The Civil War in Mississippi
The Seventeenth and Eighteenth were first brigaded with the Fifth South Carolina, under the command of D. R. Jones, in Beauregard's army, and were under artillery fire near Blackburn's Ford, of Bull Run, when the first attack was made by the Federals July 18. For the battle which Beauregard planned for July 21 this brigade was ordered to cross Bull Run and move toward Centerville. After the Federal attack on the left flank they were ordered back across the run, in which movement they were under heavy artillery fire. Later in the day they again crossed the creek and advanced up Rocky Run toward the Federal encampment, co-operating with Longstreet and Early. In the charge that was made they found the ground impassable and the artillery fire so severe that a retreat was ordered. This demonstration was the movement that so demoralized the retreating Federal army with rumors of being cut of at Centerville. The Seventeenth lost 2 killed and 10 wounded.
From August 13, 1861, to March 4, 1862, the regiment was posted at or near Leesburg, Virginia.
On October 21st the Seventeenth, having been advanced near the Potomac on account of threatened activity of the enemy, was called into the battle of Ball's Bluff, taking position in the battle line between the Eighth Virginia and Eighteenth Mississippi after the fall of Colonel Burr. Colonel Featherston took command of the two Mississippi regiments, which alone, the Virgininns having exhausted their ammunition, marched forward, firing, capturing two cannon and driving the enemy behind a bluff and in the river. The surrender was made to Colonel Featherston, and about 300 officers and men were marched back as prisoners. Lieutenant-Colonel McGuirk was left with a detachment on the field, that secured about 200 more prisoners. Upshaw's company and Fletcher's of the Thirteenth were with the Virginia regiment in its last charge, capturing another cannon. The brunt of the Federal attack fell first upon Captain Duff's command, detached on picket duty at Big Spring, having performed that duty at various posts on or near the Potomac since August 24. The loss of the entire regiment was 2 killed and 9 wounded.
The Seventeenth was assigned to the Mississippi brigade ordered organized under Gen. Charles Clark, and commanded by Gen. Richard Grifiith after December, 1861. Colonel Featherston was subsequently promoted to Brigadier-General to command another Mississippi brigade, and W. D. Holder was made Colonel of the Seventeenth. In March, 1862, they moved to Culpepper and thence to Yorktown, failing back from there to Richmond in May.
They were in Magruder's division in the seven days' battle before Richmond, and were first in action on June 29, on the railroad near Savage Station, where General Griffith was mortally wounded. Magruder sent the Seventeenth and Twenty-first to the support of McLaws, and about sundown they attacked effectively and "checked the enemy by their steadiness and unerring fire." At Malvern Hill, July 1, about six in the evening, they made a desperate charge upon the Federal line, under a terrible fire of shell, grape, canister and Minie balls, but without success. Colonel Holder was wounded and Lieutenant-Colonel Fiser took command. Captain Moreland acting as Major and Captain Govan as field officer. Disdaining to retreat in sight of the foe the Thirteenth lay down in the position they had gained and remained there until dark. In the two battles the regiment lost 15 killed and 92 wounded.
At Malvern Hill, June 27, Capt. George P. Foote, of this regiment, Adjutant-General of Featherston's brigade, was killed while gallantly leading one of the regiments in the charge far in advance of the main line.
When Lee advanced into Maryland they crossed the Potmnac at Leesburg, General Barksdale in command of the brigade. With McLaw's division they co-operated with Jackson's corps in the movement against Harper's Ferry, the task of McLaws being the capture of the Federal garrison in forrifled camp on the Maryland Heights. They scaled the mountain September 12 and 13, with some active fighting, but the enemy escaped. General Kershaw said that the enemy secmed to take flight after one of Fiser's companies had delivered a volley among the sharpshooters in the rocks above them. Then being ordered to Brownsville, they did not reach the battlefield of Sharpsburg on the 17th until after the battle had been a few hours in progress. Such had been the efforts of the long march with little food that the regiment carried only 270 officers and men into the fight. The casualties were 10 killed, 77 wounded, 2 missing. Lieut.-Col. John C. Fiser was conspicuous for gallantry in command of the regiment, which shared in the brilliant advance that drove the enemy from the woods in their front, beyond which the Seventeenth and Twenty-first pursued until they were in danger of capture.
