The 11th Kentucky at Stones River
The 11th Kentucky Infantry is a regiment that has some local roots here in western Kentucky. The men were recruited by Colonel Pierce Butler Hawkins in several counties and found themselves totally unprepared for the field in their first weeks of organization. Andrew Foote, the naval officer of Forts Henry and Donelson fame, reported Hawkins’ men as a “skeleton regiment.” The winter of 1861-1862 at Camp Calhoun saw the 11th transform into a well drilled and well supplied infantry regiment. The 11th Kentucky would go on to fight in the second day at Shiloh, march on Corinth, suffer through the Kentucky Campaign, and finally find itself outside Murfreesboro, Tennessee in late December 1862.
On December 31st, the 11th Kentucky was deployed near the right of the Federal line, close to the positions of the Pioneer Brigade and Chicago Board of Trade Battery of artillery. On January 1st, they advanced across Stones River only to be pushed back across the water on January 2nd by the Confederate assault led by John C. Breckinridge and the Orphan Brigade. The 11th’s brigade, commanded by Colonel Grider, counterattacked once the Confederates were repulsed by the more than 40 guns on the west side of Stones River. Major Mottley outlines the details in his report below.
Reports of May. Erasmus L. Mottley Eleventh Kentucky Infantry. Headquarters Eleventh Kentucky Volunteers, January 6, 1863.
Sir : I have the honor to report the part my regiment (Eleventh Kentucky Volunteers) took in the action of December 31, 1862.
The night previous we bivouacked in an open field adjacent to the Murfreesborough pike. Next morning, about 8 o’clock, we were ordered to follow the Ninth Kentucky Regiment and cross the river, where we were placed in line of battle, supporting them. We remained in that position about half an hour, when we recrossed the river, still moving-in our position as first placed, having marched about half a mile parallel with the pike.
Was then ordered to halt and front, still occupying my position in the rear of the Ninth Kentucky Volunteers. The firing then began by the regiments in front of me, and continued about half an hour, when I was ordered to move forward and relieve the Ninth Kentucky, which was about 100 yards in advance. We did so, moving in line of battle about 500 yards. We then halted, as our farther advance was interrupted by about four regiments of scattered troops rushing through my line. After they had passed we opened a heavy and destructive fire on the enemy, who were advancing against me, and remained in that position, firing, till the right of our division was nearly flanked, when we received an order from you to fall back, which I did (bringing several prisoners with me) in line of battle, till I reached a dense thicket, when I moved by the left flank. We then formed line in an open field, and were ordered by General Rosecrans in person to occupy the thicket through which we had just passed, and hold it at all hazards. We did so.
Just at this moment the enemy were advancing in strong force on our left, when the left wing of the regiment opened am oblique, galling fire upon them, making them fall back. We were then ordered back by you to the large open field on our left, to support two pieces of Terrill’s Regular and the Chicago Board of Trade Batteries, where we remained the remainder of the day, my entire regiment, both officers and men, doing their whole duty.
Enclosed find list of casualties. Very respectfully, E. l. Mottley, Major, Commanding Eleventh Kentucky.
Hdqrs. Eleventh Regt. Kentucky Vol. Infantry, January 6,1863.
Sir : I have the honor to report the part my regiment (Eleventh Kentucky Volunteers) took in the engagement of January 2,1863.
Having crossed the river the morning of January 1, and bivouacked 150 yards behind the main advance of our lines about 3.30 January 2, the enemy showed himself in strong force, sixteen regiments deep, advancing in column against us; also a brigade on our left. The firing now became general all along the lines. Seeing the regiments on the left giving way, I ordered my regiment to take arms (the arms had previously been stacked). Just then the front was falling back, and I ordered my regiment forward under the most terrific storm of shot, shell, and musketry it has ever been my lot to witness. I advanced about 100 yards, when I ordered a halt and commenced firing. I broke their ranks more than once, their colors shot down several times, but their broken ranks were speedily filled with fresh troops.
Casting my eyes to the right, and seeing I had no support in that direction, and being nearly outflanked, I gave the order to fall back to the wood in our rear, the men being pressed so closely some of them crossed the river.
After crossing the river, I, in conjunction with yourself and other officers, rallied parts of the different regiments of the brigade, and succeeded in putting the enemy to flight before us, and capturing four pieces of the celebrated Washington Artillery. I must say, in conclusion, that my regiment was one of the very last to leave the grounds. For the gallantry of my entire regiment, they behaved as officers and soldiers should in such a cause.
The casualties of my regiment are as follows : Killed, 5; wounded, 61; missing, 9. Total, 75.
Very respectfully, E. L. MOTTLEY,
Major, Commanding Eleventh Kentucky Volunteers.