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A Volcano of Fire: Rediscovering Ashby’s Tennessee Cavalry Brigade At Pickett’s Mill

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

The Battle of Pickett's Mill, fought on May 27, 1864, was particularly horrific in it's ferocity and carnage; made worse by the heavily wooded and tangled terrain the men struggled through. The actions of Granbury’s Texans to stem the waves of Union Infantry attacking through the ravine are well known; the stuff of legend, punctuated by their famous night attack which swept the ravine of Federals. So too is the gallantry of Howard's Federal Infantry as they attacked up the ravine and fell dead by the hundreds, many within ten paces of Granbury's men. Long missing from modern accounts of the battle, however, are the dismounted Confederate Cavalry of Ashby's Brigade (Humes Division), who fought desperately for over an hour on the right end of Granbury to keep the men of General Wood’s 3rd Division of Howard’s Corps from turning the Confederate Right. Ashby’s All Tennessee Cavalry Brigade, and the infantry under General Cleburne eventually sent to their support, “preserved,” according to General Joseph Johnston, “the Texans from an attack in flank which must have been fatal." (8)

Union General William T. Sherman had turned wide to the west off his line of attack down the Western and Atlantic railroad in hopes of getting between the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Joseph E. Johnston and his supply base at Atlanta. Clashing soon after in a series of three battles known collectively as “The Hell Hole” by the soldiers who fought there, Pickett’s Mill was the second of these fought on May 27, 1864. At the brutal epicenter of this battle were the Union brigades of Generals Hazen, Gibson, and Knefler which formed General Wood’s 3rd Division. Opposing them were General Cleburne’s famed Infantry Division made up of the brigades of Generals Granbury, Govan, and Lowrey. Before Cleburne was in place to stop the waves of Federal infantry, portions of the cavalry divisions of Kelly and Humes (Ashby’s Brigade) would be rushed into position to keep the Confederate right from collapsing.

Gen. Joseph Johnston left a good description of the overall action at Pickett’s Mill which helps us understand the cavalry fight at the right of Granbury in greater detail. He states:

"The Fourth (Howard's) Corp came on in deep order, and assailed the Texans with great vigor, receiving their close and accurate fire with the fortitude always exhibited by General Sherman's troops in the actions of this campaign. They had also to endure the fire of Govan's right, including two pieces of artillery, on their right flank. At the same time, Kelly's and a part of Humes's troops, directed by General Wheeler, met the Federal left, which was following the movement of the main body, and drove back the leading brigade, taking thirty or forty prisoners. The united force continued to press forward, however, but was so much delayed by the resistance of Wheeler's troops as to give time for the arrival, on that part of the field, of the Eighth and Ninth[Nineteenth] Arkansas regiments under Colonel Baucum, detached by General Govan to the assistance of the cavalry. This little body met the foremost of the Federal troops as they were reaching the prolongation of Granbury's line, and charging gallantly, drove them back, and preserved the Texans from an attack in flank which must have been fatal.” (8)

The Confederate Cavalry that was first on the scene and fought gallanty to the right/front of Granbury’s position have long been identified as those belonging to Gen. Kelly's Division. But the “part of Hume's" Division as described by Johnston above, which fought a more lengthy and desperate fight at “the prolongation of Granbury’s line,” has over time been largely forgotten. Fortunately, we have several corroborating veteran accounts that name Ashby’s Cavalry Brigade as the “part of Humes' " Division that fought desperately to the right of Granbury and prevented a fatal attack on his right flank.

Post 1900 photo of William Gibbs Allen, 5th Tennessee Cavalry (McKenzie's) - photo: Rhea Herald News

The most detailed of the cavalry accounts are those of Adjutant William Gibbs Allen of the 5th Tennessee Cavalry (McKenzie’s), of Ashby’s Brigade, Humes Division. A respected farmer and merchant from East Tennessee before the War, Allen had become the Adjutant of the regiment following Chickamauga. Due to a series of wounds and illnesses among the senior staff of his Regiment, command of the 5th Tenn. Cavalry fell to Adjutant Allen that fateful day. Allen's Brigade Commander, Colonel Henry M. Ashby was in an Atlanta field hospital to repair a painful wound to his heel, and Colonel James T. Wheeler (of the 1st Tenn. Cavalry) commanded the brigade in his place. In a series of memoirs and letters to newspapers, Adjt. Allen describes, as he puts it, the "horrible scenes enacted on that ridge of heavy timber and thick undergrowth on May 27th, 1864."(1)

