Tuesday, January 15, 2008
7th Pennsylvania Cavalry's Gallant Charge At Shelbyville
Reunion medal in honor of Lt. Francis Reed from Port Carbon.
This Photo from the Schuylkill County Historical Society is members of the 7th Pa. Cav.
Bottom L to R: This is the son of Louis Crossland, Isaac Keith, Charles C. Davis, John E. Wynkoop
Top L to R: Albert Sands, Henry Bausman, Thomas Allan, Thomas Simpson, Samuel Kramer
The Saber Regiment
The Seventh Pennsylvania Cavalry
The Gallant Charge At Shelbyville, Tennessee
On June 27, 1863 one of the most gallant charges ever made by a cavalry regiment was done during the fight with Gen. Joseph Wheelers men at Shelbyville Tennessee. George F. Steahlin the Adjutant of the regiment wrote this interesting article in the National Tribune newspaper about the charge that the Seventh Pennsylvania Cavalry made through the streets of Shelbyville Tennessee.
The Army of the Cumberland was organized in November, 1862, out of the army of the Ohio. After General Don Carlos Buell's efforts to withstand the confederate General Braxton Bragg at Perryville Ky. on October 8, 1862. Gen. William S. Rosecrans was placed in command of the Army of the Cumberland which marched out of Kentucky to Nashville, Tenn. where General Rosecrans began the arduous duty of reorganization. The cavalry was too small in numbers to cope with the thousands of confederates Generals Forrest, Wheeler, Morgan and Roddy, who were continually hovering around our flanks, attacking supply trains, cutting railroad communications and capturing isolated outposts. General Rosecrans decided to increase the cavalry. His requisitions for cavalry reinforcements were favorably received by the war department at Washington. Gen. David Stanley was selected as commander of the cavalry troops, and he at once began to place cavalry in the best condition possible.
By the time General Rosecrans was ready to move on Murfreesboro the cavalry was considerably increased and thoroughly organized. Brigades and divisions were formed and officered by experienced brigade and division commanders. The cavalry was handled by General Stanley with telling effect through the battle of Stones River, but it was really too weak to cope with the enemy's cavalry, who out numbered us three to one. The brigade of which I shall speak particularly was the First Brigade Second Division. The First Brigade was composed of the Seventh Pennsylvania volunteer cavalry, commanded by Lt. Col. Seipes; Fourth United States cavalry (Regulars) commanded by Capt. McIntire; Fourth Michigan, volunteer cavalry, commanded by Col. R.H. Minty; and a battalion of the Third Indiana commanded by Lt. Col. Kline. The brigade was commanded by Col. Minty. On the 5th day of January, 1863 we returned from pursuing the rear guard of confederates and camped east of Murfreesboro.
During the five months the army remained at Murfreesboro General Stanley was exceedingly active in strengthening, equipping and remounting the corps. The corps was kept reconnoitering and making raids upon the confederate outposts and flanks. Numerous skirmishes took place; some almost amounted to regular battles. The Seventh Pennsylvania made several saber charges; ,one at Rover Tenn. January 31, 1863, upon the Seventh confederate regular cavalry, completely routing them; one into the town of Franklin Tenn.; one at Eagleville; one at Spring Hill, Tenn. under an expedition commanded by General Phil Sheridan; another at McMinnville, Tenn. and several others. General Rosecrans named the Seventh Pennsylvania cavalry "The Saber Regiment of the Army of the Cumberland."
On the 25th of June one of the best equipped corps of Cavalry in the Union army moved out of camp at daybreak. General Rosecrans had decided, contrary to his corps commanders opinions, to move on the confederate strong holds at Tullahoma, Bellbuckel, and Shelbyville; two thirds of our cavalry moved out on our right on the Shelbyville pike. The movement was unexpected by General Bragg. The pickets were driven to the main army the first day. His right was very heavily pressed, causing Bragg to draw from his left at Columbia. By noon a drizzling rain began to fall and by night it rained copiously. The following day June 26, a severe storm raged, making military movements tedious; in fact, the army almost came to a halt. The cavalry bivouacked in a woods on the night of the 25th, and remained inactive during the 26th.
