Updated: Jun 3, 2021
William Watts Carnes was born at Somerville, Fayette County, Tennessee, on September 8, 1841. He was the son of General James A. and Elizabeth M. Jones Carnes. His father was not only a prominent businessman, but also a leading figure in the State Militia of Tennessee, with the rank of brigadier general. His mother Elizabeth was the daughter of General William Watt Jones, who was a prominent lawyer and planter at Wilmington, North Carolina. Tragedy struck in 1855 when William’s mother died. William Carnes was eight years old when his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. He received a local education and in 1857 he was appointed to the United States Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Maryland. Just before his graduation, in early 1861, William left the Naval Academy and returned home to Memphis to cast his lot with the Confederacy. Confederate General Gideon Pillow appointed Cranes to a position on his staff. He was selected as the drill master for state troops with the rank of first lieutenant. His first assignment was with Confederate General Benjamin Cheatham’s brigade at the Union City encampment.
On August 17, 1861, at New Madrid, Missouri, Captain Wilson H. Jackson organized and mustered into service a battery equipped with four six pounders, one 12 pound howitzer, and one nine pound James rifled cannon. The forerunner of Jackson’s artillery battery was the Steuben Artillery, which was a company in state service attached to the 154th Tennessee Senior Infantry Regiment. Jackson appointed Carnes first lieutenant of artillery and assigned him to his battery. In the battle of Belmont, Missouri, which was fought on November 7, 1861, Captain Jackson was severely wounded. When he recovered he was appointed colonel in the cavalry. At the age of twenty, Carnes replaced Jackson as captain of the battery.[i]
At the battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, in April of 1862, Carnes was attached to Brigadier General Charles Clark’s brigade and later assigned to Confederate General Benjamin Cheatham’s division, under Confederate General Daniel Donelson’s brigade. On October 8, 1862, preparations were made to march Carnes battery towards Perryville, Kentucky. Carnes was ill, but decided to join his command. Carnes joined the army in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. On the journey from Harrodsburg to Perryville, Carnes could no longer ride on his horse and his sergeants made a bed for Carnes on the two rear ammunition chests of a caisson. When the sun began to rise, Carnes awoke and feeling better he took command of the battery. Confederate General Benjamin Cheatham’s division was formed on the left of the army, but after a delay, the army was formed on the right flank. Carnes battery was delayed when one of his guns passed through a farm gate and one of Carnes’s horse teams got struck in a gatepost. While Carnes men tried to free the gun from the fence, the infantry threw down a portion of the fence and continued on toward the battlefield.
While trying to break free of the gate, an officer hastily rode up and told Confederate General Leonidas Polk, who with his staff nearby, that General S. A. M. Wood very urgently asked for a battery of artillery on his line, since he could see Union Captain Cyrus Loomis Federal battery, who were about ready to open fire on him from the woods across open fields. By then Carnes’s battery had freed the gate and he was ready to move out. General Polk directed Carnes to follow the officer and report to General Wood. When Carnes and the officer reached the appointed position, General Wood was not there, but Carnes unlimbered the guns and formed in the edge of a heavy timber, with an open valley in front, across which, in the edge of the woods opposite, through their field glasses he observed a Union battery, but there had been no firing up to that time. Carnes was ordered to open fire. Carnes first used his time to estimate the distance and instructed his gunners about cutting the time fuses of his shell and shrapnel shot and then began firing as ordered. Carnes opened fire on the Union artillery alone with no infantry support.[ii]
His attack brought on a fearful response from across the fields, for within a few minutes, Carnes was under the fire of four 6-gun batteries at different points opposite from his battery. The Union batteries were using rifled guns. Union General Lovell Rousseau had called forward the rest of Loomis battery and ordered up Captain Peter Simonson’s 5th Battery, Indiana Light Artillery, which were attached to Leonard Harris Brigade, to join Hotchkiss and Loomis battery in returning fire on Carnes’s guns. Carnes was not able to reach the Union guns. Carnes’s rounds had to travel an extreme distance. Fortunately for Carnes, most of the Union shells went high overhead, cutting off limbs of trees that fell on Carnes and his men. The Confederate infantry in back of Carnes could only hug the ground and wait while the pandemonium of artillery fire was in progress.[iii] After a short time, two additional batteries under Captain Charles Lumsden’s Alabama Battery, and a section of Calvert’s Arkansas Battery commanded by Lieutenant Thomas J. Key opened fire on his side in order to divert a part of the Union fire from his battery. Darden’s battery joined in the artillery duel. Carnes's Battery fire had become so furious and a correspondent from a Mobile paper who witnessed the artillery duel mentioned only Carnes battery in his report. Carnes got more than his fair share of credit for the "terrible artillery duel" in the newspaper reporter’s report. The duel lasted nearly an hour. A staff officer from General Cheatham rode up to Carnes and informed him that rifled guns would be more effective and he ordered Carnes to withdraw his battery and Captain Thomas Stanford's Mississippi Battery equipped with rifled guns replace Carnes to continue the action. Artillery fire ceased on both sides, since both sides were ineffectual in silencing each other’s guns. At the time, the Confederate infantry were not in position to act.