Allen writes that on the "morning of the 27th, General Joe Wheeler had taken charge of General Allen's Alabama Brigade [of Kelly’s Division] and Ashby's Brigade of Humes division..." "General Wheeler moved West in the direction of Dallas. We were wet, sleepy, tired and hungry. After noon General Wheeler halted to feed and rest our horses. General Allen's Brigade of Alabamans stopped about 1/4 Mile North of us. General Wheeler with his escort was about 100 yards from headquarters of the Fifth Tennessee...We could hear the roar of cannons west of us. We had been halted about 30 minutes when we heard gunshots in the direction of General Allen's Brigade. Colonel James T. Wheeler galloped up to General Wheeler. General Wheeler ordered him to follow with Ashby's Brigade. The Fifth Tennessee was moved in front. We had gone but a short distance when General Wheeler sent a courier to hurry Colonel Wheeler up.”

Future author and Confederate Infantryman Sam Watkins was a witness to Ashby’s Brigade as they were rushed from the area of New Hope Church towards Pickett’s Mill. His own brigade (Maney's), which had been on a forced March south of New Hope Church, was brought back at the sound of the opening guns. He recalled, “We double quicked back to the church on the road side when the First Tennessee Cavalry, commanded by Colonel Lewis and the Ninth Battalion, commanded by Major James H. Akin passed us and charged the advance of Federal forces.” Watkins would have taken special note of these men as his uncle, Asa G. Freeman was a Captain in Company F of the 1st Tennessee Cavalry of Ashby's Brigade, Humes Division. Many of his boyhood friends from Maury County, Tennessee stood in their ranks as well(7).

Capt. Asa G. Freeman, 1st Tenn. Cavalry(Wheeler's) who was severely wounded at Pickett's Mill, Tennessee State Museum-Myers K. Brown photo

Adjutant Allen continued;

We found General Wheeler at the Crossroads of the Pickett's Mill and Powder Springs roads, the Dallas and Acworth roads [near New Hope Church]. General Wheeler ordered me to left front and count, every 4th man to take care of four horses.* General Wheeler ordered me to form the regiment [5th] on the right of Pickett Mill Road, adjutant Frierson of First Tennessee to form on [the] left of the road. Colonel Wheeler was forming the 9th Tennessee Battalion on left of [the] 1st to connect with Allen’s Brigade. The Second Tennessee was [on] right of [the] Fifth Tennessee."

* The “Lucky” Fourth Man: The process of Cavalrymen dismounting to fight on foot as Infantry was described by William Hezekiah Mitchell, who was a 4th Sergeant in Company F, 1st Tennessee Cavalry (Wheeler’s). He wrote, “They usually rode quickly to the battle area and dismounted to make the actual attack on foot. When they came to the place to dismount, they would count off, ‘One, two, three, lucky, one, two, three, lucky.’ Each fourth man who was ’lucky’ was a horse holder who stayed behind to have the mounts ready for pursuit or withdrawal.” (28) The officers remained mounted as long as possible as was the case at Pickett's Mill.

Before Ashby's Brigade arrived on the scene of the battle and before Granbury's Brigade was in place atop the main ridge, General John Kelly's small 350 man Cavalry Division fought gallantly to stop Hazen's first line or "Demi-Brigade" as they first came up the ravine while Granbury was being put in place behind them. Kelly also (very critically), saw the second mass of men which formed Hazen's second line moving South West through the Cornfield and knew that very shortly, Cleburne's right would be flanked (32). By this time Gen. W. W. Allen's Brigade of Alabama Cavalry, which had earlier been detached and paired with Ashby's Brigade of Hume's Division, had now come down Pickett's Mill road and rejoined Kelly. Thinking quickly, Kelly spread Gen. W. W. Allen's 250 man Brigade to the South of Pickett's Mill Road and around the Western and Southern ends of the Cornfield as far as Wildcat Branch, reinforcing Ashby's skirmishers who were already on the scene.(31) Kelly attempted to move Hannon's Brigade in between this body of Cavalry and Granbury as a gap had formed in the line during the movement of troops. But before he could do so, Hazen's men pushed into the opening. Ashby's roughly 700 man Brigade, coming down Pickett's Mill Road, arrived in time to place the 1st Tenn. Cav.(Wheeler's) in front of this gap and reinforce the weak line of dismounted cavalry skirmishers to their right with the remainder of the brigade.(31)

