History - Part IX

PART IX: September 1864 - December 1865

Getting away from Atlanta is a welcome relief by the men. The time away from the heat of battle is necessary in order for Brigadier General Alpheus Baker (and the rest of his officers and men) to heal from wounds inflicted upon him in the fighting around Atlanta. The 37th Alabama and the remainder of Baker’s Brigade (which includes the 40th, 42nd and 54th Alabama Regiments) are sent to reinforce the garrison at Spanish Fort in the District of the Gulf, Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana (September-October 1864). This move is fortunate for the men of the brigade, as they have just unknowingly been maneuvered out of Hood’s ill-fated campaign into Tennessee and its disastrous Battle of Franklin.

The 37th Alabama is detached from the Army of Tennessee and attached to the defense forces of the Gulf at Spanish Fort, Mobile Bay
Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana:
Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commanding
District of the Gulf: Major General Dabney Herndon (D. H.) Maury
Baker’s Brigade: Brigadier General Alpheus Baker
37th Regiment of Alabama: Colonel John H. Higley
(in a field consolidation with the 40th & 42nd Alabama)

August-December, 1864 - The 37th Alabama is garrisoned variously at Spanish Fort and Hollywood on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The depleted regiment is deployed primarily to guard Confederate gunboats in the bay, but the men who are able to take advantage of their situation to feast on freshly caught fish.

However, there are a great many of the men who still suffer from their wounds received during the Atlanta Campaign. Many of them die of their wounds or from various diseases or are hospitalized during the winter they spend on Mobile Bay. Long after the war, in 1902, former-Lieutenant
Thomas J. Carlisle published in his newspaper a letter from the old regimental quartermaster Captain C.P. Rodgers, that referred to Spanish Fort, in part:
" ... Do you remember how the boys shook with the [malarial] chills? Why if I could have got them all together at the same time on one hill, I could have had a very respectable earthquake."
October 1864 - The 37th Alabama of Baker’s Brigade is now assigned to Liddell’s Division, District of the Gulf, Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana (Oct 1864 - Jan 1865). However, the unit continues to be stationed at Spanish Fort on Mobile Bay.

October 3, 1864 - Sgt David M. Denney
(Co B) again writes home to his wife Sinai. His words reinforce the sickness that consumes the regiment:
"... This leaves me in about as good health as I have been in since I came to Mobeil [read Mobile]. The Co. still has chills and fever. I don’t think I will take the chills oing to my pewny condition and thin blood. Our Co. is off some three miles from this place on duty. As I wrote you before I hardly ever see any of them save the sick which was taken and sent back. ... It is not worthwhile for me to undertake to give you a list of those having chills. It is so common here they are hardly noticed. ...  [John] Danielly has returned from the hospital and was shaking the last time I saw him. I will try and come home to see you and the little ones as soon as I can as you know I want to see you all verry bad. ..."
Barely two weeks later, on October 16, 1864, David M. Denney succumbs to dysentery and is buried at Spanish Fort, never returning home to help his wife tend their farm.

Dept. of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana: Lt. General Richard Taylor
District of the Gulf: Major General Dabney Herndon (D. H.) Maury
Liddell’s Division: Major General St. John Richardson Liddell
Baker’s Brigade: Brigadier General Alpheus Baker
37th Regiment of Alabama: Colonel John H. Higley (with 40th & 42nd Alabama)

September 1864 - General John Bell Hood repeatedly requests that Baker’s entire brigade (including the 37th Alabama) be returned to him for his upcoming campaign. However, the regiment is not dispatched back to Hood. Instead, the brigade remains on guard duty at Mobile Bay far away from Hood and his disastrous and deadly Tennessee Campaign that culminated in another massacre from his ordered frontal assault of Franklin, Tenn.

November 1864 - The 37th Alabama, still at Spanish Fort on Mobile Bay, undergoes a field consolidation with the 40th and 42nd Alabama. The combined force is placed under the command of Colonel John H. Higley.

January 28, 1865 - The 37th Alabama inside Baker’s Brigade is finally ordered to re-join Clayton’s Division, 2nd Corps, Army of Tennessee (January-April 1865). The order reads in part: "Brig.-Gen. A. Baker will proceed with his brigade to Augusta, Ga., via Montgomery, Ala."

The re-united command is to move off by train toward North Carolina to face their old foe Sherman once again following his relentless "March to the Sea."

