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Vedettes screening front of S.A.M. Wood's brigade

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Hello everybody, I have read of rebel cavalry vedettes operating out to the front of the forwardmost pickets of S.A.M. Wood's brigade in the early morning hours of 6 April '62 but have never read where anyone elaborated further on that and specified what unit they were from. I'm talking about the fellows who first saw Powell's recon patrol and fired three warning shots before turning their mounts and riding away. I had been thinking they were some of Avery's Georgia Mountain Dragoons (as they were assigned to Wood's brigade) but in reading Avery's after-action report it seems that while on the night of 4/5 April his dragoons were performing that function (in addition to screening the front of Shaver's brigade) he seems to say that on the morning of the 6th he was awaiting orders from Gen. Hardee 

so does anybody know what cavalry unit was tasked with screening the front of S.A.M. Wood's brigade in the early morning hours of 6 April? Many thanks in advance.

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April 5th 1862.

     “About two o'clock P. M., (Saturday) Colonel Jesse Hildebrand, commanding Third Brigade, Sherman's Division, to which my regiment was attached, invited me to accompany Colonel Buckland, commanding Fourth Brigade, same division, Colonel Cockerel, Seventieth Ohio Volunteers, and one or two other officers, on a short reconnaissance. We had not advanced half a mile from camp when we were met by squads of the fatigue party sent out to cut the road, with the startling intelligence that the rebel cavalry were in considerable force in the wood immediately across the old cotton-field. Our pickets extended to the line of the field. We rode to a position commanding the wood referred to, and with a glass saw the enemy in considerable force. We afterward learned they were Forrest's cavalry, and their commander, riding a white horse, was plainly visible………                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Lieutenant Colonel Wills DeHass, 77th Ohio.

'at 11 o'clock P.M. at the extreme outposts, gray covered calvery-men were discovered advancing, endeavoring to conceal themselves behind a ridge about seventy-five yards distant. Having arrived at a small opening, three of them discharged their at the vidette. With daylight coming on they discovered that the birds, rabbits, and squirrels were fleeing out of the woods toward them, and passing the picket guard line, thus showing that a large body of men was in their immediate front, which was fully verified on Saturday, the 5th. Capt. Mason at once established a few new vidette posts at favorable points of observation carbines at the vidette, one ball striking a small sapling about six inches from his head.

      At about 2 o'clock that same day (Saturday, April 5), large bodies of cavalry were discovered approaching the Union lines, and filing off toward our right, keeping under cover as much as possible. Soon after column after column of Infantry arrived at the same point, filing to the right and left, taking up their positions as in line of battle; also several pieces of artillery went into position on the ridge just at the edge of the open field.'

Colonel William B. Mason, as part of ‘The History of Washington County’ and was published in the Marietta Register, July 21st 1881. (At the time of the battle William B. Mason was Captain of company B., 77th Ohio. He was promoted to Colonel upon the death of Colonel Hildebrand in April, 1863.)


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Thanks RWaller, so it seems like he's saying it was Forrest's Tennessee cavalry. Interesting. In the time since I posted this question I have gotten two other different answers from two other sources. In looking in O. Ed Cunningham's book Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 he says on page 146 that it was Brewer's Alabama-Mississippi cavalry battalion that was screening the front of S.A.M. Wood's brigade and fired the three warning shots. And I called the Shiloh National Military Park and asked this question and the lady at the desk said "That's a very good question, let me put you on hold and ask someone" so she did, and a couple of minutes later she came back on the line and said that she asked the park's chief historian Stacy Allen and he said that while there is no definite record saying conclusively which cavalry unit provided the vedettes who fired the warning shots, Mr. Allen is fairly well convinced it was most likely Capt. Isaac Avery's Georgia Mountain Dragoons. Which is the conclusion I had come to first because Avery's Georgian dragoons were the only cavalry unit in or attached to S.A.M. Wood's brigade. Brewer's cavalry for example was unattached to any division and was in Polk's I Corps answering directly to Polk. In Brewer's after-action report he says and I quote "Sunday morning, with my three companies (one having been taken by the major-general for escort) I took my position, as ordered, on the left flank of Major-General Polk's corps. We were there engaged skirmishing with the skirmishers of the enemy, while Colonel Russell, commanding brigade, was advancing, capturing 25 or 30 and killing and wounding others." 

