A Lauderdale County Web
46th Regiment, Mississippi Infantry
Part I: The 6th Mississippi Battalion
On the morning of 25 March 1862 the Covington Rebels, Captain T. D. Magee, Commanding, marched out of Williamsburg, Mississippi to keep an appointment with history. There was nothing remarkable about this rag-tag group of country boys marching north to the railroad. Most likely they weren't in step, not all of them would have had proper uniforms and what few rifles there were would have been scattered throughout the company, one drooping and bobbing over a left shoulder here, another at a smart military right-shoulder arms position, perhaps some were carried under an arm in the popular carry of the squirrel hunter, which, of course, many of the boys were. The unit had been in existence little more than a month, having been "mustered in" to the Mississippi State Militia on 22 February 1862 by COL Vernon L. Ferrell of Governor John J. Pettus' staff. There was, however, within this so far unremarkable company, a quite remarkable young man named William Pitt Chambers. It is from Chambers that most of the details of the unit that would become the 46th Mississippi Infantry Regiment originate.
Chambers would log in his journal the history of a confederate soldier, himself, that also turned out to be the history of the 46th Mississippi Infantry Regiment. Chambers, having been born on 14 December 1839, the son of John and Mercy Welch Chambers, would survive the great conflict of the south and, in 1866 marry Sarah Ann Robertson moving to Sumter County, Alabama where they raised two daughters, May and Janie. In 1905 Chambers presented a copy of his journal to famed Mississippi historian Dr. Dunbar Roland who, in 1925 would publish it under the simple title "My Journal" in Volume 5 of the Centenary Series of the Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society.
It is from Chambers diary and from the work of Dr. Roland himself, with H. Grady Howell, Jr. in A Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898 (republished in 2003 by Chickasaw Bayou Press of Madison, Mississippi), that this account of the history of the 46th Mississippi is, in part, taken. We are grateful to these gentlemen for their work.
The boys of the Covington Rebels would make their way to the railroad at Brandon where they would board a train heading east to Meridian, that little town at the junction of the east-west Vicksburg and Montgomery railroad and the north-south Mobile and Ohio road where they would be sworn into the Confederate service and, as yet unknown to them, board trains back to the west for Vicksburg. The next day, at a place Chambers calls the "Widow Magee's" the group met another squad to be added to the company and, the following morning, now 65 soldiers in all, they would continued to Brandon.
That Chambers would refer to the meeting point simply as the "Widow Magee's" was probably done in jest, perhaps he was thinking that everyone would know that the "Widow Magee" was actually CPT T. D. Magee, his company commander's, mother. She and her husband, Robert (or Robin as he was more familiarly known), owned a good many acres of land in the area, more than enough to accommodate the meager needs of the company encampment. And, although, it isn't mentioned, she probably feed the group well, as was the custom of the times, what was possibly the last good meal they would receive in months. Her husband had died a few years earlier in 1859 and, at some point during the next 4 years, all seven of their sons would serve the Confederacy. CPT T.D. Magee was the oldest son and his brother CPT Warren G. Magee was the youngest. The other 5 sons of the Magee family served honorably as well in various positions of importance among the enlisted ranks.
On Sunday morning, 30 March 1862 the company boarded trains arriving in Meridian about 1:30 in the afternoon. Chambers was somewhat disappointed with the little town, expecting a grand city replete with brick buildings and vast industry. He found only a small village of about 15 or 20 families. The town had been incorporated only two years before and the grand buildings that were to be, had not yet been erected. Of the city, he said that he "…was disappointed. In fact, there is not a fine building in the place, no stores and no streets."
There they waited setting and maintaining camp, tending to their personal needs, drilling and attending church services in the town when possible. Of drilling, this mundane and sometimes boring chore, it may be useful to understand at this point that for these soldiers it was much more critical than those "drills" that might be practiced today. It was not only marching about from here to there in an orderly fashion, but a method of warfare no longer in use on the field in these times. In these early days of so-called modern warfare, battle lines were still formed as soldiers lined up on the field of combat facing the enemy and large bodies of men moved toward each other in a manner and method designed to minimize causalities and inflict the most damage on the enemy. It was the precise movement and actions of literally thousands of men working in unison that would sway the outcome of an engagement. They were intense and worked hard at learning these movements.
By 23 April 1862 enough unassigned companies had arrived in Meridian to form the companies into a battalion and this was done.
Of these, only the Gaines Invincibles and the Jeff Davis Rebels had already seen action. These two units had served briefly at New Orleans before being withdrawn.
The battalion was designated the 6th Battalion, Mississippi Infantry. COL J. W. Balfour, who was not a member of the companies was elected Commander and J. W. Jones (formerly of Company E) was elected Major. Lieutenant J. M. Sublett was acting adjutant. The unit in its short history would also be known as Balfour's Battalion.
The camp, as were all camps that were of necessity maintained for longer periods of time, was rife with disease. Chambers, himself, was taken ill and his duties were very much curtailed. On 5 May 1862 the company from Williamsburg sustained its first causality. PVT W. W. Lee died of inflammation of the lungs, a complication of measles.
By mid-May the tedium of camp life was becoming difficult for the battalion as was, no doubt, simple homesickness. Several members of the unit were allowed to take leave while awaiting further orders and Chambers was among these. When he returned to the encampment on 1 June 1862, he learned that on Sunday, 18 May 1862 the battalion had received orders to report to Vicksburg to assist in the defense of that river harbor city. The unit, for the most part, had arrived at their intended destination and was on duty at Smede's Point during the active bombardment that had commenced on 10 May 1862 and continued through 27 July 1862. The battalion had been placed under the command of Major General Morgan L. Smith. It was assigned to GEN Smith's First Brigade under Brigadier General William E. Baldwin along with the 17th Louisiana Regiment, the 31st Louisiana Regiment, the 4th Mississippi Regiment, the 1st Mississippi Light Artillery (Battery E) and the Mississippi Partisan Rangers.