At 3 O'clock a.m. June 27, the bugle sounded reveille. A heavy fog surrounded us. The cavalry was formed in an open field in columns of regiments. By 7 O'clock the fog had disappeared. As the bright morning sun shone upon the seven thousand horsemen massed in the field I beheld one of the finest military displays I saw during the entire war. The "Forward" was sounded and seven thousand men and horses began to move for the pike. After marching in column for several miles we came to a halt. The Seventh Pennsylvania deployed on the right of the pike in a small piece of cedar woods. A forward movement was made about a half mile, then we received orders to take the advance of the column. As we reached the top of a hill we passed a fortified picket post, which Colonel Stokes, with the First Tennessee cavalry, had charged successfully.
Before us was the beautiful Guy's Gap, through which we passed on a trot for the distance of three miles. The east end of the Gap was protected by a line of trenches running along the summit of a hill, north and south, as far as the eye could see. Wheeler's confederate cavalry had moved from Columbia, and was posted behind Guy's Gap trenches. Our column was brought to a walk by four pieces of confederate artillery. Colonel Sipes turned the Seventh cavalry into a field on the right of the pike, formed a line of battle, and dismounted Major C.C. Davis third battalion to move on our front on foot. The Fourth United States cavalry formed on the left of the pike. The Fourth Michigan was ordered to move to our right and find a bridle path that led to the trenches about a mile beyond; the Third Indiana cavalry was held as our reserve. Colonel Minty ordered Colonel Sipes to move to the pike with the two battalions of the Seventh to move to the pike with the two battalions of the Seventh Pennsylvania, form in column of fours, and charge the trenches.
We moved on a walk till we passed over a small bridge spanning a rivulet. Then we went up the hill on a trot until we reached the trenches, through which we passed on a gallop. The Fourth Michigan was coming in on the right on the confederates' left flank. The enemy's line wavered; the men huddled like sheep, broke and went at full speed towards Shelbyville. The first battalion of the Seventh Pennsylvania did not halt, but charged with impetuosity, cutting right and left, causing hundreds to fall. The second battalion charged through the woods on the left of the pike. A hand to hand fight took place for two miles, when the confederates turned off the pike on to a road leading to Wartrace. The second battalion under Capt. B.S. Dartt, coming in on the left cut them off, and with the aid of a cedar stockade fence brought four hundred and eighty to a stand; these were taken prisoners. Colonel Seipes gathered the prisoners and took them to the rear, having over five hundred in his possession.
The dead and wounded along the pike numbered over a hundred. Our loss was but one man, Private Felix Herb, of company A. I must relate how he was killed at the cedar stockade fence. Herb took two prisoners; they threw up their arms as a signal of surrender, but changed their minds. Not seeing immediate support for Herb they shot him, the bullet passing through the centre of the forehead. While this was going on Sergeant James A. Wilson of company F, arrived and shot both the confederates who had shot Herb. I reached the spot just as Wilson shot the second man. Wilson turned towards me, saying "Adjutant ! the devils shot Felix Herb after they had surrendered, so I made short work of them."
As Colonel Seipes passed to the rear with the prisoners he gave me orders to gather up the men who had become separated from the regiment during the charge. In the meantime the confederate artillery posted on the square in Shelbyville was throwing shells along the pike. I collected eighty men of our regiment and formed them into a company; then deployed them on our front and flanks. In the meantime our third battalion arrived; also the other regiments of the second division. Davis's third battalion was in good order with fresh horses. Colonel Seipes arrived just as I received the order. I repeated Colonel Minty's order, when Colonel Seipes replied: "My regiment is back with the prisoners. I cannot make another charge."
Colonel Minty overheard this remark and came to Colonel Seipes saying; "Your third battalion is in good order - horses comparatively fresh. All the other horses of the brigade have been run down." Colonel Seipes replied "If I must make the charge I will take the artillery and drive them into the Duck River." I then called in the men I had deployed and formed them on the left of Davis's third battalion, which by now numbered only two hundred rank and file. This battalion had been cut by Forrest at Murfreesboro, in 1862, which accounted for its weakness.
