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The
BLACK PHALANX;

A History of the

NEGRO SOLDIERS OF THE UNITED STATES
in the Wars of
1775-1812, 1861-'65,
By
Joseph T. Wilson
Late of the 2nd Reg't. La. Native Guard Vols. 54th Mass. Vols.
Aide-De-camp to the Commander-In-Chief G. A. R.
Author of
"Emancipation," "Voice of a New Race,"  "Twenty-Two Years of Freedom," etc., etc.
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56 Illustrations
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Hartford, Conn.:
American Publishing Company
1890

CHAPTER IX. -
THE PHALANX AT MARION, TENN.
pg. 306 -
 

     In the winter of 1864, while Sherman was marching his army toward the sea, raiding parties and expeditions were sent out from the several departments to intercept rebel communications, destroy telegraph lines, railroads and stores ; in nearly all of which Phalanx troops actively participated, and shared the perils and honors of the achievements.
     From Vicksburg, Miss., Brevet Brigadier-General E. D. Osband, with the Third Phalanx Regiment, on the 27th of November captured and destroyed the Mississippi Central Railroad bridge over the Big Black River, near Canton, also thirty miles of the railroad, with two locomotives and a large amount of stores.
     In the meantime, General Breckenridge, with a large confederate force, attacked the Federals under General Gillem, near Morristown, Tenn., captured the artillery, with several hundred men, and drove the remainder of Gillem's troops into Knoxville. Breckenridge soon retired, however, pursued by General Ammen's forces.  On the 12th of December, General Stoneman having concentrated the commands of Generals Burbridge and Gillem, near Bean Station, Tenn., started in pursuit of Breckenridge intending to drive him into Virginia and to destroy the railroad and Salt Works at Saltville, "West Virginia.  General Burbridge's command was principally composed of Kentucky troops, three brigades, numbering about five thousand men, all mounted.  The 6th Phalanx Cavalry

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SERVING REFRESHMENTS TO UNION TROOPS

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was attached to the 3rd brigade, which Colonel Jas. F. Wade, of the 6th, commanded. Gillem's defeat rather inspired the men in the new column, and they dashed forward with a determination to annihilate the enemy.  Four days after leaving Bean Station, the confederates were overtaken at Marion, General Vaughn being in command, and were routed, the Federals capturing all their guns, trains and a number of prisoners.  Vaughn fell back to Wytheville, pursued by the Federals, who captured and destroyed the town, with its stores and supplies and the extensive lead mines.
     Having accomplished their mission, the Federals about faced for Marion, where they met with a large force of confederates under Breckenridge, including the garrison of Saltville.  Now came the decisive struggle for the Salt Works between the two forces.  The Federals had been enjoying their signal victory, which they now attempted to enhance by pressing the enemy, who had crossed a bridge and there taken up a position.  During the night an advance regiment succeeded in crossing the bridge, after re-laying the planks which the confederates had torn up, but they were driven back , and there remained till the next morning.  The 6th Phalanx was assigned its usual position, and was held in reserve.  The battle opened in the morning, and continued with varying success during the day.  Late in the afternoon General Stoneman found his troops badly beaten, and unable to extricate them selves from the confederate coil; they were not the "Old Guard," and the question with them was not "victory or death," but surrender or death.  Nor was this long a question.  General Stoneman ordered up the 6th Phalanx, dividing them into three columns, placing himself at the head of one, and giving one each to Colonel Wade, (their valiant colonel), and his chief of staff, General Brisbin.  The regiment dashed into the light for the rescue of the pro-slavery Kentuckians and haughty Tennesseeians, who were now nearly annihilated.  The historian of this campaign, General Brisbin, who but a day or two previous to this battle had attempted to shoot one of the brave black

[Pg. 310]
boys of the 6th for retaliating for the murder of one of his comrades by shooting a confederate prisoner, thus writes, twenty-two years afterwards, about the battle and the conduct of the 6th:

     "Early in the day General Stoneman had sent General Gillem off to the right with orders to get in Breckeuridge's rear and if possible cut him off from the salt works.   It was believed the Kentucky troops could handle Breckenridge until Gillem could strike in the rear, but the action in front about noon became terrific and Gillem was recalled to aid Burbridge.  Our right flank had been driven back and our extreme left was almost at right angles with the original position held early in the morning.  To add to our misfortunes, a party of Confederate cavalry had got in our rear and captured some of our pack train.  The packers had at one time become demoralized and fell back almost into the hands of the Confederates operating in our rear.  General Burbridge saw the movement, and drawing his revolver placed himself in front of the leading packs and ordered them back, but the crazy men kept on until the General wounded the man who was leading them off, and with the aid of some officers who used their sabres freely, the packs were forced back into the timber close to our lines and compelled to stay there.  Thus over five hundred packs and animals were saved to the army by the prompt action of the General and his aids.
     "At 3:30 o'clock the situation was critical in the extreme.  Colonel Boyle had been killed in leading a charge and his regiment repulsed.  The Twelfth Ohio Cavalry had promptly come to Boyle's support and checked the confederates, who were coming into our centre.  The hospital in our rear, where our sick were, had been charged, and for a short time was in the hands of the enemy.  Burbridge and Stoneman had their headquarters on a little knoll near the centre of our line, where they could see the fighting.  The Confederate right, in swinging around, had covered this hill and it was no longer tenable.  A lieutenant, in reporting to General Burbridge on this knoll, had been shot by a Confederate rifleman through the head and fell dead at the General's feet. Orderlies, horses and men were being shot down, and I begged General Burbridge to retire.  He asked me if there were no more troops we could bring up and put into action.  I told him all we had left was the Sixth United States Colored Cavalry and the horse-holders.  He said:
     "'Well, go and bring up the negroes and tell everybody to tie the horses as well as they can.  We might as well lose them as to be whipped, when we will lose them anyway.'
"I made haste to bring up the Sixth Colored and all the horse-holders I could get.  The Sixth Colored was a fine regiment, but few had faith in the fighting qualities of the negroes.  General Burbridge divided them into three columns, and taking one himself gave the other two to General Wade and myself.  Wade had the right, Burbridge the left and I was in the centre.  Wade got off first and sailed in in gallant style.

[Pg. 311]
Burbridge piled his overcoat on the ground, and drawing his sword led his column forward.  The men were all on foot and most of the officers.  But few were mounted.  It was unpleasant riding under fire where so many were on foot.  Wade's horse was soon shot, but he kept on with his men, leading on foot.  Looking to the left I saw Burbridge surrounded by a black crowd of men, his form towering above them and his sword pointing to the enemy.  Wade was first to strike the Confederate line.  They fired and fired, but the darkies kept straight on, closing for a hand-to-hand fight.  Then the cry was raised along the Confederate lines that the negroes were killing the wounded.  Wade went through the Confederate line like an iron wedge, and it broke and fled.  Burbridge hit
hard, but the resistence was less stubborn than in Wade's front.  Of my own part in the action I prefer not to write.  Suffice it to say that never did soldiers do better on any battle-field than the black men I led that day.
     "When their guns were empty they clubbed them, and I saw one negro fighting with a gun barrel, swinging it about his head like a club, and going straight for the enemy.  He did not hit anybody for nobody waited to be hit, but some of the Confederates jumped fully fifteen feet down the opposite side of that hill to get out of the way of the negroes, and I would have jumped too, probably, if I had been on their side, for I never yet saw anything in battle so terrible as an infuriated negro.
     "Gillem returned just as night was putting an end to the fighting and in the approaching darkness we mistook his column for a new column of the enemy coming in on our right and rear.  Burbridge hurried back with his victorious negroes and was about to advance with the Twelfth Ohio Cavalry and Eleventh Michigan, when the glad news came that the supposed Confederates were Gillem's column returning to our support.
     "During the night Breckenridge retreated in the direction of the salt works, but Colonel Buckley, returning from the direction of the lead mines with his brigade, and having got in Breckenridge's rear at Seven Mile Ford, charged his advance, capturing ten prisoners.  Breckenridge, no doubt thinking he had been outflanked and was about to be enclosed between two columns, abandoned all idea of going to the salt works and put back in confusion to Marion, where he took the North Carolina road and fled over the mountains.  Colonel, Bentley, with his Twelfth Ohio, was sent up with Breckenridge's rear.  The Confederates felled trees across the road to retard Bentley's advance, but he cleared them out and he and his gallant regiment hammered Breckenridge's rear all the way into North Carolina."

     The road to the Salt Works was thus opened and their destruction accomplished by the bravery and matchless
valor of the gallent Sixth.  Many of the regiment forfeited their lives in rescuing the force from defeat, and

[Pg. 312]
securing a victory; those who survived the terrible struggle no longer had opprobrious epithets hurled at them, but modestly received the just encomiums that were showered upon them by the white troops, who, amid the huzzas of victory, greeted them with loud shouts of "Comrades!"

     General Brisbin, continuing, says:

     "There were many instances of personal bravery, but I shall only mention one.  A negro soldier had got a stump quite close to the Confederate line, and despite all efforts to dislodge him, there he stuck, picking off their men.  The Confederates charged the stump, but the Federal line observing it concentrated their fire on the advancing men and drove them back.  Then there were long and loud cheers for the brave darkey, who stuck to his stump and fired away with a regularity that was wonderful.  His stump was riddled with bullets, but he stuck to it, although he was at times nearer the Confederate lines than our own."

[Pg. 313]


SCOUTS

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[Pg. 315] - CHAPTER X. - THE BLACK FLAG
 

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