Private Benjamin F. McPherson (Co I) later wrote of the regiment's excursion upon departing Spanish Fort:
"... [We] stayed there until the last days of January 1865 ... so we were ordered from Spanish Fort over to Mobile. I must tell you of this trip across the [Mobile] bay. It was 20 miles, 2 hours run, so while at Spanish Fort the boys had made I reckon a thousand blowing horns out of these big horned old Texas steers. Well I was one of the guard on board, and we were ordered to load our guns, and when the boat struck the wharf to jump ashore and to shoot the first that got off before they were ordered off.

So when the boat got within 2 miles of the city the boys commenced to blow those horns. For God’s sake, I can’t tell you what happened; I never heard the like
you would have thought the world was coming to an end. My, the city was scared almost to death. We could look up the streets all full of people, all come down to see or learn what it meant... As soon as the boat struck the wharf we [guards] jumped off and before I could turn round the soldiers ran over us like sheep and were all over the city, and charged every cake shop, beer shop, wine, pies. Every place that had anything to eat or drink was sacked. They had done all of this stealing before you could say double eff. Well before night the city guard had them all in Hickock’s press. That was their prison house... Well there were mighty few men in camp that night..."
After ransacking Mobile, the hungry and cold regiment boards the "Reindeer," a large transport boat bound for Montgomery, Alabama. McPherson also recalled the trip:
"... 3 days and nights’ run, 600 miles. That night was a dreadful cold, windy time. To keep from freezing four of us boys went on top of the boat just behind the chimneys and kept warm. The boat was so crowded with soldiers and artillery that there was no chance to get to the furnace to warm..."

The 37th Alabama rejoins the Army of Tennessee:
Army of Tennessee: General Braxton Bragg, Commanding
Lee’s (2nd) Corps: Lieutenant General Stephen Dill (S. D.) Lee (wounded)
- command of Lee’s Corps is given to Major General Daniel Harvey Hill
Clayton’s Division: Major General Henry DeLamar Clayton
Baker’s Brigade: Brigadier General Alpheus Baker
37th Regiment of Alabama: Colonel John H. Higley

Many of the men in the regiment do not even have a pair of shoes to wear to protect them from the frozen ground as they march toward yet another fight.

February 2, 1865 - A Confederate force under McLaws holds the crossings of the Salkehatchie River near Kinston, North Carolina, against the advance of the right wing of Sherman’s Army. Federal soldiers begin building bridges across the swamp to bypass the roadblock. In the meantime, Union columns work to get on the Confederates’ flanks and rear.

February 3, 1865 - Two Union brigades wade through the swamp downstream and assault McLaws’ right. McLaws retreats toward Branchville after stalling Sherman’s advance for only one day.

March 1865 - The 37th Alabama is engaged in the "Carolinas Campaign"
Army of Tennessee: General Joseph E. Johnston, Commanding
Lee’s (2nd) Corps: Major General Daniel Harvey Hill
Clayton’s Division: Major General Henry DeLamar Clayton
Baker’s Brigade: Brigadier General Alpheus Baker
37th Regiment of Alabama: presumed to be Colonel John H. Higley

March 6, 1865 - Bragg, and the entire Army of Tennessee, is once again placed under the command of the privately-reluctant General Joe Johnston.

March 7, 1865 - Union Major General Jacob Cox directs his forces from New Berne toward Goldsboro. Cox’s advance is stopped by Hoke’s and Hagood’s divisions under Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s command at Southwest Creek below Kinston.

March 8, 1865 - The Confederates try to seize the initiative by attacking the Union flanks. After initial success, the Confederate attacks stall because of faulty communications.

March 9, 1865 - The reinforced Federals beat back Bragg’s new attacks.

March 10, 1865 - After heavy fighting, Bragg withdraws across the Neuse River and is unable to prevent the fall of Kinston.

March 14, 1865 - Kinston, North Carolina falls to the Union Army.

March 15, 1865 - In the afternoon, Union cavalry locates Confederate Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps, consisting of Taliaferro’s and McLaw’s infantry divisions and Wheeler’s dismounted cavalry - a force of only 5,400 men - deployed across the Raleigh Road near Smithville, North Carolina. After feeling out the Confederate defenses, the cavalry force under Kilpatrick withdraws and calls for infantry support. During the night, four divisions of the Union’s XX Corps arrive to confront the Confederates.

March 16, 1865 - At daybreak the Federals advance on a division front, driving back skirmishers, but are stopped by the main Confederate line and a daring counterattack. By mid-morning, the Federals renew their advance with strong reinforcements and drive the Confederates from two lines of works, but are turned back at a third line.

