Author’s note: This is the second installment of the series on Major Ramon T. de Aragon. The following is an excerpt from “DE ARAGON – The Chronicle of a Confederate Surgeon“.
The 13th Tennessee Infantry
During the month of May, 1861 the states of Arkansas, North Carolina, and Virginia followed their neighbors’ lead and left the Union. There was now little doubt that war was coming to West Tennessee. Already companies of militia were being organized in every town. These groups were usually formed by an individual with some wealth and standing in the community. On May 24, 1861 Ramon De Aragon enlisted as a private in a company raised by W. E. Winfield of LaGrange, Tennessee. These men from Fayette County named themselves the “Gaines Invincibles” and were designated “Company H” when they became a part of the 7th Tennessee Militia, Provisional Army of Tennessee. The regiment organized on June 3, 1861 at Jackson, Tennessee in response to a call from Governor Harris for 75,000 volunteers. It was composed of ten companies from Fayette, Shelby, Dyer, McNairy, Gibson, and Henderson counties. The following day, June 4, the election of field officers was held and the regiment was ordered at once to join the River Brigade at Randolph, Tennessee.
The makeup of the Regiment was as follows:
All men who held each officer’s rank during the course of the war are listed:
Colonels – John V. Wright, Alfred J. Vaughan, Jr., Robert W. Pittman
Lieutenant-Colonels – A. J. Vaughan, Jr., William E. Morgan, Robert W. Pittman, Beverly L. Dyer
Majors – W. E. Winfield, William J. Crook, Peter H. Cole, Beverly L. Dyer
Lieutenant – W. E. Morgan
Surgeons – Doctor J. A. Forbes, Doctor R. W. Mitchell
Assistant Surgeon – Doctor B. F. Dickerson
Commissary – W. E. Dyer
Regimental Quartermaster – L. B. Cabler
Sergeant-major – Peter Cole
Chaplain – W. D. F. Hafford
The companies changed their letter designations when the regiment was accepted into Confederate service at a later date. In the list below, the letters used in Confederate service are shown, with former letters indicated.
Company “A”, formerly “E”.”The Fayette Rifle Grays.”Captains – William C. Burton, Thomas H. Arnold, S. R. Brewer, F. H. Carter.Men of Fayette County.
Company “B”, formerly “B”. “The Macon Grays.” Captains – Joe L. Grandberry, Ben F. Lightle, William G. Mebane. Men of Fayette County.
Company “C”, formerly “C”. “The Secession Guards.”Captains – John H. Morgan, E. W. Douglass, W. D. Harrison. Organized at Germantown, Tennessee and composed of men from Tennessee and Mississippi.
Company “D”, formerly “D”. “The Yorkville Rifles.”Captains – John A. Wilkens, S. R. Brewer.Men of Gibson County.Merged with Company “A” April 6, 1862.
Company “E”, formerly “F”. “The Dixie Rifles.”Captains – Alfred J. Vaughan, Jr., Beverly L. Dyer, John A. Moody.Men of Fayette County.
Company “F”, formerly “G”. “The Wright Boys.”Captains – John V. Wright, Dew Moore Wisdom, G. W. Churchwell. Men of McNairy County.
Company “G”, formerly “H”. “The Gaines Invincibles.”Captains – W. E. Winfield, C. D. Palmore, R. F. Lanier.Men of Fayette County.
Company “H”, formerly “I”. “The Yancey Riflemen.”Captains – Robert W. Pitman, Sylvester A. Munson.Men of Fayette County.
Company “I”, formerly “A”. “The Forked Deer Volunteers.”Captains – G. L. Ross, William J. Crook. John R. Purdy. Men of Henderson, now Chester County.
Company “K”, formerly “K”. “The Dyer Grays.”Captains – Samuel L. Latta, Joseph Rucks Hibbitt, Ausburn D. Brown.Men of Dyer County.
Company “L”, “The Zollicoffer Avengers”. Captains – C. B. Jones, Richard E. Moody. Men of Hardeman County; joined the regiment April 28, 1862.
John Vines Wright, elected Colonel of the regiment, was a robust man with seemingly boundless energy. He was a veteran of the Mexican War and studied law at the Universities of Virginia and Tennessee. At age thirty-three he became a United States Congressman from Tennessee. When the first states seceded he resigned his seat in the United States Congress and went home to organize “The Wright Boys.”
