Private John L. Vanzant, Co. G
Monday, November 22, 2010
2nd Mississippi Regiment at South Mountain and beyond
While they would enter the fight well after the outcome had been decided, Hood's Division would help stem the tide of blueclad soldiers racing towards Turner's Gap and the National Road. The 2nd Mississippi of Evander Law's Brigade would suffer the most in the brief but sharp clash that ended the fighting around Fox's Gap. These men would also help constitute the Confederate rear guard as the troops of General Longstreet and D.H. Hill retreated through the street of Boonsboro and on to the ridges outside Sharpsburg, Maryland.
Mustered into Confederate service in Corinth, Missisippi on a crisp spring day in early May 1861. Immediately the regiment was ordered to Virginia, where it joined those Confederate forces concentrating at Harper's Ferry under General Joseph Johnston. It would be assigned to the brigade of Bernard Bee. When Irwin McDowell's Union army began it's advance out of Washington, D.C., Johnston's small army was ordered out of the Shenendoah Valley and to Manassas Junction to reinforce the army of P.G.T. Beauregard, who was guarding the approaches leading to Richmond. On July 21st, the 2nd Missisippi found itself embroiled in heavy fighting while trying to hold off the powerful Union assault that began in the early morning hours. The weight of Union numbers broke this initial Confederate line and the Mississippian's retreated in full rout. Bee managed to rally 2 companies from the 2nd and parts of the 4th Alabama after giving General Jackson his famous moniker, "Stonewall". The Mississippians that remained fought along side Jackson's Virginian's and helped win the day for the Confederates.
When the scene of the war in the east shifted to the Virginia Peninsula, the 2nd Mississippi went there, now in the brigade under the command of General William H.C. Whiting. When the regiment arrived in the entrenchments near Yorktown, Virginia, new officers were elected and John Marshall Stone of Company K was elected the new colonel of the regiment. It was also at this time the Evander Law was placed in command of the brigade after the promotion of General Whiting to division command. The Mississippians fought with distinction at the Battle of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks stalling the advance of George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac and in the Seven Days' Battles that pushed back McClellan's powerful army. Following the Seven Days', General John Bell Hood was promoted to divisional command, commanding the brigade of Colonel Law and the Texas Brigade under Colonel William Wofford.
Following the successful campaign to expel McClellan from the gates of Richmond, General Lee moved his army northward to deal with the next threat, the Army of Virginia under Major General John Pope that was advancing practically unopposed throughout Northern Virginia. In early August, Stonewall Jackson's command clashed with elements of Pope's army near Cedar Mountain then towards the end, Jackson sparked off the Second Battle of Manassas/Bull Run. As part of Longstreet's command, Hood's Division came rushing to the aid of Jackson's beleagured troops. With the Union high command ignoring reports of a strong Confederate concentration, Longstreet positioned his command to the right of Jackson's ready to overtake the flank of Pope's army when it renewed its attacks upon Jackson. Law's brigade was positioned on the extreme left of Longstreet's command along the Warrenton Turnpike. On the 29th of August, just as the Mississippian's went into position and prepared for a recon in force, a brigade of Union infantry and aUnion battery stumbled into Hood's division. Hood's men easily handled the small enemy force and the 2nd Mississippi even captured a Union officer, Major Charles Livingston of the 76th New York, after he stumbled into their regiment attempting to rally them believing them to be retreating Union troops.
On August 30th, as Pope engaged his entire force against Jackson, Longstreet unleashed his troops on the Union flank. The ensuing fight broke the back of the Union army and sent them fleeing towards Washington. Law's brigade, with the 2nd Mississippi, was to support the Texas Brigade in the fight, but contact was lost and instead Law advanced in support of the Confederate artillery. Law eventually attack a Union battery defended by the 2nd and 7th Wisconsin and suffered heavily before retiring from the field.
After the victory at Manassas, Lee moves his army to Leesburg, Virginia in preperation for the invasion of Maryland. Law's brigade crosses the Potomac between September 4th and 7th and concentrated near Frederick, Maryland with the rest of the Confederate army by the 8th. On the 10th, Lee divides his army and Longstreet's command, along with the 2nd Mississippi, marches towards Hagerstown, Maryland. On September 14th, hearing the Hill's division is being pressed heavily at the mountain gaps outside Boonsboro, Longstreet orders his command to march to the aid of Hill. Hood's Division arrives in late afternoon and his deployed at first to the left of the National Pike supporting a Confederate artillery position at Turner's Gap. After news of heavy fighting reaches near Fox's Gap reaches Hill and Longstreet, Hood is ordered to redeploy his division at Fox's Gap to stem the tide of the Union advance.