In this campaign they forded the Potomac four times, the last time on their way to Martinsburg. They reached Fredericksburg in the latter part of November and remained until June 3, 1863.
The Seventeenth and three companies of the Eighteenth and ten sharpshooters from the Thirteenth were on guard at the river bank in Fredericksburg when the Federal engineers began the building of a pontoon bridge at 2 o'clock in the morning, December 11, 1862. Posted in rifle pits, cellars and behind any available shelter, the Mississippians kept up such a stinging fire that they defeated every attempt to complete the bridges for twelve hours, until the Federal artillery across the river was so concentrated upon them that they were compelled to retire into the town, whence, after some street fighting, they were ordered to the stone wall below Marye's hill, and thence to their brigade position on the right of the line of defense. Colonel Fiser commanded the left of his line, Captain A. R. Govan the right. Colonel Fiser gave honorable mention to Captain Govan and Lieut. Win. Ratlift, Lieut. W. R. Oursler, Lieut. G. E. Thurmond,- Lieut. Philip Sweeny, Capt. G. R. Cherry, Captains Pulliam and Middleton and Lieuts. W. H. Patton and J. W. Lindley and their commands, and William C. Nelson and C. H. Johnson, couriers. The distinguished service of the regiment was specially mentioned in the report of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Among the wounded were Lieuts. Jonas B. Clayton and E. V. Miller, the latter mortally. The regiment had 9 killed, 40 wounded and 35 captured.
May 1, 1863, when Hooker's army had crossed the rivers above them and was advancing to Chancellorsville, Barksdale's brigade was covering a picket line of four miles near Fredericksburg. When the enemy opposite appeared to be leaving they were started on the march for Chancellorsville. But it soon appeared that Federal troops that had crossed the river were advancing on Fredericksburg and they returned to their lines. In addition to this attack, a Federal force began crossing the river in their front May 2. Barksdale had a front of three miles to defend with his single brigade and a few batteries of artillery. The Seventeenth was posted in front of Lee's Hill, with the Thirteenth further to the right. On the 3d a grand assault was made by the Federal colmnns, in overwhelming force. Marye's Hill was taken and the Seventeenth fell back to the crest of Lee's Hill, and with the aid of two batteries checked the Federal advance and saved the brigade from being cut off. Next day the Federal forces retired across the river and Barksdale's brigade again occupied the town. The regiment lost 10 killed and 70 wounded.
At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1863, the Seventeenth, in Barksdale's brigade of McLaws' division, fought in the battle against the south wing of the Federal army. At six in the evening, when Sickles yet held the peach orchard after a stubborn fight, McLaws ordered an assault, and the storming columns of Barksdale and Wofford, "yelling like demons, black with smoke and lusting for hand-to-hand conflict, soon opened a gap in the line of blue. The Federals fell back toward and across Plum Run, toward the base of Round Top, and the onslaught continued. Barksdale, conspicuous on horseback, led his Southern riflemen, who singlehanded had barred the passage of the whole Federal army at Fredericksburg, right into the hostile masses, where he fell mortally wounded, and whence the remnants of his gallant troops cut their way back with difficulty through the enveloping masses of blue infantry." (Battine's "Crisis of the Confederacy.") Barksdale's loss in killed and wounded was the heaviest of any brigade in Longstreet's corps and the heaviest of any in Lee's army except two North Carolina brigades and Davis' Mississippi brigade. The heaviest loss in the brigade was by the Seventeenth, 40 killed and 160 wounded. When the army retreated Surgeon F. W. Patterson, of the Seventeenth, was left in charge of the severely wounded of McLaws' division, in field hospital, and with him Assistant Surgeon R. L. Knox and Chaplain William B. Owen. Seventy-four of the wounded were of the Seventeenth.
After the return to Virginia the regiment was in camp near Hanover Junction until September 12, when they took the ears for Georgia.
