In Their Own Words...The Battle of Rowlett's Station
One of the ideas I've been toying with is a putting out a series entitled "In Their Own Words." In this series of posts, I wanted to just post the reports of officers of Kentucky regiments (Union and Confederate), and reports by officers from other states after engagements that took place within Kentucky. This one is the latter. Specifically the action at Rowlett's Station fought on December 17th, 1861. The 32nd Indiana faced off against a detachment of the 8th Texas Cavalry, later known as Terry's Texas Rangers, along with men of the 1st Arkansas Battalion, 2nd and 6th Arkansas Infantry Regiments, and Swett's Mississippi Battery. Now, I couldn't help but read the report with a German accent as Willich commanded perhaps one of the more well known regiments made up of German immigrants in the western Union Army.
Captain : Please find inclosed the official report of Col. August Willich, Thirty-second Indiana, of the affair in front of the railroad bridge over Green River. I would respectfully call the attention of the general commanding to the gallantry and good judgment of Lieutenant Colonel Yon Trebra, of said regiment, during the action. The regiment behaved well) all present distinguished themselves.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, A. McD. McCOOK, Brigadier-General Volunteers, Commanding Second Division. Capt. J. B. Fry, Assistant Adjutant-General, Chief of Staff.
Report of Col. August Willich, Thirty-second Indiana Infantry. Camp George Wood, December 18,1861.
My regiment had, as usual, two companies on the south of Green River for the protection of the repairing of the railroad bridge across the Green River. The bridge built by our pontoniers being finished on the evening of the 15th instant, the former order to defend our work in case of an attack principally from the north side of the river was changed in such a manner that four companies, deployed as skirmishers, should form on the north side of Green River, while the remaining four should advance over the bridge to the south side as support of our pickets.
At 12 o’clock on the 17th of December the right wing of our picket chain (Company B, Captain Glass) was annoyed by skirmishers of the enemy. Captain Glass sent out a patrol that drove them back and followed them up with the balance of his company. About a mile from the picket chain he met a company of the enemy’s infantry, whom he saluted with a volley, upon which they retreated in haste. Owing to the arrival of large forces of infantry, who had by this time made their appearance, he was obliged to retreat, executing the same in good order, until re-enforcements arrived. During this maneuver Company C advanced on the left of the pike from Woodsonville in a southward direction. There they were attacked by a company of Texas Rangers, whom they drove back. At the same time the signal of alarm was given to the remainder of the regiment and was answered with astonishing alacrity. In their anxiety to hasten to the relief of the companies that were in danger the company commanders failed to obey the instructions given by me, and all of them rushed over the bridge and up the hill, there forming in our usual position at alarm—in close column. The undersigned being at the time of the general alarm at the headquarters of the division, Lieutenant-Colonel Yon Trebra ordered Companies K, G, and F to the support of Company B on the right wing, and Companies A and I to the support of Company C on the left wing, and Companies E and H and a few men of Company D as reserve to follow along the pike, under command of Major Schnackenberg, in the usual distance. The infantry of the enemy on both wings were thrown by the mere advance of our lines of skirmishers. But now ensued the most earnest and bloody part of the struggle.
With lightning speed, under infernal yelling, great numbers of Texas Rangers rushed upon our whole force. They advanced as near as 15 or 20 yards to our lines, some of them even between them, and then opened fire with rifles and revolvers. Our skirmishers took the thing very coolly and permitted them to approach very close, when they opened a destructive fire on them. They were repulsed under severe loss, but only after Lieutenant Sachs, who left his covered position with one platoon, was surrounded by about 50 Rangers, several of them demanding of him three times to give up his sword and let his men lay down their arms. He firmly refused, and defended himself till he fell, with 3 of his men, before the attack was repulsed.
Lieutenant-Colonel Yon Trebra now led on another advance of the center and left flank, when he drew down on his forces a second charge of the Rangers in larger numbers, charging into the very ranks, some dashing through to the rear, which might have proved disastrous to Companies C and I had not Company H, commanded by Lieutenants Cappell and Levy, and ordered forward by Adjutant Schmitt from the reserve on the pike, advanced with a hurrah towards the Rangers and repulsed them. At this moment the artillery of the enemy with six guns commenced its well-directed but not damaging fire. Their balls and shrapnels were thrown with great precision towards the reserve companies and skirmishers near the pike, but only a few men were hurt, and those by splinters from trees and fences. Among others, our undaunted and ever-attentive Assistant Surgeon Jeancon was struck by the branch of a tree and stupefied for a short time.