The position taken by Ashby's Brigade of Cavalry (Led by Colonel J. T. Wheeler) was atop a high ridge which runs south and east of the main ridge occupied by Granbury. Protected by trees and hastily erected logs and stones, Ashby's dismounted Cavalrymen held a commanding fire over Hazen's men scrambling up the slopes from the cornfield and wooded ravine below. But the men coming up those slopes were among the finest Infantry in Sherman's Army, and a deadly cross fire from the left, eminating from the attack on Granbury, would quickly begin to wreak havoc on Wheeler's cavalry on this ridge.

Adjutant Allen of the 5th Tenn. Cav.(Ashby's Brigade of Humes' Div.) continued....

"While we were forming, General Hazen's [Brigade] of Howard's Corp drove our pickets from the top of the hill. General Wheeler ordered Colonel James T. Wheeler to retake the ridge and hold it. We charged. The road made a bend and the 5th Tennessee covered both sides. We had gone but a short distance when Colonel Wheeler's horse was killed. A little further on my horse was killed. Adjt. Frierson gave Colonel Wheeler his horse. It was shot before we reached the top of the hill." "...The Federals drove our picketts back with two Brigade fronts. We were not able to hold our line, and we're forced down the hill. General Wheeler said we must hold the ridge. He ordered us to the second charge. When we reached the summit [top of the hill] the second time, we were badly blown. The battle raged, the woods were dense.”

Trooper W. E. Sloan of Company D, 5th Tennessee Cavalry added, ”The enemy never attempted a charge, but moved forward very slowly until we checked him up, and then he stood still, all the time pouring forth a volcano of fire which I had never seen before." (5)

54 caliber Lorenz Rifle. Photo: Mark Hubbs

The men of Wheeler's Cavalry had long since abandoned the double barrel shotguns they had begun the war with and carried both the long Austrian Lorenz(more than half) and Enfield rifles/carbines as well as other captured pieces. They had become quite adept at fighting dismounted, behind hastily erected or available cover. Concealed in the heavy brush and trees, they would likely have appeared as infantry to Wood's men. (27)

Hazen had divided his brigade into two “demi” brigades and he had intended for them to attack one behind the other, but in the tangle of vegetation and terrain the two had become separated and went into line of battle as a single line, with each demi brigade roughly separated by Pickett’s Mill Road(15). Opposite the extreme left of Ashby’s brigade, near Pickett’s Mill Road, was the 124th Ohio led by Colonel Oliver Payne, who also described this initial clash. He reported:

“At 4 p.m. the final attack was made. This battalion moved briskly forward through a thick woods, coming up with the skirmish line at the foot of a deep ravine, where it had been stopped by a rapid fire from the opposite hill, the sides of which were thickly covered with an almost impenetrable thicket and in many places were almost perpendicular. Here, stopping long enough to rectify the lines, I ordered them forward, the battalion gaining the hill, and had advanced a few yards from the crest to within about thirty paces of the enemy’s works, when it was met with such a withering fire from the front and each flank that it was checked and compelled to find shelter behind the crest of the hill. So rapid and close was the fire, that seeing that it would be impracticable to make another effort to carry the works with the battalion, now much depleted, I ordered the battalion to cover themselves as well as possible and hold the position, expecting every moment to be re-enforced by the second line.”(23) Unbeknownst to Payne, due to the tangled and convoluted terrain, the second line or “demi-brigade” had drifted to their left into the cornfield and was not coming to their support. The latter were in a fight for their lives against Ashby's Brigade along the ridgeline to the West and South West of the Cornfield.