Major Charles C. Davis led the charge. The Colonel and myself took our proper place in column. Two pieces of Captain Newwll's Ohio battery were placed on the right and left of the pike. As they belched forth fire, smoke and shell, our bugler, John Cole, sounded the charge. Through the smoke, down the hill went the little band, yelling like mad. We were on the dead run. Half the distance between the mile post and the confederate battery was passed in safety. Two shots had screamed over our heads, but the third shot hit Company G, killing three men and a horse, but onward we ran. A ravine was reached a few feet from the artillery. Fortunately we were below their point blank range. As we reached the slight rise going into Shelbyville we saw the confederate cavalry waver and break. The artillery limbered up and joined the fleeing cavalry. The two hundred pushed on with the yell rejoiced. The last piece of artillery turned the corner of a street as the two hundred began to saber the cannoniers. Then the riders were cut off the horses. One piece was ours in a twinkling. The second piece was also ours in two minutes. The railroad depot was reached and there the road turns to the right while on the left lays an open plateau. At that moment Gen Wheeler led his escort in a counter charge. He delivered one volley and broke, caused by the third Indiana coming down on our left flank. Lieutenants Rhoads and Reed fell there and ten men also died. Still we hardly stopped to look, cutting right cuts, left cuts, front cuts, and rear cuts, making thrusts right, left and front - dealing death at every blow, until the Duck River was reached. We pushed over the bridge, where a dozen confederates were crushed by their two remaining pieces of artillery.
At the east end of the bridge stood Sergeant Edward Shutt, of company A, bareheaded his long golden hair disheveled and waving in the breeze, saber drawn and holding the third piece of artillery. But in this river was one of the most heartrending scenes man ever beheld. The river was high and a strong current flowing owing to the rain the day before. The banks of the river are very high - at least twenty feet high. Down the precipice leaped the confederate cavalry, on both sides of the bridge to escape the sabers of the Seventh. In the stream were hundreds of horses and men struggling to escape. Many horses and men were drowned. Some gained the shore and stood wet and shivering. The sun was down as the last man of the two hundred returned and reported no enemy to be seen. The sick in the hospitals in Shelbyville took up the stampede and assisted to choke the bridge and add to the misery of the troops.
General Wheeler's cavalry never stood our cold steel. This day they stampeded and were totally routed. General Wheeler had his horse shot from under him during the charge. He escaped by mounting another horse and swimming the river. The confederate captain of artillery said that he would have given us a dose of grape as we came in town, but he dared not. He was a German, and took his misfortune philosophically. Sgt. Major Braut took a sword from a confederate officer marked "Toledo 1762". Lieut. Waters of the Ninth Pennsylvania, was killed coming down the hill leading into Shelbyville by his horse falling. He was a private in the Lewisburg company in the three months service. One of the companies that entered Washington April 18, 1861. The regimental color-bearer was an Englishman. He had his discharge from the light Brigade that made the charge at Balaklava during the Crimean War. He, remarked, after the charge into Shelbyville, that the charge was not surpassed at Balaklava. The Sergeant so named was Sgt. John Ennis, who was killed at Selma, Alabama while charging across open ground toward a rebel fort he took the colors in hand and climbed upon the ramparts of the fort.
Note after reading the story of Sgt. John Ennis I was interested in finding out which British regiment he belonged to during the Crimean War. According to the above article he supposedly charged the Russian line in the famous Charge of the Light Brigade. Unfortunately I could find no reference to him in any of the regiments that charged. I contacted a historian in the United Kingdom who had muster rolls of all the regiments. There was no John Ennis listed among them. We both came to the conclusion that maybe it was an old soldier tale told by Ennis, but we will never know.
In the Schuylkill County Historical Society we have a copies of letters written by Francis Reed of Port Carbon who was a Sgt. In the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Sgt. Reed was just recently promoted to Lieut. And was killed during the charge at Shelbyville.
The following letters were written by Friends and officers of the Seventh Pennsylvania Cavalry in reference to Francis Reed’s death. The letters were all written to Sgt. Reeds mother and father. They contain an emotional look at what a friend would have to say to his best friend’s family upon the death of their son, and for a good look at what the regiment was doing after the death of Francis.
In the field July 1863.
