Sometimes in war soldiers are killed from a great distance. This became more common in the Civil War as advances in technology created weapons that were far more accurate than their predecessors. Sometimes, however, the fighting was hand-to-hand.
The following account, published in Confederate Veteran magazine in 18 , details just such a fight. The author was a witness to the action between a member of his company from Mississippi and a Yankee cavalryman, which took place at the Battle of Stones River.
The author lists the Federal officer as Major Rosegarten and states that he believes he was with the 5th Michigan Cavalry. The 5th Michigan was not at Stones River, however, the 4th was. They may have been in or near the fight that took place, but the most likely identity of the officer is Maj. Adolph Rosengarten of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavlary. Major Rosengarten was in action at Stones River and was killed there.
Hand to Hand Fight in the Army
L. G. Williams, Memphis, Tenn., gives an account, of which the following are extracts, concerning a fight between Corporal McBride and Maj. Rosegarten:
During Christmas week of 1862 the Forty-fifth Mississippi Regiment Infantry, of [Brig. Gen. Sterling A. M.] Wood’s Brigade, [Maj. Gen. Patrick R.] Cleburne’s Division, was on picket duty near Triune, Tenn. [Maj. Gen. William S.] Rosecrans and [Gen. Braxton] Bragg were advancing their armies and maneuvering so as to make Murfreesboro or its vicinity the scene of battle, where was fought one of the bloodiest and most stubborn engagements of the great war. It was fought December 31, 1862, and January 1 and 2, 1863, and the Confederates were defeated.
The writer, then a youth of eighteen, was second sergeant of Company A, of the Forty-fifth Mississippi. J. T. McBride was first corporal of the same company. This fight actually took place, and I trust that other witnesses on both sides are still alive who will be able to correct me if I make mistakes. I write from memory.
At the time mentioned, our company was deployed as skirmishers to meet an advance of cavalry of [Maj.] Gen. [Alexander] McCook’s Corps. We engaged with a body of horsemen from a Michigan regiment, I think it was the Fifth. When the crack of carbines and rifles got to be pretty lively, our colonel gave the command: “Skirmishers retreat!” the entire company heard and obeyed except Capt. [Thomas P.] Connor and Corporal McBride, who were too far away to hear and too busy at the time to heed.
To the rear of our skirmish line, some seventy-five or eighty yards, was a ten rail worm fence which would have to be climbed in the retreat. McBride had his eye on some ten or twelve cavalrymen, led by an officer, who were advancing at a gallop, and at the same time realized that his company had fallen back. He determined to make their leader, who was some distance ahead of his men, a target, fire, and then join his command, which by this time had almost passed out of view. Waiting till the officer got within twenty or thirty feet, he took deliberate aim and pulled trigger, when his gun snapped. The major, for that was his rank, dashed forward, almost standing in his stirrups, his saber raised to cleave his enemy’s crest, confident of victory, when McBride clubbed his gun and before the major could strike he was knocked from his horse and badly stunned. This was the corporal’s chance to retreat, as the men had not reached him, having stopped to capture Capt. Connor and talk to him, so McBride made for the rear in “double quick time.” Arriving at the fence, he attempted to get over, but being rather clumsy, and the day damp and drizzly, on grasping the top rail to aid him in getting over, it would slip or be drawn toward him, causing him to let go and fall flat on his back. Three times he made efforts to go over the fence, but each time it was a slip and a fall. Rising for the fourth time, the major, having recovered from the blow and still on foot, was upon him savagely cutting and thrusting at him with his saber, making his mark in good shape across the front of McBride’s body. This infuriated the corporal, who sprang at the major like a bulldog, caught him around the body, threw him down, straddled him, and nearly pounded the life out of him with his fists. At this moment the major’s troopers, a sergeant and eight or ten men, came up, excitedly and angrily shouting: “Shoot the rebel! shoot him! kill him! No, don’t shoot, boys, you’ll kill the major! take him off! jerk him off!” interspersed with other expressions more profane than polite. At last they got him off the major, who was beaten into insensibility almost and was powerless. But McBride had his “dander up,” and struck and kicked at the sergeant and his men ferociously, who threatened to kill him if he didn’t give in at once. His own captain finally commanding him, “Surrender, Joe; surrender, you fool!” caused him to submit, but even then reluctantly. The cavalrymen were very much incensed at such pugnacity and nearly frenzied at the condition of their commander, whom they seemed to love very devotedly. They put irons on the corporal as a mark of disgrace as well as a means of safety, and marched him with other prisoners to Gen. McCook’s headquarters. On the way to the general our prisoner was still belligerent and unconquered, fighting the yankees with his tongue, saying: “Ef yer’ll turn me loose, I kin lick every one uv yer, one at er time!” When they reached headquarters, the sergeant saluted Gen. McCook, and said: “General, I bring you some prisoners.”
