A Sketch of Harvey's Scouts
By J. F. H. Claiborne
This book details the service of an Independent Company of Cavalry from Mississippi whose record may have been entirely lost to history but for this volume. One wonders how many more men served who are not documented. The names of these men do not appear in the National Archives Index of soldiers.
The scouts consisted originally of twenty-five men, selected from Gen. Wirt Adams' regiment of cavalry, confided to Capt. Harvey for special service. Having soon demonstrated his activity, audacity and aptitude for this particular line of duty, his command was increased to forty men, all carefully picked from Adams' and Ballentine's cavalry, and from the twenty-eighth Mississippi, and with the stipulation that they were to remain permanently under his command. They came from various Southern States, but were chiefly from Mississippi—from different countries, the majority from Madison, where Capt. Harvey resided.
The book also survives fortunately from the fact that the account was published as an excerpt in the Clarion and East Mississippi Times, but the much larger manuscript was evidently lost to a fire. Our edition includes a roster of this company and some additional notes not found in the original.
This independent company was raised in Madison County, MS.
Total roll, 118; 12 killed or died in service; wounded, 16; captured, 29. Lieut. Land was killed near Stilesboro, Ga., October, 1864; Captain Harvey was assassinated April 20, 1865, at Columbus, Ga.
"Harvey's Scouts were organized as a detachment of men detailed from Wood's and Starke's Regiments of Wirt Adams' Cavalry, under the command of Lieutenant Harvey of Wood's Regiment. Its subsequent organization as an independent company of scouts, attached to Gen. W. H. Jackson's Division, took place at Cave Springs, Ga., June 1, 1864. Before organizing as a company its service was confined to Mississippi, scouting on the Mississippi River between Vicksburg and Natchez, and following Sherman's raid to Meridian and back. Upon the transfer of General Jackson's Cavalry from Mississippi to Georgia, Harvey accompanied Jackson, and on arriving at Cave Springs was promoted Captain and permitted to increase his command by receiving enlistments to a full company. It had been composed of about forty detailed men. From this time until the surrender, with varied fortunes the scouts watched the movements of the enemy around Atlanta, followed raids and made dashes on the railroad between Chattanooga and Atlanta, went into Tennessee with General Hood, returned to take part with General Forrest against the Wilson raid through Alabama, following the enemy to Columbus, Ga., where Captain Harvey was basely assassinated by a citizen of that place, and finally ceased the struggle upon the surrender of General Taylor." (Notes accompanying the final roll).
During the service in Mississippi Captain Harvey was wounded in an attack on the escort of a wagon train from Natchez. July 16, 1863, he and his men dashed into Jackson as Sherman's Corps moved out, and Col. John N. Cromwell, Forty-seventh Illinois, was killed in the fight that followed. Harvey reported the capture of twenty-eight men.
In his report of the Meridian campaign, Gen. W. H. Jackson wrote: "I beg leave to call the attention of Major-General Lee to the part performed by Lieutenant Harvey and his gallant band of forty scouts. He was everywhere doing good service; killed and captured of the enemy four times his own number. His daring, coolness and judgment eminently fit him for promotion and much larger command."
Colonel Starke wrote that Harvey brought to bear his usual undaunted courage, extraordinary energy and judgment. Harvey's command of twenty-three men was the only part of the Confederate Cavalry Corps that remained about Meridian while Sherman was destroying the military depots and railroads, and also alone attending the Federal army to Canton. He reported that his men occasioned a Union loss of about 130 killed and captured, and captured two wagons and forty-seven horses and mules. Among his own losses were John Graham killed, and Ruel M. Stancill wounded, of Starke's Regiment; and Private Tindall, Ballentine's Regiment, wounded and captured. James Renfrow and Thomas Field killed, and Private Pereau wounded, of Wirt Adams' Regiment.
Report of General McCook, Union army, June 26, 1864: "These men in the rear who have been doing the mischief near Tilton's belong to this division (Jackson's). They call them Harvey's Scouts."
The following account details events which occurred near Stilesboro in 1864 just before Sherman began his march to the sea.. This occurred right near my house on the Etowah River.
“During the Georgia campaign, near Stilesboro, several couriers were captured and very important information obtained. Capt. Harvey, with twenty men, under cover of a dark night, penetrated the enemy's camp, seized the couriers as they passed from one corps to another, and made his way out unobserved. The information proving very valuable, the immediate object was to get it to Head Quarters with dispatch and safety. Some of the captured papers could be read; others were in cipher. All that could be read Capt. Harvey confided to the memory of Williamson, one of his shrewdest scouts, who had often passed between hostile commands on the march when there was only an interval of one hundred yards between them. He was ordered to go, with his verbal information, the dangerous route—that is, the shortest cut, without regard to risk, and report to the next confederate general.
Another man was put in charge of all the captured papers, to report, by a longer and safer route, to the same officers.
When scouting was done by squads or detachments, which generally involved some desperate fighting, often against heavy odds, the peril was greatly increased. It was not the object of a scouting party to fight. The object was information for the commanding general, and it was the policy to avoid a fight unless it became inevitable by sudden contact, and retreat impracticable.
When Gen. Hood was swinging around, in rear of Atlanta, just before he turned his face toward Tennessee, Harvey's scouts were on duty day and night, reporting the movements of the enemy. One night the scouts struck Etowah river ten miles above Rome, which was then occupied by the invaders. Capt. Harvey had three objects: First, to introduce an intelligent fellow into Rome, to learn what force was there, and whether they were re-enforcing or evacuating. Second, he proposed to tear up the railroad on the north side of the river, and, if possible, capture a train. Third, to cut the telegraph wire, and thus interrupt Sherman's communications between Rome and Atlanta.
Under cover of night Harvey marched to the river at a point where the railroad ran along the bank; he sent off his two special scouts; wrenched up a number of rails, and took convenient cover to seize the train when it arrived. No train came. The enemy had already, by some means, heard of the break in the way. During the night they sent up and secretly posted a strong detachment of infantry.
At daylight Harvey determined to send over a sergeant and four men to cut the telegraph wire, and on their return to withdraw. The party entered a rough float, and when within twenty yards of the northern bank, the Federal infantry, concealed in a thicket, opened fire upon them. One man was killed, and the sergeant, who was standing up, was shot through the thigh, and fell into the river. He however contrived to catch the gunwale of the boat, as it was being turned toward the southern shore. The enemy poured in their fire, splintering the boat and twice wounding Corporal Portwood and killing J. Catlett, a brave and gallant man. Meanwhile Capt. Harvey opened on the federal force, and under his fire the party in the boat effected their escape.”