As Hood marched down the Wood Road towards Fox's Gap, he deployed his division faceing southwest towards the Gap. As Hood's men moved into position, they came across remnants of Drayton's brigade that had just been severely handled by advancing Union troops. Hood deployed his division with Law on the left and Wofford's brigade on the right. From research and casualty figures, I believe it is safe to assume that this is how Hood deployed his division. Also, to take it further, Law deployed his brigade with the 2nd Mississippi on his brigade's right, connecting his line with Woffords. This position would undoubtly put the Mississippian's into the thickest of the fight.
Just as the sun was going down, Hood has his men in position and orders them to fix bayonets. From Hood's report, " I at once ordered the Texas Brigade , Col. W.T. Wofford commanding and the Third Brigade, Col. E.M. Law commanding, to move forward with bayonets fixed, which they did with their usual gallantry, driving the enemy and regaining all our lost ground, when night came on and further pursuit ceased." While the fight was brief, Hood's division suffered just under 50 casualties. The 2nd Mississippi regiment suffered the most with 20 men killed, wounded, or missing/captured. That night, Hood's division would consitute the Confederate rearguard as Lee pulled his men out of their positions on South Mountain and put them on the road to Sharpsburg. At Sharpsburg, the 2nd Mississippi suffered horrendous casualties as it fought in the cornfield and around the Dunker Church.
Following the Maryland Campaign, the 2nd Mississippi was detached from Law's brigade and assigned to the new brigade forming in Richmond under the command of Brigadier General Joseph R. Davis. Davis' Brigade was sent to the North Carolina, allowing the 2nd Mississippi to recuperate from his losses in the Maryland Campaign. The regiment missed the Battle of Fredericksburg as a result of this new assignment. When Union troops invaded Southern Virginia in early 1863, Longstreet's Corps consisting of Hood's and Pickett's divisions was sent to Suffolk and Davis's brigade was brought northward to participate it what would become the Siege of Suffolk lasting about a month from April 11th to May 3rd, 1863. As a result, the 2nd Mississippi also missed the Battle of Chancellorsville.
When Lee made his intentions clear that he was again going to march northward, Davis' brigade was brought to the Army of Northern Virginia with Longstreet's Corps and placed in the division of Major General Henry Heth of the new 3rd Army Corps under the command of General Ambrose P. Hill. This move became official on June 5th and the 2nd Mississippi would remain in this division for the remainder of the war.
When fighting broke out a Gettysburg, the 2nd Mississippi was apart of the action that took place on July 1st resulting in heavy losses for the regiment. It was engaged on the left flank of Heth's Division as Heth pushed towards Gettysburg running into the cavalry division of John Buford. Davis' brigade also engaged infantry from the brigade of Lysander Cutler. Cutler's brigade was eventually broken and forced into a full fledge retreat. Davis' brigade followed in pursuit that quickly turned into a unorganized mob. From the south, a volley tore into the flank of the southerner's. The unexpected volley came from the 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade. Davis attempted to pull his men back and many took refuge from the withering fire in a railroad cut. It was here at this railroad cut that the 2nd Mississippi's flag would be captured. The regiment would not participate in the fighting of July 2nd but on July 3rd it would take part in what would become known as Pickett's Charge. The regiment advanced with 60 men towards Cemetery Ridge and advance to a point near the Bryan Farm, where it could no longer advance. The regiment nearly lost a second flag during this charge, but the flag was saved by the regiments color bearer after he ripped it from the staff and hid it under his body. Only one man was unwounded following the charge. During the retreat, the regiment participated in the battle outside Williamsport, Maryland as Heth's division covered the retreat of Lee's army back into Virginia. The regiment would spend the remainder of 1863 and early 1864 recuperating in Northern Virginia.
For the remainder of the war, the men of the 2nd Mississippi participated in the Overland Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg suffering heavily. The regiment would be surrendered on April 2, 1865 after it was cut off from retreat near Hatcher's Run. The regiment's flag was again ripped from the staff and hidden. The regiment surrendered less than 100 men on April 2nd having participated in many of Lee's major battles and campaigns and suffering heavily as a result.
Regimental Losses at South Mountain:
Private Jacob McCarty, Co. L
Private John L. Vanzant, Co. G
Private John L. Vanzant, Co. G
Private Richard Bennett, Co. H
Private Francis M. May, Co. G
Private James R. Sergeant, Co. B
Private Henry M. Box, Co. D
Private Giles M. Burns, Co. A
Private John H. Chaney, Co. A
Private Daniel Fallon, Co. G
Private James Helton, Co. A
Private William T. Lummus, Co. K
Private Jesse Martindale, Co. K
Private Elijah T. Miller, Co. E
Private Gilford F. Reynolds, Co. A
Private Balam J.M.C. Smith, Co. A
Private Dillon A. Willis, Co. K