Tennessee Valor — Update, September 18, 2011

Posted on Sunday, September 18th, 2011

The 7th Tennessee had 145 men remaining on April 2, 1865.

TENNESSEE VALOR : The 7th Tennessee Infantry at Gettysburg


I have just begun the final chapter of Tennessee Valor. This chapter is a description of the last months’ of trench warfare outside of Petersburg, the 7th’s last battle—Hatcher’s Run—and the closing days of the war, leading up to the surrender at Appomattox.

The 7th Tennessee went into the waning months of 1864 with a strength of about 180 officers and men. Lt. Col. George Shepard achieved this number by stripping away almost all of the support people from their non-combat duties, handing them muskets, and putting them into the trenches.

The brigade containing the 7th Tennessee, now commanded by William McComb, had about 900 men and was assigned a mile’s length of trench. McComb’s brigade did not rotate in and out of the trenches with another brigade as had been occurring before the battle of Weldon Rd. Now, it was up to McComb to rest his own men, and at the same time, keep the trenches well-manned in case of a Federal assault. McComb turned the relief responsibilities over to each regimental commander, meaning Lt. Col. Shepard had to watch his fellows closely and move them in and out of the trenches when they needed a rest. His regiment was tasked with holding about a quarter mile of trenches and Shepard tried to keep half his men on duty and the other half close-by, but out of danger. That meant if he put half his men on the fire steps, he had 90 men covering 400 yards of line—one rifle for every 13 feet of trench.

Life in the trenches grew increasingly terrible: Besides the stress and danger from mortar fire and snipers, food supplies shank to little more than a handful of cornmeal a day, clothing replacements became nonexistent, and firewood extremely difficult to acquire. The 1864-65 winter was harsh, with sub-normal temperatures, sleet, some snow, and considerable rain, making the trenches cold, damp, muddy bogs. Bullet wounds, sickness, and desertion sapped the 7th Tennessee’s numbers, so that by April 1, 1865 George Shepard barely had 140 effectives.

When the Union army struck the lines at 4:30 AM on April 2, 1865 there was little the Confederate forces could do to resist. Since the main thrust of the Union attack was east of the 7th Tennessee’s position only the 7th Tennessee’s left flank was immediately swept away by the blue coats. Shepard lost 30 men even before he could rally his formation together and began a withdrawal to the west.

As the 7th Tennessee fell back towards the west another Yank division struck in that area, pushing Shepard’s men north and back towards the Federals who had crashed through the Confederate lines and were now circling back to the trenches. The regiment was pinned between two massive fronts and the small band of Tennesseans soon found themselves trapped against the pond at Burgess’ Mill. Forty more soldiers were lost, as was the regiment’s flag. The rest, barely 70 men, jumped in the waters and swam to safety.

This final six dozen survivors trailed after the retreating Confederate army, leaking men each day as the starved and exhausted men fell by the roadside and were captured, so by the end, April 9, 1865, George Shepard had only 46 Tennesseans with him. It would be this number which would sign the Appomattox surrender muster and formally capitulate to Grant’s armies.

The next update will examine these 47 men listed on the Appomattox surrender muster.

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