Transcribed and Edited by Dan Edwards, Holmes County, Mississippi
My dear wife:
I have not received a line from you since the 2nd of the month - the longest period by some time, that has ever elapsed without my having some news of you. Oh! How much mental inquietude and painful suspense have I experienced during those twenty-eight long days - and a letter from you telling me that you were well, and in good spirits, and that our baby had entirely recovered her health, - would have had a soothing, quieting influence that nothing else would have produced - and amid the many sources of uneasiness to which I am now subjected - a letter from you would serve to draw off my mind from things around and at least while I was reading it and thinking of it I would be free from some harassing cares on your and Gertie's account.
Events of May 2nd thru May 14th
Since the Brigade left Grenada on the 2nd instance, until the unfortunate battle of the 16th, we were scarcely in one place for a day - and I looked forward to a few days rest with more than usual delight - for as a general thing I like the excitement of moving and the monotony of camp soon becomes irksome - but for once I had a surfeit of going from place to place and longed for a few days of quiet to recuperate and refresh myself.
I wrote you a number of times from the time we left Jackson until the 14th, sending the letters when I could by hand - and I hope you received them all, as they will post you in regard to the movements of the Army up to that time and from that day I will give you a succinct account of what I saw and heard of the affairs if the Department in and around the City of Vicksburg.
On Thursday the 13th - three divisions of the Army, Stephenson's, Bowen's and Loring's were concentrated at Edwards Depot. At first, the idea that the enemy would attack us and when it appeared that there was no probability of that, the program was changed and we were to be the attacking party - and to that end and order was received from General Pemberton, that the Army would move on the morning of the 15th at 8 o'clock in the direction of Raymond on what was called the military road - with three days cooked rations in their haversacks and five more in the hands of the Commissaries.
Friday, May 15th 1863
There were at Edwards, from the best estimates that I have been able to make - and the best information that I could obtain, about eighteen or nineteen thousand men. Loring's Division had an aggregate field return on Friday morning of 6,630 - Bowen not more than 3500, and Stephenson about 8,000 - with Adams Cavalry and a few companies of mounted infantry acting as escorts and Couriers. Loring's Division was composed of the Brigades of Tilghman, Featherston, and Beaufort. Bowen's Division of Green's, and Gates' Brigades and Stephenson had the Brigades of Cummins - formerly Gaylen, Barton, Reynolds, and Lee - an aggregate of three Divisions, and nine Brigades, with a battery to each Brigade and several reserve Division Batteries.
It was a fine army - though Stephenson's Division had never been under fire, and was composed of the last regiments from Georgia and Alabama - very ignorant men - far away from their homes, and had been marched heavily for the past few days. Bowen's men were veterans - every man had been in more than one battle - while the greater portion of Loring's Division was in as good fighting trim as could be wished for. Everything being considered, we had nothing to look for but victory - yet I felt gloomy on the event of our starting - and although I could assign no reasonable ground for my fears - yet I had them - and they weighed heavily. That superstition had something to do with my fears, I am candid enough to admit - yet even when I would shake off that feeling - and leave myself free to reasons, I had an innate feeling that all was not going to turn out well - and unfortunately my fears proved to be anything but groundless.
An army in motion is a grand sight, with its long lines of bayonets glistening and flashing in the sun - the rumbling of the artillery and the noise of the trains - all conspire to throw over one a feeling of the greatness and magnificence of War. I had a fine view of the troops as they passed - having to wait until the whole Division filed by me before I could put my train in motion1.
Tilghman's Brigade, as he was [by date of rank] Brigadier General, had the right - and, of course, went in advance. Beaufort to save time, although not entitled to the place, followed and Featherstone brought up the rear - then came Bowen's Division and next Stevenson's.
As soon as I saw the ordinance train of the Division on its way - I at once galloped on to the head of the column and I thought I had never seen the Brigade present a better appearance, with fewer stragglers and every man, appeared as if determined to do his duty. It was a bright, fine day - the rain of the previous evening had placed the roads in fine order for marching and so far as outward appearances had any weight - we were going to victory.