After returning the salute, the general asked: “What’s the matter with that man’s hands?”
“I had to put irons on him, general.”
“Because he wouldn’t surrender.”
“Take them off instantly, sir. It’s the duty of a soldier not to surrender.”
After questioning Capt. Connor as to Bragg’s strength, etc., and receiving from the captain the somewhat flattering as well as politic answer: “Why, Gen. McCook, you are too good a soldier to expect me to answer your question, even if I knew,” the general dismissed the sergeant with his prisoners. Shortly after this incident commenced the tramp, tramp, tramp of the captured “rebs” and their escort or guard toward Murfreesboro.
Ah, how many brave lives went out with the midnight knell of the old year on that memorable December 31, 1862, in that battle of Murfreesboro or Stone’s River!
The temptation for reminiscence and retrospection is great, but I won’t indulge. I rejoice, however, that
The lines which the wheels of artillery had traced
In the blood-softened loam long since are effaced;
And the footprints the enemies left on the mold
Are lost ‘neath the harvest fields surfeit of gold.
May the bloom of the wild flowers by the clear river’s side
In sweetness and beauty mark the spot where each died.
But to our hero. By the time they arrived in the neighborhood of the battlefield the number of prisoners had increased until there were two hundred or three hundred, they having been picked up here and there. Here McBride was pointed out to the Federals and others who came to see the prisoners as the vicious rebel who killed Maj. Rosegarten, it having been reported that the gallant major had died. I have often wondered if he did die, or was it rumor? The morning of the battle the prisoners and their guard (which had been increased in numbers) were grouped around fires trying to keep warm. Among them was a tough-looking, stoutly built Irishman, who was full of fun, guying everything and everybody, scorning the Southern Confederacy and Confederate soldiers, and in a spirit of banter said he could “lick the divil out av any bloody Confederate from Jeff Davis down to the lowest private, be dad!” Finally McBride, seeing that the remarks were to him, said he couldn’t lick him. So the guard and guarded, being in for fun, gathered around the champions, exclaiming: “Make a ring, boys! make a ring, and let ‘em have it out!” A ring was formed, and at it they went, the corporal terribly in earnest, the Irishman indifferent and smiling. McBride was soon “knocked out.”
In the midst of the battle that raged that morning, McBride would shout to his friends, the enemy, as they ran and dodged, “What yer runnin’ fer? why don’t yer stand and fight like men?” and tried his best to rally Rosey’s men, until his fellow-prisoner, Capt. Connor, interposed, saying, “For God’s sake, Joe, don’t try to rally the yankees! keep ‘em on the run. Do anything to continue the demoralization, and let’s make our escape.”
With all the disorder, however, the guard kept their prisoners well in hand, escorting them to a place of safety. Corporal McBride was sent to Camp Douglas. The following spring he was exchanged, and you may be sure his return was greeted with hearty welcome by his comrades of the Forty-fifth. He returned in time to take part in the campaign beginning at Tullahoma, Tenn., passing unharmed through the battles of Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and Ringgold Gap. In all these engagements Corporal McBride added fresh laurels to his fame for courage and devotion to duty as color bearer. At last, however, after bearing our colors fearlessly through Resaca, at New Hope Church, on the Kennesaw line, Marietta, Atlanta, and Jonesboro, he bravely planted them on the fateful breastworks at Franklin, Tenn., on that awful November evening in 1864, and there gave up his life.
Corporal J. T. McBride was mustered into service at Jackson, Miss., November 4, 1861, Company A, Third Mississippi Battalion of Infantry. He was from near Westville, the county seat of Simpson County, where he owned a little farm on which he supported himself and family. He was a devout Methodist.
Is war wrong? God knows.
Only one Judge is just, for only one
Knoweth the hearts of men, and hearts alone
Are guilty or guiltless.