Author Topic: 8th Texas Cavalry, Terry's Texas Rangers Spencer Rifles  (Read 324 times)

Offline Snakeeater

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8th Texas Cavalry, Terry's Texas Rangers Spencer Rifles
« on: January 06, 2020, 10:20:24 AM »
Part One

As noted by Dave Dougherty (2016) Making Georgia Howl: The 5th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry in Kilpatrick's Campaign and the Diary of Sgt. William H. Harding, at the battle of Bentonville, near Mill Creek Bridge on 21st May 1865, Wheeler's cavalry had suffered heavy casualties with Wade Hampton held the left flank of the Confederate line, however, Butler's old brigade of Hampton's cavalry broke the charge of "Fighting Joe" Mower's infantry, but Young's, on the extreme left and along Mill Creek, held on taking heavy casualties. Johnston's headquarters was overrun by Mower, causing Johnston to flee on foot, and Wheeler's cavalry was ordered to seal the breech. Harrison's brigade was ordered to defend the bridge, and the Texas troopers in Terry's Texas Rangers with 80 men armed with captured Spencer rifles hit the center of Mower?s line, and push back the Federal skirmishers [cites from Mark L. Bradley (1996) The Last Stand in the Carolinas: The Battle of Bentonville, p382].

In Don Troiani, Earl J. Coates, Michael J. McAlfee (2002) Regiments and Uniforms of the Civil War (p193 on 8th Texas Cavalry, Terry's Texas Rangers), intimates: "Of particular interest is a note found in the file of Sgt. Robert Burns, dated June 20, 1864, which states that at that time the rangers had sixty captured Spencer repeating rifles, but 'the men [were] refraining from their further acquisition only because of the difficulty of procuring ammunition.'" However, Dean S. Thomas (2003) Round Ball to Rimfire: A History of Civil War Small Arms Ammunition, Part 4, therein contains a trail of forwarded correspondence from ordnance sergeant Robert D. Burns of the 8th Texas Cavalry (of the date above) requesting of his higher command to supply rimfire cartridges for the unit's fifty Spencer Rifles that the Rangers captured from the enemy. Interesting that from a single source has grown fifty rifles into sixty, but eventually his letter and subsequent correspondence was forwarded on to Dr. John Mallet of the C.S. Laboratory (Hodgkins Armory) Macon Arsenal who though having tried experiments drawing copper cylinders, these efforts were largely unsuccessful in attempting to manufacture Spencer rifle cartridges.

In Paul J. Davies (2000) C.S. Armory Richmond, illustrates the very warrant issued by the Confederate War Department to acquire Spencer rifles from abroad, dated 2 November 1864, for "50,000 Sterling ($727,500) to Secretary of the Treasury in favor of Messrs. Fraser Trenholm & Co., Liverpool, to be placed to the credit of Major Caleb Huse, Ordnance Officer in London, for purchase of Spencer Rifles and other Ordnance stores in the United States. Although this warrant to purchase Spencer Rifles in the United States from abroad would ultimately be unsuccessful, as Davies remarks -- Time was needed to build an armory and machinery in Europe-- time was running out." As Davies further adds, "there are no known shipments of Spencer Rifles to the Confederacy from overseas, and had there been any would have had the difficulty of running the blockade. The bulk of armory machinery bought from Greenwood & Batley of Leeds would eventually finish out the war in Nassau due to the blockade."

In 1865, a large number of captured Spencer rifles were turned over to the Richmond Arsenal and though the rifles were greatly desired by Confederate troops, efforts were undertaken to device tools to make the cartridges there but the surrender of Richmond came before the cartridges could be produced. So it's very interesting to note that Greenwood & Batley, who had supplied the Confederacy with not just machinery for making the Enfield rifle musket, but the machines for making compression bullets at a rate of 10,000 per day, other machines for making 35,000 percussion caps per hour, friction primers, etc., were just at the end of the war ready to supply the Confederacy with the machinery to make the Spencer rifle and its unique cartridge. In fact, found among the papers of Joseph L. Sibert, of Staunton, are patent drawing and specifications for a machine for forging Spencer rifle cartridge cases, granted by the Confederate States of America, 1865.