Mr. and Mrs. Reed
I have the painful duty to perform of informing you of the death of your much beloved son Francis, he was killed in a charge that our regiment made on a battery on the 27th of June. It was a daring charge and poor Francis lost his life, he was alongside of me when he was shot but I did not see him fall or I should have stopped to pick him up. I did not know that he was dead until the battery was taken and the battle over. I was so struck when I heard it, that I almost fell off my horse. I went right to where he lay in a building and laid him straight and closed his eyes and mouth and got water and washed him, he was covered all over the face with blood, I washed him clean, he looked as if he was still alive. I stayed with his body all night, I would have buried him but I had to leave early in the morning. The Lt. Colonel of our regiment paid out $ 50 to have boxes made for all the killed in the regiment, and have them buried in the town of Shelbyville Tennessee I and all the members of our company do sympathize with you, in your bereavement and affliction. Knowing that his place can never be filled at home or in the field as a soldier, enclosed you will find the letter you sent me for him I opened it to see who it was from. I would have wrote much sooner but we marched most all the time since besides it rained every day, please accept of my sympathy. I know that I have lost in him a good and true friend and deeply mourn his loss. I will now stop for this time if I live, in a few days I will give you all the particulars the Lieut. Told me to tell you that he will write to you as soon as he can find time to do it, I remain.
Sorrowfully your friend Henry H. Snyder.
P.S. Please drop me a few lines address the same as you did your letters to Francis. H.H.S.
Francis was shot in the neck with a musket ball the ball is supposed to have lodged in his throat, one of the men asked him whether it was all over with him he answered, "O, I guess not," being asked whether he could speak a minute afterward he said "yes," and died.
Camp Near Salem Tenn.
July 22nd 1863
Mr. and Mrs. Reed
After a lapse of three weeks time, during which time I could get no opportunity to write you, since my last and sad letter to you we have been continually on the march, we were down in Huntsville Alabama, I will not go into any details of the march, we got back last night, I am of the opinion that we will stay here for some time.
I promised in my last, to , give you the particulars of Francis’s death, to do that I will also have to give the particulars of the fight, on the 27th of June, ( the day he was killed we were skirmishing with the enemy, all day, we drove him for fifteen miles, when we were within one mile of Shelbyville we found that the rebels were strongly posted in the town with four pieces of artillery, the guns were posted in the town or court house square, with heavy support of mounted infantry and cavalry, as soon as Col. Minty, our brigade commander got to the front he saw the state of things, he ordered a charge to be made down the road leading directly to the enemy’s position, it was ordered that the third battalion of our regiment Should lead the charge, we were all well pleased when we heard it, Francis was at my side when we started he seemed happy and was cheerful, the signal determined for our starting was the firing of two of our cannon, the signal given, and we went through the smoke of our guns, as soon as the rebels saw that we were charging they directed their fire into our advancing column little damage was done by their artillery only one man was killed by it he was alongside of me when he fell before we got near enough to do any execution with our sabers the rebels turned and run, we followed them soon commenced taking prisoners, after we had followed about two hundred yards there were some of them turned and gave us a volley, it was then that Francis received his mortal wound, he lived but a very few minutes one of the men of the company, seen him fall and jumped off his horse and picked him up, he asked Francis whether he thought it was all over with him, the answer was O. I guess not, he asked him a few minutes afterwards whether he could speak and he answered yes, which was the last word he spoke, he died almost as soon as he had uttered the word, after the fight was over heard that Francis was killed I went immediately to where he lay ( which was in a warehouse) and you cannot imagine how I felt when I washed his face, breast and hands he was covered with blood, after I had washed him I combed his hair and closed his eyes and mouth, which was all that I could do for my bosom friend, I would have put clean clothes on him but his horse run into the enemy’s ranks with all Francis possessed in the army. I could not bury him as it was now night and early in the morning we left the place our presence being required elsewhere, Col. Sipes however paid a man an Undertaker fifty dollars to make coffins for and bury all the dead of our regiment which number was five. I have Francis’ pocket knife, comb and handkerchief which I will endeavor to keep until I return, when will place them in your hands. I trust the war will soon be over so that I can go home but cannot return with my friend. Your son, he and I often talked about home and how we and our many friends would be at our safe return, one is gone to a better world now and the lord only knows whether the remaining one will live to see his friends on earth, God grant that he may hear my prayer,
Since penning the above I received yours of the 17th I was sorry to learn that you had not received those few lines that I wrote on the 1st any sooner, Dear friends you will to think hard of me for not writing immediately after Francis was killed, it rained hard every day and we were on the march all the time, only at night then I had no candle or any other light to write with, I had to write in an old shed when I did write, it rained hard at the time, and got dark before I had half wrote what I wanted to write.
