Carnes' Tennessee Battery

May 18, 2005
Spring Hill, Tennessee
From Thomas Head's Campaigns and Battles of the Sixteenth Tennessee.


Carnes’ battery was assigned to General D. S. Donelson’s brigade shortly after the battle of Shiloh, in April, 1862, and continued a part of this brigade after the promotion of General Donelson to the position of major-general, when the brigade was commanded by Colonel John H. Savage, temporarily, and permanently by Colonel Marcus J. Wright, who was made a brigadier-general about this time. This battery was with the brigade in all the engagements from Corinth to Chickamauga, and the warmest feeling of amity existed between it and the officers and men of the infantry of the brigade, especially the Eighth and Sixteenth Tennessee. Captain Carnes, the commander of the battery, always told his brigade commander that he was never uneasy about his front, and wanted no troops in his rear to be killed by shells thrown at his guns; if he would place the Eighth and Sixteenth Tennessee on either side of his battery he would have no uneasiness about being sustained on the flanks. This battery did a considerable amount of desperate fighting at close quarters, and was generally supported by the Eighth and Sixteenth Tennessee. In every instance these were the regiments of the brigade which the battery always preferred, and the brigade commander always respected this preference by a compliance with the wishes of the captain whenever it was practicable to do so. As Captain Carnes operated his guns mostly at close quarters with the enemy, he always threw a great deal of canister shot into their ranks, which had the effect to demoralize and often stampede the enemy in his front. The captain having proved the efficacy of canister in large quantities while at close quarters, he always kept an extra supply on hand and dealt it out lavishly upon the enemy to his great consternation. This policy greatly pleased the chief of artillery of Bragg’s army, old Colonel Oladowski, whom he always jokingly called his “canister-shot” captain.

As Carnes’ battery was with Donelson’s brigade during the greater portion of the war after the battle of Shiloh, and it was recruited from time to time from the ranks of the Eighth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth, Twenty-eighth, Thirty-eighth, and Fifty-first Tennessee Regiments, a few items of its history will be given, together with a history of its commander, Captain W. W. Carnes.

The battery was organized by Captain W. H. Jackson (afterward General Jackson of the cavalry). The nucleus of this battery was a few German members, and the guns of the “Steuben Artillery” of Memphis before the war. The men were enlisted as “regulars,” and taken from various places, so that scarcely ten men were from the same county, and they were always kept under the discipline and rules of the regular service.

At the battle of Belmont, Captain Jackson was mounted and afterward promoted to colonel, and placed in command of the Seventh Tennessee Cavalry, and was subsequently made a brigadier-general.

When Captain Jackson was promoted, W.W. Carnes was made captain of the battery. Captain Jackson, who was now colonel and afterward brigadier-general of cavalry, was a graduate of West Point, and was lieutenant in the First Mounted Rifles till the war commenced.

Captain W.W. Carnes was a young man of excellent literary and military attainments. He was in the graduating class at the United States Naval Academy when the war commenced, and at the time he was made captain of this battery he was only twenty years old, and was beyond a doubt the youngest captain of artillery in the Confederate States Army. When assigned to Donelson’s brigade the officers of the battery were as follows:

W.W. Carnes, Captain;

L.G. Marshall, First Lieutenant;

Lewis Bond, First Lieutenant;

R. E. Foote, Second Lieutenant;

James M. Cockrill, Second Lieutenant.

As above stated, Captain Carnes was educated at the United States Naval Academy. Lieutenant L. G. Marshall, who was the oldest officer in the battery, was a man of very superior education, was well known as a man of letters, and was connected with a leading Memphis paper when the war commenced.

Lieutenant Lewis Bond was a citizen of Brownsville, and a recent graduate of Harvard University.

Lieutenant J. M. Cockrill was from Nashville, and a son of Sterling Cockrill of that city.

These officers remained with the battery until after the battle of Chickamauga. The only change in the officers of the battery up to this time was the promotion of Sergeant A. Van Vleck to the position of second lieutenant upon the recommendation of his commanding officer for good conduct upon the field. Lieutenant Bond was assigned to General Jackson’s cavalry command as ordnance officer. Lieutenant A. Van Vleck was a native of New York, and had been in the South about nine years when the war commenced. He joined this battery at the breaking out of the war, and came from the vicinity of Tracy City, Tennessee. He proved a good and faithful soldier in every position he filled in the service. He fell at the battle of Chickamauga.