While these various "sources" allude to Terry's Texas Cavalry as having captured upwards of 50 (or 60) Spencer Repeating Rifles, these same sources are unsure of just how recent these arms were acquired and from whom had surrendered them?  There is provided in a unit history of the 8th Texas by Leonidas (Lee) B. Giles (1911) Terry's Texas Rangers, an account of just how the Texans acquired their Spencer rifles, and following this quote, is provided the Yankee units who had opposed the Texans at the battle of Farmington, near Shelbyville, Tennessee (October 7, 1863) being none other than elements of Wilder's "Lightning Brigade," having only received their Spencer Rifles some six months earlier (May 22, 1863).

"Our march was up the Holston river to find an unguarded ford, but the pickets were everywhere. We halted in a field at night, and Company D, armed with picks and spades, was directed to go to the river bank and there make a way for the artillery. A guide from the vicinity showed us a way across, by a ford unknown to the Yankees. We captured a few pickets.

Wheeler now divided his forces, himself leading a column into Sequatchie valley, where he captured and burned 2000 wagons. He then overtook the remainder of the command as we descended the mountains. Our route was by McMinnville and Murfreesboro, and the way was sufficiently familiar to us, since we had traveled it so often under Forrest the year before.

When we reached the vicinity of Murfreesboro, Captain Kyle with his squadron, consisting of Companies D and F, was ordered to ride around the place, reach the railroad leading to Nashville, and try to capture a train. We came to the railroad a little before daylight, but there were no trains running; the enemy had learned that the 'rebels' were in the country. Captain Kyle heard of a lot of wagons down toward Nashville and decided to take them in. This he did without resistance. The teams had been engaged in hauling wood to the garrison at Nashville, and the wagons were drawn by oxen, the only instance of this kind that we saw during the war. The oxen being fat, and also too slow of foot to go with us in any other form, were converted into beef.

We crossed over to Shelbyville pike, the scene of some of our operations in the spring. Learning that a small force of cavalry held Shelbyville, General Wharton ordered the Rangers to attempt their capture. We saddled up early, and rode briskly, reaching there about daylight, but the enemy had left. There were several stores in this place, established by some enterprising Yankees, and stocked with clothing and dry goods. Rather than have their doors broken down, the owners opened them. Winter was coming on, we were a long way from home and nearly naked, and here was our chance for winter supplies. Some of the boys got a black 'Prince Albert' coat. This was presented to the chaplain, who wore it a long time.

The line of march led by Farmington. Here the enemy had taken a strong position in a cedar thicket. Over the ground were scattered large boulders. The enemy, armed with Spencer rifles, were lying behind these stones. The Rangers were ordered to charge this position. We got up pretty close; in fact, into the edge of the thicket; but they poured such a destructive fire into us that it did not take us long to discover that we had more than we could handle. We took some prisoners. We also got some of these rifles, the first of the kind I had ever seen; they would shoot seven times without reloading. The casualties are not remembered, except that Major Christian and Lieutenant Blackburn were wounded. Love, of Company C, was killed.

That night at headquarters they were discussing the incidents of the day. Wharton said the Rangers had done all that any soldiers could do; that it was impossible for mounted troops to drive brave men, armed as were the enemy, from such a position. General Wheeler said they had done all that he expected; had held the enemy engaged while our artillery and wagons ran by through a field, thus saving the command from a bad situation. Then Colonel Harrison spoke:
"It was no fight at all! I'm ashamed of them! If they can not do better than that I'll disown them!"

A staff officer put in:
"I always thought that regiment somewhat overrated anyhow."
This aroused "old Tom," who got up, shook his finger in the fellow's face and broke out furiously:
"Who the --- are you? There is not a man in that regiment who can not kick you all over this yard, sir!"
As he strode off to his horse, he was heard to say:
"By ---- I'll curse them all I want to; but I'll be ----- if anybody else shall do it in my presence!"
Moving on to the Tennessee river, we crossed that stream at one of the fords along the Mussel Shoals. From there, in a more leisurely manner, we went back to the army, still besieging the Federals at Chattanooga."