This is probably what made Cunningham think it was Brewer's cavalry that were the vedettes in question, as it says "we were there engaged skirmishing with the skirmishers of the enemy", however later in the same sentence Brewer gives a time reference in saying "while Colonel Russell... was advancing". Also note that he says his cavalry was deployed on the left flank of Polk's corps. Polk's corps was behind Hardee's corps that morning, and because of that Russell's brigade wasn't advancing and engaging the federals until the battle was well underway (well after Cleburne's brigade and Anderson's brigade had attacked Hildebrand's bde. of Sherman's division). So I seriously doubt that Cunningham is correct in saying it was Brewer's Alabama-Mississippi cavalry. Further confirming this time estimate is Russell's after-action report in which he thoroughly describes first the attack by his brigade against Hildebrand's brigade of Sherman's division and then goes on to say "Just at this time the troops on the right were seen to retire. I rode down the line to ascertain the cause. ... was informed they had orders to fall back. This compelled me to retire a short distance, having first sent Colonel Brewer, who happened to pass by at the time, with his cavalry, to watch the movements of the concealed force" (which Russell had discovered hiding in the bushes and was unsure as to its identity). 

So if Brewer's cavalry was just then passing by Russell's brigade it is basically impossible that it could have been the vedettes which fired the warning shots. Regarding Forrest's Tennessee cavalry, Maj. D.W. Reed's Battle of Shiloh and Organizations Engaged has the "Wizard of the Saddle" and his horsemen guarding Greer's Ford on Lick Creek on the far right of the Confederate line (pg. 88) where it says "Forrest's (Tennessee) regiment was guarding the fords of Lick Creek until about 2.30 p.m. Sunday, when it arrived on the field and supported the left of the Twenty-sixth Alabama in the thick wood west of Peach Orchard. Clanton's (Alabama) regiment moved down the Bark road to Lick Creek, and then down the banks of the Tennessee River, guarding the right flank of the army all day Sunday. Wharton's Texas Rangers was on the left and at about 4.30 p.m. Sunday made a charge at Cavalry Field; was repulsed and Wharton wounded. ... Adams's (Mississippi) cavalry was at ford of Lick Creek until 2.30 p.m. Sunday, then in reserve." 
Now the day before Forrest's cavalry might have been tasked with patrolling over there on the (Confederate) left of the line and they could have been who the 77th Ohio men saw. But apparently for the battle itself starting on 6 April Forrest's cavalry was assigned to guard the ford on Lick Creek until at least in the afternoon of Sunday. Because of 1.) Avery's Georgia cavalry being the cavalry attached to S.A.M. Wood's brigade and 2.) the chief historian at Shiloh National Military Park seems to think Avery's Georgia dragoons were the vedettes in question I'm definitely leaning towards them being Avery's men.

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    This is the type of discussion of interest for all who want to understand what happened at the Battle of Shiloh to the greatest degree possible. The devil is in the details and it takes a painstaking effort to work through them.
    With all the research I have done I would concur with Stacy Allen on the fact that no where yet found mentions exactly who the cavalry vedettes were.
    As shown in Billy’s analysis the attempt is made to determine from what unit the vedettes were from by eliminating those units from which it can be fairly certainly determined they were not from.
    When Bragg came up from Florida there were a number of Alabama cavalry companies that came with him. They were organized in battalions meaning they were less than regimental size of ten companies. Sterling Alexander Martin Wood also came with Bragg to Corinth but S.A.M. Wood ended up commanding a brigade in Hardee’s Corps.
    As noted the Georgia Mountain Dragoons commanded by Captain Isaac W. Avery were attached to Wood’s brigade. The information on cavalry units comes from David W. Reed’s book The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged.
    At the Alabama Department of Archives is a nice collection of S.A.M Wood papers including letters to his wife, biography, paper on his service record, accounts of other battles Wood was in, papers from a court of inquiry Wood requested concerning his performance at Shiloh, request for amnesty and pardon to President Andrew Johnson and other papers. Also, in the early 1900s the head of the archives in Alabama made a concerted effort to obtain information on Alabama civil war units. Surviving members of cavalry, artillery and infantry regiments and companies were contacted and begged to provide information on the formation of the units they served in.
    The result is that the Alabama archives has folders on most of the Alabama units that served in the civil war. Some have more information than others but I found several accounts of the battle of Shiloh from Alabama soldiers who were in the Alabama regiments. There are a couple accounts from Alabamians who were in Gladden’s brigade.
    Not related to this subject, but of interest, I found the original handwritten letter that O. E. Cunningham wrote to the Alabama Archives on August 13, 1962 wondering if they had enough information in their archives about Shiloh to warrant a trip from Cunningham.
    So when Billy requested information on what cavalry unit the vedettes were from who fired the first three shots of the battle of Shiloh in front of S.A.M. Wood’s brigade I thought I would look through the hundreds of photographs I took of the materials on S.A.M. Wood and other Alabama units.
    The result is what I consider to be a “score.” I photographed a copy of the original order issued by General Thomas Hindman, S.A.M. Wood’s division commander, to Hindmans “Generals.” The order is dated April 4, 1862 and pertains to Capt. Avery and how the picket duty should be performed in front of the division.
    For those interested in seeing a copy of this order I have set up a Paypal account, just kidding.
    Here is the order of General Hindman to his “Generals.”

