Things I have learned on the way to Atlanta – Cavalry at Cassville

I have taken a short hiatus over the past two weeks, as I am busy with a few other items. I just had a book published: “Decisions at Shiloh,” for one; but I have not forgotten entirely about Atlanta. What follows is an interesting short passage concering a cavalry fight on May 19, as described by some of those involved:

On the evening of May 19, Maj. David Briggs of the 2nd Indiana Cavalry reported that “here the regiment made a bold and desperate charge, breaking the rebel lines . . . killing and wounding several . . . and captured 35 rebels of Company C, Eighteenth Alabama. In this charge [we] did not lose a man.” Confederate Brig Gen. Henry D. Clayton tersely reported this affair with a single sentence, ascribing “the capture of a portion of my line of skirmishers by a sudden dash of the enemy’s cavalry.”[1]

Maj. Gen. A. P. Stewart, the Alabamans’ divisional commander, was considerably more upset. Appalled, he wrote, “I regret to say that a number of men belonging to the Eighteenth Alabama . . . unnecessarily and disgracefully surrendered.” Maj. John E. Austin, whose own 14th Louisiana battalion was nearly captured by this sudden rupture of the skirmish line, was outraged. “The enemy,” he wrote, “with very little fighting, was permitted to gain a position 300 yards in my rear . . . and it was with great difficulty that I extricated my command without loss.” Austin blamed this affair on the negligence of Captain Andrew J. Derby, commanding Company K of the 36th Alabama, who was in charge of Clayton’s skirmish line that afternoon; and the “disgraceful surrender of . . . a company of the Eighteenth Alabama.”[2]

Pvt. William Truman of Capt. Henry Guibor’s Missouri Battery, also in line on French’s front, described this same action in his journal. “My battery was just above the town and within twenty feet of the nice home of Gen. Walker’s mother, whose son commands a division in Hardee’s corps. Our position over looks a beautiful rich valley with extends to a ridge with timber about two thirds of a mile in our front. We have a splendid position, we are all, infantry and artillerymen anxious for the battle to come off, believing that with God’s help we will gain the victory. About sunset” he noted, “our skirmish line . . . [was] attacked.” Truman watched them fall back “in nice order,” only to be “charged by a body of the enemy’s cavalry in full view of most of our army. The skirmishers . . . formed squares in a minute and stood the ground, and we opened on the cavalry . . . and bursted a few shells among them and they beat a hasty retreat for the timber. . . . We were sorry to see that we had broken nearly every pane of glass in the windows of Mrs. Walker’s house by the jarring of our guns.”[3]


[1] OR 38. Pt. 2, 785, and pt. 3, 833.

[2] OR 38, pt. 3, 818, 862. There is likely more to this story than meets the eye, but records are sparse. Captain Derby had been commended by his regimental commander for his efficiency at Chickamauga.

[3] W. L. Truman Memoir,  accessed 3/17/2023. Truman was mistaken about Mrs. Walker being General Walker’s mother. William H. T. Walker was born in Augusta, where his mother died and was buried in June 1862.

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