Report of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph W. Burke, Tenth Ohio Infantry, of Operations December 31-January 22.
Headquarters Tenth Ohio Volunteers, Murfreesborough, Tenn., January 28, 1863.
Colonel: I beg leave to submit the following report of my command, while posted at Stewart’s Creek Bridge, from December 31, 1862, to January 22, 1863:
I remained at Stewart’s Creek with eight companies of the regiment, in charge of headquarters train, after detaching two companies of my command, under Capt. John E. Hudson, to accompany headquarters in the field.
On December 31, information reached me that the trains of the Twenty-eighth Brigade had been attacked and captured near Smyrna, at 9 o’clock in the morning of that day; and at a later hour, learning that the rebel cavalry were destroying it, I dispatched a party to the scene, and succeeded in saving 8 wagons loaded with supplies.
I had sufficient force to have saved this train entirely, but, owing to the extreme negligence of the quartermaster in charge of the train, in not reporting the fact of capture to me at an early hour, the enemy were enabled to carry away and destroy a large portion of it.
The force that attacked that train was very small, and I understand there was a guard with it, all of whom were paroled.
We were threatened with attack at the bridge during the whole day. I had the large train corralled in close order, and by extreme vigilance prepared to resist any attack during the night.
A large number of stragglers came back from the front, from an early hour of the day. I deployed a line of skirmishers across the country, from the pike to the railroad, with instructions to shoot down every straggler who attempted to force the line, and marched into camp at night over 1,100 of these men.
Regiments of stragglers were organized, officered by my own commissioned and non-commissioned officers, and put on duty.
On January 1, I was re-enforced by four companies of the Fourth Michigan Cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Dickinson, and a section of Company D, First Ohio Battery, under Lieutenant Newell.
Rebel cavalry threatened the post during the day, and their advance guard was twice repulsed by my pickets and reserve. Concluding not to attack at Stewart’s Creek, this force, consisting of Wheeler’s, Wharton’s, Buford’s, John H.Morgan’s, and McCann’s rebel cavalry, with two pieces of artillery, passed on toward La Vergne, where they attacked Colonel Innes, First Michigan Engineers, at 1 o’clock. I apprised Colonel Innes of the movements of this force at an early hour.
About 1 o’clock a squadron of affrighted negroes came charging at full gallop from Murfreesborough toward Stewart’s Creek, and with such impetuosity and recklessness that over 100 passed the bridge before I could check the progress of the main cavalcade. They were dismounted and some of then ducked by my men. This was the advance of what seemed to me to be the whole army- cavalrymen with jaded horses, artillery and infantry soldiers, breathless and holding on to wagons, relating the most incredible defeats and annihilation of the army and their respective regiments, came streaming down the road and pouring through the woods on their way toward the bridge. In vain did my small guard stationed on the road try to check this panic. Officers drew their revolvers, but the fugitives heeded them not.
My regiment was in line on the hill-side, and I promptly fixed bayonet, marched at double-quick to the bridge, and drew up a line before it, sending out, at the same time, two companies, deployed as skirmishers, on the right and left, to prevent the passing of the creek by fording. The fugitives crowded in thousands, and at one time pressed closely up to the bayonets of my men. I ordered the battalion to load, and determined to fire if the crowd did not move back; seeing which, many took flight back toward the front. At this critical moment I was rendered most valuable assistance by Lieutenant Rendelbrook, Fourth U. S. Cavalry, and his men, who were stationed at the bridge with their camp and train.
To him I assigned the duty of getting the stragglers into line, and nobly did his men execute his orders. Riding through the panic-stricken crowds, the cavalrymen drove them into a field, where a good line was formed, and every straggler taken and made dress up. When I had a regiment formed in this manner, I assigned it officers and marched it across the bridge, stacked arms, and rested it. In this manner I secured over 4,000 men. I must mention here the fact that the prominent movers in the panic were the quartermasters in charge of trains. There was only one who behaved with anything like courage and coolness-the quartermaster of the Pioneer Brigade.
