Col. James J. Neely’s 13th Tennessee, R. V. Richardson’s brigade, Gen. James Chalmer’s division, led the Confederate dash on Union pickets at Collierville, Oct. 11, 1863. At 10 a.m., two of Neely’s companies dashed on the enemy pickets at Abington’s house, capturing 16 of the 18 pickets. The battle was on.
Approximately 200 men of Lt. Col. John U. Green’s 12th Tennessee cavalry arrived next. (Co. G was composed entirely of Tiptonians, while other men from our county were in other companies.) Stewart’s 14th Tennessee arrived next.
The Federals in and around Collierville at 10 a.m. numbered about 300 men: a company of the 6th Illinois Cavalry and about 240 men in six companies of the 66th Indiana, under Col. DeWitt C. Anthony.
Richardson, fearing the firing on the pickets had alerted the Union garrison, altered his original plan. He directed Neely to advance the three Tennessee regiments and occupy the hill west of Brown’s house (immediately in front of the Union fortifications) and hold it until the artillery could arrive there. Richardson sent Neely’s, Green’s and Stewart’s Tennesseans forward:
“I (Neely) moved at double quick by the right flank up the Holly Springs road about a mile, and then filing to the left, charged up the hill spoken of and drew up in line of battle in full view of the depot buildings and fortifications. A train of cars loaded with troops was just halting at the fort as we came in view. After the batteries had come up with other troops I was ordered farther to the left…to the left of the depot buildings and not far from the rear of the railroad train.”
The Federal troops tumbling out of the train at 11 a.m. were Gen. Wm. T. Sherman, his staff, and the 1st battalion, 13th U. S. infantry regulars. Sherman, Col. Anthony and the cavalry company could muster nearly 600 soldiers to defend the town against the approximately 2,000 Rebels of Chalmers and Richardson’s Confederates. By this time, all telegraph lines near Collierville were cut by the southerners.
When Col. Richardson joined Neely, he was disappointed to find that his subordinate had taken possession of a ridge east of Collierville rather than the hill south of town.
A belt of woods with Federal sharpshooters lay between the butternut cavalry and the town. Lt. Col. John U. Green of Covington, commanding the 12th Tennessee, wrote:
“When within sight of the depot, we formed a line of battle on the right of the road leading from Collierville to Carter’s bridge. We remained in that position until the flag of truce, which was sent in demanding the surrender of the fort, returned.”
Gen. Chalmers ordered his Adjutant, Capt. W. A. Goodman, to ride forward and demand the surrender of the garrison. The Confederates ceased firing during the parlay. Union Col. Anthony rode out to meet Capt. Goodman. On his way, Capt. Smith of the 13th U. S. Infantry told Anthony to “advise the Rebel emissary to go to hell.” Anthony asked Goodman for a few minutes to consult with some of his officers. Anthony spoke with one of Sherman’s staff officers. He, in turn, consulted with Sherman. After a brief pause, Anthony was ordered to give Sherman’s message to the Confederate captain: “Give my compliments to Gen. Chalmers, and tell him that the government pays me to fight, not surrender.”
To be continued next week.