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SEAC: DAWN ATTACK

DAWN ATTACK

Anticipating the command to attack, Brigadier General Allen instructed his detail to move out on their mission to capture Brevet Major General Kilpatrick. Mistakenly, the objective of their infiltration was a large headquarters type tent near the artillery. Apparently, Brigadier General Allen’s men were not privy to information obtained from earlier reconnaissance. This suggests plans to capture Brevet Major General Kilpatrick were individual initiatives and not done at the direction of Lieutenant General Hampton.

Posey Hamilton (Hamilton 1921):

Our advance was following Lieutenant Stewart in silence and going directly toward General Kilpatrick’s headquarters, using a dim road or path. We soon came up to where the Yankees were lying under good blankets fast asleep, and while we were passing by we said nothing and did not intend to molest them. Our objective point was the big tent, and thus far we were moving in fine order and thinking we were going to make a good haul. We knew we were being led by a cool, brave officer, and that we could depend upon him. Lieutenant Stewart knew that he had twenty men following him that he could depend upon to stand by him in a desperate undertaking.


Lieutenant General Wheeler
gave the order to mount. His regiments quickly formed. Major General Butler moved Young’s Brigade to the front. With fog screening them from the camp, Young’s Brigade crossed to the north side of Morganton Road. Staying within the tree line, they moved parallel to the road for several hundred yards.

As they neared the crossroads, they halted and faced to the right. Following Young’s Brigade was the rest of Butler’s Division; when Young’s Brigade halted, the rest of the Division fell in behind them. Major General Butler was ready. West of Nicholson Creek, formed in attacking columns, were the two Divisions of Wheeler’s Corps. Concealed by a ridge that parallels the creek, they moved forward, adjusting their line. To the far right was Humes’ Division, with Harrison’s Texas Brigade leading. In the center was Allen’s Division, with Hagan’s Alabama Brigade its vanguard. Leading his Corps from the center was Lieutenant General Wheeler, followed by his escort and Shannon’s Scouts. The Confederate left was Butler’s Division, north of Morganton Road.

Lieutenant General Wheeler had positioned his reserve, Dibrell’s Brigade, south of Morganton at the head of Nicholson Creek. This position allowed Brigadier General George G. Dibrell, C.S.A., to enter the fight quickly if needed and also to guide in additional regiments as they arrived. Late arriving units were added to Dibrell’s Command. Major General Butler had instructed Brigadier General Law to remain with his brigade near the crossroads. Brigadier General Law’s position would serve as the Prisoner of War (POW) collection point. Also, he was to be prepared to enter the fight, on order.

Lieutenant General Wheeler rode quickly to Dibrell’s Brigade, where Lieutenant General Hampton was located, for any final instructions. With the Federal camp so near and because he anticipated the advantage of complete surprise, Lieutenant General Wheeler suggested to Lieutenant General Hampton a dismounted attack might be in order.

Private J.A. Jones, C.S.A. (Jones 1911):

When all was ready for action, General Wheeler dashed up to General Hampton and, saluting, said: ‘General Hampton, with your permission I will give the order to dismount, so as to make the capture of the entire camp sure.’ General Hampton with quiet dignity replied: ‘General Wheeler, as cavalrymen I prefer making this capture on horseback.’

Brigadier General George G. Dibrell, C.S.A. (Source: Warner 1959).
Lieutenant General Hampton
, having been in command just two days and unfamiliar with the Army of Tennessee horsemen, which made up two-thirds of his command, was uneasy. While he had commanded his fellow South Carolinian, Major General Butler, in the Army of Northern Virginia, this was his first action with Lieutenant General Wheeler and his men.

Also, Lieutenant General Wheeler had previously outranked Lieutenant General Hampton and had Corps command before him. Lieutenant General Wheeler’s men did not perceive Lieutenant General Hampton as superior to Lieutenant General Wheeler, and some took his assignment as an insult.

Lieutenant General Hampton, sensitive to the situation, turned to Lieutenant General Wheeler and said, "I wish you would take command of your own and Butler’s troops on the field, and make the fight as we have arranged, while I remain here with Dibrell’s reserve; should you need help send to me for it." Lieutenant General Wheeler replied: "Thank you, General," and in a moment, mounted his white charger, and with pistol raised rode to the head of the column (Du Bose 1912b).

0600
To the west, Jordan’s 1st Brigade departed Bethesda Church and proceeded southwest, striking Chicken Road, west of Blue’s Mountain.

Atkins’ 2nd Brigade, having extricated them- selves from the swamps of Piney Bottom Creek, marched east on Chicken Road.