Of the units who opposed Wheeler's Great Raid west of Shelbyville, included the 92nd Illinois Mounted Infantry at Farmington, October 7, also at Sim's Farm, near Shelbyville, Tennessee, October 7: together with the 17th Indiana Mounted Infantry, 72nd Indiana Mounted Infantry, 75th Indiana Mounted Infantry, and 98th Illinois Mounted Infantry? all comprising Wilder's Lightning Brigade and armed with Spencer rifles! So now we know who donated the Spencer Rifles to Terry's Texas Rangers, and exactly the date of their capture. Even too, according to Colonel Wilder himself, said he lost 50 men from the 17th Indiana as prisoners during this action. Seems we now know what became of those 50 Spencer rifles.
First Cousin (Six times removed) to BGen Isaac (Stand Firm) Uwatie,  Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, 1862-1866

Offline Snakeeater

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Re: 8th Texas Cavalry, Terry's Texas Rangers Spencer Rifles
« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2020, 10:25:03 AM »
Part Two

In letter by D.S. Combs (another member of Terry's Texas Rangers) to Lee Giles, Combs wrote: "I was with you at Farmington and at Nolensville, where Ferg Kyle led his line of dismounted men, deployed as skirmishers, up against a solid line of blue, a regiment of infantry, who poured a galling fire into our ranks and caused us to reel and stagger like a drunken man."

From the journal of Sergeant W.H. Thompson of Company F, 17th Indiana, who was mortally wounded at Cleveland, Tennessee following a raid on 27 November and who died 4 December, derives a 12-page narrative of his cumulative service from 17 August 1863 ending on 8 October 1863, covering the period of the Chickamauga Campaign. On October 8 the journal cuts off abruptly with the final entry reading, "about 10 am had a fight. Our loss was 30 killed and wounded. The 17th charged a battery of 3 guns and captured them at Farmington." Here at Farmington, Wilder's brigade charged into the town and captured three guns, and 300 prisoners but lost 48 killed and wounded, including three commissioned officers.

Civil War Diary of Ambrose Remeley (1836-1917), entitled Battles, Skirmishes, Events and Scenes: The Letters and Memorandum of Ambrose Remeley, edited by Dale Edwards, Linvill (Crawfordville, Ind: The Montgomery County Historical Society, 1997) provides:

"When Wilder saw that the men could not effectively use bayonets, especially for camp chores, he had each man issued a hatchet with a two-foot long handle. This became a very handy camp tool and a good battlefield weapon. It earned the brigade the title of "The Hatchet Brigade" while fighting at Murfreesboro. Although officially known as the First Brigade of the Fourth Division of the XIV Corps, and since operated independently much of the time, the name of Wilder's Brigade was usually given to it.

In early February, Rosecrans finally gave Wilder permission to mount his brigade. Wilder did not wait long for government red tape to clear paperwork that would authorize purchase of horses. He immediately started on scouts through Dekalb and Wilson counties in the Cumberland Valley of Tennessee to "persuade" Confederate sympathizers to part with their horses. By the middle of March, Ambrose and the rest of the brigade had their horses.

With horses now on hand, one detail had yet to be completed. That was choosing more effective weapons for the men. Wilder's acquisition of the Spencer Repeating Rifle completed his transformation of the Brigade into a powerful fighting force. Obtaining this amazing new rifle, however, was not an easy task. Brig. Gen. James W. Ripley, the War Department?s Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, was in charge of all firearms purchases. Ripley was a West Point graduate and a veteran of the War of 1812. He preferred the smooth bore muzzle-loading musket to breechloaders arguing that they were a more reliable weapon and one less wasteful of ammunition. He would have nothing to do with repeating rifles calling them 'newfangled jimcrack.'

