58th North Carolina Infantry Regiment at the Battle of Chickamauga

Thomas' Legion
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Report of Col. John B. Palmer, Fifty-eighth North Carolina
Infantry.

CAMP FIFTY-EIGHTH NORTH CAROLINA VOLS.,
Before Chattanooga, September 25, 1863.
CAPT.: In accordance with directions received from the colonel
commanding brigade, I have the honor submit the following
report of the part taken by the regiment under my command in
the actions of September 19 and 20:

On the 19th, this regiment, with the balance of the brigade, was
held in reserve.

On the 20th, the Fifty-eighth North Carolina Volunteers, with he
remainder of the brigade, was moved to a position in supporting
distance of a battery protected by fortifications erected during the
previous night, Lieut. Col. Edmund Kirby, of this regiment,
being placed in command of the line of skirmishers thrown
forward to watch the movements of the enemy.

At about 3 p. m. Lieut.-Col. Kirby rejoined the regiment with
the skirmishers under his command, and the Fifty-eighth North
Carolina Volunteers, the Sixty-third Virginia, and the Fifth
Kentucky, in the order name, moved to the front, and formed in
line of battle, the left resting on the Chattanooga road, from
which position they were soon after moved by the left flank to
relieve Gen. Anderson, then engaging the enemy.

The enemy occupied a range of ridges, from which they had
repulsed several assaults made by our troops. The approach to
these ridges was along spurs and through intervening
depressions, all more or less wooded, but more open and
exposed opposite the right of the brigade. The line being again
formed, my regiment, which was on the right, moved with
steadiness through this comparatively open space till my extreme
right arrived within 10 or 12 left of the enemy. The line of the
brigade formed with the line of the enemy an angle of perhaps 22
1/2, my right being at the angle.

Arrived at the position refereed to, a charge was about being
made when direction were received from the Col. commanding
brigade to cease firing, with a statement that we were firing upon
our friends. Having discovered that no friends were in advance,
firing was resumed by the center and left (the right had not
ceased its fire) and continued with vigor. A deadly fire was, and
had been ever since we came within range, poured into our ranks
by the fore. My major, the captain and 1 lieutenant of my left
flanking company, 2 lieutenants in the center, and my adjutant
had been wounded. My lieutenant-colonel and 2 company officers
had been killed on my extreme right. Two-thirds of my right
flanking company, which was exposed to a most galling
cross-fire from the enemy on our right and in front, had been
killed and wounded. A longer continuance in this position seemed
beyond human endurance, and in spite of my most strenuous
exertions, my right was forced back a short distance and sought
shelter. I, however, succeeded without difficulty in reforming it
and in again advancing it in perfect good order, when,
ascertaining that no charge was being made, I caused the men to
lie down and fire upon the enemy.

In the meantime, the left wing of my regiment had stood firm
and continued to pour its fire into the foe. I desire to state here
that the position against which the regiment under my command
advanced was one of the very strongest occupied by the enemy
during the battle of Chickamauga, and from which our troops
had been at least twice repulsed before our arrival upon the field,
and as we pressed forward we met and swept over the retreating
and shattered regiments that had preceded us in the attack. My
men moved with calmness and deliberation, and I am confident
that had not the advance been checked by the report that we were
firing upon our friends we would have swept the enemy from his
position at our first charge.

Having remained for some time in the position I have last
mentioned, I, by directions of the colonel commanding brigade,
moved my regiment by the left flank, and taking my position on
the left of the brigade we advanced at an angle of about 45 with
our first position. This we did with coolness, although our
ammunition was nearly, and in some instance quite, exhausted.
The regiments on my right being forced back out of sight, the
charge was abandoned and my men sought protection behind
trees, such of them as had any ammunition continuing to fire
vigorously. A second line was formed and another charge
attempted whit like results. Fancying soon after that the enemy
had discontinued firing, I ordered my men to cease
firing in order that I might ascertain definitely; not a shot
was being fired by the foe. I sent a messenger to Col. Kelly,
commanding brigade, to acquaint him with the fact and to
suggest that, if the other regiments would reform and advance to
the line occupied by me, we could probably carry the enemy's
position without further opposition. The messenger could not find
him. I then went myself, and ascertaining that the other regiment
had formed some distance to the right, I moved by the flank and
formed on the prolongation of their line.