Lieutenant General Wheeler (Du Bose 1912b) gave the command, "Forward!" The command was relayed right and left. The Corps moved up the ridge. Major General Butler’s eyes, fixed on the left of Allen’s Division, observed the movement. Major General Butler turned to his Chief Scout, Hugh Scott, C.S.A., and said, "Scott, you have been trying for some time to get stripes on your collar. Now if you will bring Kilpatrick out and deliver him to me, I will promote you on the battlefield." Scott galloped forward and joined Colonel Gib Wright, C.S.A., who was leading the charge. Butler’s Division started forward.

Lieutenant General Wheeler commanded, "The Walk!" The Corps crested the ridge, the men’s eyes widened with anticipation as the camp came into view. The main house and camp appeared floating on a lake of fog.

"The Trot!" The cavalrymen crossed the crest of the ridge and advanced down its slope.

"The Gallop!" They surged forward into the fog.

Before morning, Brevet Major General Kilpatrick and Marie Boozer had returned to the main house. Brevet Major General Kilpatrick, concerned that his horses would be fed, chose this moment to step out onto the porch of the main house. Expecting to be out only a moment, he was dressed only in his shirt and drawers. In the yard several soldiers had awakened and were rolling their blankets; the headquarters bugler was preparing to sound reveille.

Lieutenant General Wheeler and his escort broke through the fog. Lieutenant General Wheeler brought his raised pistol forward. Riding by the General’s side, Pelote, his bugler, sounded the charge. Coming out of the fog, simultaneously breaking the morning silence, was a penetrating howling cheer and the sound of breaking brush.

Lieutenant Stewart and his detail were nearing their objective, the big tent, anticipating a clean capture and getaway.

Posey Hamilton (Hamilton 1921):

Up to this time everything was going on fine; we were not troubling them nor they us. Day was just breaking as we got to within fifty yards of the General’s big tent, with about twenty-five fine horses hitched around it, and things looked mighty good for a big haul. Just then the report of a gun came from our men left two hundred yards behind us, then another and another, and here they came in a desperate charge.

Alert from having been exposed to the weather throughout the night, Confederate prisoners around the house immediately recognized their comrades and realized an attack was underway. Fearing for their lives, Federal guards wasted no time in abandoning their Confederate wards.

A.F. Hardie, Shannon’s Scouts (Brooks 1909):

As soon as our men who were prisoners heard the shots they told the guards: ‘That is Wheeler charging; you better save yourselves.’ The guard dashed away and the prisoners began to help themselves to arms, horses, and whatever they wanted.

Stunned by the sounds of the thundering horsemen and the realization of what was occurring, Brevet Major General Kilpatrick stood motionless on the porch. Looking forward, Confederate cavalrymen were pouring out of the fog. A glance to the left for an evasion route provided only another view of attacking Confederates. As the cavalry assault bore down on him, Brevet Major General Kilpatrick was resigned to the apparent hopelessness of the situation, thinking to himself, "Here is four years’ hard fighting for a major general’s commission gone up with a surprise."

Deserted by their guards, Confederate prisoners ran toward their comrades shouting encouragement. Unfortunately, before they could be recognized several were killed by their own men.

C.M. Calhoun (Calhoun 1912):

Butler’s Brigade, to which I belonged, charged in on the prison side of the enemy’s camp, when several hundred Confederates they had as prisoners broke their guard and came, meeting us on the first sound of the rebel yell. This somewhat disconcerted some of our men at first, and, sad to say, one overjoyous fellow was shot with his arms around the neck of one of our trooper’s horse.

Confederates just coming on the field were confused by the rush of escaping Confederate prisoners. Many thought the preceding regiments had been repulsed.

Major General Butler (Butler 1909a):

I had not advanced far into the camp when I was astonished to meet a hundred and thirty or forty Confederates rushing wildly toward us. At first I thought Wright had been repulsed, but it turned out they were prisoners whom Kilpatrick had taken, and whom Wright’s vigorous and unexpected onslaught had released from their guards, and they were making good their escape.

Brevet Major General Kilpatrick stood motionless as the first riders reached the house and raced by, the firing dramatically increasing as they entered the main camp.

Brigadier General Robert H. Anderson, C.S.A., commanding Anderson's Brigade, Allen's Division (Source: U.S. Army). A squad led by a young Confederate Captain charged directly up to Brevet Major General Kilpatrick. Reining in his horse while pointing a pistol, the Captain demanded, "Where is General Kilpatrick?" Brevet Major General Kilpatrick was astonished. Remembering his own scant attire, he recognized his chance.

