Who was that masked Battery?

In recent weeks I have been carefully working through a detailed narrative of the Viniard Fighting on September 19th, 1863. I keep saying that Chickamauga is complicated, and nothing proves that more than the fight here. The Study Group is going to examine this fight next March, and I figure I should have my facts correct when we do.

Along the way, I have come to realize that one of my key assumptions, now made permanent by the fact that I have set it to paper in The Maps Of Chickamauga, is incorrect. Get me some whiteout, stat!

(and whatever you do, nobody send this link to the publisher)

In the course of this action, the 6th Florida Infantry launched a charge across Viniard Field in an effort to capture a Union battery. This was supposed to be a brigade charge, but this being Chickamauga, not everyone got the word, and when brigade commander Robert Trigg set out across the field, he soon discovered that only one regiment – the 6th – followed him.

The 6th took 402 men into the fight, and lost 165 in this charge. They were subject to a crossfire from Union artillery and infantry, and as a result took a terrible pounding. Despite this loss, their regimental commander felt sure they could have taken the Union battery they were targetting had they been supported.

The 6th’s Colonel, J. J. Finley, asserted that they came near enough to the Federal cannon to pour a “well directed fire” upon them, forcing the crews to flee, “leaving the guns unmanned and the battery flag cut down.” Then, that support not coming, Finley was forced back himself, taking 40% losses in the process. (the 6th lost a total of 186 men in the battle, but the remaining 21 fell elsewhere.)

Which Union battery was this? I have assumed it was the 8th Indiana, of Buell’s brigade, Wood’s Division, XXI Corps. Buell was newly arrived on the field, in line along the Lafayette Road, with friendly troops ahead of him (Carlin’s men) when he was taken by surprise. His front line and his battery were routed. It seemed a natural fit.

Not everyone has agreed. Peter Cozzens, in This Terrible Sound, has Finley charging the 2nd Minnesota and 3rd Wisconsin Batteries, much farther to the south. Th only problem with this theory is that neither battery seemed to notice that they were being attacked. The 2nd Minnesota lost two men wounded for the whole battle. The 3rd Wisconsin did indeed suffer more severely – losing several guns and 26 men killed, wounded, and missing; but not until the next day and about 3/4 of a mile or more to the northwest.

In short, neither battery was seriously threatened during the fight in Viniard Field. Now it’s possible that Finley was just waxing enthusiastic, but he’s pretty specific.

Moreover, the commander of the 2nd Minnesota (and divisional artillery chief) Captain William Hotchkiss reported that an Indiana Battery did indeed rout (the drivers became panic-stricken, he wrote) leaving the guns on the field.

Ergo, I thought, the 8th Indiana. They were on the 2nd Minn’s left, several hundred yards to the north, reported getting overrun and leaving guns, all the pieces fit.

Except one. William Estep, commanding the 8th, reported that his battery unlimbered near the Lafayette Road just in front of the Viniard cabin, half of his guns in the woods and half in the field. That’s were the marker and the tubes are today.

That position is a little too far north, however, to fit my needs. In the end, I decided that the 8th was a bit further south than reported, and simply moved them on my map. I didn’t have another answer, so that would have to do.

But there’s another Indiana battery – or at least a section – in this fight, though it is unreported, unremarked, unmonumented, and, obviously, unnoticed; at least by me.

Two guns of the 7th Indiana battery were left behind at Lee and Gordon’s Mills when Van Cleve’s Division was ordered north on the morning of the 19th to go support Palmer’s Division as they became engaged in Brock Field. Van Cleve was then busy guarding the crossing, and while other troops were supposed to be on the way to replace him, they hadn’t arrived yet, so Van Cleve left a brigade and eight cannon – all of the 3rd Wisconsin and this section of the 7th Indiana – behind, with instructions to come up when they could.

Working through all of the artillery reports as I tried to peice together Viniard, I noticed that Major John Mendenhall (chief of artillery, XXI Corps) mentions that he placed the section of the 7th in the field “in the rear of where Wood’s division entered the woods.” Or, in other words, out in the field south of Buell’s Brigade, but north of the 2nd Minnesota. Bingo.

These had to be the Indiana guns that Hotchkiss mentioned. He wasn’t talking about the 8th at all. Since Hotchkiss never mentions the exact unit designation, I just assumed he was talking about the 8th.

This section found itself all alone out in the middle of the Viniard field when what seemed to be an entire brigade of Rebels charged them. No wonder they ran. Hotchkiss complained that their limbers crashed though his gun line, and for a moment endangered the 2nd Minnesota’s left section, but no real damage was done: the Floridians fell back when it became obvious they weren’t going to get any support.

The wayward section then reclaimed its guns and immediately left to go find the rest of their battery, commanded by Captain George R. Swallow, who was then deployed up in Brotherton Field. The section commander must not have told his boss about nearly losing his two cannon, because Swallow reported nothing about them being engaged in Viniard field.

And so another little piece falls into place. It would have been nice if I noticed this earlier, but hey, fodder for a second edition, right?

As icing on the cake, I mis-identify this section as one from the 26th PA, as well – which is completely wrong.

I sure would like to find an account of this section’s adventures somewhere, but so far, the written record is silent. No memoirs, no unit history, no newspapers, etc. As usual, if someone has a treasure trove of documents about the 7th Indiana Battery, please let me know.

11 Responses to “Who was that masked Battery?”

  1. James F. Epperson Says:

    Just tell your publisher that you had a typo—8th Indiana for 7th Indiana.