The first few weeks were spent settling into a new camp routine at Vicksburg. Here some members of the battalion had their first exposure to enemy sniping and incoming artillery -- a baptism by fire, of sorts. The sometimes intense bombardment, it has been reported, was generally unproductive in terms of causalities and caused minor damage that was quickly repaired. However, it was a wholly new experience to the green Mississippi troops and it must have been an extremely tense period as they adjusted to their new environment. By July the new companies that would fill out the would-be regiment began to drift in. On 4 July 1862, Company F, the Lauderdale Rifles of Lauderdale County, CPT Constantine Rea, Commanding reported and Company G, the Singleton Guards from Smith County, CPT Sheppard, Commanding, was reported encamped about a mile away.
On 2 August 1862, several new companies were mustered into the battalion. Company F and Company G, having previously been noted were incorporated as were the two most recent arrivals, Company H, the Raleigh Farmers of Smith County, CPT McAlpine, Commanding and Company I, the Southern Rights of Newton County, CPT Pringle, Commanding.
Chambers comments in his journal on the alarming rate at which the new companies are falling victim to disease. He notes several deaths in the last few weeks in his company alone. An indication of the seriousness of the problem is evident in the morning reports for the month of July. Of the 1372 troops assigned to the battalion (which now consisted of 9 companies) only 555 were present, the others being away from the battalion on business, convalescent leave or deceased. There were 377 men sick leaving only 17 officers and 161 men to perform the work of the battalion. Perhaps, with some apprehension he also indicates that the new companies appear to be full or nearly so, which would suggest that the new companies' head-count was upward toward 100. This was a somewhat unusual but, except for the sickness, welcomed development.
On 17 October, Chambers was detailed to duty in the city and on his return he noted that, what would become the final piece of the regimental puzzle had fallen into place with the arrival of Company K, the Kemper Guards of Kemper County, CPT D. C. Durham, Commanding.
The Kemper Guards were not, as Chambers calls some "raw recruits"; this was a well seasoned and blooded unit. Having gone to Virginia in July 1861, they had been incorporated into the 59th Virginia Infantry Regiment, and, had been attached to "Wise's Legion." They served in West Virginia and participated in the Battle of Roanoke Island on 8 February of 1862 where they were captured. They were paroled and exchanged in September of that year, after which they returned to Mississippi.
It was about this time that the battalion began to participate in the brigade inspections, no doubt everyone wanting to ensure that the group had "all its' ducks in a row", as we might say today, in preparation for the events about to unfold.
On 20 November, it was announced to the battalion that COL John F. Gerault had been assigned to command the 6th Mississippi Battalion. COL Gerault had commanded the Confederate Guard of the Louisiana Volunteer State Troops and during the summer had been the assistant adjutant general on GEN M. L. Smith's staff. Possibly the appointment was a reward to COL Gerault for his faithful service under GEN Smith. However, apparently the officers of the battalion had some "...prejudice against those of the Louisiana Regts. [sic]" according to Chambers and such a great hue and cry was raised through the chain of command that on 23 November his appointment was rescinded.
This was also the time when the officers of the battalion began jockeying for position in the new organization. Captain Magee and Captain Rea had a brief falling out over who was the senior captain in the battalion. Magee was possibly unaware that Rea had received his commission directly from Richmond long before the formation of the companies.
On 1 December 1862 the battalion was directed to conduct an election for the offices of Lieutenant Colonel and Major. CPT W. K. Easterling of Company D and Lieutenant W. H. Clarke, also of Company D were elective to those offices respectively.
The newly elected Major, William H. Clark had served under COL Jefferson Davis in Mexico, enlisted in this battalion as a private, and was later Colonel of the Forty-sixth Regiment.
A few days later, on 4 December 1862, at a formal ceremony, the order was read designating the former 6th Battalion, Mississippi Infantry as the 46th Mississippi Regiment. The regiment was comprised of the following companies:
On 21 December the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and close along side, Major General Joseph E. Johnson appeared to review the troops. Needless to say, after standing in formation for 6 hours, the Regiment was, perhaps, not in the best frame of mind to be reviewed even by these august dignitaries but the event occurred nonetheless. Chambers was not at all impressed with Davis. In his diary he wrote, "He is a spare made man, and I should say a rather ugly one. His complexion is shallow and his face on the 'hatchet' order. He was attired in plain citizen's dress, and I should think there was little in his appearance to mark what he really is -- one of the most noted men now living -- and, as I think, posterity will regard as one of the greatest."
However, GEN Johnson, to whom he referred as "Old Joe" was more as he expected. "[He] looked the most perfect specimen of a soldier I ever saw. Rough and ready in exterior he impresses one at a glance that he is no ordinary man." It was shortly after the troops passed in review that the unit would be given its' first combat assignment as a regiment.
The battalion's commander COL J. W. Balfour had been absent since August and the regiment's Lieutenant Colonel William K. Easterling was now acting commander of the regiment. Nearly two month later on 30 January 1863, COL C. W. Sears would arrive to assume command of the regiment but by that time the elements of the regiment would have already engaged the enemy in the closest fighting to date at Chickasaw Bayou. It was a fight that would wound the regiment deeply, especially the little company from Williamsburg. Chambers would write of the battle, "the 46th Regiment was cut all to pieces and every one of CPT Magee's company except seven was [sic] killed."
Page Last Updated: Friday, 22 September 2017
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