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Processing War: Pickett's Mill Diary Entries of Thomas H. Williams, 1st Tennessee Cavalry(Wheeler’s)

Updated: Dec 24, 2022

Photo taken on the ridge to Granbury's right, looking down toward the cornfield where Wheeler's dismounted Cavalry and Cleburne's Infantry drove Hazen's Federals back towards Pickett's Mill. Photo: Scott Felsen

The following are a series of diary entries and a letter home by T. H. Williams of the Confederate 1st Tennessee Cavalry(Wheeler’s), Ashby’s Brigade of Hume’s Division, as he processed through shock, fatigue and grief following the Battle of Pickett’s Mill. Fighting dismounted to the right of Granbury’s line, Ashby’s Tennessee Cavalry Brigade fought desperately to keep the Confederate Right from collapsing in on Granbury’s Texans. Not only did these Cavalrymen face a heavy fire from their front from Hazen’s Federal Infantry, they also endured a murderous enfilade fire coming from their left as Gibson’s and Hazen's Federals attacked Granbury from the Ravine. Driven back twice by fire coming from two directions, Ashby’s cavalrymen would make a third gallant charge and with the help of Cleburne's Infantry(Baucum and Lowrey), drove the Federals back across the northern fence of The Cornfield. Discovered by historian and writer Dave Powell in the Pickett's Mill battlefield archives, these entries not only give us crucial new details about The Battle of Pickett’s Mill, but provide us with a rare look into the mind of a soldier processing through the horror he had witnessed by writing and rewriting his thoughts soon after the battle.

“Friday, May 27th, 1864: New Hope Church. Early in the morning everything unusually quiet. It proved to be the calm that preceded the storm. About midday hurriedly ordered to saddle, time being scarcely given to adjust everything before orders to mount and fall into line were given. Remain in line for an hour when we are permitted to go into camp without unsaddling. In camp only a few minutes before our skirmishers commenced popping away briskly. Are soon mounted in line and dismounted to fight. A brisk walk brought us to the position chosen for us when we commenced to throw up a protection of logs and chips. Skirmishing grew hotter and closer every moment causing each of us to grasp his gun firmly in his hand while he silently vows to stand his post and if needs be fall a martyr to his country's honor. The minnies come whizzing thick and fast and we were subjected to a cross-fire from a large body of the enemy to our left. Volley after volley on the left told the tale of bloody deeds. They were forcing our men back on this portion of the line when our brigade at that point was ordered to hold it at all hazards. Our regiment forced and charged through the woods yelling like so many demons 'til we came to the fence where we commenced firing on the fast retreating Yankees. On reaching the woods 150 yards distant, they stopped and fought us for several hours, we holding them in check until Cleburne's Division came to our support A charge for the infantry being ordered and supposing our cavalry were intended to join, I leaped the fence with many others of our command and marched side by side with the infantry through the field. When coming upon our adjutant and learning our regiment were ordered to their horses, we started back slowly and almost broken down, merely dragging ourselves to our horses. Though we stood up gallantly today and we greatly rejoice at it, yet we have to mourn the loss of our noble dead. Of our company, McCord Maxwell was mortally wounded when fighting in the thickest of the fight. Lee Henderson slightly wounded in hip and James McKay and Williams slightly wounded by guns being shivered in their hands. The loss sustained by the regiment was pretty heavy. Killed: Thos. Green, Co. G.; Capt. Freeman severely wounded through both thighs***; Houser, Co. F., mortally wounded through the abdomen; Lt. Stallins seriously wounded; others whose names I do not know, killed 1, wounded mortally 2 and wounded seriously and slightly 14; missing 1--total 18. 65 or 70 men of regiment engaged.

***see “Company Aytch: New Hope Church” by Sam Watkins and Col. Jas. H. Lewis Annals of Tenn.: Confederate Vol. 2 regarding wounding of Asa G. Freeman. He survived but would not return to duty until the fall of 1864.

Captain Asa G. Freeman 1st Tenn. Cav(Wheeler’s) who was severely wounded at Pickett’s Mill. Photo: Tennessee State Museum- Myers K. Brown, Tennessee Confederates