General Cheatham instructed Carnes to withdraw beyond range, repair damages, and await orders. Moving back to open ground near a cornfield, Carnes’s men replaced horses that were killed or hurt and fed his horses with corn from the adjacent field. At about 2 p.m. Captain Carnes heard infantry fire on his right, which was located a considerable distance towards his front. Carnes prepared his men to move out, but no orders came. While his battery waited, Carnes saw General Braxton Bragg and his staff riding toward the right some distance in front of him, and he rode swiftly to the group, saluted, and asked to speak to Bragg. Bragg asked Carnes why he was located in his present position. Carnes told him that General Cheatham ordered him into position and Cheatham apparently forgot about him. One of Bragg’s staff told the general that Carnes’s battery had been in the artillery duel. General Bragg then said: "Go ahead, sir, and join your division." Moving rapidly to the front, Carnes traveled down the Country Road out of Walker’s Bend and reached a fork in the road near the Open Knob. He left his battery and rode ahead and saw Captain William Turner’s Mississippi battery supporting Cheatham’s attack against Union Lieutenant Charles Parson’s battery and the 105th Ohio and 123rd Illinois Infantry. Carnes halted his battery in single column of pieces in the rear of the firing line, and, riding forward reported to General Daniel Donelson. General Donelson told Carnes there was no place in which he could use his guns to any advantage, so Carnes waited for further developments.
When Carnes returned to his guns, a mounted officer was earnestly talking with his first lieutenant, who had been left in charge of the guns. Carnes first lieutenant brought the mounted officer to him. The mounted officer was Confederate Colonel John Wharton, of the 8th Texas Cavalry, Terry’s Texas Rangers, who said he saw a position where they could perform a flanking attack on the enemy and while they were discussing the matter two Confederate regiments from Donelson’s brigade, the 8th and 51st Tennessee, which had been temporarily detached, came up under direction of Major Martin, of General Donelson's staff. When Colonel Wharton explained the situation on the Union left flank, Martin said he would go with him if Carnes would and without orders or consultation with General Donelson, the two regiments, along with Carnes followed Wharton and made a detour to the right and front and came opposite on the left of the Federal line, where his regiment was formed behind a ridge which concealed them from view. Carnes new position gave him a complete command of the entire sector.