As regards sending his remains home, I have no way to find out how much it would cost, I could not get to Shelbyville, if I had the means to send or take him home, and I think I could have got leave of absence to have taken him home, but our army was on the move, and I had to go along not with standing my feelings to the contrary, he shall not lay buried always where he is now, but at present the heat is so great, and it being sometime since he was buried I do not think that it would be advisable to attempt to move him while the heat continues, if I was in your place I would let him rest until next winter when he could be taken up without difficulty, I am of the opinion that the war will be over by next winter, and then if I can in any way assist you in getting his remains home, I will do so. I would do it now cheerfully but it is entirely out of my power. You stated that you would like to have all that belonged to him, you shall have all if God is willing to let me keep his things until some one goes to Pennsylvania from the regt. Or until the express gets through near enough for me to send them in that way, since I got back from Alabama I found in our desk three likenesses belonging to him I will enclose one ion his letter and I will write other letters to you when I will enclose the others and send them to you. Mrs. Amanda Medlar had wrote a letter to him I opened it to see who it was from, when I wrote to her giving some particulars and enclosed her letter, I also sent one back to his aunt below Orwigsburg, you will forgive all my shortcomings in the case if there are any, but I think and Know I done the best I could under the circumstances.
I am well and trust you are and may continue the same, I remain as always your,
Henry H. Snyder
P.S. I trust you will write to me hereafter for I shall always be happy to hear from you, while Francis was alive I heard from you every letter he received.
2 Division Cavalry
June 29, 1863
It is with much regret that I am obliged to write you at this time though you no doubt ere this have heard of the death of your son Frank.
Our Army has been advancing for 5 days through the most dreadful rain imaginable and on yesterday morning five mile this side of Shelbyville we came up to the enemies fortifications and entrenchments. Our Regt. being in advance was ordered or rather four companies being ordered to dismount and fight on foot whilst eight companies where held as a reserve to watch any movement the enemy might attempt to make. As the four companies where advancing we found that the enemy where trying to charge the artillery. Lt. Col. Sipes and Major Seibert on seeing this ordered a charge and in went our boys over entrenchments fortifications and completely routed the enemy got four pieces of artillery and some 8 to 900 hundred prisoners besides killing and wounding between 4 and 400 hundred. They drove them 10 miles into the Duck river and there drowned some 90, it was the greatest Cavalry fight, the most daring on record and our loss thank God was but killed 1 officer Lt. Rhoads, Frank and another Sergeant two privates, a total of five. The country may well be proud of such noble men who sold their lives so dearly. Gen. Stanley says it is the greatest feat on record and no regiment but ours would stand to such work. Lt. Rhoads lives in Williamsport Penn. has a family there, the rest of the boys I believe are all un married as we could not get any metallic coffin, we made some nice wooden coffins and nicely buried them all five along the side of each other. We had head boards put up so that they may be known. With the following inscription F. Reed Born in Schuylkill County Penn. killed at Shelbyville Tennessee June 27 1863. I presumed that you might possibly want him sent home but this we could not do as we could not get the proper facilities for so doing. As soon as the army stops moving his effects now in the hands of Capt. McCormick will be sent home. We have some heavy work before us and many will be the poor fellow who must go down but we are driving them nobly and are confident of success.
Frank was a brave soldier and much beloved by officers and men and all join in consolation with his bereaved family. I am your most obt.
( Signed ) Thos. U. Rickert
Any information you may desire that I can give I will address me Thos. U. Rickert Lt. and AAQ No. 2 Divisions Cavalry.
Confederate Cavalryman John A. Wyeth gave this glorious account of the fight at Guys Gap and the charge of the Seventh Pennsylvania into Shelbyville on June 27th, Wyeth was a member of the Alabama Cavalry under General Joseph Wheeler and wrote this article for the Harpers Weekly Paper entitled “ General Wheelers Leap”.
