 4th McCulloch's Brigade was involved in heavy fighting near Moscow in which Colonel Hatch (Federal) was severely wounded and meanwhile Slemons' troops with the Fifth Regiment were busy burning the railroad trestle over Grissom's creek.

In January 1864 Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest was placed in charge of all cavalry in North Mississippi and West Tennessee and Chalmer's Division was reorganized placing the Fifth Regiment in the Fourth Brigade commanded by Colonel Jeff E. Forrest (brother of the general). Towards the end of January General W. T. Sherman (Federal) with 25,000 men marched from Vicksburg to Meridian and had ordered General William Sooy Smith, with a cavalry Division of 6,500, to move by way of Pontotoc and Okolona to join him in Meridian. Forrest, learning of Smith's movement rushed all his forces to Starkville. The brigade commanded by Colonel Forrest intercepted Smith's cavalry near West Point. On Febuary 21st they threw up a breastwork of rails and logs and when attacked, repulsed the enemy with considerable loss. Smith then began a retreat that turned into a two day running battle. In the last pitched battle Colonel Forrest's troops (including the Fifth Regiment) had taken over the vanguard of pursuit. Fifty yards in front of the Federal position (five miles north of Okolona) Jeffrey Forrest was struck by a ball in the throat. John W. Morton, chief of artillery, later said that the general rushed to his fallen brother, raised his head off the ground and spoke his name several times then placing the dead man's hat over his head he called for Major Strange to take charge of the body and ordered his bugler to sound the charge. Forrest then led the charge with such fury that Strange wondered if grief for his brother had made him decide to die also. Jack Hurst in his biography of Forrest says, "The Federal line quickly retreated and Forrest followed driving them with only his sixty-man escort . . . about 500 Federals formed another battle line and Forrest and his escort tore into it in a savage assault. . . at that moment the vanguard of McCulloch's Brigade came into sight, but the disparity of numbers was still so great that McCulloch's men hesitated. When they did, McCulloch himself started waving a bloodily bandaged, wounded hand above his head. Urging his horse toward the fighting he shouted 'My God, men, will you see them kill your general? I will go to his rescue if not a man follows me! His troops did follow, and the Federals turned and retreated hastily again. By the time they did, Forrest is reported to have personally killed or incapacitated three of them in the fight in the road." Smith's troops, routed by a force one third their size, continued to retreat all the way back to Memphis. In this fight the Fifth Regiment lost 3 killed, 3 wounded, and 3 missing. Among the killed was Leiutenant Colonel Barksdale leaving the Fifth Mississippi Regiment without a field grade officer.

On March 7, 1864 the Fifth Regiment was assigned to the Second Brigade commanded by Colonel R. McCulloch.

On the 29th of March Chalmers was ordered to "move with your Division to Brownsville, Tennessee via La Grange . . . You will leave the Fifth Mississippi Regiment and Nineteenth Mississippi Battalion to scout the country in the direction of Memphis," but the Regiment soon rejoined Forrest (Chalmer's Division, McCulloch's Brigade) in the famous Tennessee raid of March and April 1864 that culminated in the capture of Fort Pillow.

In a letter report on the action at Fort Pillow from Major General N.B. Forrest to Leiutenant Genhttp://www.custermen.com/DixieBoyseral Polk dated April 15, 1864 he says, "I attacked Fort Pillow on the morning of the 12th instant with a part of Bell's and McCullock's brigades, numbering 1,500 under Brig.Gen. James R. Chalmers . . . I sustained a loss of 20 killed and 60 wounded. Amoung the wounded is the gallant Lt. Col. Wiley M. Reed while leading the Fifth Mississippi."

General Chalmers report on this action to Major J.P. Strange, Assistant Adjutant General says, "Lt. Col. Reed, temporarily commanding the Fifth Mississippi Cavalry, was pre-eminently daring, and fell mortally wounded while standing on the rifle-pits and encouraging his men to the charge."

For more information on Fort Pillow click here

In six months of almost constant fighting the Fifth Regiment had lost three commanders; Colonel George, Leuitenant Colonel Barksdale, and Leutenant Colonel Reed. Command now fell in the hands of Captain William B. Peery who was then promoted to Major. [This apparently was a brevet, or temporary, promotion and the exact date of promotion is unknow A receipt for ordinance stores dated 9 May 1864 is signed by "Maj. W.B. Peery, Comd 5th Ms Regm." but returns of 10 May show "Capt. William B. Peery commanding Regiment."]