Being told by Col. Hawkins that Col. Kelly had a short time
before been summoned suddenly from the field by Gen. Preston
without time to notify me of the fact, I assumed command of the
brigade, and, changing direction to the right, advanced toward
the enemy at right angles with our first line of advance. Col.
Trigg had in the meantime, and after the enemy's fire had
ceased, moved his brigade up a depression between us and the
main position of the enemy, and to his command some of them
were about surrendering.

My regiment captured about 20 officers and men, who, by my
directions, were turned into the ranks of one of Col. Trigg's
regiments as it afterward passed to the rear with prisoners, but
without any notification on my part to the officer in command.

It had now become quite dark, and it was my intention so soon
as Col. Trigg's brigade (which passed by the right flank between
my regiment, near the right of which I was standing, and the two
other regiments) had moved to the rear to advance our brigade
to the ridge finally occupied by the enemy, and there await Col.
Kelly's return; but ascertaining when Col. Trigg's command had
passed back that the remaining regiments of Kelly's brigade to
the ridge finally occupied by the enemy, and there await Col.
Kelly's return; but ascertaining when Col. Trigg's brigade had
gone with them (I supposed at the time by directions of Col.
Kelly, but I subsequently ascertained that he was still absent) and
that my regiment was thus left alone on the field, I, accompanied
by Lieut. Terrett, of Col. Kelly's staff, moved my regiment so
as to sweep over the scene of our conflict, and gathering a
portion of our dead and all of our wounded, caused details from
my regiment, assisted by the infirmary corps, to convey the latter
to the foot of the ridge, and the former to the division hospital
established near by. Col. Kelly afterward returning, the brigade
was collected together and we all slept upon the battle-field.

To the accident of Col. Kelly's absence from the field and my
ignorance of the fact was owing our failure to capture the
prisoners and standards taken by Col. Trigg, for had Col. Kelly
remained, or had he notified me of his departure, our brigade
would have been promptly advanced to the ridge occupied as a
final position by the enemy and the prisoners secured by us.

The men of my regiment were engaged in their first battle. They
acted with the courage and firmness of veterans. The list of
casualties tells of their noble endurance and terrible exposure.
Every field and staff officer and one-half of the balance of the
regiment killed or wounded indicates the nature of the conflict
and affords the best evidence of the constancy of my men.

I cannot close this report without allusion to the gallant conduct
of my acting lieutenant-colonel (Edmund Kirby), who was killed
early in the action. With the words ''Drive the, boys! drive
them!'' on his lips he fell, pierced by four balls, while nobly
leading my right wing. In his death the regiment has lost an able
officer and one full of promise. A son of the late Col. Reynolds
Kirby,
of the old army, and educated at Lexington Military
Institute, he was by birth and by education a soldier-a brave,
generous, selfdenying soldier.

I desire to bear testimony to the gallant conduct of Lieut.'s
Terrett, Mastin, and McDaniel, of the staff of the colonel
commanding.

My officers and men, with hardly an exception, performed their
whole duty.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JOHN B. PALMER,
Col., Comdg. Fifty-eighth Regt. North Carolina Vols.

Capt. JOHN B. Maj.,
Assistant Adjutant-Gen., Kelly's Brigade.

Source: Official Records, CHAP. XLIL. THE CHICKAMAUGA CAMPAIGN. [Series I. Vol. 30. Part II, Reports. Serial No. 51.]

Recommended Reading: This Terrible Sound: THE BATTLE OF CHICKAMAUGA (Civil War Trilogy) (Hardcover: 688 pages) (University of Illinois Press). Description: Peter Cozzens is one of those amazing writers that brings you onto the field and allows you to experience the campaign. You advance with Cleburne's Division as it moves through the dusk shrouded woods and your pulse races as you envision Gen. Lytle's command trying to decide whether to save their dying commander or flee as the Rebs pound up that smoke-filled hill. Continued below...

This account of the Battle of Chickamauga is first rate and thrilling. The profusion of regimental and brigade disposition maps are particularly useful for any serious visit to the battlefield. There are some intriguing ideas introduced as well. Forrest's role in the early stages of the battle is fascinating to read and to contemplate. Also revealing are the ammunition problems that plagued the mounted units; a problem that would hinder Forrest's command at Spring Hill a year later.

