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There was a Terrible Din - Brown's Brigade at Perryville: Floridians, Mississippians, and Georgians

Many Western Theater historians who are familiar with the Battle of Perryville are accustomed to hearing tours or stories of Maney’s Tennessee and Georgia brigade fighting heroically on Open Knob and Starkweather’s Hill, or the intense fighting that took place around the H.P. Bottom house. Very few bother to pay attention to the fighting that took place around Loomis’ Heights, much less some of the notable brigades who were involved in the slugfest that would occur there.

Brig. Gen John C. Brown Alabama Archives

One of the brigades that has such a unique story in the fighting that occurred was General John C. Brown’s brigade. His brigade was organized during the summer of 1862, when Bragg moved the Army of the Mississippi from Tupelo to Chattanooga. The brigade consisted of the 1st and 3rd Florida, the only organized body of Floridians to fight at Perryville, 41st Mississippi Infantry and Palmer's “States Rights” Georgia Battery. Brown, the commander of the brigade, was just recently exchanged from his capture at the Battle of Fort Donelson. His men would grow to love him for his ability to lead them in the field. The brigade, however, held a mixed bag of experience. The 1st Florida Infantry, commanded by Colonel William Miller,, were the only seasoned veterans of the brigade. Earlier, they saw action at Shiloh and spent several months around the Florida coast. The regiment also consisted of a few green companies who were merged into the regiment because of the depletion of numbers. The 3rd Florida Infantry, commanded by Colonel Daniel B. Bird, was one of the green regiments in the brigade. Though raised in 1861, like the 1st, this regiment primarily saw duty only along the Gulf Coast, until Bragg called for more reinforcements for the upcoming campaign. The 41st Mississippi Infantry, commanded by Colonel William F. Tucker, was another green regiment raised in the spring and summer of 1862. Palmer's “States Rights” Battery, commanded by Captain Joseph E. Palmer, had mixed experience as well, as some of the men of the battery previously served in the recently disbanded 1st Georgia Infantry (Ramsey’s) who saw service in the mountains of West Virginia.


After the organization was complete, Brown's brigade, like the rest of Braggs army, would march out of Chattanooga in mid-August. On the march, the men endured the rough and intense Tennessee and Kentucky heat, not to mention the water shortages once they arrived in Kentucky. In Bardstown, Kentucky, the brigade enjoyed a few days of rest until orders were received to march east towards Danville and on to Harrodsburg. Brown’s men would pass through Perryville on the October 5-6, and then on the 7th ordered back to Perryville where the brigade took up position north of the town.


On the morning of the 8th, the brigade moved forward to positions behind a ridge in an open plowed field. To their front was Lumsden’s Alabama artillery, which at around 12:00 p.m. became hotly engaged in a duel with the Federal battery on Loomis’ Heights. Brown's brigade, belonging to Anderson’s division, was not alone - to their front lay Jones’s Mississippi brigade. Jones’s men were the first to assault Loomis’s Heights at around 2:30 p.m. Jones’s men, though, would be butchered in their attack. After scaling what is now called Jones’s Ridge, his men descended into the valley below and attacked the heights three times, failing miserably each time. Jones’s brigade was mauled so badly by the Federal artillery and rifle fire that one unit, the 34th Mississippi Infantry, suffered 50% casualties.


After Jones’s men ran back over the ridge at around 3:00 p.m., Brown’s brigade was called up to plug the gap. 3rd Florida Lieutenant John L. Inglis recounted, “attention rang along our line, up jumped the 1st brigade General Brown Lined us up as if on drill, drew his sword and with the command “forward, guide right march...”. The brigade of 900 men advanced with a rebel yell over the ridge that had hid them and descended into the dry creek bed of Doctor's Creek. It is important to note that because of the steepness of the bluff going down Doctor’s Creek many of the officers had to dismount and advanced on foot. Up ahead of them, one section of Palmer's battery advanced over the creek bed and opened on the Federals above on Loomis’s Heights. Once across the creek, Brown realigned his brigade and advanced steadily towards Jones’s Ridge.