Forming on the same line, the 8th and 51st Tennessee advanced to the top of the ridge and opened a flanking fire on a line of reserves in rear of their line. Cheatham had ordered his regiments on the right to resume their attack. The 1st Tennessee Infantry crossed the cornfield and the Benton Road and approached Captain Asahel Bush’s 4th Indiana battery from the north. With Carnes flanking fire and Confederate General George Maney’s brigade attack, Colonel Starkweather decided to withdraw his men to a steeper and higher ridge. Their line in front, discovering what was happening behind them, soon broke and joined in the flight, and as they came within range they got the same flanking fire from cannon and musketry. Soon, there was a mixing of the two Union lines, as varying speeds of flight scattered the men over the whole of the open space, through which Carnes battery firing was kept up steadily, with no return fire on him. Carnes, Wharton, and the two Confederate regiments advanced. Major Bankhead, Chief of Artillery of Polk's Corps, rode to Carnes position and told him to cease firing, since the Confederate infantry were in front of his guns. Carnes pointed out to Major Bankhead that he had not seen the reserve line dispersed and Carnes knew Bankhead was mistaken. Carnes refused to stop the firing and Bankhead brought General Polk to enforce his order to Carnes. Carnes showed General Polk, using his field classes, that he was right, so Carnes continued firing until the fleeing blue lines had all passed and the direction of Carnes guns changed to the front, then to the Confederate right.[iv]
The fighting lasted quite a while longer, but Carnes could not tell what was going on except for what was occurring around his own command. The 8th and 51st Tennessee continued to support Carnes guns, which were advanced and engaged until withdrawn after sundown. The Federals had been driven beyond Carnes range and the Confederate infantry managed to capture some Union guns. During the battle on the ridge, Carnes had two casualties. Corporal Jones had his left leg taken off at the knee by a cannon-shot. Dr. Hatcher, surgeon of the battery, tied the severed arteries in five minutes after the wound, but the shock was too great and he died that night. Private Dukes, from Rutherford County, Tennessee, was permanently crippled by a cannon-shot, and honorably discharged. Captain Carnes was also injured during the battle. To avoid concentrated fire from the Federal batteries, he had placed his guns at long intervals on the ridge and the right gun was at the corner of a country cemetery and the left gun near a barn. Three lieutenants and Carnes were sitting on their horses on the line of and between the guns and Colonel W. L. Moore of the 8th Tennessee was on his horse close to Carne’s right. Carnes was dressed in an artillery officer’s uniform, with red facing and a red topped kepi, mounted a red sorrel horse with a full white face and Colonel Moore said: “Carnes, you’re a mighty good mark to shoot at, as good as any red headed woodpecker.” Carnes replied to Moore: “The distance is beyond effective range of the infantry guns and if hit by such a shot, it could not be fatal.” Not too long after his statement, Carnes was struck by a sharpshooter’s bullet which went through the cover of his left stirrup, hit the left side of his instep, which was protected by a heavy calf boot and ricocheted and knocked down a private of the 51st Tennessee. The bullet had come from a Whitworth rifle, which was commonly used by sharpshooters. The surgeon slit his boot open and the bullet had crushed some of the small bones in the left instep.[v] During the battle, the battery had exhausted all their solid shot and shell during the day and after sundown the battery switched to canister; but orders were given to cease fire and retire the battery.[vi] During the evening Carnes was busy refitting his battery since he used up all of his shrapnel and canister shot. He also lost many of his horses and men and one brass piece was disabled by a rifle shot that struck the muzzle, making the gun impossible to load. Carnes replaced the damaged gun with a captured Union gun of the same caliber. The next day Carnes withdrew without being followed.[vii] The next morning after the battle, Carnes, along with the rest of the Confederate army, marched to Harrodsburg. Carnes foot which was injured by the sharpshooter’s bullet was sore and he was not even able to pull his boot over his foot.