    Damn Hoosiers!

  2. Ted Savas Says:

    Too late. The publisher has seen it. 🙂

  3. Dave Powell Says:

    Note to self, don’t put title of book in blog if I don’t want Ted to see it.:)

    Also, thanks, Ted, for gently reminding me that I need to link the bookpage to this site. I did that today.

  4. Slowtrot Says:

    Thanks for issuing the correction. I find it a minor issue compared to what most Civil War scribblers do – which is nothing.

    I don’t think Couzzens is a totally valid reference anyway. How does a State Department employee get the time to write so many books and tend to America’s foreign affairs simultaneously?

  5. Louis Mosier Says:

    Capt Swallow might have been a bit too busy to follow up closely with this detached section as he was not only commanding his battery (7th Indiana) but also acting as Third Division (21st Corps) Chief of Artillery, having been assigned that position less than a week prior. The previous 3rd Div Chief of Artillery, Capt Drury of the 3rd Battery Wisconsin, was severely wounded on Sept 13 in the skirmishing near Lee & Gordon’s Mill.

    I believe you’ve deduced the likely sequence of events. Capt Mendenhall (21st Corps Chief of Artillery) reports that he placed 3rd Battery Wisconsin in the cornfield “on the right of a battery of Gen Davis’ division”, that battery most likely being the 2nd Minnesota, not the 8th Wisconsin. Lt Livingston, leading 3rd Wisconsin following Capt Drury’s injury, reported being placed in the cornfield “on the right of another battery.” Note he says “battery”, not “section.” He later states, “I continued the fire until the battery on my left was captured by the enemy…”

    LT Livingston could have interpreted the section of 7th Indiana as a part of the 2nd Minnesota. Thus, during the confusion of the 7th “stampeding with their guns and caissons” through the 2nd Minnesota and “nearly causing the loss of the left section,” he saw “the battery captured” and pulled his own battery back to a different position.

    • Dave Powell Says:

      Louis, Thanks for the feedback.

      Swallow did indeed have his hands full, especially with events on September 20th, where he lost a gun in Dyer Field. I suspect that Sept 20th overshadowed the 7th’s collective memories of the 19th.

      In any case, I would like to swing by the Indiana State Archives again and poke around in the AG records, to see if I can find any more detail about the battery’s actions.

      The divisional arty chiefs in the Army of the Cumberland seem to be a bit of an anomaly. Most of the time, the job seemed to be an administrative function, with the batteries acting tactically in support of designated brigades, rather than being co-ordinated at the divisional level. I suspect the divisional commanders had a lot of infleunce in deciding what tactical role, if any, the divisional artillery chiefs would play.

      • Louis Mosier Says:


        Concur. Just after leaving my comment, I found and read a 2001 Army War College thesis entitled “Union Artillery at the Battle of Chickamauga.” The author, Major Michael Mammay, USA, discusses the role of the division arty chiefs and concludes the same as you; most of the division chiefs filled a primarily administrative role and were busy commanding their own batteries in the fight. His overall conclusions are thought-provoking.

        By the way, I just stumbled across your blog last week. I’m a latecomer to the history of Chickamauga and the Western Theater, having started some in-depth reading and research just about 2 years ago. I got hooked after trying to find more info regarding a relative of mine, PVT Lewis Massuere, a driver in 3rd Wisconsin Battery. This led me into learning more about the unit and its participation in the war, and then got me researching more about the Western Theater and Civil War artillery in general.

        Unfortunately, there’s not much info out there on the 3rd Wisconsin other than a rather thin unit history, the OR excerpts, and a smattering of secondary sources. I’ve found a few contemporary news articles and have located some diaries held by the Wisconsin Historical Society but haven’t made my way into that state yet to view them (I live in SE Virginia). If you have any leads for me, I’d be much appreciative.

        By the way, your “Maps of Chickamauga” is wonderful and I look forward to reading “Failure in the Saddle.”

  6. Kent Says:

    Hi David,
    I checked out your blog today for the first time, after having read your interview over at Bull Runnings. I feel fortunate that I did, as I’m a great-great grandson of a 7th Indiana Battery member,and have enjoyed reading your research. I have a copy of the 7th’s Unit History, and some letters written from the field.Thr Unit History does mention that a section was left with the calvary. to guard a ford near Lee & Gordon’s Mill, but then, only says that this section rejoined the rest of the Battery when they were at the Brotherton Field, on the 19th.
    Here’s what the History says about the seciton: “September 14 we changed camp to Crawfish Springs, 3 miles distant, where Genl-Rosecrans had established his headquarters. On Sept 16 and 17, the troops were annoyed by frequent dashes of calvary, and while at dinner on the 18th, a few shells were dropped into camp. Tents were imediately struck and the whole army was soon on the move, one section of the battery going with the calvary to guard a ford on the river near Lee and Gordon’s mill, while the rest of the battery went on some distance farther, and about 2 o’clock took position and shelled the woods in advance of the calvary.”
    I’d be glad to scan the pages about Chickamauga, and send them to you. Details wise, the Unit History is very hit and miss.

    • Dave Powell Says:


      thanks for the offer, but I do have the 7th’s History. You mentioned some letters, however? What are those?


  7. Kent Says:

    Hi Dave,
    I have 4 of his letters written while he was a member of the 7th. They are not in very good shape, and are hard to read. Also, they do not provide much battle specific information.

    • Dave Powell Says:

      Interesting. If you ever want to share them, I would be curious to see them. You’d be surprised at what becomes useful when placed in context.

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