Later in the day I was notified by Colonel Innes that he was attacked fiercely by rebel cavalry; that a demand for surrender had been made twice, and asking to be re-enforced. I promptly dispatched four companies of the Fourth Michigan Cavalry and the section of artillery (Rodman guns) to his assistance, and ordered them to move up at a trot, holding my own forces ready to support them.
After the lapse of two hours, during which the cannonading of Colonel Innes’ stockade was kept up by the rebels (hearing the report of each gun), Mr. Reily, a citizen, made his escape through the rebel lines, bearing a dispatch from Colonel Innes requesting me to re-enforce him, and the astonishing information that the troops I sent up under Lieutenant-Colonel Dickinson were on their way back to me without having fired a shot, and the rebels were burning the trains.
I quickly decided to save the trains and leave the bridge to the protection of the regiments of stragglers, and set out at a rapid pace for La Vergne with my own command. I met the section of artillery returning, as well as part of the cavalry. I ordered them to fall in behind me, and sent in a strong support of infantry to the guns.
The scene on the road was indescribable. Teamsters had abandoned their wagons and came back mounted on their mules and horses; wagons were packed across the road, and many capsized on the side of the pike; horses ran wild through the woods, and, although men were allowed by me to pass as wagon guards, there were none at their posts. They had left the road and were bivouacking in small parties in the woods, evidently careless of the fate of the trains.
The woods toward La Vergne were filled with small bodies of rebel cavalry, which were quickly dislodged by my skirmishers and driven off. I reached Colonel Innes at La Vergne at 7 o’clock, and assisted him in arranging the trains and forwarding them to Nashville.
I detached four companies of my regiment, and Lieutenant-Colonel Dickinson’s command, and sent them back to Stewart’s Creek at daylight next morning, remaining myself at La Vergne, collecting supplies from the trains, gathering in cattle abandoned by our men, and sending them to the front.
With the remaining portion of my command I joined the garrison at Stewart’s Creek, January 7, and immediately set to work putting it in a defensible condition by erecting a stockade and throwing up a small redoubt to cover the bridge.
I was relieved in command there by Lieutenant-Colonel Carroll, commanding Tenth Indiana Volunteers, on January 22, and reported for duty at headquarters.
In connection with the disgraceful panic of January 1, I would mention the names of the following officers: Lieutenant Gilbert, Second Tennessee Cavalry, who had his horse hitched up to a wagon on the road, and who abandoned it with the teamsters, joining in the stampede; Lieutenant Newell, Twenty-first Wisconsin, and the regimental quartermaster Seventy-ninth Pennsylvania, who abandoned the train of the Twenty-eighth Brigade, and, although within my lines, never communicated the fact of capture until it was too late to pursue the enemy.
Out of a crowd of runaway teamsters I took the names of four men who cut loose their mules from the wagons and left them to their fate: Henry W. Davis, Twenty-fifth Illinois; Scott Cunningham, Twenty-fifth Illinois; Henry Denney, Fifty-ninth Ohio, and Jacob Rohrer, One hundred and first Ohio. A number of commissioned officers came back with the men, but, on seeing the obstacles interposed to their passage, they returned voluntarily to the front.
My officers and men performed their duty faithfully and strictly. I was rendered signal assistance by Lieutenant Rendelbrook, Fourth U. S. Cavalry, and the non-commissioned officers and men of his command, as also Lieutenant Maple, Anderson Troop, who, with their commands, were constantly on duty, reporting the movements of the enemy, and assisting in effectually checking the disgraceful and causeless panic.
I would respectfully mention the name of Captain Perkins, assistant quartermaster, headquarters quartermaster, who evinced the utmost zeal and vigilance, and assisted most materially in the defense of the post, and in restoring order among the trains.
I have the honor to be, colonel, with great respect, your obedient servant,
J. W. Burke,
Lieutenant-Colonel, Comdg. Tenth Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
Colonel C. Goddard,
Assistant Adjutant-General and Chief of Staff.
Source: Official Records Series 1, Volume 20 (Part 1). Chapter 32, pp. 654- 656