I’ve spent the past couple of days going over the role of the 58th NCT at Chickamauga. I had someone email me regarding the events. His interpretation is that Palmer and the 58th, after their second attack, were done for the evening, not helping the 63rd Virginia and 5th Kentucky in driving the Federals off Snodgrasss Hill.
In my original response, I confined myself to what was written in the Official Records. I’m going to come back to that in a couple of minutes, but right now, I want to look at how historians have interpreted (or ignored) Palmer’s role in events.
The first book I pulled off the shelf was Matt Spruill’s Guide to the Battle of Chickamauga (1993). Spruill makes no real mention of Kelly’s brigade. He sums up the action with “The last attack was made just before dark when eight brigades were sent against the Union position.”
I thought I would stick with the guide books, so we will look at Woodworth’s Chickamauga (1999) next. I could find no mention whatsoever of Kelly’s brigade.
Next, how about Tucker’s Chickamauga: Bloody Battle in the West (1961). Tucker does not go into a lot of detail about the final assault. He simply writes that that Kelly and Twigg assaulted “the position on the ridge…”
We will look next at Cozzens’s This Terrible Sound (1992). Cozzens probably writes the most in-depth study of the battle to date. On page 487, Palmer and the 58th NCT have attempted twice to advance up Hill Three. On the second advance, they have been met by the 21st OH coming down the hill and firing. The 58th NCT, many of them with almost no ammunition, have retreated behind trees, and Palmer is attempting to find out what is going on. According to pages 507-509 of this book, it is Hawkins of the 5th Kentucky who takes charge. Cozzens leaves Palmer out.
I also checked the new article (by William Glenn Robertson) on September 20 in the most recent issue of Blue and Gray – no mention of Palmer, and barely a mention of Kelly.
Next, why don’t we look at what the people involved wrote:
Palmer writes in his official report on September 25, 1863, just five days after the battle, of what happened after the 58th NCT had charged twice. Palmer sent a messenger to Kelly, who could not be found. Palmer himself then went to look for Kelly and
“… ascertaining that the other regiment had formed some distance to the right, I moved by the flank and formed on the prolongation of their line.”
“Being told by Colonel Hawkins that Colonel Kelly had a short time before been summoned suddenly from the field by General Preston without time to notify me of the fact, I assumed command of the brigade and, changing direction to the right, advanced toward the enemy at right angles of our first line of advance. Colonel Twigg had in the meantime, and after the enemy’s fire had ceased, moved his brigade up a depression between us and the main position of the enemy, and to his command some of them were about surrendering.
“My regiment captured about 20 officers and men…” (ORs Vol. 30, pt. 2, 446)
After the war, Palmer wrote: “Shortly after dark our brigade, temporarily under my command, succeeded in capturing the troops who had been opposing us.” (“The 58th North Carolina at the Battle of Chickamauga” Our Living and Our Dead October 1875)
Colonel Hawkins of the 5th Kentucky, wrote in late October 1863: “My men recovering from the temporary surprise caused by the treachery of the enemy, reformed, and, with fixed bayonets, advanced on the enemy, joined by Major French, then by Colonel Palmer…” (ORs Vol. 40, pt. 2 443-4)
Maj. French of the 63rd Virginia, also writing on September 25, has this to say: “The Fifty-eighth North Carolina, Fifth Kentucky, and my regiment advanced to within a short distance of the enemy, when they proposed to surrender and laid down their arms. When we arrived within about 40 yards of them, they retook their arms and poured a heavy fire into our ranks, which caused us to fall back a short distance to our position on the hill, from which we continued to fire into them. Our ammunition being now almost exhausted, we supplied ourselves as far as possible from the boxes of the killed and wounded. We again advanced in conjunction with Colonel Twigg’s brigade, when we succeeded in capturing 249 prisoners, including several field officers.” (ORs Vol. 40, pt. 2 448)
Kelly wrote, also on September 25, that after the false surrender volley was fired, Kelly met up with Twigg and began to advance. “Just at this movement was begun, I was notified by one of his [Twigg’s] staff that the brigadier general commanding division wished to see me, and I repaired at once to where he was stationed in the field. During this temporary absence the enemy surrendered to Colonel Twigg…”
My breakdown of events is this:
Palmer and the 58th NCT, on the left of the brigade, attempted to charge twice and were stymied. Palmer went looking for Kelly with his own ideas of how to finish driving the Federals off of the hill. He could not find Kelly, who had been called to the rear. Palmer, being senior commander of the brigade, took over. Hawkins of the 5th Kentucky had already started to move up the hill in conjunction with Twigg, as the 63rd Virginia, and then the 58th North Carolina, came on line and charged together. Both French and Hawkins said that Palmer is involved, even though there is some difference in the accounts, so I do not think this should be discredited.
So what do you think – I have laid my case out well?