The first active service in which this battery participated on the field, after its assignment to Donelson’s brigade, was performed at Perryville, Kentucky, October 8, 1862. Being engaged in a heavy artillery duel in the forenoon in front of Wood’s command, the battery was considerably cut up, and Captain Carnes was ordered to refit and await orders. While thus awaiting orders, the scene of operations began to rapidly change to the Confederate right wing. Polk’s corps was hurried rapidly down the Chaplin Creek to the right of Perryville, and soon became furiously engaged in an attack upon the whole Federal left wing. Proceeding to the scene of operations, Captain Carnes found General Cheatham, who told him there was no place where he could be put into action at that time, but to await orders. The battery had already been engaged in a lively engagement, but the position on the right where the brigade was engaged was inaccessible to artillery, as the Federals were posted near the brow of a bluff, and there was but one road that led up to it, and that was a very narrow one on the extreme right. This road was cut out of the side of the bluff, and was held near its brow by a heavy Federal force. Captain Carnes was ordered to remain and await orders until he could be used. Meanwhile Polk’s corps ascended the bluff by brigades and rushed forward to the attack. The battle on the right became desperate. In a little while Colonel Wharton, of the Texas Rangers, came up in hot haste and said that he could find a place for the battery to do some splendid work. At the same time Major Martin, of General Donelson’s staff, came up with two regiments—the Eighth and Fifty-first Tennessee—that had been detached from Donelson’s brigade. After hasty consultation, these two regiments and a section of the battery went with Colonel Wharton, making a detour to the right toward the enemy’s rear. The rear of the Federal left was attacked after a manner planned by the daring Colonel Wharton, of the Texas Rangers. This attack was made upon a fresh line of the Federal forces that had been but recently placed there as a reserve. This line, not knowing the strength of the saucy party attacking them, and confused at the suddenness of the attack and the abundance of musketry and canister shot so unexpectedly hurled into their ranks, stampeded, and their front line giving back about this time from the desperate onslaught of Maney’s and Donelson’s brigades, the whole Federal left was turned at this point, and the slaughter of the enemy was sudden and terrible. The Confederate columns were now moved up, and the first position of the Federal lines had been broken. The field was practically won by the Confederates.

After the battle of Perryville and the return of the Confederates to Tennessee, Captain Carnes was incapacitated for duty, owing to sickness and a wound received in the engagement of October 8. Accordingly, he was sent on furlough to Macon, Georgia, in order to receive medical treatment. Here he recuperated and was captured permanently, not by Federal bayonets, it is true, but by the smiles and charms of a beautiful and charming young lady to whom he was married shortly after the close of the war.

Rumors of a prospective battle near Murfreesboro caused Captain Carnes to rejoin his battery before the expiration of his leave of absence. He found his battery encamped with its brigade on a memorable march in a snow-storm to Lavergne, between Murfreesboro and Nashville. The great battle of Murfreesboro was fought shortly afterward. In this memorable engagement Carnes’ battery did excellent service. The battery was operated in front of the Cowan House and in the cedar brake on Wednesday, and on the following day was detached from the brigade and assigned to a position on the hill to the right of the Nashville pike, in front of Stone’s River. This position was a peculiarly critical and dangerous one, and the battery was here supported by a Mississippi brigade—its own brigade (Donelson’s) held the ground it had gained on Wednesday.

After the retreat from Murfreesboro to Shelbyville, the battery was camped with its brigade at Shelbyville, and afterward at Tullahoma. On the retreat to Chattanooga, in July, 1862, the rains were almost incessant, and when the Confederates arrived at the Tennessee river, neat the mouth of Battle Creek, they found that their pontoons had been broken by the freshets of the previous days and the Tennessee river was much swollen. The pontoon had broken in the middle, and a part of the bridge was found on each side of the river. The engineer officers were at a loss to manage it. At the suggestion of General Cheatham, Captain Carnes was directed to take charge of the work, and by using the knowledge of ropes, water, and boats acquired in the United States Navy, he quickly replaced the bridge, over which the retreating army passed in safety. For this, Captain Carnes was highly complemented by Generals Cheatham and Hardee, Walthall, and others, who witnessed the work from the bank of the stream.

The battery participated in all the movements of the brigade up to, and including, the battle of Chickamauga. In this latter engagement the battery, with the brigade, was thrown unexpectedly upon the enemy’s breastworks, and through a misunderstanding of orders from division head-quarters, the brigade and battery each thought that Walker’s division was in their front, and that they were advanced as a support to him. In this manner the whole column moved within a few paces of the enemy’s lines. Before the mistake was discovered, the battery was in position. The undergrowth being thick, and it being very difficult to ascertain the true position of the enemy, who was posted on an advantageous and elevated position and could see the position of the Confederates, the fire became general, and the battery received a severe fire of grape and canister at very short range. The Confederates at this part of the line were forced to fall back a short distance. The battery has sustained a fearful loss during the few minutes it took to rectify the mistake. Having lost most of its horses and many of its men, Captain Carnes was unable to bring off his guns when the line fell back, and they fell into the hands of the enemy. Hood’s division of Longstreet’s corps attacked the enemy on the left of Wright’s brigade a few minutes afterward, and drove them back. In this charge Hood recaptured the guns of Carnes’ battery.

In the battle of Chickamauga on Saturday evening, the battery entered the action with an effective total of seventy-eight men. Of this number thirty-eight were killed and wounded. The battery also lost forty-nine horses in this brief action of Saturday evening. Among the killed was Lieutenant A. Van Vleck, who received three wounds within fifteen minutes, the last shot causing instant death. Also private Lane, a gallant soldier and veteran of the Mexican war, laid down his life in the battle.