Having absolutely no success with the Washington Army bureaucracy, Spencer packed his gun and headed west to Grant's Army of Tennessee. Grant and his officers, including Wilder, recognized the merits of the repeater but doubted the Bureau of Ordnance would authorize purchase. This new repeating rifle was exactly what Wilder wanted for his men. He had sworn to arm them with the best weapons available. He called his men together and asked them if they wanted to carry the sensational rifle that they had just seen demonstrated. Of course they said yes. Wilder then took an unheard of chance. He wrote to his bankers in Greensburg, Indiana, asking for a loan to buy enough Spencer repeating rifles to arm his brigade. Each man offered to pay for his own weapon by signing a note for $35. Wilder co-signed the notes and sent them off to his bank. Funds were returned and an order for 2000 repeating rifles and ammunition was placed with the Spencer factory. This order, put through privately, was highly irregular but a brilliantly resourceful maneuver.

But before the Spencers would arrive, the men of Company E and the rest of the brigade had to learn new skills in order to operate as a mounted force. Saddles, bridles, and other leatherwork had to be maintained. Since horses were not as agile of men and horses had a mind of their own, close order drill and marching had to be practiced. Learning these new skills took a considerable amount of time.

Murfreesboro Tenn May the 22d/63

We have drawn new guns and they are the nicest and handiest gun I ever saw. They are called the spencer repeating rifle. They shoot seven times and can be loaded and fired in less than no time. We dont have to use any caps. The cap is on the end of the cartrige."

Although it appears that Sgt. Remeley was not able to keep up with his journal regularly after that time, writing at Mayesville, Alabama, October 30, 1863, he writes of the month's previous action of Chasing Wheeler. "Our advance run on to them before they knew they were near them, dismounted and drove them in good style killing a good many got them to running and the cavalry made a charge and took over a hundred prisoners. The rest run like towheads. The roads was lined with guns that they threw away.
 
We went on until we came to a little town by the name of Farmington. Here Wheelers whole force had stopped to give us a fight. Our brigade dismounted and went in to them. It was shot and shell. The grape shot fairly whistle all around me. But we drove them took four cannon and two waggons. There was I believe 68 killed wound and missing in our brigade. Among the killed was Capt. Monroe of the 123d Ill as brave and good a Col [soul] as ever lived.

It was a hard trip. We was 21 days on the trip and it rained 11 day and nights in the time. We had but 5 day rations for the whole time. The rest we foraged off the country. You had better believe we went in to the tater patches, fresh porkers, Chickens, &c. Our horses are pretty well run down. I am still riding my mule. It stands it better than any horse."

A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (Vol. 1), of the battles, campaigns in Tennessee, only lists the one Federal unit being engaged at Farmington, that of the 4th Ohio Cavalry. But for the other 'action at Shelbyville,' the same day, cited as October 9, 1863, identifies only the 17th Indiana Mounted Infantry. For the most part, neither Remeley or any of the other journals written by members of Wilder's Brigade, seemed to know just who was opposing them on the other side, just as it seems that Lee Giles had also not known that the line of blue infantry that made Terry's Texas Rangers "reel and stagger like a drunken man," was Wilder's Lightning Brigade. But Remeley continued to narrate of the brigade's engagements for the remainder of the war, and wrote at "the Etowah near Cartersville"on October 13th, 1864: "Started out early in the morning and after going about five miles we run on to the rebels again, had a skirmish and drove them back about a mile where they stopped to give us fight. They took up a position in the edge of a woods and behind a deep little stream. Our brigade was formed in a line of battle, dismounted, we then advanced, waded the stream which was waist deep, broke the rebel lines and then our Cavalry which was on the road just in our rear charged them and captured a good many prisoners, two pieces of artillery, some horses a regimental flag that if I remember right belong to Terrels Texas Rangers."