Late afternoon, the Union XIV Corps begins to arrive on the field but is unable to deploy before dark due to the swampy ground. The Union force now numbers 25,992 against Hardee’s 5,400. During the night, Hardee slips away after holding up the Union advance for nearly two days.

March 19-21, 1865 - The 37th Alabama is dug in at Bentonville, North Carolina. While part of the Union advance is stalled at Averasborough by Hardee’s troops, the right wing of Sherman’s army under command of Major General O. O. Howard marches toward Goldsboro.

Sunday, March 19, 1865 - Union forces under Slocum encounter the entrenched Confederates of General Joseph E. Johnston who have concentrated to meet his advance at Bentonville. Lee’s Corps with only 2,687 men is commanded by Major General D.H. Hill as S.D. Lee, wounded again during Hood’s Tennessee campaign, has not yet returned to duty.

The 37th Alabama is engaged in the "Battle of Bentonville"
Army of Tennessee: General Joseph E. Johnston, Commanding
Lee’s (2nd) Corps:
Major General Daniel Harvey Hill
Clayton’s Division: Major General Henry DeLamar Clayton
Baker’s Brigade: Brigadier General Alpheus Baker
37th Regiment of Alabama: Captain T. B. Richards

Brigadier General Alpheus Baker‘s men, including the 37th Alabama, find the Goldsboro Road rich with Union supplies discarded in haste. Private B.F. Watson of the 40th Alabama (also part of Baker’s Brigade), later wrote:
"Baker’s men found the Road littered with the enemy’s discarded baggage and broke ranks to sift through It ... Some of our men grabbed up knapsacks, and one of our Co., Frank Lee, found a silk dress while some found ladies’ garments and Daguerreotypes and Chevalier of Capt. Coleman’s company hauled out a little bag of silver of about 12 dollars ... I grabbed up a frying pan and stuck the handle under my belt as a sort of shield."
Perhaps the haste to withdraw from in front of the quickly approaching Rebels can be explained by the story told by Colonel (later Congressman and Governor) William C. Oates of the 15th Alabama who recalled an incident from Gen. Baker's fast advance:
 "... during the hard fighting of the 19th from some cause (Baker) became greatly enthused, and charged with his little brigade, broke through the Federal lines ...
... Baker was very eccentric and superstitious. He said that when his brigade began to advance and was proceeding in quick time he saw a big rabbit running, and saw it would cross his path; he struck spurs to his horse and dashed ahead of the rabbit, and then ordered his brigade to charge, which it did, and drove everything before it, until he found he had cut through to the federal rear, and the only way to get back was to make a wide circuit through woods and fields; but after a most fatiguing march got back to Johnston's army.
He (Baker) said he was satisfied that if he had allowed that old jackrabbit to cross him he would have been killed and his brigade decimated.  That after he turned the cuff of his left coat-sleeve – wrong side out – and felt no danger."

– Col. William C. Oates, 15th Alabama www.archives.state.al.us/govs_list/g_oatesw.html
"The War Between the Union and the Confederacy and Its Lost Opportunities" pg 455

Late in the afternoon of March 19th, Johnston attacks the line of the Union XIV Corps in the "Last Grand Charge of the Army of Tennessee."

Baker’s and Palmer’s brigades of Confederates push back the 86th Illinois and start to flank it. A Private of the 42nd Alabama, also with Baker’s Brigade, recalled the Rebels found themselves "... in a hornets’ nest of bullets. We quickly obeyed the orders to lie down, but still made use of our guns."

The Federal commander on that part of the field, Lieutenant Colonel Fahnestock orders his men to "lay down and shoot low" to counter the devastating fire of the experienced veteran soldiers he is facing. Fahnestock reported afterwards: "The bullets flew like hail among the Pine trees." His superior, General Fearing added, "The whole of my line was doubled up and thrown into confusion." The 86th Illinois and 52nd Ohio are routed.

At around 4:00 p.m. - Four Confederate brigades - Baker’s, Palmer’s, Deas’; and Manigault’s - pour into the gap opened up by Fearing’s retreat and head for the exposed rear of the Federal Army. The officers of Baker’s Brigade order their men back up onto their feet to resume their push. Baker’s men, including the 37th Alabama, soon come upon a double line of works (abandoned by Fearing’s men) with an opening of about 15 yards separating the two. This gap soon earns the nickname "The Bull Pen."

Private Claude Lee Hadaway of Baker’s Brigade [54th Alabama] crawls through the Bull Pen and comes within 20 yards of a third line of Federal earthworks when seven Yankees raise their hands and surrender to him, and his single-shot musket.