While this happened, the struggle on the right flank was not less severe. Companies F, K, and B were thrown out as skirmishers, Company G in column as support. The Rangers advanced within 15 yards, and then fired with shot-guns and revolvers. Our skirmishers made great havoc among them, but finally retreated behind the square formed by Company G, Captain Welschbillig. Now a fight ensued such as seldom occurs. The Rangers, about 150 to 200, thinking they could ride over that small squad of 50 men, attacked them in front and left flank. Captain Welschbillig suffered them to approach within 20 yards, and then fired a deadly volley at them. They retreated, but only after having discharged their guns and rifles at our men. They charged a second time, and engaged in front and both flanks. Several of them came close to our bayonets. A well-aimed volley sent them back again. They made a third but weak charge, which resulted more disastrously to them than the former. They now disappeared in wild disorder from the battleground. In their place a regiment of infantry, the band playing, advanced against the small squad. Captain Welschbillig fell back before them with his men in good order, to form with Companies I and B, Company K holding the rear. At this moment the undersigned arrived and took command of the right wing. Seeing the danger that threatened the regiment in case the enemy’s infantry (two regiments) would throw our right wing and advance on the line of retreat on the left wing, 1 ordered the signal “fall back slowly” to be given and formed the companies. Companies B and G fell in quickest. Company K guarded the rear. The forming of Companies B and G very likely gave rise to the enemy’s belief of a re-enforcement on our right. At the same time Company A, till then delayed by their flanking movement, appeared on the enemy’s right wing, on our left, when their artillery retreated in haste. The cavalry had disappeared from the battle-ground, and the infantry followed in double quick time. Company A took an advanced position, holding it until the undersigned, Lieutenant-Colonel VonTrebra, a company (B) of the Forty-ninth Ohio, and Adjutant Schmitt, with a squad of men from my regiment, arrived to collect the dead and wounded, which were carried home under the protection of said forces. I cannot pass this without expressing my heartfelt thanks to Colonels Gibson and Harrison and their regiments, who volunteered to assist us in searching for our dead and wounded, and who took position against the enemy, giving our men help and protection.
In the fight participated 3 field, 1 staff, and 16 officers of the line, 23 sergeants, and 375 men. The force of the enemy consisted of one regiment Texas Bangers, two regiments infantry, and one battery, consisting of six guns. Our loss is, 1 officer and 10 men dead, 22 wounded, and 5 missing. The latter I hope to be able to report as wounded, and after whom I have to-day sent Lieutenant Mank, Company A, with a flag of truce.
According to the reports of our surgeons several of the wounded are beyond the hope of recovery. Yesterday the enemy reported his loss 40 killed and ours 200 killed. I venture to say that he lost in same proportion more than 40 as we lost less than 200. It would be difficult for me to distinguish special names for their brave conduct, as this might be interpreted that others did not deserve the same praise. Every officer actually engaged distinguished himself by his coolness, courage, and judgment. Lieutenant Sachs gave way too much to his courage and advanced too hastily and too soon, which caused our mourning over his loss and that of several brave soldiers of his platoon. As stated above, our assistant surgeon, Jeancon, was on the battleground, while our first surgeon, F. Krauth, discharged his duties faithfully at the hospital. Captains Giegoldt and Kodalle, Lieutenants Schutz, Trenck, and Kimmel were on the sick list. Lieutenant Knorr was on guard duty, and Lieutenant Pietzuch guarding the bridge with his pontoniers. The noble conduct of some surgeons of the rebels I cannot pass with silence, although I am unable to give their names. They dressed the wounds of 3 of our men and sent them back to us in a farmer’s wagon. On our part, Lieutenant Mank, of Company A, permitted 4 men of the rebel force to carry off the corpse of Colonel Terry, of the Texas Rangers, and several wounded men.