Quickly looking toward Blue’s Rosin Road, the destination of most who were abandoning the house, he saw a Federal officer mounting a trotting horse in an attempt to escape. Pointing toward the officer, he replied, "There he goes on that horse" (Nye n.d.; 1961)!

The fleeing officer lashed his mount to a gallop. Fearing his quarry was about to escape, Captain Bostick and his men galloped off in hot pursuit.

Startled into action by his good luck, Brevet Major General Kilpatrick, barefoot, leapt the porch rail and headed southwest toward the safety of the swamp, making good his second escape in twenty-four hours.

From the north and northwest, the grey horsemen in column of regiments bore down on the awakening Federals. Surprise was complete. They swept past the house and into the camp, firing pistols and slashing with sabers. The attack so surprised the Federal soldiers that many could do little more than get out of the way.

The ferocity of the attack, with little resistance to slow its momentum, had served to carry the lead Confederate Regiments through and beyond the main camp. Down the south slope of the ridge they continued. Realizing the only thing now in front of them was empty woods, they wheeled round and started back up the slope, running head on into the fleeing Federals.

Posey Hamilton (Hamilton 1921):

The Yankees’ camp looked like a cyclone had struck it all at once. Their blankets were flying in the air, and the men were running about in every direction in their nightclothes, while the men from the big tent were legging and heeling it down the hill to beat the band. If this was not a stampede on foot, then I never saw one. Our advance guard had to get out of the way of bullets fired by our own men, as we were directly between them and the big tent. Right here the duty of our guard ended. We could do no more, and we had to look out for ourselves.

Major George H. Rader, U.S.A., 5th Ohio Cavalry, 3rd Brigade (OR 1885):

My command was taken completely by surprise, the enemy being in force in every part of my camp. The officers and men were completely bewildered for a short time.

Confusion reigned in the Federal camp as Brevet Major General Kilpatrick’s men sought cover. Soldiers nearest the front, overrun before they could get out of their shelters, surrendered. Others fled southward, dogged by the Confederate cavalrymen. Some, having been by-passed, and unwilling to surrender, engaged the mounted Confederates. Individual duels and hand to hand fighting were common.

Major General Butler (Butler 1909a: 406):

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered a mounted man approaching us and showing fight. About the same time I noticed a Confederate moving out to meet him, who, I supposed, was a member of the Cobb Legion. His back was turned to me and I could not identify him in the early dawn. However, I said to myself, ‘They are about matched; I will see it out without interfering.’ They got within about ten paces of each other, when the Federal fired first, followed in an instant by a shot from the Confederate’s revolver.

The Federal fired a second time and the Confederate fired almost simultaneously, and, I discovered, hit his antagonist, but the Federal managed to fire a third shot and with the report of the Confederate’s third fire the Federal tumbled from his horse, mortally wounded.

I dismissed the matter from my mind and was surprised afterwards to learn the Confederate was my brother, Capt. James Butler. It was the gamest fight I ever saw, and there I was, a silent spectator, without suspecting that my own brother was one of the parties to a duel a l'outrance.

Surrounded, Brevet Major General Kilpatrick’s staff, Colonel Spencer and Lieutenant Colonel Way, were virtual prisoners in the Monroe House. Appreciating the displeasure of her fellow countrymen at the presence of Yankee cavalry and sensitive to her own compromising situation, Marie Boozer decided to leave (Du Bose 1912b). She appeared on the porch, gazing forlornly at her Victoria carriage. Expecting her to be shot down any second, a young Confederate officer galloped up to the porch. Dismounting quickly, he escorted her through a shower of clapboard splinters erupting from the exterior walls of the house. The couple made their way to the safety of a ditch beside Blue’s Rosin Road. Somewhat protected in their position behind the house, the 4th Brigade (dismounted) had not felt the full force of the Confederate attack. With Lieutenant Colonel Way trapped in the house, Lieutenant Colonel William Stough, U.S.A., Commanding the 2nd Regiment, 4th Brigade (dismounted), took charge. Lieutenant Colonel Stough commanded the Brigade to form (Starr 1985). Temporarily, the thought of joining their fleeing comrades vanished, as the men rushed to fall in line shoulder to shoulder.

The command, equipped with rifled muskets, fell in. Lieutenant Colonel Stough’s command, "Fix bayonets!", followed by the precise execution of the command, attracted the attention of the Confederates and a withering fire. The concentrated fire at close range quickly threatened to cut the Brigade to pieces.