Figuratively speaking, many men in times of peace, as well as in the more exciting times of war, failing to accomplish the end in view, have been compelled to “Take Water”. It does not very often happen in reality that a Major General of cavalry caught in the toils, with all other avenues of escape closed to him, has shown himself so desperately in earnest not to be captured as to plunge on horseback at full speed over the high bank of a river into the ragging torrent below. There have been recorded in history two such instances, and, by a strange coincidence, the heroes of both occasions had been christened Joseph. The one was Prince Joseph Poniatowski, Marshall of France under the great Napoleon; the other Major General Joseph Wheeler then of the confederate army, recently appointed by the President Major General of volunteers in the army of the United States. Every reader of the life of Bonaparte remembers the tragic death of Poniatowski after the defeat of Napoleon at Leipzig, when he rushed in a mad charge through intervening line of the enemy, and although wounded, at full speed rode over the steep bluff of the elster into the river below, when horse and rider disappeared beneath the surface, never to rise.
The cavalry fight at Shelbyville was the liveliest engagement which marked the retreat of Bragg’s army from Tullahoma to Chattanooga, in the summer of 1863. In as much as the Confederates were finally driven from the field, the honors of the day rested with the Union troopers although they stopped short of reaping the full success which was in their grasp as of the brilliant fighting they had done. The Southern troops, who for more than three hours, in the outskirts of Shelbyville, stood up before and held at bay a largely superior force of Federals were a forlorn hope numbering 1200, placed there and commanded by Major General Joseph Wheeler, in the desperate effort to protect from capture or destruction an immense wagon train loaded with supplies invaluable to Bragg’s army. While the fighting was going on, this immense train was filing across the narrow bridge which two miles from the battle field spans the Duck River, and was making its snail like progress over the muddy and almost impassable road to Tullahoma.
The army of Rosecrans began its forward movement from Murfreesboro on the 23rd of June 1863. Convinced of the inadvisability of risking a great battle with do large a stream as the Tennessee River immediately in his rear, General Bragg had ordered a withdrawal of his picket lines of cavalry under General Joseph Wheeler and Forrest to the south bank of the Duck river. At Shelbyville on the northern bank of the stream there had been gathered a large supply of commissary and quartermaster’s stores, and it became of the utmost importance to remove these to a point of safety. Wheeler in command of all the cavalry operating in the department, of which General Bragg was commander in chief, was directed to withdraw his troops south of the Duck River by way of Shelbyville, holding off the federal advance until the wagon trains were across, when, by destroying the bridge, they would be safe from pursuit. In accordance with these instructions, General Forrest, who was operating in the neighborhood of Franklin and Spring Hill was directed to fall back, in order to unite with General Wheeler at Shelbyville. The junction was to be effected as early in the afternoon of the 27th of June as was practicable, and the two commands were then to form the rear guard of the army which was in retreat and convoy the wagons southward.
However, General Wheeler had calculated that the force he had left to hold the Union cavalry, in check at Guy’s Gap would be able to maintain their position long enough to permit Forrest, who had the greater distance to travel, to effect the junction at the time agreed upon. But upon this day the federal troopers were evidently intent upon great deeds. Advancing on Guy’s Gap they were backed by a corps of infantry under the command of General Gordon Granger, making a combination of strength against which the small confederate cavalry command was able to make but feeble resistance. In addition to Granger’s infantry, Major General David S. Stanley, commanding all cavalry of the Army of the Cumberland, was here at the head of the troopers, leading in person one of the best brigades of mounted men at that time in the Union Army. At eight o’clock on the morning of the 27th of June as Colonel R.H.G. Minty, in his official report says, “The entire cavalry force was ordered to move on Guy’s Gap, the first division in the advance.” Colonel Minty at the head of the 4th Regulars and Major General Stanley leading the Seventh Pennsylvania, fourth Michigan and Third Indiana, so over matched the confederates that they quickly passed by the left flank and gained the rear of their position and drove them rapidly toward Shelbyville. “ Major General Granger says. “ Our advance met here with no resistance to speak of.” From the gap to within a few miles of Shelbyville the fight resolved itself into a horse race with stampeded confederates as far in the lead as they could get. The writer of this, who at the time was filling the humble role of a private in the confederate cavalry, was one of the detachments stationed on this day about two miles in front of Shelbyville, several hundred yards in the rear of some abandoned earthworks which had been thrown up there earlier in the war. Even after the lapse of 35 years there comes vividly to mind the forlorn appearance of these flying troopers from Guy’s Gap as they passed through our lines to the rear. The incessant rains, together with the trampling of horses hoofs had converted the roads into beds of mortar, and these demoralized cavaliers were so bespatter with mud from head to foot that no one could tell what uniform they wore. Many of them were hatless some had lost their guns, and fully one half of them seemed to have lost heart and hope.