On May 12th Leutenant Colonel Nathaniel Wickliffe was placed in temporary command of the Fifth Regiment and he is so listed on returns of June 10th and June 30th (returns of June 1, 1864 list Capt. William B. Peery, commanding 5th Regiment) but on August 15th General Forrest sent this letter to Colonel Deas, Leutenant General Polk's chief of staff:

"I herewith inclose copy of orders from these headquarters relieving Luet-Col. N. Wickliffe from duty with this command. Col. Wickliffe was temporarily assigned to the command of this Regiment by Lt-Gen. Polk . . . The papers were returned to the indorsement that the appointment could not be made, and that Col. George, although wounded and a prisoner, was still the colonel of the Regiment, and that other field positions must remain as per roster fowarded, or vacancies filled by promotion. Aside from this the Regiment is much disatisfied, have mutinied on one occasion, and it has done no good under his command. . ."Pillow

Orders dated August 31, 1864 put Major W. G. Henderson in command of the Fifth Regiment but returns of August 31st list Major Peery as commander. Major Henderson probably was senior to Major Peery but he was a doctor, not a line officer. In November he was relieved of duty with the Fifth Regiment and assigned as chief surgeon of the Division, leaving Major Peery in command.

During this time (May 14, 1864) General Pope ordered that the Fifth Mississippi and Seventh Tennesse Regiments be sent to Grenada "with 40 rounds per man, and 3 days cooked rations," due to reports of the enemy being at Vaughan's Station. [Note: it is highly unusual for an army commander to specify regiments in this way; normally he would have ordered the Division commander to "send two regiments" leaving the choice to the Division commander. Perhaps Pope specified these regiments because of their past records.] Chalmers, apparently having little faith in Colonel Wickliffe, replied with a message stating that Wickliffe was only in temporary command. Pope then said to send "any reliable officer" and Duff's Regiment was sent instead.

In early June 1864 Federal forces under General Samuel D. Sturgis with a force of 8,300 men moved out of Memphis heading towards Tupelo. Chalmers Division was near Okolona with General S. D. Lee. Lee, in overall command, sent Forrest with approximately 2,000 men towards Brice's Crossroads where he was to delay and harrass the Federal forces. Lee's plan was to fall back with the whole force toward Okolona before grappling with the enemy but Forrest upset these plans by attacking at Brice's Crossroads and the Fifth Regiment missed out on one of Forrest's most brilliant victories. Sturgis' forces were soundly defeated and sent back to Memphis in panicked flight. Immediately after this Federal General W. T. Sherman wrote to Secretary of War Stanton, "I will have the matter of Sturgis critically examined . . . I cannot but believe he had troops enough. I know I would have been willing to attemp the same task with that force; but Forrest is the very devil, and I think he has got some of our troops under cower." Sherman, then on his drive towards Atlanta, said that he would order A. J. Smith and Mower to "make up a force and go out and follow Forrest to the death, if it cost 10,000 lives and breaks the Treasury. There never will be peace in Tennessee till Forrest is dead."

General A. J. Smith set out from La Grange with a force of about 14,000. He advanced without much opposition until he was checked by Chalmers near Pontotoc. On July 12th the Federal column turned off toward Tupelo. General Lee moved with the Divisions of Chalmers and Buford to attack the enemy's flank while Forrest with Mabry's Brigade assailed the rear. A running fight was kept up for ten miles but without any considerable advantage to either side. On the morning of the 14th, being well intrenched with superior numbers, Smith's Federal forces won a clear victory at the battle of Harrisburg [Tupelo] but the next day, rather than hold the field or attacking he began a retreat. [In his report, Smith explains the retreat by saying that he had exhausted his rations.] A vigorous pursuit was at once begun. At Old Town creek Buford came up with the Federals in line of battle and was driven back. McCulloch's Brigade was ordered to attack, but being sent in by regiments was speedily repulsed. Here General Forrest and Colonel McCulloch were both severely wounded. In this two day battle Chalmer's Division lost 57 killed and 255 wounded. The losses in the Fifth Regiment were 5 killed and 7 wounded.