After Confederate General Braxton Bragg and the Army of Tennessee fell back into Tennessee, Carnes took a leave of absence on account of illness and his foot wound. After his recovery, he returned to duty and fought at the battle of Stone’s River, also known as Murfreesboro. On the retreat from Middle Tennessee to Chattanooga in 1863, Carnes replaced the broken pontoon bridge across the Tennessee River, after the engineers had failed. On September 19, 1863, at the battle of Chickamauga, he was in a desperate fight. He had been ordered to hold his positon on the left of Cheatham’s division against advancing Union troops and in carrying out his orders, Carnes had to use canister shot at short range and without support for the first half hour. Carnes fought as long as was possible until thirty-eight of his seventy-eight men were killed or wounded and forty-nine of his horses were killed. Of his left detachment, only one man beside himself escaped. General Bragg commended Carnes for his heroism and gave him the privilege of selecting new guns from the large number of Federal guns captured on the field. Carnes was also assigned the command of a battalion of four batteries in the division of General Carter Stevenson. On November 25, 1863, Carnes fought in the battle of Missionary Ridge.[viii]
In June of 1864, Carnes was commissioned a lieutenant in the Confederate navy and reported to Commodore W. W. Hunter at Savannah. He served on the ironclad “Savannah” and eventually became executive officer and later commanded the “Sampson.” Upon the evacuation of Savannah, he ran his boat up the river to Augusta and was ordered on board the “Chattahoochee” which was being outfitted at Columbus, Georgia. When Columbus was captured, Carnes attempted to join Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry. Forrest was going to appoint Carnes Chief of his artillery, but the war ended. On May 10, 1865, Carnes surrendered at Macon, Georgia.[ix] On April 4, 1866, he married Kate Payne. She died in 1872 and in 1876 he married Lila Payne, a sister of Kate. From the first marriage, he had two surviving children: Charles Quintard Carnes and Kate P, the wife of Robert Faulkner. From his second wife, he had eight children, but only six children survived: Lila K, Robert, Mary, Lois, Gladys, and Phyllis. In 1911, his second wife died. After the Civil War, he returned to Memphis, but in the fall of 1867 he established his home in Macon, Georgia. He lived in Macon for twenty-one years selling insurance. He held the rank of captain in the Macon volunteer militia. In 1888, Carnes returned to Memphis and sold insurance with his son. Carnes was senior member of W. W. Carnes and Son. Carnes organized and commanded for ten years Company A of the United Confederate Veterans of Memphis. In 1896, he was elected sheriff of Shelby County. After one year as sheriff, he was secretary of the Memphis Light and Power Company until 1900, when he resumed his insurance company with his son. He was a Mason and a member of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.[x] He died on May 26, 1932, at the age of ninety, in Bradenton, Manatee County, Florida and is buried at the Rose Hill Cemetery, in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia.
[i] Will Thomas Hale & Dixon Lanier Merritt, A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans: The Leaders and Representative Men in Commerce, Industry, and Modern Activities, Vol VIII, The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York, 1913, 2328. [ii] W. W. Carnes, CARNES’ TENNESSEE BATTERY AT THE BATTLE OF PERRYVILLE, CONFEDERATE VETERAN, Volume XXXIII, 1925, 8. [iii] Memoirs of William Watts Carnes, Captain of Artillery, C. S. A., Army of Tennessee, dictated to his daughter Mary Carnes Ward, 1928, 61. [iv] Memoirs of Captain William Watts Carnes, 64. [v] Ibid., 64-65. [vi] L.G. Marshall, JACKSON’S BATTERY— CARNES’S BATTERY— MARSHALL’S BATTERY, from John Berrien Lindsley (1822-1897); The MilitaryAnnals of Tennessee, Confederate: First Series. Nashville: J.M. Lindsley & Company, 1886, 842. [vii] W. W. Carnes, CARNES’ TENNESSEE BATTERY AT THE BATTLE OF PERRYVILLE, CONFEDERATE VETERAN, Volume XXXIII, 1925, 8. [viii] Will Thomas Hale & Dixon Lanier Merritt, A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans: The Leaders and Representative Men in Commerce, Industry, and Modern Activities, Vol VIII, The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York, 1913, 2329. [ix] Will Thomas Hale & Dixon Lanier Merritt, A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans: The Leaders and Representative Men in Commerce, Industry, and Modern Activities, Vol VIII, The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York, 1913, 2328. [x] Will Thomas Hale & Dixon Lanier Merritt, A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans: The Leaders and Representative Men in Commerce, Industry, and Modern Activities, Vol VIII, The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York, 1913, 2330.