So eager were their pursuers that we had scant time to jeer at or “Guy” our unfortunate brothers. Moreover the situation was not over conducive to fun or frolic. General Wheeler was with us, and in command of our detachment of 1200 in number which made the sum total of our force. With him on hand every one of us realized that a lively fight was sure to take place. He impressed upon us the necessity of holding the enemy at bay, no matter at what cost, until the train of wagons could clear the bridge, and added that General Forrest was coming to our aid. We were greatly encouraged when we heard that General Forrest with his command was not far off, for we knew that no matter how weak we were, if we could only hold our own until General Wheeler’s famous subordinate; who had already achieved a reputation as a successful fighter, could arrive, we could then beat back all the cavalry that could be sent against us. For at least a mile in front of the position we occupied, which was on a slight elevation, all the timber had been felled. Along the road and out of the strip of timber to the north there came in sight a long array of federal troopers, a deep blue fringe upon the border of green forest beyond. There were so many of them it did not seem possible for us to stand up before them longer than it would take them to put spurs to their horses and ride over us; but fortunately for us the dashing tactics with which they had employed at Guy’s Gap earlier in the day, they did not practice now. Wheelers bold front had evidently impressed them with the idea that we were there in strength, and were probably trying to lead them into a trap. If they had ridden down upon us then our destruction would then have been complete, for we had no avenue of escape except by one narrow bridge two miles in our rear. Instead of smashing us then and there, as they could easily have done, and as they did after several hours of desultory fighting in which time they lost a great prize they were fighting for they dismounted the seventh Pennsylvania under the brace Captain Davis, who deployed them as skirmishers and advanced to engage our front... As this regiment advanced, another the fourth Michigan moved from their heavy column in the turnpike around the left of our line, in order to turn our flank and force us back. Simultaneously the Third Indiana was deployed in the opposite direction to overlap our short line upon the right. Immediately to rear of the Seventh Pennsylvania the famous Fourth United States Regulars came indirectly before us and behind the double line was a section of artillery which began to make its presence felt.
A cavalry fight well sustained on both sides is lively enough when one side takes part in it, but it seems exceedingly tame on paper. This one did not lack spirit. Of about a score of such scraps some of which the larger growth have passed to a place on the bloodiest pages of history, the writer doesn’t recall a contest which for downright pluck in giving and taking a hard and heavy knocks through several hours surpasses the Shelbyville affair. The carbines and rifles were flashing and banging away, at times in scattering shots when the game was at long range, and then when a charge came on the work grew hot, the spiteful, sharp explosions swelled into a crackling roar, like that of a cane break fire when in a single minute, hundreds of the boiled joints have burst asunder. Add to all this the whistling, angry whir of countless leaden missiles which split the air about you.; the hoarse, unnatural about command, for in battle all sounds of the inhuman voice seem out of pitch and tone. The wild defiant yells and the answering huzzas of the opposing lines; the plunging and rearing of frightened horses, the charges here and there of companies and squadrons, or more than these which seem to be shot out the main body, as the flames shoot out of a house on fire, here and there the sharp quick cry from some unfortunate trooper who did not hear one leaders message, for only those heard which have passed by, the heavy soggy striking of the body against the ground, the scurrying runaway of the frightened horse, as often into battle as one of it, whose empty saddle tells the foe that their is one less rifle to fear, all these sights and sounds go to make up the confusing medley of a battle field.