No sooner had Smith return to Memphis than he was ordered to mount yet another campaign against Forrest. On July 28, 1864 Smith with 18,000 men of all arms began his move toward Oxford. Forrest, reporting to Major General Maury said, "all that can be done shall be done in north Mississippi to drive the enemy back. I have ordered Mabry to Grenada, a brigade to Pontotoc, and General Chalmers with one of the best brigades I have [McCulloch's Brigade with the Fifth Regiment] has gone to Abbeville. Chalmers with McCulloch's Brigade destroyed the railroad bridge on the Tallahatchie. Never the less, Smith's forces crossed the Tallahatchie and Chalmers was ordered to "contest every inch of ground" which they did but were pushed back through Oxford before Forrest could join him with the rest of his troops. In his memoirs, Captain James Dinkins describes part of this action: "Colonel Bill Wade was in command of McCulloch's brigade. Colonel Wade in advance struck the enemy's rear guard, just in the northern suburbs of Oxford. He rode at the head of the Fifth Mississippi, and when he reached the enemy, he formed the men in columns of eight, and with his saber cutting right and left, dashed through the Federal columns. His men used their guns as clubs, and rode over and trampled down a whole Regiment. It was a desperate charge, but the men of the Fifth Mississippi were accustomed to desperate work." On August 8th Forrest began his raid into Memphis leaving Chalmers behind with approximately 2,000 men to demonstrate with a show of force to hold Smith where he was and prevent him from learning that nearly half the Confederate forces had left his front. Forrest's raid into Memphis was not sucessful in his attempts to capture Genrals Buckland, Hurlburt, and Washburn but it was sucessful in withdrawing Smith's forces from North Mississippi and could not have been accomplished without Chalmers' aid. Supporting Forrest's retreat from Memphis, the Fifth Regiment lost 4 killed, 10 wounded, and 12 missing.

Fearing the loss of Mobile, General Maubry asked Forrest for reinforcements saying, "You have again saved Mississippi. Come and help Mobile." McCulloch's brigade of Chalmer's Division, less the Fifth Mississippi Regiment was sent to Mobile then to West Florida. In September (after the fall of Atlanta when it was too late) Forrest was ordered into Tennessee to cut Sherman's line of communications and supply. To command in Mississippi while he was gone, Forrest left Chalmers with only Mabry's Brigade, the one Regiment which McCulloch had left behind (Fifth Mississippi), and a motley assortment of state reserves. Chalmers, with his strength reduced to fewer than 1,000 men, moved up to Memphis and "managed to stir up enough of a scare to cause the barricading of Memphis streets, the calling out of the Militia of the city, and more important, the retention in Memphis of troops who were being called for as reinforcements against Forrest." Forrest had asked that Chalmers rejoin him in Tennesse and on October 8, 1864 Chalmers reported, "Advanced within five miles of Memphis; found enemy entrenched on all roads and expecting us; did not attack. Will go into West Tennessee with escort and Fifth Mississippi as soon as ammunition arrives from Selma." Chalmers joined Forrest on the 19th at Jackson, Tn. with about 250 men of McCulloch's brigade and 300 of Mabry's. Chalmers was ordered to proceed to the Tennessee river and co-operate with Buford who was blockading the river at Fort Heiman and Paris Landing. Here the Confederate forces were brilliantly successful capturing and destroying 4 gunboats, 14 transports, and 20 barges and destroying the Federal supply depot at Johnsonville. "My loss during the entire trip," Forrest reported, "was 2 killed and 9 wounded; that of the enemy will probably reach 500 killed, wounded and prisoners."

This was the last of General Forrest's brilliant victories. Forrest with his cavalry was then assigned to General John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee and took part in the disastrous battle at Franklin. The charge at Franklin was made over two miles of open country, exposed for almost every foot of the way to artillery, and later to rifle fire from the protection of prepared positions. Of fewer than 16,000 men in the two corps which carried the brunt of the attack, the loss in killed and wounded was approximately 6,000 including 1,750 killed. Total lost in leadership in killed, wounded, missing and captured included two major generals, ten brigadier generals and fifty-three regimental commanders. Hood then compounded this calamity by having his depleted troops attack Nashville where they suffered further defeat. The Fifth regiment was part of the rear guard on the retreat from Nashville. Ragged, barefoot, bloody, without food and without hope, the rear guard fought on. "Defeated and broken as we were," one of them wrote, men in that rear guard were "determinded to do their duty to the last." General Thomas (Union) reported, "With the exception of his rearguard, Hood's army had become a disheartened and disorganized rabble of half-armed and barefooted men . . .the rearguard, however, was undaunted and firm, and did its work bravely to the last."

In an order dated March 16, 1865 General Chalmers said, "There being no field officers of the Fifth Mississippi Cavalry present and able for duty and only two companies of that regiment having 32 men present, the companies composing that regiment have been consolidated with other companies and regiments from the same state." Company A was consolidated with company B to form Peery's company G of the Second regiment. This regiment was surrendered by Lieutenant General R. Taylor May 4, 1865 and parolled May 19, 1865.


Bibliography

War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

Compiled service records of Confederate soldiers from the state of Mississippi, Fifth Cavalry Regiment, on micro film film at Archives, Jackson, Mississippi

Jack Hurst. Nathan Bedford Forrest a Biography.

Robert Selph Henry. First With the Most - Forrest

Dunbar Rowland. Military History of Mississippi

Colonel Charles E. Hooker. Confederate Military History - Mississippi. General Clement A. Evans, editor

Captain James Dinkins, Personal Recollections and Experiences in the Confederate Army, 1897.


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