Facing this second line of Hazen and on the far right of Ashby's Brigade was Andrew Jackson Williams of the 2nd Tennessee Cavalry. His company had initially been detailed to act as skirmishers well out in front of the main cavalry position, but was quickly driven back by the main body of Hazen’s men. He stated,

“Our main line was on top of a steep ridge, but something like [400 yards] on our left the line [was] through open ground, and this part of the line the Federals advanced faster and drove our line back...We fell back to the foot of the ridge and formed in line again. General Wheeler and his staff was near our part of the line and he commenced sending staff officers and couriers in both directions and directly he ordered our part of the line back to the temporary breastworks [along top of the ridge]. …[The] Captain order(ed) our line to advance and the men...charged the Yankees down the ridge. In our front was timber and we could not see the enemy in our front until we had went some distance down the ridge. When we was some 75 or 100 yards from the breastworks they fired a volley into us that killed and wounded quite a number of our men.”

Williams would spend the rest of the battle carrying his wounded Lieutenant (Lt. Tate Shull) back up the ridge and to a triage hospital, but later reported…”I went on through the War to the surrender and this was the hottest battle I was in. The bullets fairly rained all around me for a time and I got behind a small post oak tree and I have thought that tree saved my life and yet I do not think it was more than one foot through.” (4)

Major General Joseph Wheeler Photo: Library of Congress

At the center of Ashby's Brigade, Adjutant Allen of the 5th Tennessee Cavalry was doing all that he could to prevent a Federal break through. "We had held the ridge about 40 minutes when General [Johnson] of Palmer's 14th Corps reinforced Gen. Hazen. Again, we were forced off the ridge, backing and shooting as we were forced by heavy odds." This reinforcement of Hazen by men from Palmer's Corps would have been the 78th PA and 37th IN who had broken away from Scribner's stalled command to charge through the cornfield and toward the dismounted Confederate Cavalry positions along the ridge (33) Driven back by both a enfilade fire from their left and a withering fire from their front from Hazen and Scribner's Infantry, Ashby's Cavalry Brigade, led by Col. Wheeler, would gallantly regroup and prepare to make a third charge to retake the ridge.

Adjt. Allen continued, “General Wheeler again told Colonel Wheeler we must hold the ridge. Colonel Wheeler came running along our line of foot, his third horse had been killed. He was 6 ft 6 in tall, very slim and straight, with long, black hair. I see him in imagination while I write.”

Colonel James Thaddeus Wheeler. Previous to the Atlanta Campaign, he had served with Gen. N. B. Forrest. Photo: Rose Defoe

“As he led this the Third charge over the same ground, over the dead and dying, wounded Confederates and Yankees all mixed up as they fell in that dense Woods. The Brigade responded quickly [to the Third charge], so quickly the federals thought we had been reinforced when we topped the hill. We did not stop till we had drove them across Pumpkinvine Creek at Pickett’s Mill. Here we held our line." Trooper Sloan of Company D added, “We were told to hold our position until reinforcements arrived, and we did it, though they were a long time coming. At last a part of Cleburne's division of Infantry moved up in our rear in line of battle, and infantry and cavalry mixed together in one line. Then a roar went up which those yankees could probably hear despite the noise of their own guns, at least if they could not hear it, they could see it and feel it too.” According to two accounts, Cleburne's men would finally reinforce the Cavalry after the latter had driven Hazen back over the fence and into The Cornfied(17, 30).

Still held in reserve near New Hope Church infantryman Sam Watkins recorded his impressions as the battle had raged and noted the wounding of his Uncle Capt. Asa G. Freeman of Company F (1st Tenn. Cav). "We were expecting that the cavalry would soon break, and that we would be ordered into action. But the news came from the front, that the cavalry were not only holding their position, but were driving the enemy. The earth jarred and trembled; the fire fiend seemed unchained; wounded men were coming from the front. I asked the litter corp, ’Who have you there?’ and one answered, ’Captain Asa G. Freeman.’ I asked if he was dangerously wounded, and he simply said, ’Shot through both thighs.’ ” Lieutenant Colonel Lewis of the 1st Tennessee Cavalry (Wheeler’s), would state that “only about 60 men of the regiment were engaged, but they suffered severely, losing about half that number in killed and wounded--Lieut. Stalling and A. G. Freeman being wounded..." (11)