The Federal advance upon the center of our line did not succeed. Time after time it was attempted but the baffled troopers went back again. As they spread out upon our flanks our own line was stretched out more and more to meet them. At least about five o’clock taking advantage of a momentary lull in the attack General Wheeler with the exception of Russell’s Fourth Alabama Regiment with drew the troops and ordered them to retire rapidly as possible to the bridge and come across the river; 200 of us were left under the command of Colonel A.A Russell with orders to stay until they rode us down, in the hope that this catastrophe would be delayed long enough to permit General Wheeler to clear the bridge in our rear. I did not understand this movement at the time, but have learned since from General Wheeler that it was only then that the last wagon had passed across the Duck River and he felt now that he could save at least a portion of his troops on the field by a rapid retreat. We were told when we were beaten, to make our way every man for himself as best he could. Before the Federal Cavalry realized what had been done he was gone at full speed, and reaching the bridge, had the troops and artillery which accompanied him on the safe side of the Southern bank. But before this was accomplished the lightning had struck our little forlorn hope. The Seventh Pennsylvania rode out and over us in the most brilliant cavalry maneuvers the writer ever witnessed. They formed and were in view for at least a half mile before they came within firing distance. On either side of the highway, in columns of fours they advanced at a steady gallop, until they passed into the opening in the line of earth works which the main road lead through some 200 yards in our advance. As soon as they reached this point inside the works, still on the full run, they deployed from columns of fours into line of battle, like the opening of a huge fan. The movement was made with as much precision as if it had been done on an open plain, on dress parade, or in some exhibition of discipline and drill. Huddled there as we, knew what fate was impending, we could not refrain from expressing our admiration not only of the courage which they were displaying, but of the marvelous precession in the change of the formation. Our orders were to stand until they approached within fifty yards, when we were to empty our rifles draw our pistols and Sauve qui peut. The Union troopers with sabers high in the air made no sound whatever beyond the rumpling tattoo of the horses hoof s played upon the ground. It was only a short space of time probably the fraction of a second until they were so near we could distinguish their faces. Leveling our guns we fired our final volley, by the time our horse’s heads were turned to the rear they were coming full speed upon us, in an incredibly short period of time the writer found my self on the ground and well in the rear of the charging line. No more gallant work was ever done by any troops than was done on this day by the Seventh Pennsylvania and Fourth Regulars. Meanwhile General Wheeler who had safely crossed the river, was in the act of firing the structure, when a member of General Forrest’s staff Major Rambaut, reported to him that Forrest, with two brigades was within two miles of Shelbyville and advancing rapidly to cross. Realizing the danger which threatened Forrest, Wheeler, not withstanding the Federals were in strong force in the suburbs of Shelbyville and advancing into town, taking with him two pieces of artillery and 500 men of Martin’s Division, with this officer, hastily crossed to the north side in order to hold the bridge and save Forrest from disaster. The guns were hastily thrown into position, but the charges had scarcely been rammed home, when the Union troops came in full sweep down the main street. When within a few paces of the mussels of the guns they were discharged inflicting, however, insignificant loss. With their small force of 500 men General Wheeler and Martin Stood up as best they could under the pressure of this charge. They held their ground manfully as the cavalry rode through and over them sabering the cannoneers from the guns, of which they took possession, and then passed on and secured the bridge, leaving the two confederate generals and their troops well in the rear. The bridge had become blocked by one of the caissons, which had been overthrown and now thinking they had them in a trap, the Union forces formed a line of battle parallel with the bank of the Duck River and across the entrance to the bridge. The idea of surrendering himself and his command had not entered the mind of General Wheeler. As Positowaski had done at the Elder, he now shouted to his men that they must cut their way through and attempt to escape by swimming the river. With General Martin by his side, sabers in hand, they led the charge, which made in such desperate mood, parted the federals in their front as they rode through. Without a moments hesitation, and without considering the distance from the top of the river bank, which was here precipitous to the water level, these gallant soldiers followed their invincible leader, and plunged full speed sheer fifteen feet down into the sweeping current. They struck the water with such force velocity that horses and riders disappeared, some of them to rise no more. The Union troopers rushed to the waters edge and fired at the men and animals struggling in the river, killing and wounding and drowning a number. Holding his horse’s mane, General Wheeler took the precaution to shield him as much as possible behind the body of the animal, and although fired at repeatedly he escaped injury and safely reached the opposite shore. Some forty or fifty were said to have perished in this desperate attempt. “ Fighting Joe Wheeler” never did a more heroic and generous deed than when he risked all to save Forrest from disaster.