But where were we going? It was known that on Thursday the Enemy had captured Clinton. The Telegraph lines were out and we were cut off from Jackson by railway; but from all that I could gather, those in power knew very little of the movements of the Enemy. I saw no evidence of an organized system of information - no couriers passing to and from headquarters, no signal corps in operation - nothing that led me to believe that General Pemberton knew either the number, intentions - either real or probable of the enemy - and more than that, not even his exact whereabouts. I do not say that the General in command was ignorant of the Enemy's number, position, or designs - yet from circumstances that I say and acts that were allowed - I am satisfied that he had no idea of their proximity on Friday night.
The trains were kept closed up with the respective divisions, even to the cattle in the driver's hands, were up with the army. We moved in fine style - and I expected, and so did everyone up to General Loring, that we would go near Raymond that night, but soon a staff officer rode up and assigned a camping ground for the division at Ratcliffe's - about seven miles from Edwards.
Saturday May 16th 1863 - Battle of Baker's Creek or Champion Hill
I rode on with General Featherstone and saw the Brigade encamped for the night and then went back to halt by wagons. I soon found them, ate my supper, and fed my tired horse. I had been on him all day (I call him George, you know for whom). I soon fell asleep and did not wake until daylight the next morning. I went down to headquarters and found them all in low sprits. The news of the capture of Jackson by the enemy, having just reached there. Many were the curses, loud and deep, that men in all positions pored on Lt. General Pemberton's devoted head. Some said he was a traitor, others, that he meant well, but lacked the capacity to control so large a department.
I have always thought Pemberton did well - having as he has the most important department to defend in the Confederacy, and from the topographical situation of the Country the most difficult one to defend. An enemy on three sides of his department with an innumerable number of navigable streams to look after - coming to soon on the heels of a disastrous defeat.
I have never been one of those that have censured so much the commanding general, though from what I saw of him on Saturday the 16th, I feel convinced of his incapacity. While this was going on and each man brooding over his own gloomy thoughts - a few shots from a small gun were heard, then a report was in circulation that the Enemy's Cavalry were upon us. In a moment more, our Division was ordered to be formed, Beaufort on the left, Featherstone in the center, and Tilghman, who was a mile to the front was coming to take his place on the right of the Division. I rode down the road with Featherstone who wanted to view the field and met General Pemberton who rode up and asked Featherston "where his Brigade was?" and he replied that he had just been ordered to form it on the right of the road and was then locating the ground for the line. Pemberton told him to be in a hurry. Featherstone ordered me off to bring out the troops rapidly, and I heard no more of the conversation. General Pemberton looked as if he was confused and gave orders in that uncertain manner that implied to me that he had no matured plans for the coming battle.
The line was quickly formed - the artillery in position - and after waiting some time, no enemy developed himself - and the impression was universal that the Enemy's force consisted of perhaps a small body of cavalry, not to attack - but only to annoy us. While the line was formed and everyone waiting - I rode up with Featherston to where Pemberton with Loring and Tilghman were halted on their horses - and heard General Pemberton say that we were to move in the direction of Canton and there rejoin Johnson, that Stevenson was to start at once - that Bowen was to occupy Stevenson's ground and that he and Loring would move up by the left flank and take Bowen's position and thus proceed until he reached our destination.
Pemberton said something which I did not catch, and Loring replied, as I thought rather testily, "General Pemberton you did not tell me this last night," to which Pemberton said, "Yes, Loring, you know I did." Their manner was warm - and no good feeling was evinced by either party. There was ill-will and that too displayed in a manner that was to the credit of neither party. That there was no harmony - no unity of action - no clear understanding of the aims and designs of our army was clearly apparent- and instead o there existing mutual confidence on the part of the Commanding General and his subordinates - there was just the opposite - and it amounted to what in an ordinary matter would have been called distrust. There is quite a feud existing between Loring and Pemberton - so far as Loring is concerned, I have heard several expressions of disrespect at Greenwood, and also at Lanier's and then at Edwards. In fact, it amounted to that degree of hatred on the part of Loring, that Captain Barksdale and myself agreed, that Loring would be willing for Pemberton to lose a battle provided that he would be displaced.