After a long and tedious journey by rail they reached Ringgold during the battle of Chickamauga, and marched in the night of September 19th to the field, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Fiser. They shared in the hard fighting of the brigade in Longstreet's wing of the army, aiding in breaking the right wing of Rosecran's army and taking the Snodgrass Hill. The casualties were 12 killed, 75 wounded. Capt. A. R. Govan, in command of the regiment, lost a leg; Capt. S. C. Ruswurm, acting Major, was slightly wounded; Lieut. W. H. Williams was killed, and Lieuts. R. F. Burk, James M. Crump, W. S. Pratt, R. H. Cooper, and Captain Cochran were wounded.
After this battle they advanced to the line of siege at Chattanooga, and on November 4, with Longstreet's comxnand, left the base of Lookout Mountain for the march to Knoxville, crossed the Tennessee River at London on the 15th, skirmished at Campbell's Station 16th, on the extreme right of the line of battle, after which began the siege of Knoxville. When Longstreet and McLaws were discussing the advisability of an assault to satisfy Bragg's demand for a battle, McLaws said some of his best officers were opposed to it, but Lieutenant-Colonel Fiser and Lieutenant-Colonel Holt (Tenth Georgia) "were of the opinion they could take the work and I would put them at it if an assault should be made." General Humphreys, who was in command of the assaulting column, reported that he put the Thirteenth and Seventeenth in the lead, under McElroy and Fiser, followed by three Georgia regiments, all in column of regiments, and directed against the southwest salient of the fort. After getting through a tangled abatis for about 150 yards, comparatively open ground was reached, and a rushing charge was made, until the column was arrested by a deep and wide ditch, fringed with a network of wire, beyond which was an icy parapet ten or twelve feet high. The Mississippians went into the ditch and clambered up the parapet in the face of hand grenades, sticks of wood, axes and everything available from the Federals in front and a heavy fire of artillery and sharpshooters from another angle of the fort. "The intrepidity and dauntless efforts of the enemy, the absence of ladders, fascines, etc., and the strength of the works rendered every effort to escalade them unavailing. Those that succeeded in climbing up the parapet to the crest were shot down and rolling back dragged all below them into the ditch. Colonel McElroy and five other officers were killed; Lieutenant-Colonel Fiser and eight other officers wounded. The whole column was thrown into confusion and compelled to retire. The Thirteenth and Seventeenth Regiments rallied behind the pickets and formed, losing in the assault 140 men killed, wounded and missing." (Humphreys.) General MeLaws wrote in his report that Fiser, who lost an arm, was conspicuous, as on all occasions, for his brilliant courage; that Captain Cherry, wounded in the assault, was also greatly distinguished, and Captain Wright and Lieutenant Greene exhibited the highest qualities of a soldier in rallying the shattered regiment.
The regiment left Knoxville on the night of December 4, marched and countermarched through Bean's Station, made an expedition to Clinch Mountain Gap, and passed the winter in East Tennessee amid great hardships. Being moved to Virginia in the spring, they were at Gordonsville until May 4, when the corps was put in motion to support General Lee on the Rappahannock. The brigade was in the lead of the corps as it came into battle in the Wilderness, May 6, and checked the triumph of Grant's army, turning the day from defeat to victory. They were again in the nick of time a few days later at Spottsylvania Courthouse. Again they, with Kershaw's division, had the duty to make the junction with Hoke on the Cold Harbor line, and defeat the furious assaults made by Grant to improve his last chance to isolate Lee's army. Again, they crossed the James on a pontoon bridge in time to save the lines at Petersburg, where they were in battle June 19. During the siege they were on duty before Richmond, but in August, September and October they were with Early in the Shenandoah valley, fighting at Berryville September 3 and at Cedar Creek (or Bethel Grove) October 19. Returns in August and November, 1864, show Capt. Jesse C. Cochran in command.
What remained of the regiment marched through Richmond April 1-2, and began the march to Appomattox, where the remnant was surrendered April 9, under the command of Lieutenant Benjamin George. Captain Gwin R. Cherry was in command of the brigade.
Here's what's available.
|Hooker, Col. Charles E.|
- Confederate Military History - Mississippi Volume - 288 pgs.
|Rigdon, John C.|
Historical Sketch and Roster of the 17th Infantry Regiment
|Rigdon, John C.|
The Civil War in Mississippi
|Rigdon, John C.|
Mississippi Civil War Soldiers Index
|The Southern Historical Society Papers|