Although there was a Terrell's Texas Rangers, the 37th Texas Cavalry, also known as the 34th Regiment Texas Cavalry, this unit organized in June 1863 by Alexander W. Terrell. However, Terrell's Rangers remained garrisoned in Texas during 1863 before participating in the Red River Campaign in April 1864, and so never fought east of the Mississippi. In a letter from J.J. Weiler, addressing himself as "Maj. Com. 17th Indiana Volunteer Infantry" to Terry's Texas Rangers Association, Austin, Texas, of May 18, 1898 (included in L.B. Giles (1911) Terry's Texas Rangers), he relates to having found a package (or roll of something) a day after the 17th's engagement at Rome, lying near a road near Coosaville, Alabama (20 miles southwest of Rome, Georgia) that on opening the package once he had returned to his headquarters, discovered it to be the flag of Terry's Texas Rangers. It had been furled and sheathed in an oilcloth, and had apparently just slipped off the staff and been lost that way.

Note: Hood's headquarters had been at Coosaville on the night of October 10, 1864 after he evacuated Atlanta. It would seem that Wilder's Brigade was pursuing Hood, who fled to Alabama, since Cartersville on the Etowah River lies some fifty miles to the east of Coosaville. It may be that with the Etowah River being an eastern tributary of the Coosa River and converges at Rome, Georgia, that Remeley just may not have known where he was on October 13, 1864. By October 28, Sherman then at Gaylesville, Alabama, decided to return to his headquarters at Kingston, Georgia, rather than pursuing Hood into Alabama, and upon reaching Cartersville on November 12, Sherman sends his last message to Thomas in Nashville, to say "he will be out of communication with the North until December 13", then begins his "March to the Sea," and within four days had destroyed Rome, Cartersville, and Marietta on his way south to "make Georgia howl."

In the Journal of the Indiana State Senate during the 61st Session of the General Assembly commencing January 5, 1899, appears a bill presented before that body: "Whereas, On October 13, 1864, during the War of the Rebellion the flag of the Texas Rangers at a battle near Coosaville, Alabama, was captured by the 17th Regiment of Indiana Infantry (Mounted) Volunteers in command of Major J.J. Weiler, and then belonging to General J.T. Wilder's Brigade, which brigade at the time was in command of General A.O. Miller, and subsequently by the proper authorities was deposited in the archives of the State of Indiana, and reposed in the custody of the State Geologist, to which is attached the following description: 'Battle Flag of the Texas Rangers, captured from the 8th Texas Cavalry near Galesville, Alabama, October 13, 1864, by two companies of the 17th Indiana Infantry, commanded by Major J.J. Weiler of Company E, Wilder's Brigade.'"

There is identified a committee, including H.W. Graber, George W. Littlefield, S.P. Christian, W.D. Cleveland, and R.Y. King, all of the State of Texas, duly appointed by and representing the Association of Survivors of Terry's Texas Rangers, by their petition had asked the Legislature of the State of Indiana to kindly return to that association said battle flag, that it may be kept and treasured by them, and in said memorial the said Major J.J. Weiler, of Dallas, then a Post Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic of the District of Texas, agreed to return the colors to the survivors association of Terry's Texas Rangers in 1898. Of course, there was no mention of returning any Spencer rifles, even had it been known who they were taken from but you would think if the State of Indiana was nice enough to return the battle flag of Terry's Texas Rangers, the survivors would have been nice enough to have returned those Spencer rifles they stole off those poor prisoners of Wilder's Brigade in 1863?

So be on the lookout for these fifty Spencer Rifles that belonged to the 8th Texas Cavalry and to Wilder's Brigade, as they are one-in-the-same genuine rifles. When Terry's Texas Rangers surrendered at war's end, there were just 30 men left of the 1,200 men who had formed the regiment in 1861. At least one other rifle was taken back to Texas by William Henry Cubine (1838-1924), of Montague County, Texas, who served in Wharton's command, and was at Lee's surrender, claims to have killed many buffalo and other wild game on the frontiers of Texas with his Spencer Rifle.
First Cousin (Six times removed) to BGen Isaac (Stand Firm) Uwatie,  Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, 1862-1866

 

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