No one felt that a battle was near at hand - in fact, I do not think that the Generals apprehended any contest to be dignified by the name of a battle. There was continued firing kept up to our left - an occasionally a random shot from the Enemy's guns told us that some force - we did not know how many - were in our front.
At this juncture, I was ordered to move the ordinance train immediately in the rear of the brigade by a route that a guide who accompanied me was to point out. I hurried on to where I had ordered it to remain and found Bowen's line of battle occupying that ground and overtook them making for the rear in company with the Division ordinance train. I soon saw that it would be impossible to get along by that route, so I turned the wagons around and went back by the same route I came. We passed in front of the skirmishers and got them to their place by the big road. As the rear of the train passed the angle of the road, the enemy perceived it and sent a few shots by way of telling us that we were not unnoticed - but did no damage and only urged the teamsters along somewhat faster. I then reported the position of the train - and sat down under a tree and listened to General Loring, Tilghman, and Featherston engage in quite an animated conversation, the principal topic being General Pemberton - and the affairs of the Country generally. They all said harsh, ill natured things, made ill-turned jests in regard to General Pemberton and when an order came from him, the courier who brought it was not out of hearing, before they would make light of it and ridicule the plans he proposed.
When an order came for Loring to move to the left, he replied that he was threatened by a cavalry force in front and that if he moved, the enemy would flank him on the right, and so he remained in the same place. I understand that Pemberton now says that if Loring had obeyed that order, the fate of the day might have been quite different - though it is now too late to recriminate - and Pemberton had the power to have ordered him imperatively. During this time, the rattle of small arms was growing more rapid - and it was not until a courier brought an order for Beaufort to support Bowen, that we realized that a battle was upon us. I went down to my train in company with Captain Sykes, General Tilghman's Inspector General, in order to have the wagons turned, so that they could move instantly in any direction - and while there an order was sent me to bring the wagons to the left as the Brigade was ordered to support the left wing, which had given away before the enemy and were flying in every direction. I instantly put the train in motion, and rode full speed for the Brigade, hoping to catch up with it before it became engaged. I had not far before I met bodies of men - some without hats - their guns thrown away - and looking as if they had just escaped from the lunatic asylum. On my urging them for God's sake, not to fly the field in that manner, would invariably reply that they were all that was left of their company. I exhorted and plead with numbers to return - that by their efforts united with those who had gone to their assistance, that the day would yet be ours and the tide of battle turned, - but nothing but a drawn saber or a presented bayonet will halt men fleeing from the battle field. As I rode further, I saw large numbers wounded an in every conceivable manner. The earth in some places red with blood - and here and there a mangled soldier who had ceased to feel either the pain of his wound or the sting of defeat, and was sleeping the sleep that knows no waking. I galloped rapidly on an met Colonel Withers, who told me that the enemy had capture five of the eight guns of Company A in his regiment - and were then coming in the direction I was going, so I turned around and learned that Stevenson and Bowen had been badly repulsed and that on Loring now depended the fortunes of the day.
Up to that time about 2:30 p.m., Loring's command had not fired a gun and had been in hearing of the battle all that time. In company with Colonel Withers, I hurried in search of the Brigade, it having given a different road - while we had been going in a rye field. We arrive at the head of the Division just as General Loring had received an order from General Pemberton to retreat in the direction we came. Loring thought, as did Featherston and Withers, that the day was not lost, and after hesitating a moment, ordered a "forward" when Captain Taylor of Pemberton's staff, rode up and peremptorily ordered a retreat. The column was halted and General Lee who with the shattered remains of his Brigade had formed on the left of us, and now marching by the left flank, he headed the column. I was at this time sent to put the ordinance train in motion and met it about half a mile from the Brigade coming in a sweeping trot - with the sergeants all badly frightened as they had been ordered by some strolling cavalry to burn the wagons. I quickly turned them around and not more than gotten them well started in the new direction when up road General Pemberton wanted to know "Where in the hell those wagons were going?" I told him there was no other way to get out - that the enemy were advancing in our rear and he would have to get out by the ford on Baker's Creek. General Lee at that moment coming up an confirming what I had told Him and the status of affairs in general. He at once turned his horse's head and with staff and escort rode rapidly away in the direction he had just come.