                                Hd Qrs   April 4, 1862


    You will divide Capt Averys Cavalry Company into two equal parties, for picket duty, and send them out immediately, as follows: One party to the right and front of my Division between one and two miles- The other to the left and front of Gen. Cleburnes Brigade some distance. Instruct the commander of each party to throw out pickets from his station so as to effectually protect that flank of the army corps on which he is posted, to be constantly on the alert, to hold his position if attacked as long as practicable, falling back slow if overpowered and sending couriers back to these Head Quarters at short intervals with definite information. They will remain on post until relieved unless so driven back. Communicate to the officers and men (of each party) (and to your entire command) the challenge and response as follows- “Who comes there?” “Manassas – who are you?”  “Beauregard”
    You are not authorized to discharge guns of your commands-after dark. Order the commander of each Regiment to stop it immediately.
    Inform Gen Cleburne that you are picketing on his left, Col Shaver knows it. There are Cavalry pickets of other Commands in our front.
                                   T. C. Hindman Br. Gen.

    In the Capt. Avery’s official report on page 611 of volume 10 he pretty much repeats what Hindman put in the order.
    Hindman directed Avery to picket the flanks of the division and explained to his “Generals” “There are Cavalry pickets of other Commands in our front.”
    Playing the game of elimination it is unlikely the vedettes were from Forrest’s command. He had a large contingent which he had led out of Fort Donelson and he was ordered to guard Lick Creek. Clanton’s cavalry was a large unit assigned to Bragg’s Corps but Clanton fought on the Rebel right flank. Wharton’s Texans was a large unit and fought on the left flank. Polk had the 1st Mississippi Cavalry under Lt. Col. Lindsay (this force captured Ross’s Michigan Battery on Sunday) and Brewer’s Alabama and Mississippi battalion. These two forces stayed with Polk as noted in the official reports of both Lindsay and Brewer. Breckinridge had cavalry units but his was the reserve force and stationed well behind the front line of Hardee.
    Wirt Adams had a force but they operated on the right flank, served as the escort for Sidney Johnston during the battle and guarded Lick Creek with Forrest, I think.
    Having eliminated all possibilities but one, the one remaining must be the answer paraphrasing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective Sherlock Holmes.
    The one cavalry force left is Jenkins (Alabama) Battalion that was assigned to Ruggles’ division of Bragg’s Corps.
    Ruggles’ division lined up in the second line directly behind Wood’s brigade. If you have a copy of Cunningham’s book, page 147, or the Blue and Gray magazine that has Stacy Allen’s Shiloh article there is a map showing the alignment of the Rebel army just prior to the battle. These maps show the right flank of Ruggles’ division situated near the right flank of Wood’s brigade and the left flank of Shaver’s. Cleburne was to the left of Wood’s brigade while Gladden’s brigade of Bragg’s Corps was placed to the right of Shaver’s brigade.
    Ruggles’ right flank was on, or near, the Corinth road so it is easy to visualize sending some cavalry up the road to reconnoiter. The Corinth road skirts Fraley field.
    On page 471 of volume 10 of the ORs Ruggles put in his report: “Four companies of cavalry, under Capts. T. F. Jenkins, commanding, A. Tomlinson, J. J. Cox, and J. Robins, covered our right and left flank.”
    These four companies were known as the Jenkins battalion because Jenkins was the senior captain. Surprisingly all four of these men made an official report that is in the ORs, volume 10.
    Major Aaron Hardcastle commanding the 3rd Mississippi battalion in Fraley field wrote in his report (pages 602 and 603, OR vol. 10) that the cavalry vedettes fired three shots and eventually returned to his line. Unfortunately we are not told how many vedettes there were but it must have been a small number as only a few shots were fired. The two groups of advance infantry pickets that Hardcastle posted in front of his main line had seven and eight men.
    Brig. Gen. S.A.M. Wood verified in his OR report (page 591) that “The artillery and cavalry were detached, by order of Major-General Hardee, and were not under my command during the battle.”