The 3rd Florida, being their first battle, started to advance much faster than the rest the brigade which made Gen. Brown halt the entire brigade and in the midst of the battle cussed out the 3rd Florida Infantry. Lt. John L. Inglis recalled, “Gen. Brown Stopped the whole line to get 3 Fla. In line cussed us for being too quick...”. While moving up to Jones’s Ridge, many of Brown’s men had to stay behind because of the lack of shoes which plagued Bragg's army. Some could not make their way through the Black Locust thickets which covered the back side of the ridge. Nevertheless the brigade moved on.


Once on top of the ridge, Brown’s brigade was aligned from left to right as follows: the 41st Mississippi with 427 men, 1st Florida with 167 men, the 3rd Florida with 275 men, and Palmer’s 125 artillerists of the States Rights Battery was placed further to the right. Gen. Brown, unlike Jones, decided to slug it out on top of the ridge rather than attack in the valley below and firing began between the two lines. The brigade by this point had advantages over the defending Federals across the valley on Loomis’s Heights. Those Union soldiers were starting to run out of ammunition, and to make matters worse, their artillery, which played a terrible toll on Jones’s brigade, was now completely out of shot and shell, and had to retreat further behind the Federal lines. The defending infantry were now weakened even further.


Col. William Miller 1st Florida Infantry St. John Cemetery

Once established on top of the ridge, huge sheets of fire and lead rained everywhere. Lt. Inglis of the 3rd Florida wrote, “There was a terrible din. We now lay down engaging the enemy firing steady." In the opening minutes of the fight, Gen. Brown, who was still mounted on his horse, was severely wounded from a shell fragment and sent to the rear. Col. Tucker of the 41st Mississippi, a veteran of Bull Run, who took over command after Brown was hit. He, too, would be wounded in a matter of minutes. After Tucker also fell wounded, Col. William Miller of the 1st Florida was the next to take charge of the small brigade. Miller was one of the few northern born leaders in the Confederate army at Perryville. Miller soon faced ammunition shortages, due to the fact, as Miller put it “the Ordinance officer was drunk at the time”. To combat this, officers of the brigade ran up and down the line taking rounds off the dead and dying and giving it to the able-bodied men. Across the valley, the Federals were nearly out of ammunition as well, and some Federal units, like the 38th Indiana, were ordered to just stand and take the Confederate fire.


Eventually the Confederate ammunition wagons arrived and the brigade was resupplied. It was nearing 4:00 p.m. and by that point Confederate pressure was mounting with the arrival of two fresh brigades to Millers left, Cleburne’s and Adams’s. The Federal lines began to crack. Sensing that the moment was now, Miller ordered the small brigade to attack the heights. What was left of the brigade fixed bayonets and started for the Federal position. During the advance, a young boy in the brigade, feeling a rush of excitement, screamed out loud, but all that came out was a very high-pitched squeal; the brigade then let loose the rebel yell. During their advance a Federal regiment, the 10th Ohio, which had been left on top of Loomis’s Heights, fixed bayonets and in true American fashion charged towards the Florida and Mississippi brigade. The Southerners halted along a snake-rail fence, which ran at the base of the heights, and let loose a terrible volley which sent the lone Federal regiment back up to their starting position. Soon the Brigade crossed the fence and in a swift movement captured the heights that their division spent nearly two and a half hours fighting for. Miller ordered the brigade to advance towards the retreating federals, but halted due to the loss of important junior officers.


View of Jones's Ridge from Loomis's Heights today Taylor Bishop

The Floridians, Mississippians, and Georgians performed well in their first battle together but took severe casualties. The 1st Florida, out of the 167 engaged, suffered 72 casualties. The 3rd Florida, lost 104 out of the 275 men engaged. The 41st Mississippi lost 90 men of their 427. Palmer's battery left 13 of their 125 men on the field. The brigade as a whole lost nearly 280 out of 994 men. Each unit would go on to become hardened Western Theater veterans, and after Perryville, the famed Florida Brigade was formed.

Sources:

Sheppard, Jonathan C., By the Nobel Daring of Her Sons, Florida State University. 2008.

Sheppard, Jonathan C., Everyday Soldiers”: The Florida Brigade of the West, 1861-1862, The Florida State University College of Arts And Sciences, 2004.

Noe, Kenneth W., Perryville This Grand Havoc of Battle, The University Press of Kentucky. 2001.

Logsdon, David R., Eyewitnesses at the Battle of Perryville, Kettle Mills Press. 2007.

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