Private T. H. Williams of the 1st Tenn. Cavalry had been near Lt. Stallins [Stalling] when he was wounded as they pushed the Federals back over the Western fence and through the cornfield. He would write soon after in his diary: "It was undoubtedly the hottest place we were ever in, but our boys bore it bravely. I saw no flickering among our regiment. Everyone seemed determined to do his part in holding the enemy in check until infantry could arrive and support us. We fought them at least 1/2 to 3/4 hour before the infantry arrived, if not longer than that. The fight grew warmer. In a 1/4 or 1/2 hour after infantry came up (which was Cleburne's division), a charge was ordered for them. It was not intended for our cavalry to go with them, but not knowing it at the time and seeing Lt. Stallins (who was badly wounded afterward) jump the fence, waving his pistol over his head and shouting, "Come on, boys:" I followed him and was the second man in field on my part of the line. In place of infantry leading us, we were in front most of the time. I hardly know how I escaped. Charging through an open field with enemy about 150 yards from us, it seems almost incredible. A fence rail saved me at one time before the charge. If it had not been there the ball would have struck me in the left side of breast, near my heart. I shall always thank God for his protecting care over me. *** We were fighting the 4th Army Corps, and with only a handful of men held them in check until Cleburne arrived. A wounded prisoner that Sims Latta of our company brought off said we did pretty good execution. Several times we were subjected to a cross fire and at one time gave back about 100 yards, but by the gallantry of our officers we resumed our position with a yell." He would add "...We killed a great many before our infantry came to our support."(30)

Cleburne, suspecting a large attack might still come from his left, had held on to his remaining Infantry reserves as long as possible before sending them to reinforce Wheeler's hard hit Cavalry on his right(32,8) According to dispatches and other testimonies, Baucum’s 8th/19th Arkansas Infantry Regt.(of Govan's Brigade) and Lowrey’s Infantry Brigade were finally sent to reinforce Ashby‘s Cavalry at approximately 5:30-5:40 PM, with both arriving and charging at nearly the same time. (19, 26) A Private A.B. Foster, whose cavalry unit had been dismounted and attached to Lowery’s Infantry(33rd AL), recorded the moment when Cleburne’s reserves finally caught up with Wheeler's cavalry at the Western fence of the Cornfield. Here the enemy tried to turn our flank or break our line of dismounted cavalry. Pat Cleburne's division was held in reserve. We were called to arms and double quicked about one and a half miles, passing the horse holders, and when we got to the line they were fighting across a rotten fence, the enemy in the field and Pat Cleburne and his staff afoot, pleading with the dismounted cavalry to hold them as his men were coming. When we got there, we fired into them and charged them across the field." (17)

The sudden rush of Ashby’s Cavalry and Cleburne’s Infantry, charging from the Western and Southern ends of the cornfield was simply too much for Hazen’s exhausted second line or “demi” brigade, consisting of the 5th, 6th, and 23rd Kentucky, the 6th Indiana as well as Scribner's two breakaway regiments and other units that had flanked further to the Union left. Most critically, Hazen's men were out of ammunition and saw they were being flanked on their left by Lowrey's newly arriving Infantry (15). Retreating along the western fence of the cornfield and back up the way he came, Hazen took up temporary position on a hill near Pickett's Mill.(9) Stranded units of his right most demi-brigade stayed under whatever available cover they had until dark. Subsequent waves of Union infantry under Knefler, joined by survivors of Hazen and Gibson's decimated Brigades as well as Scribner’s 78th Pennsylvania and 37th Indiana, together fought to stall the “victory flushed” Confederates and held them at bay at the northern boundary of the Cornfield. Here a heavy trading of musket fire ensued until nightfall. (22)

With darkness approaching and the day’s fight drawing to a rapid close, Adjt. Allen of the 5th TN Cav. described the scene as the cavalry retired,