If I take into consideration that my regiment engaged successfully a force at least seven times as strong as our own, consisting of the selected troops of the enemy, I think I have reason to say that everybody has done his duty faithfully.
A. WILLICH, Colonel Thirty-second Indiana Volunteers.
P. S.—Although I did not intend to mention any one individually, I feel myself induced to .state that Lieutenant-Colonel Yon Trebra has gained and confirmed, not only the admiration, but the love and confidence of every man in the regiment by the skill and gallantry with which he led them to the attack.
I have to mention also Lieutenant Pietzuch and his pontoniers, who by their unceasing efforts succeeded in constructing a bridge across Green Eiver with the poor tools and scanty material furnished them in incredibly short time. Without this bridge it would have been impossible for me to cross the river with the regiment to support our pickets and frustrate the designs of the enemy by defeating them.
In conclusion, I most respectfully call the attention of the general commanding to the report which I laid before you in regard to strength and number of my regiment, and would ask you to take it in favorable consideration. I have the honor to remain, vour obedient servant,
Report of Brig. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman, C.S. Army, with congratulatory orders from Major-General Hardee.
Headquarters Advance Guard, Cave City, Ky., December 10, 1861.
Sir: At 8 a. m. on the 17th instant I moved towards Woodsonville, for the purpose of breaking up the railroad from the vicinity of that place southward. My force consisted of 1,100 infantry, 250 cavalry, and four pieces of artillery. When within 2 and 1/2 miles of Woodsonville, concealed from the enemy’s view, I halted the column and ordered forward Colonel Terry’s Rangers to occupy the heights to my right; left, and front, and Major Phifer’s cavalry to watch the crossings of Green River, still farther to my left. These orders having been executed and no force of the enemy or pickets seen, I advanced the column until the right reached the railroad. This brought me within three-quarters of a mile of the river and the enemy, but still concealed, except a small body of cavalry upon the extreme right. Here a company of Rangers was detached to observe the enemy from Rowlett’s Knob, which was to my right, across the railroad. A strip of timber bordered the river parallel to the line held by my cavalry. Fields were between. A body of the enemy’s infantry, as skirmishers, moved through the timber by their right on my left. They were tired upon by a small body of my cavalry and retired.
The firing ceased for about half an hour, and I went in person to select a suitable place for camp, leaving Colonel Terry in command, with instructions to decoy the enemy up the hill, where I could use my infantry and artillery with effect and be out of range of the enemy’s batteries. Before returning to the column the fire from the skirmishers recommenced. The enemy appeared in force upon my right and center. Colonel Terry, at the head of 75 Rangers, charged about 300, routed and drove them back, but fell mortally wounded. A body of the enemy of about the same size attacked the Rangers, under Captain Ferrill, upon the right of the turnpike, and were repulsed with heavy loss. The enemy began crossing by regiments and moving around on my right and left flanks. Three companies of Colonel Marmaduke’s (First Arkansas) battalion were thrown out as skirmishers on my left, engaged the enemy’s right, and drove them to the river. I now ordered forward Captain Swett’s battery and the Second Arkansas Regiment to support it, holding the Sixth Arkansas Regiment in reserve. The artillery opened fire upon the enemy in the field adjacent to the railroad and drove them to the banks of the river. Firing now ceased on both sides. The enemy made no further attempt to advance, but knowing that he had already crossed in force, more than double my own, and had the means of crossing additional forces, I withdrew my command by way of the turnpike two miles and a half, and took position to meet the enemy if disposed to advance. There being no indications of any such intention, I returned to my camp here, reaching this place at 8 p. m.
My loss in this affair was as follows : Killed—Colonel Terry and 3 men of his regiment; dangerously wounded—Lieutenant Morris and 3 men of Texas Rangers; slightly wounded—Captain Walker and 3 men of Texas Rangers and 2 men of First Arkansas Battalion.
I estimate the enemy’s loss at 75 killed and left on the ground; wounded unknown. I have 7 prisoners; other prisoners were too badly wounded to be moved, and were left at citizens’ houses.
The troops under my command who were engaged displayed courage in excess. The others were as steady as veterans.
Very respectfully, T. C. HINDMAN