Alfred J. Vaughan, in his book on the regiment written after the war, said:
... “it was made up of the “flower of the South” young men, most of whom were fresh from the best institutions of learning – aspiring, hopeful and ambitious – sons of men of education, wealth and influence – the very best material for volunteer service.”
Vaughan became the most noted of the officers who led these men. He was originally a Virginian and graduated from the Virginia Military Academy in 1851. Before becoming a planter in Marshall County, Mississippi, he worked as a surveyor in California and as a Northern Pacific Railway employee in the upper Missouri River Valley. When preparations for war began, he attempted to raise a company in Mississippi but could not acquire arms for them. Later he put together a company in Moscow, Tennessee and was elected Lt. Colonel of the 7th Tennessee Militia at its organization. John V. Wright was elected to the Confederate congress early in the war and Vaughan was elected Colonel at that time.
The regiment reached Randolph, Tennessee arriving on June 7, 1861. It was the last infantry unit to arrive, being preceded by the regiments of Colonels Preston Smith – 154th Tennessee Militia, Joseph Knox Walker – 155th Tennessee Militia and Rufus P. Neely – 3rd Tennessee Infantry. Randolph was a small town in Tipton County thirty-five miles north of Memphis. It was established between 1823 and 1827 and was incorporated in 1831. The population was about one thousand with schools, a college, and about fifty businesses. Boasting an excellent harbor, it was the preeminent shipping port for cotton North of Vicksburg, Mississippi. A fort enclosing an estimated thirty acres had been constructed there over the previous two months and was named “Fort Wright” after Colonel Marcus J. Wright of the 154th Tennessee Militia. It was also referred to as “Fort Randolph” in some reports and more affectionately by the troops as “Fort Yellow Jacket” in honor of the clouds of the pests that infest the area during the summer. To meet the anticipated invasion from the North were four batteries of thirty-two and sixty-four pound field guns. A steamboat had been sunk at the nearby mouth of the Hatchie River to impede the navigation of Federal gunboats. There were no buildings, the men slept in tents with plank floors. They had to carry water from the river until a cistern was built. This was a “boot camp” and the officers’ attention was directed to discipline and drill.
By this time Private De Aragon had been appointed Medical Steward of the regiment. This was the first time many of these men had been exposed to childhood diseases, so illness was prevalent, certainly making it busy for the medical personnel. Most of the first casualties of the war were caused not by Yankee bullets, but by the ravages of measles, chicken pox, and dysentery.
Rations consisted of fresh pork, chicken, turtle soup, flour, and sugar. Vegetables were furnished by the citizens of Tipton County. Apparently there was a problem with supplies at one point because the citizens of Memphis protested to Governor Harris about the poor quality of the rations and he instigated a full investigation. Visitors came daily with food baskets and clean clothes. There was a festive atmosphere as Mothers, wives, and sweethearts watched from the bluffs as the troops drilled on the fields next to the river below.
On June 8, 1861 there was another referendum on whether or not Tennessee would leave the Union. Special polling places were set up at the tents of Colonels Smith, Walker, and Neely. Across the state the total was 104,913 for and forty-seven thousand two hundred thirty-eight against the proposal. The vote at Fort Wright was three thousand five hundred and ninety-eight for secession and none against.
Leonidas Polk, Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana and a former classmate of Jefferson Davis at West Point, had been appointed Major General of the Provisional forces in the service of the Confederate States. His command, designated “Department #2″ included North Alabama, West Tennessee, and the river counties of Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. He arrived at Randolph on June 13, 1861. Gideon Pillow also came with more volunteers. He had recently been given a command, partly because of a letter to Jefferson Davis from Colonel John V. Wright, commending Pillow’s contributions toward organizing the defense of West Tennessee and protesting his being lowered in rank by the appointment of Polk. Wright suggested making Pillow a “General Officer” in the regular army or “Major General” in the provisional army.
July 26, 1861 Private De Aragon’s regiment was ordered to New Madrid, Missouri and along with the 154th Tennessee Militia was placed in a brigade commanded by Colonel J. P. McCown. McCown, by order of Brigadier General Pillow, planned a campaign to prevent Union troops from reinforcing General Lyons in the Southwest part of that state. Lyons was in command of a Federal army which was engaged in a running fight with Missouri State Guard troops under the command of General Sterling Price and Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson. Preston Smith’s regiment left Randolph on July 27 and the rest of the troops there departed by August 17.
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