"The numbers actually engaged [at the right of Granbury] were 10 Yankees to 1 Confederate. Many of our men were out of ammunition. All that had cartridges kept firing. We held this line till Colonel Wheeler gave orders to fall back slowly, that General Pat Clayburn's [Cleburne' s] men was to take our place. [Cleburne's] men was much surprised when they found two small brigades of Calvary had held [Elements of] Howard's and Palmer’s Corp and check for 4 hours. When I gave orders to fall back, one of General Hume’s staff came galloping up on a pony and halted the regiment and said "what are you falling back for[?]. I did not think you so cowardly as that." He halted us long enough to call (Colonel) Wheeler's attention. He came up [and] said what was the trouble? I told him Captain Marshall had halted us and charged me with cowardice, and if my pistol was loaded, I would shoot him. Colonel Wheeler took him by the back of the neck, gave him a shake and told him to go. By the time we got back to our horses it was dark. General Wheeler ordered us back to camp near where we had started from where we engaged in the battle. This was the hardest fought battle, the greatest loss in killed, wounded and missing the 5th Tennessee engaged in during the war. The night of the 27th of May 1864, was the miserablest night I ever spent. Tired, worn out, and did not know how many of our brave boys have been killed. Captain Jack Reagan, Captain John Blythe, and the writer spent the night in that dense forest among the dead and dying, trying to find our wounded who had not been taken off the battlefield. We would hear the moans, sometimes it would be one of our boys, sometimes it would be a Federal Soldier. Just at day, we found Alex Reagan, Captain Jack's brother. He was cold and stiff in death. We held the battlefield, their dead and 26 wounded. Morning of May 28. At roll call, the Gallant old 5th Tennessee regiment was short 143 men killed, wounded and missing(out of 490- 500 effectives), a sad roll call for our dead we're still scattered in that dense forest on both sides of Pickett Mill Road. Our wounded lay in a provisional Hospital on Powder [Springs] Road, some of them dying, others would soon die."

Sam Watkins had moved forward and observed the area where the infantry and cavalry had fought. He noted “The trees looked as if they had been cut down for new ground, being mutilated and shivered by musket and cannon balls. Horses were writhing in their death agony, and the sickening odor of battle filled the air.” He would add ""This is the only battle of the War in which cavalry was conspicuous and elicited the praise of the infantry, who until then had never seen "dead men with spurs on"..."(7)

Trooper Sloan of Company D, 5th Tennessee Cavalry wrote in his diary soon after ”the ground was strewn with the enemy dead, which they left on the field. This can be accounted for in several ways. First, their ranks were so densely massed that it was almost impossible for a bullet to pass through without hitting a man while our line was so thin and scattered that it was hard to hit anyone. Then it is evident that these yankees shot too high, which might partly be accounted for in the fact that part of our line was in brushwood which partially concealed us, and they shot at the smoke over our heads; while we could easily see the position of their front rank and take deliberate aim at them, and if we shot too high for the front rank we were very liable to hit a man in rear, as we were on higher ground than they. Our boys are in the habit of taking aim when they shoot and our watch-word in battle always is "draw low.” Many years later, he added to his original diary entry, "I have always regarded this New Hope (or Pickett's Mill) battle as the hardest fight I was in during the entire war, though it was not of long duration; in fact it was too furious to last long."

Not only did Ashby’s cavalrymen play a critical role in preventing the Confederate right from collapsing but also affected the outcome of the battle to their left as noted by Adjutant Alexis Cope of Gibson’s brigade. He wrote, "The fact is, when General Hazen's brigade advanced it changed direction to the left, and our brigade came into action on its right, our regiments slightly overlapping it’s right, that his desperate encounter was with Kelley's and Hume's dismounted cavalry of Wheeler's Corps and Lowrey's infantry brigade, while ours was with Granbury's brigade. We were too fully occupied in our front to go to Hazen's relief, and his repulse but added to our difficulties, for it left our left flank exposed to the enfilading fire from Wheeler's dismounted cavalry, when we were already suffering from a similar enfilading fire from Hotchkiss's terrible rifled guns and howitzers on our right flank."(6)

Charging gallantly and with little cover, Gibson’s and Hazen’s Federal brigades suffered the heaviest losses by far, with estimates ranging from 600-800 dead and 1,600 total casualties. Many lay in heaps and rows within feet of the Confederate positions along the ridge. Battle hardened veterans recoiled at the carnage that lay before them.

Cleburne's losses from his three brigades were reportedly less than 500. Ashby’s Tennessee cavalrymen, though only the size of a regiment, had lost well in excess of 161 of their roughly 600-700 man brigade at Pickett’s Mill, which is among the highest known casualties for a Confederate brigade that day. (1,4, 11,16, 20). General Kelly's loses were reportedly 70 men out of 350 effectives, bringing the total known casualties for Wheeler to 231(31). This suggests our figures for Confederate Casualties at Pickett's Mill (which do not account for Kelly's and Humes' dismounted cavalry), are very likely too low.