Lieutenant Colonel Way, 9th Michigan Cavalry, Commanding, 4th (Provisional) Brigade (dismounted) (OR 1885):

At daybreak the camp of the 3rd Brigade and my camp were charged simultaneously by three divisions of rebel cavalry, one division led by General Hampton in person. So sudden and unexpected was the charge that for a time all was confusion. The officers did all it was possible to do under the circumstances, calling upon the men to secure their arms and fall in, but being in a open field it was impossible to form, and we were obliged to fall back to some woods about 500 yards distant.

Under intense pressure, the 4th Brigade’s (dismounted) gallant stand quickly collapsed, but not before Confederate Regiments just coming on the field were afforded the sobering view of a forming Federal battleline equipped with rifled musket and bayonet. On seeing the gleaming bayonets, the cry was raised, "Infantry!" Thus alarmed, the Confederate front ranks reined in their horses, throwing their columns into confusion. As the 4th Brigade’s (dismounted) stand collapsed and its soldiers joined their fleeing comrades, the Confederates charged them.

Major Christopher T. Cheek, U.S.A., 5th Kentucky Cavalry (U.S.), 3rd Brigade, 3rd Cavalry Division (OR 1885):

To the right of our camp we could see the dismounted brigade, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Way, 9th Michigan Cavalry, who had encamped in our rear, flying in every direction, the rebel cavalry in hot pursuit.

On the sound of Pelote’s bugle, the Confederate right, Humes’ Division led by Harrison’s Texans, had spurred their horses and charged into the fog, immediately encountering an almost impenetrable thicket. The sounds of cursing soldiers, breaking brush, and an occasional yelp from some unlucky fellow being unseated by the low hanging limbs, echoed in the fog. Additional Regiments piled in, mixing with the Texans. Men in the rear shouted to those in front, encouraging them to push on. Realizing they could only add to the problem, commanders began halting their men before they could enter the swamp. Stymied by this natural barrier, the assault ground to a halt. The Texas Brigade, committed to the crossing, pressed on. Some dismounted and led their mounts through the neck-deep waters of the flooded creek. Others, bent over the necks of their mounts, held on as the frightened animals fought through. Some horses, panicked from the excitement of the attack and the claustrophobic effect of the swamp, bucked and kicked, throwing their riders. Loose horses ran wildly in search of higher ground.

Directly across the swamp was the camp of the 1st Alabama (U.S.) Cavalry. The Alabamians had pitched their camp well down the hill and near the swamp. Their choice had saved them from the initial Confederate onslaught. As their presence was recognized, the right of Allen’s Division attempted to drive them off.

Major Sanford Tramel, U.S.A., 1st Alabama (U.S.) Cavalry, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Cavalry Division (OR 1885):

At the sounding of reveille on the morning of the 10th instant, we were aroused from sleep by the whistling of bullets and the fiendish yelling of the enemy, who were charging into our camp. Then followed a most bloody hand to hand conflict, our men forming behind trees and stumps and the enemy endeavoring to charge us, mounted, with saber.

Troopers from the Texas Brigade who had negotiated the swamp began to appear to the left of the Alabamians. As the Texans realized their predicament, the Alabamians changed direction and opened on them with their Burnside carbines. The Texans, most armed with shotguns and pistols, quickly returned fire and fell back into the swamp.

The double barrel shotgun was preferred by the Texas Cavalry (Source: U.S. Army).

On the west side of the swamp, soldiers ducked as the Alabamians’ fire tore through the bushes in their direction. With a portion of his command now pinned down in the swamp, Brigadier General Humes ordered his commanders to pull back. Once they were assembled, he moved his men north along the swamp in search of an easier crossing.

The Federal Alabama Regiment, assaulted on the right by Major General Allen’s men, were now also threatened by the Texans on their left. The Alabamians, isolated and pinned down, concentrated in their camp and resisted ferociously.

The majority of the Federal cavalrymen from the main camp followed the path of least resistance down the south slope of the ridge.

The Confederate attack was an overwhelming success, the enemy routed in most quarters and the Confederates in possession of the field. The Confederates pursued the fleeing Federals for a distance, but the apparent intention of the Federals to continue their flight for some time, and the prospect of much loot in the camp, convinced them to break off their pursuit. With the half-naked Federal men disappearing into the thicket at the bottom of the ridge, the Confederate cavalrymen halted, fired off a few rounds for encouragement, turned and headed back to the main camp.

The Swamp Stops the Federal Rout

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