Friday, May 27th, 1864: (separate entry)... "We were ordered as soon as line was formed to dismount to fight and were soon on field of action and building breastworks as fast as possible. Skirmishing grew hotter and closer every moment, and the "Minnies" began to fly round us, but we lay behind our "pile of logs" awaiting the approach of the Yanks. Suddenly a heavy volley on our left told that the enemy were vigorously attacking that place and casting our eyes in that direction. I could see a column of the enemy in an open field giving away at our boys as fast as they could load and had driven them from their position. Just at this moment "attention" was given and we were soon "doublequicking" to the left. When opposite to the point we were ordered, our regiment wheeled into line and ordered forward. Away we went yelling like so many demons 'til we came to the fence where we commenced firing on the now retreating Yankees. They, however, stopped in the woods on the opposite side of the field which was 150 or 200 yds. wide, and we fought there for (it seemed) several hours, holding them in check until Cleburne's Division came to our support. A charge for the infantry being ordered, and supposing our cavalry were intended to join it, I leaped the fence with many others of our command and marched side by side with the infantry as far in the field as they went. When on learning our cavalry were ordered to their horses, I left them with some others of my command and slowly, almost broken down, dragged myself back to my horse. Tho' we stood up gallantly today, and are now rejoiced in it, yet we have to mourn the loss of fallen comrades. Of our Company Mc. M. Maxwell, mortally wounded which fighting in the thickest of the fight. Lee H. also slightly wounded in hip and Jas. M. and Jas. W. had their guns shivered, slightly wounding them. Tom Green (Com. G) killed. Capt. F. seriously wounded through both thighs*** Houser, Co. F mortally wounded--shot through abdomen. Many others wounded whom I do not know. Lieut. Stallins seriously wounded. Number killed 1--wounded mortally 1 wounded serious and slight 14--missing 1--total 18. Regiment numbered in fight about 70."

Saturday, May 28th, 1864; Am very sore from yesterday's fatigue. Are ordered to saddle very early and moved toward the front. Afterward formed in a grove where we remain all day, resting our wearied limbs. Go into camp on the ground we occupied during the day. At dark learn the sad news of Maxwell's death and every true friend of the departed soldier mourns it sadly and sorrowingly. Yes, we have lost one of our best comrades--one ever ready to do his duty without a murmur. He was a model soldier, a Christian, and one esteemed highly among his friends and associates. But he has gone and we are left to mourn his loss. He will be with us no more, only in memory. Enemy charged by our boys, capturing about 400 during the fight last night. J. R. F. rode over battlefield of yesterday evening where Granberry's Brigade fought, and says he never saw such a number of dead Yankees. There were about 700 killed within a space of 2 acres. Our men were burying them in trenches, putting them 5 deep on top of each other. He counted 236 lying on space 100 yards long, 20 yards wide, just as they fell one whole line of battle was completely mowed down. The brigade highly complimented by Gen. Johnston who rode over the field to look at them. Get letter from home today.

Saturday, may 28th 1864: (separate entry) Am very sore and unwell from yesterday's fatigue. Are ordered to saddle at an early hour and moved toward front. Afterward formed in a grove where we remain all day resting our wearied limbs. J. R. F. of my mess visits yesterday evening battlegrounds. In front of Granbury's brigade at least 700 of the enemy were sent to their final resting place. Our boys charged enemy last night, capturing about 400 prisoners with a large number of spades and shovels. J. R. F. says he never saw the like of dead Yankees on so small a space of ground. We killed a great many before our infantry came to our support. Camp on ground occupied by us during day........

May 30th, 1864

Dear Pa,

...we lost from our enemy a model soldier and a "God-fearing" man and in every respect one who will always hold a place in the memory and affections of his comrades in arms. I learn that he prayed one of the most powerful prayers in behalf of his country and it's soldiery, for it's final success and speedy restoration of peace, ever listened to, before he died. His loss we greatly deplore. McCord Maxwell is with us no more---only in memory...Jim Wilkins had his gun struck on the lock, smashing it up and slightly wounding him--wrists almost well now. It paralyzed his wrist and hand for a few moments. When the ball struck his gun, he simply said, "They've dismounted my piece," and laughed. 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 and 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 had not been there the ball would have struck me in 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.*** Our cavalry were ordered to their horses and left the infantry to fight it out---which they did, inflicting terrible loss on them. I never was so near broken down before. I thought several times I would have to stop from pure exhaustion, but I would rally and go ahead. Our regiment did not have more than 60 or 75 men in the fight as it was rather a sudden call and they were off grazing and watering their horses. We lost about 1/4 of the men we had engaged.... Your son, Tommie

*** see narrative of W. G. Allen, 5th Tennessee Cavalry(McKenzie's) and narrative of Pvt. W. E. Sloan, 5th Tennessee Cavalry. Colonel J. H. Lewis stated only 60 men in the 1st Tenn. Cavalry(Wheeler's). The bulk of the men of Ashby's Brigade were the 5th Tenn. Cavalry which had 490-500 effectives, and four independent sources put the casualties of the 5th at 143, which brings the known killed, wounded and missing for Ashby's Brigade to 161, with the other two small regiments reporting "losing heavily."

Author: Christopher Cash email: John 3:16


Map: Hal Jespersen

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

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My 2nd gr grandmother's brother,, Silas D. Frisbie, Kentucky 23rd Reg., was killed on May 28 and buried on site. He was dug up and identified by his regiment friends the next day, and letter (which I have) was sent to his sister in Ridgefield, Conn. Friends reburied him and marked grave with a wooden cross.

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27 mar 2021
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He would have fought Ashby’s Cavalry Brigade and Lowrey’s Infantry Brigade on the extreme Confederate Right/extreme Union Left, in the Southern end of Cornfield. Probably he was killed on the 27th or was wounded on 27th and died on the 28th. Heroes all!

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