During the day, the 37th Alabama, now under the command of Captain T. B. Richards reports taking 204 Federal prisoners. However, not all of Baker’s Brigade are involved in taking captives, some of the men become captives. Private Hiram Smith Williams of the 40th Alabama (Baker's Brigade) was taken prisoner and said of his captors:

"They gave us credit for fighting them as hard as they were ever fought and some told me it was the first time their line was ever broken. Some thought we had whiskey to incite us on. Quite a compliment."
Indeed, that is not the only compliment paid on Baker’s men during the day. One veteran Union soldier wrote:
"I was there [at Bentonville] with a regiment that had faced Beauregard at Shiloh and Bragg at Stone’s River; that had participated in nearly every battle of the Army of the Cumberland. We had taken a hand in the terrible assaults at Kennesaw Mountain and Jonesboro; but for the desperate valor on the part of the rebels . . . we saw nothing in four years of army life to compare with that 19th of March at Bentonville."
Only strong counterattacks and desperate fighting south of the Goldsboro Road stop the Confederate offensive. Elements of the XX Corps are thrown into the action as they arrive on the field. Five Confederate attacks fail to dislodge the Federal defenders and darkness ends the first day’s fighting. During the night, Johnston contracts his line into a "V" to protect his flanks with Mill Creek to his rear.

Despite heavy rains, the pine thickets are still swept by fires started by the feverish fighting. One Army of Tennessee veteran wrote:

"We never fought under such conditions before . . . the entire woods was filled with smoke, black and sooty, we could scarcely see. It filled not only our eyes, but our mouths."

A Texas Ranger added:
" . . . lurid flames, fed by the rosin on the trees, would shoot up into the sky and suddenly drop back like so many tongues, while underneath the wounded moaned piteously for help or struggled to escape roasting alive . . . It was a grim-visaged war in his most weird, most grand and appalling aspect."
March 20, 1865 - The chilling rain continues to fall, worsening conditions and swelling Mill Creek. The Federals are heavily reinforced, but fighting is sporadic during the day. Sherman is inclined to let Johnston retreat; Johnston has other plans.

John Malcolm Culpepper’s grandchildren recalled him telling stories of being encamped near Union forces - close enough to see their campfires and hear the Yankees, who would taunt the hungry Confederates by yelling to them: "Come on over ‘Johnny Reb’ and have a cup of coffeeee!"

March 21, 1865 - While Johnston removes his wounded, his force remains with its back squarely to the flooded Mill Creek. Skirmishing heats up along the entire front. In the afternoon, Union Major General Joseph Mower leads his division along a narrow trace that carries it across Mill Creek into Johnston’s rear. With this new danger, Johnston gambles. He orders A. P. Stewart to send him Palmer’s and Baker’s Brigades from Lee’s Corps.

Only Baker’s men, including the 37th Alabama arrive in time to take an active role in the Confederate counterattacks which stop Mower’s advance, saving the Confederate army’s only line of communication and retreat. Mower withdraws, ending fighting for the day. During the night, Johnston retreats across the bridge at Bentonville.

March 22, 1865 - Union forces pursue Johnston at first light, driving back Wheeler’s cavalry rearguard to save the bridge. Federal pursuit is halted at Hannah’s Creek after a severe skirmish. Sherman, after regrouping at Goldsboro, pursues Johnston toward Raleigh.

April 8, 1865 - The garrison at Spanish Fort on Mobile Bay, where the 37th Alabama had spent the previous winter is abandoned for nearby Fort Blakely, which also falls with its 4,000 troops to Union forces the next day.

April 8-9, 1865 - At Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Confederate General Robert E. Lee faces the overwhelming Federal forces of Ulysses S. Grant for the final time.

April 9, 1865 - Lee surrenders his Army of Northern Virginia to Grant.

April 9, 1865 - At Smithfield, North Carolina, General Joseph E. Johnston reorganizes his forces and consolidates his depleted units into something more closely resembling the technical definition of an "Army."

