ANSWERING THE CALL
In January 1861, even as
Two more companies were added before the battalion’s officer elections of May 10. “Rob” Wheat was elected major. The captains were Harris for the
The soggy grounds of
“He [Major Wheat] gave several illustrations of this virtue of the Tigers. The most recent was that of Bill _____ who had been placed on the railroad track, with positive orders to allow nothing to pass. By and by the locomotive came up. Bill called out ‘halt!’ The locomotive did not heed the order; then Bill fired his musket at the infernal, obstinate old ‘bullgine,’ and seeing it wouldn’t halt, charged bayonets on it, and was run over and mashed into a ‘regular jelly’.”
[Editor's Note: The first grave marker at
The drill and other aspect of military camp life continued at
“While this city was full of military excitement day before yesterday, Sunday though it was, and our brave citizen soldiery were going to the different churches to hear the last counsels and to receive the latest benedictions of the ministers of our religion, our good fortune, superinduced by a pressing invitation from Major R. C. Wheat, took us in another direction, and that was the delightfully situated Camp Moore, at Tangipahoa…
“We had a most hearty welcome from our inviter, who showed us, in a ramble in and out among the streets and by paths of the canvas city, the quarters of the various commands now encamped there. All looked in tip-top order, and appeared to be enjoying themselves greatly. Health prevails in the camp, but two or three, we believe, being in hospital…
“We dined, of course, al fresco, in front of our hospitable entertainer’s quarters, our canopy being only the intertwined branches of trees, ingeniously woven to make for us a grateful shade. An hour or so was very agreeably passed at the table, and then, after a brief siesta, we were summoned to witness a review of Major Wheat’s large battalion, some four or five hundred men, by Gen. Tracy and his staff, in which, by the way, we observed Major Thomas E. Adams, who officiates as the Adjutant of the Brigade. After the review of the battalion was put through a variety of evolutions, which, considering the brief time it has been formed, were very creditably performed. An evening dress parade concluded the interesting ceremonies of the day most satisfactorily…”
On June 6, Wheat’s Battalion, now designated the First Special Battalion Louisiana Volunteer Infantry, was mustered into service with five companies and a total strength of 415. It was around this time that the Battalion gained another company, the Catahoula Guerillas, only to lose the Orleans Claiborne Guards when it was disbanded due to its failure to fill its rolls.
Wheat’s Battalion departed for
The Battalion arrived at Manassas Junction on June 22 where Major Wheat reported to Colonel Philip St. George Cocke. Cocke stationed them at Frying Pan Church under the command of Colonel Nathan G. Evans. They arrived around of June 24 or 25, joining the 4th South Carolina Infantry Regiment and
“Major Robert Wheat reached
The Tiger Rifles promptly saw action on June 28 as part of General William H. T. Walker’s demonstration against Federal troop at
Wheat’s Battalion spent the next two weeks on picket around Fairfax Court House. Many of the men were without blankets or tents, barely fed, and suffering from effect of rain and heat of summer. The Battalion received orders on July 17 to take a position at the
On the morning of July 21, the First Battle of Manassas commenced when Federal artillery opened fire over Confederate positions followed by Union infantry advancing against the
At about , Evans realized that the attack on the bridge as a deception and ordered his remaining infantry to the left to meet the new threat. The 4th
“Placing the Fourth Regiment on the left, supported by one piece of artillery, Major Wheat on the right, supported by a company of cavalry, I directed my command to open fire as soon as the enemy approached within range of muskets. At my command opened a vigorous fire from their position, which caused the enemy to halt in confused order. The fire was warmly kept up until the enemy seemed to fall back. Major Wheat then made a charge with his whole battalion.”
The Union attack was repulsed three times, but Evans was forced to retreat towards Young’s Branch where his command made a stand. Here Wheat’s Battalion fought the New York Fire Zouaves, a battalion of U. S. Marines, and a battery of artillery until reinforcements arrived. Major Wheat received an apparently mortal wound during the struggle. As 1st Ordnance Sergeant Robert Ritchie wrote to a friend:
“Our major was shot through the body and carried from the field in a dying condition. Our captain had his horse shot from under him, and we thought he was killed. Our First Lieutenant, gallant old Tom Adrian lay on the ground shot through the thigh and numbers of our men lay around dead and dying. We gained a piece of the woods, and the New York Fire Zouaves, whom we had been fight against, seeing our momentary confusion, gave three cheers; in what was the last cheer many of them ever uttered.”
As later recounted in the
“The Tiger Riles having no bayonets to their
Corporal Samuel English of the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry described the aftermath of Young’s Branch:
“I then descended the hill to the woods which had been occupied by the rebels at the place where the Elsworth zouaves made their charge; the bodies of the dead and dying were actually three and four deep, while in the woods where the desperate struggle had taken place between the U.S. Marines and the Louisiana zouaves, the tree were spattered with blood and the ground strewn with dead bodies.”
Evans pulled back toward Henry House Hill. With Wheat wounded, the Battalion broke up but continued the fight as companies or as individuals. Confederate reinforcements arrived in a flanking attack and the tide turned against Federal forces. Of the Federal retreat Robert Ritchie wrote:
“The enemy fled, throwing down their arms, equipment, clothing, and everything. We followed for several miles, taking a great many prisoners. Tom, it is no use talking, the boys surpassed my expectations; I knew we had good men, but they were more; in their efforts to make victory perch upon our banner, they were superhuman.”
Wheat’s Battalion finished the battle with 8 dead or mortally wounded, 38 wounded (including Major Wheat and 4 other officers), 2 captured or missing, and a stand of captured flags for which they received much praise.
SOURCES FOR QUOTES:
Napier Barlett, Military Record of
“The Camp at Tangipahoa,” The Daily Picayune (
J. G. de Roulhac
James A. Harrold, “Surgeons of the Confederacy,” Confederate Veteran (May 1932) 173.
Alison Moore, He Died Furious (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Ortlieb Press, Inc., 1983); New Orleans Daily Delta, 3 September 1861, quoted on page 81; Robert Ritchie in the New Orleans Daily True Delta, 15 August 1861 quoted on page 62 and 64.
Robert Hunt Rhodes, ed., All For the Union: the Civil War Diary and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes (Lincoln, Rhode Island: Andrew Mowbray Incorporated, 1985; reprint ed., New York: Orion Books, 1991) 34.
Richard Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1879) 25.
U. S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the
Robert Enoch Withers, Autobiography of an Octogenarian (Roanoke, Virginia: The Stone Printing & Mfg. Co. Press, 1907) 139.