The 41st Tennesse Infantry

on July 9, 2013 in American Civil War, Units

Because Stonewall Goes West is the story of what might have been had Stonewall Jackson survived his severe wounding at Chancellorsville, it necessarily focuses on Jackson and other major figures of the Civil War. That said, I never wanted the book to tell its story exclusively through just the experiences of men with stars on their collars and epaulettes. I also wanted to include what my fictitious history would have meant to the men on the firing line, and that is where the 41st Tennessee Infantry entered things.

The Real 41st
Organized in November 1861 under Colonel Robert Farquarson at Camp Trousdale, the companies were drawn mostly from Lincoln and Bedford counties, with a smattering from Marshall and Franklin counties. It went to Bowling Green and became part of Buckner’s Division, where it had the misfortune of joining the garrison of Fort Donelson in February 1862. The regiment saw some fighting when Grant’s army counter-attacked against the fumbled breakout attempt, and then was captured with the bulk of the garrison (those who didn’t leave with Forrest or flee in disgrace with Floyd and Pillow) and sent off to prison in the North.

After their exchange, the regiment reorganized in September 1862, and at that time James D. Tillman was made the new lieutenant colonel. By summer 1864, Farquarson was discharged as disabled, and Tillman succeeded him. For simplicity’s sake, I decided to make Tillman the 41st’s commander a little earlier than that in my story, so as to not needlessly complicate the picture.

The regiment returned to service as part of Gregg’s Brigade, which in reality was a “demi-division,” consisting of what amounted to 6 1/2 large infantry regiments (the 41st at the time was over 500 strong), cavalry, and artillery. After shuffling back and forth between Jackson, MS and Port Hudson, LA, Gregg’s Brigade found itself opposing Grant’s advance into Mississippi and toward the state capital of Jackson. The result was the Battle of Raymond, where Gregg’s Brigade (really a small division) stalled the advance of McPherson’s XVII Corps.

Some secondary accounts have the 41st heavily engaged at Raymond, but Timothy Smith’s Champion Hill has the regiment in reserve for much of the battle. The accounts that put the 41st in heavy combat at Raymond also miss entirely the fact that the regiment was in a stiff fight at the holding action outside of Jackson, casting further doubt on their veracity. Although the 41st was involved in two defeats during the Vicksburg Campaign, the unit did its job and at least avoided being captured again when Grant swallowed Pemberton’s army whole.

That summer, Gregg’s Brigade became part of Walker’s Division, Walker joined the Army of Tennessee in September, and as such the 41st fought at Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge. They fought on both days at Chickamauga, and took part in the assaults on Horseshoe Ridge on Day Two. An interesting point is that between returning from prison and fighting at Chickamauga, the regiment had lost about 175 men due to unreported causes (likely a mixture of the four Ds: death, disability, disease, and desertion).

After Bragg’s departure, the regiment was transferred to Maney’s Brigade, with a reported strength of just 226 present.

Why the 41st?
I chose the 41st Tennessee to serve as the home of the Grimes brothers and Captain Robert L. Fletcher because it was an outfit that dates its origins back to the first year of the war, but at the same time was not among the more famous Tennessee regiments. Choosing a relatively obscure regiment might seem counter-intuitive, but it gave me more freedom to do as I wanted. Since I knew I also desired a regiment from Maney’s Brigade as constituted in 1864, the 41st was the best fit.

Also, I liked the idea of the regiment having a background that combined service in both Tennessee and Vicksburg. Historians often write of the “western war,” but in reality the war had three separate western fronts: the Trans-Mississippi, the Mississippi River, and the “Central Front” in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. Being involved with Donelson and Vicksburg, the veterans of the 41st had more contact with their rivals in my story — Grant’s boys in the Army of the Tennessee — than the men who fought at Perryville and Stones River. At the same time, they weren’t exactly newcomers to the Army of Tennessee.


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