The 37th Alabama becomes part of what is officially known as the ALABAMA 37TH INFANTRY REGIMENT CONSOLIDATED. This newly constituted regiment is organized by combining the 37th, 42nd and 54th Alabama Infantry Regiments, and is placed in Brantley’s Brigade, D. H. Hill’s Division, 2nd (S.D. Lee’s) Corps, Army of Tennessee (April 1865):
  • The rank and file of the former 54th Alabama Regiment is reorganized as Companies “A” and “F” of the Consolidated 37th Alabama Regiment;
  • The surviving officers and men of the namesake 37th Alabama Regiment form Companies “B”, “C”, “D”, “E” and “K”;
  • The remnants of the 42nd Alabama Regiment coalesce into Companies “G”, “H” and “I”.
As you read the individual records and rolls of the companies on this site, bear in mind that men listed herein, may be more closely related to either the 42nd and 54th than to the 37th proper.
Many officers are "supernumeraries" and are left simply with no one to command. Others are attached to units with whom they have never served previously. However, the man assigned to command the ALABAMA 37TH CONSOLIDATED is Colonel John A. Minter,

Of the original 1,257 men who enlisted in the 37th Alabama Infantry Regiment - sources state only about 75 officers and men remain at the end. In fact, there are only 300 men in the entire Alabama 37th Consolidated Regiment. There are but about 100 men each are left from the remnants of the once formidable 54th Alabama and 40th Alabama Regiments, as well. During the entire conflict, approximately 2,000 different men served in the 37th Alabama/Consolidated 37th Alabama at one point or another.
who has led the 54th Alabama and has campaigned alongside the regiment he now commands - at least on paper.

Army of the South: General Joseph Eggleston Johnston, Commanding
Army of Tennessee:
Lieutenant General Alexander Peter Stewart
2nd (S. D. Lee’s) Corps: Lieutenant General Stephen Dill (S. D.) Lee
D. H. Hill’s Division: Major General Daniel Harvey Hill
Brantley’s Brigade: Brigadier General William Felix Brantley
37th Alabama Infantry Regiment-Consolidated: Colonel John A. Minter and Lieutenant Colonel William D. McNeil

April 18, 1865 - Johnston signs an armistice with Sherman at Bennett House near Raleigh, North Carolina.

April 26, 1865 - General Joseph Eggleston Johnston formally surrenders his once mighty Army to William Tecumseh Sherman at Durham Station, Orange County, North Carolina.

The American Civil War is over.

But the hardships of getting home for the men of the 37th Alabama continues. A unit that saw one of its earliest deaths come by accident suffers a similar fate at its close of duty. Private Andrew J. Brooks (Co I) who has survived the difficulties of the Siege of Vicksburg, endured the trenches in Georgia, and fought the last fight in Bentonville before being surrendered, and who and has battled malaria for years never makes it home. He is "Killed near Charlotte, North Carolina after surrender by collision of [train] cars."

One man Private Benjamin F. McPherson (Co I) who does make it home weeks after drawing a "Mexican dollar" as his final Confederate pay recalled his emotional homecoming in his memoir:

" ... Now I turn to my gate. I expected to hear my old dog greet me but he did not. I thought where is my old dog, Tambo. Maybe he is dead, for I wanted to see if he would know me ... went to the door, not a sound could I hear. I knocked on the door, and I heard my wife get up and she said, ’Who is that?’ I said it was me, so she opened the door, and O, how I did kiss and embrace her. Well there was a light struck and I asked how all were. She said all were well, so about this time some of the children awoke. It was ’Howdy Pa, Howdy Pa.’ Now my heart was bursting with joy and my cup ran over, and I tumbled down onto a trundle bed where some of my children were lying, and I wept as a man never wept, and how long I cannot say ... Now my reader, you see there are many changes come, yes, I have often thought that I have passed through the fiery trials ... and what little gold there was in me has been purified ..."

December 31, 1865 - Eight short months after the end of hostilities, Joseph Henry Harris of Oakbowery, Alabama, once a member of the 37th Alabama (who, in fact, had helped his cousin Colonel James F. Dowdell recruit for the regiment), writes in his diary on New Year’s Eve:

"The last day of the old year and one of the most remarkable years ever on record. A year of war and of peace, of oppression and humiliation ... Parents have been made to rejoice at the return of their sons from the bloody field of strife. Wives and children have been made happy by the return from the field of courage, the loving husband and father; but also how many hearts have mourned and bled ... because their children were not, and the sighs going up from the family hearthstone are innumerable on account of some loving one’s being absent, forever absent.

... I pray God that our land may never be visited by another civil war ... and the people of the South and North as far as possible forget the past and look with encouragement to the future, relying finally upon our omnipotent one to shield, protect and love us to the end."

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37th Alabama Regiment of Volunteer Infantry CSA
2300 Cottondale Lane Little Rock, AR 72202

© Copyright 2007 C.C. (Chip) Culpepper