The contributions and sacrifice of Ashby’s men at Pickett’s Mill, led by the gallant Colonel James T. Wheeler and Adjutant William G. Allen (the latter being promoted to Major for his actions), sadly continue to be ignored. Cleburne's account of the battle, written by a Captain Buck of his staff and upon which modern historians rely so heavily, simply omits the major role that Wheeler’s cavalry played on May 27, 1864. Perhaps little love was lost between Cleburne and Wheeler when earlier in the year the latter not only failed to support Cleburne’s controversial plan to arm and free slaves who would fight for the South, but also reportedly made disparaging remarks among the high command.(34) Union General Hazen and Adjutant Alexis Cope of Gibson’s command both took Cleburne’s battle report to task and state clearly in their memoirs that Hazen’s fight was largely with Kelly and Hume’s Division of cavalry, until the latter were reinforced by Cleburne’s infantry. Generals Cleburne, Granbury, and Kelly would all be killed later that year and Colonel Ashby and Colonel Wheeler did not live long after the war, perhaps contributing to the lack of clarification on the actions of the cavalry at Pickett’s Mill. But from what we do have from multiple credible, corroborating accounts from both cavalry and infantry who fought that day, we know that Ashby's Tennessee cavalry brigade, fighting down both sides of Pickett’s Mill Road, was that part of Humes' Division at the right of Granbury, and that their actions were crucial to preventing a “fatal” attack on Granbury’s right where “the foremost” of the Union infantry attempted to pour around the Confederate right flank. General Wheeler left one of the few early tributes to these men in his General Order No. 6, given within one month of the battle. "At New Hope [Pickett' s Settlement], May 27th, a portion of Humes' and Kelly's commands repulsed with immense slaughter a most desperate attempt on the part of the enemy... to gain our rear and held him at bay until reinforced by our infantry line. This service was most signal and was alone due to your valor."

Early War photo of Shelton F. Scott of the 1st Tennessee Cavalry (Wheeler) who was among those reportedly killed/mortally wounded at Pickett's Mill on May 27, 1864 Photo: John Sickles Collection



1. Allen, W. G., Reminiscences of William G. Allen McKenzie’s 5th Tennessee Regiment Betty J. Broyles and Carl Campbell Editors Rhea County Historical and Genealogical Society 2000 pgs. 110, 55-58.

2. Campbell, Carl McKenzie’s Fighting Fifth: Questionnaires of Veterans of the 5th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment Confederate States of America, 1914, 1915 published by the Rhea County Historical and Genealogical Society, Edited and Transcribed by Carl Campbell, 1999 pgs. 6, 19.

3. Allen, V. C. Rhea and Meigs Counties(Tennessee) in the Confederate War. Published 1908 Reprinted 1995 Rhea County Historical Society pg. 26.

4. Williams, A. J., The Civil War Diary of Andrew Jackson Williams Polk County Tennessee Historical and Genealogical Society Quarterly & Newsletter Vol. 9 May 2003 Number 1 pgs. 19-20.

5. Sloan, W. E., Diary of The Great War for Southern Independence: Being an account of the Daily occurrences of Company C, Third Tennessee Volunteer Infantry, from the Beginning of the War to Aug. 19, 1862 and of Company D, Fifth Tennessee Cavalry from that date to the end of the War. Self published, Cleveland, Tennessee. Edited by E. Weirfering 1996. pgs. 65-67.

6. Cope, Alexis, Fifteenth Ohio Volunteers and Campaigns, War of 1861-5. Published by Author 1916 Columbus, OH pgs. 468-72.

7. Watkins, Sam, Company Aytch, Maury Grays, First Tennessee Regiment or A Side Show of the Big Show. Turner Publishing, Nashville, TN Edited by Ruth Hill Fulton McAllister pgs. 198-199

8. Johnston, J. E., Narrative of Military Operation Directed during the Late War Between the States by Joseph E. Johnston, General CSA New York: D. Appleton and Company 1874 pgs. 329-331.

9. Hazen, W. B., A Narrative of Military Service, Boston Ticknor and Company 1885 University Press John Wilson and son, Cambridge.

10. Howard, O. O., Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard, New York. The Baker and Taylor Company. The TrowPress, New York 1907 pg. 554.

11. Lewis, J. H., Military Annals of Tennessee: Confederate Vol. 2 John Berrien Lindsley editor, J.M. Lindsley & Co. Nashville 1886 pg. 890.