I urged the wagons in, soon got my train in front and in a short time neared the place where I had brought them in the morning, when I found that I would be between the fire of our own and the Enemy's guns, so I made a detour to the right - and by dint of careful driving and making a hundred men throw rails for a quarter of an hour in an ugly slough, I succeeded in reaching the road to Edwards, as the shot and shell from the Enemy's battery came rattling down it.2 As I was galloping along in front of my wagons, I saw four men with a litter, bearing off the body of General Tilghman who was mortally wounded and died in ten minutes.3 The shell that killed him must have passed over the road for three hundred yards and it was full of men, wagons, artillery, and everything - and still it did not explode until near him. Poor Tilghman, three hours before, I had sat and listened to him talking and jesting, full of life and gaiety - and then "he was gone to that course from whence no traveler returns." He was shot in the upper part of the stomach with a small piece of a shell while sighting a piece of McLendon's Battery.4
I hurried on and in a few minutes crossed Baker's Creek at a ford - and then felt safe so far as pursuit of the Enemy was concerned.
Now for the first time, I could realize that a battle had been fought and that we had been sadly defeated. And when I saw scores and hundreds of men coming wildly along with no regard to order, with artillery men who had lost their guns, riding frantically along, Officers without commands vainly inquiring where such or such regiment was - men without harts or guns rushing at full speed - poor wounded men hobbling along, an asking for a surgeon - teamsters shouting and swearing at their mules, with the distant roar of an occasional shot from the battery on the hill - all made it look like what I have read of Bull Run and thought of a rapid retreat.
General Bowen was endeavoring to rally the
Army as it came along, and those that were halted formed and appeared
ready for any emergency. I was then ordered by the Chief of Ordinance of
the Army to go on with the trains until we reached Bovina. It was slow
progress from then until we arrived at the Big Black - as it was covered
with artillery, the trains of the Army - straggling and wounded men - and
every conceivable conveyance with women and children fleeing their homes
and abandoning them to the Yankees. I got across about Eleven o'clock at
night and soon got them camped and quiet for the night when I lay down but
not to sleep. My system was greatly fatigued, but such was my anxiety for
the command - an intense desire to know what had become of it, that I
could not sleep - and after nature exhausted, and I was overcome, I had
frightful dreams by what I had seen during he day. Such sights as harrow
the soul to think of, and as painful to recollect anything of them.
The train consisted of fifty wagons, pulled by four mules. Each wagon
carried a driver and six guards.
Lt. Drennan was born in Abbeville Dist. S.C. and came to Holmes County, Mississippi as a youngster. His father was a merchant in the town of Franklin. At the onset of the War, William was a Holmes County chancellery judge. He married 17 year old Georgia Torrey in 1861, daughter of a wealthy plantation owner in Holmes County. Although exempt from military service because of his position, he resigned and joined Company B, 1st Mississippi Battery Sharpshooters in late 1862 as a private. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to sergeant then lieutenant. Early in 1863 he became Ordinance Officer of Featherston's Brigade. He served throughout the remainder of the war in various positions on Featherston's staff.
After the war, he resumed his judgeship but was dismissed by Governor Ames, a reconstruction Governor, when Judge Drennan refused to release a henchmen of Ames who had murdered a citizen of Yazoo City. This dismissal is sited in the second article of the impeachment indictment of Adelbert Ames.
Dan Edwards lives in Holmes County, Mississippi and is an avid student of history. He has transcribed the papers, letters, journals, and diaries of William Drennan, on file at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Manuscript Collection Z-131 Drennan papers that includes 68 items. He is currently finishing an antebellum history of Holmes County entitled In Defense of Holmes.
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