Who led the attack?

Depending on whose recollections you read, either the Thirteenth Mississippi or the Seventeenth Mississippi regiment led the right-hand column in the charge on the Northwest Bastion.

Dunbar Rowland in the Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898, says it was the Thirteenth. Just as he also maintains that Gen. Humphreys was in command of the attack. Probably because the Humphreys after-action report a month after the battle indicates that he was there. I’ve already dealt with what I consider the Humphreys canard. So let me quash the Thirteenth Mississippi one.

A lack of enthusiasm was the great Rebel problem for the assault. Longstreet and McLaws had been arguing about it. And Longstreet and Jenkins had their differences over it as well.

Of the two Mississippi regimental colonels, Kennon McElroy and John Calvin Fiser, only Fiser was hot to get a literal whack at the attack. He strode about the camps with a hatchet clipped to his sword belt and told all who would listen that he was personally going to cut down that damn flagpole atop the northwest bastion from which the hated Yankee banner flapped in all their faces every morning.

So, recognizing enthusiasm when he saw it, and sharing Longstreet’s opinion that enthusiasm often was the deciding factor in a fight, McLaws changed his original orders at the last minute to take McElroy and the Thirteenth out of the advance and put Fiser and his Seventeenth in their place.

And so Wiley Gart Johnson, a captain in the Eighteenth Mississippi which was detailed as sharpshooters, remembered in the November, 1893, edition of Confederate Veteran Magazine, the order in which the attacking Mississippi regiments passed over his position on their way to the fort:

“At dawn of the day came up the two gallant regiments, steady and determined. Fizer [sic] of the 17th, with a hatchet buckled onto his sword belt…and McElroy of the 13th, the very picture of chivalry….”

Fiser thus was the first Rebel colonel up the parapet where, in trying to cut down the flagpole, he wound up losing an arm to a pointblank Yankee pistol. Whereas McElroy never got that far but, as Johnson recalled, was killed at the edge of the ditch.

UPDATE:  I was not only influenced by Captain Johnson’s indication in putting the 17th Mississippi at the head of the Mississippi Brigade’s half of the assault on Fort Sanders. General McLaws himself stated it in an after-action report in the Official Records.

On Jan. 17, 1864, McLaws writes: “…I merely assert that the 17th Miss., Humphrey’s [sic] Brigade and Phillips Ga. Legion of Woffords Brigade…were selected to lead and did lead the assaulting columns…”

About Dick Stanley

Retired Texas daily newspaperman
This entry was posted in "Knoxville 1863", Gen. Benjamin Grubb Humphreys, Gen. James Longstreet, Gen. Lafayette McLaws, Gen. Micah Jenkins, Seventeenth Mississippi, The Northwest Bastion, Thirteenth Mississippi and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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