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Recommended Reading: Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns (Great Campaigns of the Civil War). Description: When Vicksburg fell to Union forces under General Grant in July 1863, the balance turned against the Confederacy in the trans-Appalachian theater. The Federal success along the river opened the way for advances into central and eastern Tennessee, which culminated in the bloody battle of Chickamauga and then a struggle for Chattanooga. Continued below...
Chickamauga is usually counted as a Confederate victory, albeit a costly one. That battle—indeed the entire campaign—is marked by muddle and blunders occasionally relieved by strokes of brilliant generalship and high courage. The campaign ended significant Confederate presence in Tennessee and left the Union poised to advance upon Atlanta and the Confederacy on the brink of defeat in the western theater.
 
Editor's Pick: CIVIL WAR IN WEST SLIP CASES: From Stones River to Chattanooga [BOX SET], by Peter Cozzens (1528 pages) (University of Illinois Press). Description: This trilogy very competently fills in much needed analysis and detail on the critical Civil War battles of Stones River, Chickamauga and Chattanooga"Cozzens' comprehensive study of these three great battles has set a new standard in Civil War studies....the research, detail and accuracy are first-rate." Mr. Cozzens' has delivered a very valuable, enjoyable work deserving of attention. The art work by Keith Rocco is also a nice touch, effecting, without sentimentality...historical art which contributes to the whole.
 

Recommended Viewing: The Battle of Chickamauga (DVD) (Special Widescreen Edition). Description: WINNER OF THE 2008 SILVER TELLY AWARD, The Top Prize At The Ceremony! The Battle of Chickamauga proved to be one of the fiercest engagements of the American Civil War. Over a period of two days in September 1863, more than 100,000 men struggled for control of the south's most strategic transportation hub, the city of Chattanooga. Along the hills and valleys surrounding the Chickamauga Creek, over 34,000 casualties would be suffered, and the Confederate Army of Tennessee would achieve their last, great victory. Only one battle would surpass the bloodshed and carnage of bloody ChickamaugaGettysburg. Continued below…

Shot on location using High Definition cameras, this 70-minute documentary film dramatically recreates the battle by including more than 50 fully animated maps, period photographs, historical documents, and re-enactors. This Special Edition DVD also contains over 30 minutes of bonus features, including an in-depth tour of the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park's very own Fuller Gun Collection. Absolutely a must have for the Civil War buff. FIVE STARS by americancivilwarhistory.org

 

Recommended Reading: Chickamauga 1863: The River Of Death (Campaign). Description: By the autumn of 1863 the Confederacy was in dire straits. In a colossal gamble, Confederate President Jefferson Davis stripped forces from all the major Confederate armies to reinforce the Army of Tennessee in a last ditch attempt to crush the Union. On 19th September the Confederates attacked the Union army along Chickamauga creek south of Chattanooga. On the second day of bloody fighting the entire Union right collapsed and the army retreated headlong for Chattanooga, all except General George H. Thomas' Corps who fought on doggedly until nightfall delaying the confederate advance, saving the Union and earning his fame as the "Rock of Chickamauga". Continued below…

About the Author: James R. Arnold is a US-born freelance writer who has contributed to numerous military publications. James spent his formative years in Europe and used the opportunity to study the sites of historic battlefields. He has more than 15 published books to his credit, many of them focusing on the Napoleonic campaigns and American Civil War.

 
Recommended Reading: Chickamauga and Chattanooga: The Battles That Doomed the Confederacy (Paperback). From Booklist: This slim, eminently readable book by an established novelist and historian covers the two major battles of the Tennessee campaign in the fall of 1863. The Confederacy then had its last clear chance to reverse the course of the war. But its army proceeded to throw away what might have been a decisive victory at Chickamauga and was then driven from Tennessee at Chattanooga (the best-known episode of which is the Battle of Missionary Ridge). Bowers gives us almost straight narrative history, providing little background and less analysis but many memorable pen portraits of specific units and commanders (he adds notably to the well-deserved scorn heaped on Braxton Bragg).

Included in the book are Thomas' many military victories: the complete defeat of a Confederate army at the battles of Mill Springs and Nashville, repulse of Hood's attacks at Atlanta, and of course, perhaps his most stunning achievement - holding the Confederate Army at bay on Snodgrass Hill while the rest of the Union Army retreated from Chickamauga. Throughout the book, Cleaves describes Thomas as a man who willingly subordinated his desires for the best of the nation, something lacking in most "leaders" today. Several times Cleaves describes Thomas as a calm, confident, and not easily shaken man in whom soldiers took great comfort in knowing he was in charge. “[A] great read…refreshing change from the status-quo.”

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