    This brings us to the four companies of Jenkins battalion. Their official reports begin on page 529 of the ORs, volume 10.
    Capt. Jenkins wrote “On the first day of the action my company was attached as support to a section of Captain Ketchum’s battery, on the left flank of Brigadier-General Ruggles’ division.”
    On page 531 Capt. J. Robins wrote “On Sunday, April 6, 15 men of my command were detailed to act as couriers. Ten of them acted as couriers for General Ruggles and 5 for General Pond. The balance of my command masked Captain Ketcham’s battery until it went into action.”
    Captain Ketchum verified his supports on page 527 of his OR report stating “The next morning (April 5), taking our regular position in line, we advanced until about 5 p. m. forming in line of battle on the extreme left, my battery masked by Captains Jenkins’ and Robins’ cavalry companies.”
    Since Jenkins and Robins are placed on the left flank of Ruggles’ division that leaves the company of Prattville (Alabama) Dragoons under Captain J. J. Cox and the Mathews (Alabama) Rangers under Capt. A. Tomlinson stationed on the right flank, right behind the right flank of S.A.M. Wood’s brigade.
    On page 531 Captain Tomlinson wrote: “My company of Alabama Mounted Volunteers was under the command of Brigadier-General Ruggles on the 6th and 7th instant at Shiloh Church…From the time the battle began to 12 m. my command was with General Ruggles on the battle-field, and from that time until 4 o’clock I was engaged in watching the movement of the enemy on our left wing. The remainder of the day and also the night was under the command of Captain Cox.”
    On page 530 Captain Cox wrote: “The cavalry company, Prattville Dragoons, of Captain Jenkins’ cavalry battalion, carried to the battle of Shiloh, on the 6th of April, 4 commissioned officers, 4 sergeants, 4 corporals, 1 bugler, and 33 privates. The company, with Captain Tomlinson’s company, was ordered to advance with the right wing of General Ruggles’ division. After entering the first camp of the enemy Captain Tomlinson was ordered to reconnoiter the woods on the left of that division. My own was ordered to remain with General Ruggles…”
    Captain Tomlinson revealed that Captain Cox was the senior captain.
    On a speculative nature I get the impression that Tomlinson was close to Ruggles while Cox states he was ordered to advance with the right wing of Ruggles’ division.
    On the morning of April 6 Hardcastle’s battalion was four hundred yards or so in front of Hardee’s line and they were serving as a strong picket force. Hardcastle sent two small groups ahead of his line, one 200 yards out and another at 100 yards.
    To extend the picketing even further the decision was made to send out cavalry vedettes in front of Hardcastle’s advance pickets to reconnoiter and the vedettes encountered Major Powell’s party advancing towards Fraley Field and fired three shots and scampered back to Hardcastle’s infantry line.
    Since Captain Cox was the senior captain my assumption is that he would use men from his own company rather than order Captain Tomlinson to send out men from his.
    My vote is that the unknown cavalry vedettes that fired the first three shots of the battle of Shiloh were from Captain Cox’s Prattville Dragoons.
    We may never know for sure. I know that Hindman’s order is dated April 4 but Avery notes in his report that he followed the orders that night.
    Hardee’s Corps was the first in position and stood in line on April 5 waiting for the rest of the army to get in line. One of the straggling divisions was Ruggles’ and by the time Ruggles showed up it was too late to proceed with the attack on Saturday.
    Hindman was probably assuming that Ruggles would be on time when he stated that other commands would provide the Cavalry pickets for his front. Even if Ruggles’ infantry was slow to arrive that does not mean that Jenkins’ cavalry battalion would have plodded along with them. The cavalry was important and needed to be in the front.
    As noted Billy had received two different answers to the question as to what cavalry unit provided the vedettes that fired those three shots near Fraley Field. Presented here is a third and that is why we study the written record.

Cheers to all,

Go Cubs!!!



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