Owing to the used-up condition of the recaptured guns and the loss of horses and men, it was impossible to operate the battery, and the men being temporarily assigned to other duty, Captain Carnes was assigned to staff duty under Lieutenant-general Polk, who was a particular friend. When Colonel Walter, of Mississippi (who was General Bragg’s chief of staff,) learned that Captain Carnes felt mortified over the temporary loss of his guns to the enemy in the engagement of Saturday evening, he went with General Braff on Sunday morning to show him the ground occupied by the battery at the time of its capture. General Bragg was pleased with the work that Captain Carnes had performed under great difficulties, and complimented him for the good work his battery performed until it was captured. So well was the commanding general pleased with the ability of Captain Carnes as an artillery officer, that he causes him to be promoted to the command of a battalion of artillery.

After the battle of Chickamauga Captain Carnes received a thirty days’ furlough in order to refit his battery, being allowed to select from the guns out of the fifty-nine pieces of artillery captured by the Confederates at Chickamauga. On his return from Atlanta with the new battery, new horses were given to him, and half the men of Scott’s battery were assigned to Carnes’ battery, with one of Scott’s lieutenants to take the place of Lieutenant Van Vleck, who was killed at Chickamauga. Captain Carnes was placed in command of a battalion of four batteries in Stevenson’s division. His own battery being assigned to that division was commanded by Captain L. G. Marshall, who had been a first lieutenant all the time while the battery was commanded by Captain Carnes. From this time to the close of the war the battery was separated from the brigade.

About this time the artillery of the army was organized into battalions and regiments, and managed apart from the infantry command. Captain Carnes continued in command of a battalion of artillery until early in 1864, when he was assigned to duty in the Confederate Navy under a commission of lieutenant in the regular navy of the Confederate States, in which capacity he served to the end of the war.

Carnes’ battery was a part of Donelson’s brigade during the greater part of two years. Its commander, Captain W.W. Carnes, was a young officer of more than ordinary ability. He was honored by his men and the officers and men of the brigade, and by all who knew him. He was a gallant and zealous officer, and a gentleman of sterling integrity and honor. He always operated his guns in every engagement where it was possible to plant his battery, and where he could not operate his whole battery he would bring up a section, or even one piece, into action, if he could possibly get it on the ground. This was the case in many of the smaller engagements in which the brigade participated. At Perryville, at Murfreesboro, and at Chickamauga, the battery operated all its guns, and at close quarters, with the enemy. In each of these engagements it rendered valuable assistance to the brigade and to the whole army. The soldiers of Donelson’s brigade cherished the warmest feelings of friendship and good-will toward the officers and men of this battery, which was reciprocated in full. There was no envy, and rivalry, or jealousy, as was often the case between the infantry and other branches of the service. As the guns would move out from camps with the infantry columns to take its position with them, the battery was always greeted with loud and long-continued cheers. The Eighth and Sixteenth regiments made heavy details to recruit this battery in the latter years of the war, and these regiments became so attached to Captain Carnes and his men that they considered them almost the same as members of the same company or regiment with them.

As an officer Captain Carnes was a rigid disciplinarian, and conducted every feature of his military life to a mathematical accuracy. Having been educated at the United States Naval Academy and brought up under the rigid rules of the navy in reference to obeying orders, he always made it a point to hold strictly to his instructions. When h was ordered to hold a place as long as he could he made it a rule to stay there. He considered that his only means of measuring his ability to hold a position to which he had been assigned was to stick to it till relief came or he had orders to leave it. This was the case at Chickamauga where he was placed by a mistake, not his own, in the very mouths of the enemy’s cannons mounted upon breastworks. Here he worked all his guns, and dealt death and destruction to the enemy till half of his men and most of his horses were shot down. When he was ordered to withdraw his battery he found that he had neither the men nor horses sufficient to take off his guns, and, as has been before stated, they fell into the hands of the enemy. This was the only retrograde movement that he ever made from the field during his command of artillery.

Captain Carnes was a gentleman possess of many good qualities. He always admired a fine hors, and was always mounted upon one of the fleetest and best horses in the army, and in the tilts and equestrian exercises at jumping, etc., he always excelled, and was the best horseman in Cheatham’s division.

Captain Carnes was a citizen of Memphis, Tennessee, at the breaking out of the war, and was attending the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. Espousing the cause of the Confederacy in the first stages of the conflict, he continued in its service as has been briefly stated, and was among the last to surrender.

In 1866, he was married at Macon, Georgia, to the lady whom he formerly met at this place in 1863. In 1867 he settled in Macon, and has resided there up to the present time. As he was a faithful, gallant, and true officer and soldier in war, and was honored and loved by his men, he possesses the same good qualities, together with all the embellishments of a true and honorable gentleman in the quiet walks of peace.