12. Foster, Samuel, The Civil War Diary of Capt. Samuel T. Foster, Granbury’s Texas Brigade, CSA Edited by Norman D. Brown, Austin: University of Texas Press 1980 pg. 82-83.

13. Dubose, John Witherspoon Campaigns of Wheeler and his Cavalry 1862-5 Edited by W.C. Dodson, Historian Hudgins Publishing Company, Atlanta, GA 1899 pg. 312.

14. Butkovich, Brad The Battle of Pickett’s Mill: Along the Dead Line, The History Press Charleston, SC 2013.

15. Bierce, Ambrose Crime At Pickett’s Mill: A Plain Account of a Bad Half Hour With Joe Johnston San Francisco Examiner May 27, 1888.

16. Shepherd, Lewis Chattanooga Evening News July 19, 1908(pg 18), March 30, 1913 (pg 25).

17. Foster, A. B. Reminiscences of the Boys in Grey 1861-1865 pg. 236-7 Yeary, Mamie Editor

18. Wheeler, General Joseph Campaigns of Wheeler and his Cavalry 1862-5 1899 Hudgin’s Publishing Company Atlanta, GA Edited by W. C. Dodson.

19. Lowrey, Mark P. Autobiography written Sept. 30, 1867 republished Kennesaw Gazette(Georgia) November 15, 1888 pgs. 3-4.

20. Barnet, W. R. Polk County News, Benton, TN 8 March 1911 (pg. 1).

21. Sneed, Sebron Civil War Letter to Wife, Austin Genealogical Society March 1982 Vol. XXIII No. 1 June 7, 1864.

22. Woodcock, Marcus Southern Boy In Blue: Memoir of Marcus Woodcock 9th KY Inf. USA Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press 1996 Edited by Kenneth W. Noe.

23. Payne Oliver O.R., Series 1, Volume XXXVIII/1.September 13, 1864 Atlanta, GA.

24. Cleburne, Patrick O.R. Series 1 Vol. XXXVIII/3 [s#74] May 1-Sept. 8, 1864 entry on May 30, 1864 The Atlanta Georgia Campaign Report of Maj. General Patrick Cleburne.

25. Washburn, Wiley; Reminiscences of Confederate Service Arkansas Historical Quarterly Vol. 35, No. 1 Spring 1976 pgs. 65-66.

26. Mining the Dispatch, University of Richmond. Richmond Dispatch May 29, 1864 Fourth Dispatch.

27. Castel, Albert Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864 University of Kansas Press 1992 pg. 237.

28. Mitchell, Baker Pamphlet, Last Charge: William Hezekiah Mitchell, Maury County, TN 1839-1920, 2010 Wilmington, NC pg. 16.

29.. Collins, R.M. Unwritten History of The War Between The States: Incidents in The Life of a Confederate Soldier in Camp, on the March, in the Great Battles and in Prison by Lieut. R. M. Collins Co. B 15th Texas Cleburne’s Division, Army of Tennessee St. Louis, Nixon-Jones Publishing, pg. 213 .

30.Williams, Thomas H. Thesis by Alleen Williams Cater, Anniston, AL Jacksonville State University 1971 Copied and filed with Daughters of the Confederacy, Columbia,TNWilliams, Thomas H. The Civil War Papers of John Bell Hamilton and Thomas Hamilton W.

31 Montgomery Weekly Advertiser, Montgomery AL June 8, 1864 Army of Tennessee 1/2 mile South East of Pickett's House near Acworth Rd.

32. Old Enough to Die Edited by Ridley Wills II, Hillsboro Press, Franklin TN 1996

33. History of the 78th Volunteer Infantry Edited by J. T. Gibson Chapt. 23 Battle of New Hope Church 1905

34. Major General Patrick Cleburne and His Plan to Arm the Slaves.

35. Southern Confederacy Newspaper Atlanta, GA June 29, 1864 "Johnston’s Cavalry"

36. The Macon Telegraph, June 7, 1864 Allatoona, GA May 28, 1864 Allens Cavalry

37. Fry, Martin Monroe Confederate Military History vol. VIII C. A. Evans, Editor 1899

38. Montgomery Weekly Advertiser, Montomery AL June 3, 1864 Letter from Col. Hannon's Regiment

Author Christopher Cash email:

John 3:16

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