Saturday, July 17, 2010

Minstrels of Death The Orphan Brigade's Suicidal charge at Murfreesboro as recorded by Capt. Dan Turney

Introduction by Sam Flora


Sgt. Dan Turney in the uniform of the Hamilton Guards, Co. G, 2nd Kentucky Infantry commanded by Capt. Edward Spears. This picture may have been taken at Camp Morton after his capture at Ft. Donelson.

Daniel E. Turney was born on his parent’s home in Bourbon County, Kentucky on May 6, 1837. After growing up on the family farm, Turney embraced the cause of Southern independence in 1861. On July 22, 1861 he left Paris with nine friends, waving a new Confederate flag out the window of his railroad car over the heads of admiring Southern sympathizers and scowling Unionists. His destination was Camp Boone near Clarksville, Tennessee where like-minded Kentuckians were forming regiments to fight for the Confederacy.

Only July 24, Turney was sworn into the Confederate Army as a private in the Second Kentucky Infantry. The Second was the first regiment formed of the First Kentucky Brigade, later to known as the “Orphan Brigade”. Turney was attached to Company G, the Hamilton Guards, men recruited mainly from his home county. On August 10, 1861 Turney was elected second sergeant of the company.

The brigade went north to Bowling Green, Kentucky on September 18, 1861 to help defend the central part of the Confederate defense line in Kentucky. The Second Kentucky was sent to Fort Donelson, Tennessee to reinforce that vital link in the Confederacy’s defense of middle Tennessee. Here Turney saw his first combat as his regiment distinguished itself in its baptism of fire. On February 16 Turney became a prisoner of war when the fort was surrendered. Sent north to Indianapolis, Indiana, he would spend the next six months at Camp Morton until the regiment was exchanged in August 1862.

Rejoining the brigade at Knoxville on October 12, the Kentuckians were too late to take part in the Kentucky Campaign. On December 7th the Second was engaged in the victory at Hartsville, Tennessee under the command of John Hunt Morgan.

The last week of 1862 found Turney and his comrades near Murfreesboro as part of General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Here they awaited the Federal army advancing from Nashville.

During most of his service Daniel Turney kept a diary of his experiences. The following is his account of the Battle of Stones River.

Sgt. Turney does not record that he was elected to the Confederate Roll of Honor for gallantry in the charge of January 2, 1863. He was promoted to second lieutenant of the company on February 27, 1863. He left Company G, when he was promoted to first lieutenant of Company I on October 5, 1863. He was later promoted to captain of that company.

Turney went on to fight with the Second Kentucky at Jackson, Chickamauga, Rocky Face Gap, Resaca, Dallas, Peachtree Creek, Intrenchment Creek, Utoy Creek and Jonesboro where he was slightly wounded and captured but exchanged shortly afterward in Georgia. He commanded Company I through all the mounted engagements of the brigade and was present at the brigade’s surrender at Washington, Georgia on May 6, 1865.

Capt. Turney returned to his home in Kentucky and opened a dry goods business in Paris. He married Mollie Mitchell in 1867 and they had six children. In 1869 he went into the livery and stock trading business. He later owned and operated “The Arlington”, a summer resort at Blue Licks, Kentucky.

Turney was an active member of the Orphan Brigade Association and the Confederate Veteran Association of Kentucky.

Daniel E. Turney died on March 18, 1899 at the age of sixty-two. A large crowd followed his remains to his resting place in the Paris Cemetery. The burial service of the Confederate Veteran Association was conducted at his graveside.

On the occasion of his death his old comrades and neighbors remembered him as “an honorable and upright citizen, who was generous and kind to everyone. He was always congenial, yet bold, free and outspoken on all subjects. The brave and independent spirit he showed in the war was evidenced in his successful business life. He was a popular man; few men in Bourbon had more genuine friends than he. His standard of manhood was the old time Kentucky one that measured a man by his quality and not his wealth or station.”


Firing was heard in the direction of Nashville 26th Dec./.62, also the 27 th – it now became evident that the Federal Army was advancing to attack us & that a general engagement was no longer doubtful.

On the morning of (the) 28th our Division was moved to the front. We saw no enemy that day but he made his appearance on the 29th but the day was spent in skirmishing & artillery fighting. On the 30(th) matters grew still warmer – the Artillery fighting increased, skirmishing continued – our position was in range of one of the enemy’s batteries and shell burst around us sufficient to intimidate those who had not already more than once faced the foe and experienced the horrors of a battle – in truth it was amusing to see many of our boys scampering out of range of their shot, sheltering behind trees &c. Our Comp’y was in front as skirmishers all night the 30th – it was one of the coldest nights I ever experienced, we were not allowed to have fire, I was without a blanket – the suffering of that night I cannot describe, nor can your imaginations conceive it, none can know it save those who experienced it.

No enemy made his appearance during the night – all was quiet except the frozen wind.

Dec. 31st 1862 –

The proceedings of this day, the horrible scenes enacted on the grounds about Murfreesboro, will be recorded in American History, in the history of this, the greatest of all civil wars. To use a Soldiers’ expression, “the Bell” was opened about daylight, we moving out and attacking the enemy. The artillery fighting was very heavy but the musketry firing surpassed anything I had ever witnessed – On our side were engaged the divisions of McCown, Cleborn, Cheatam & Withers, under Gen’l Bragg as commander in chief, and Gen’ls Hardee & Polk as commanders of corps, Hardee on the right, Polk on the left.

In the evening Gen’l Breckinridge was ordered out on the left with his Division, (except the 1st Brigade,) made three charges driving the enemy to an impregnable position. Night closed in, the darkness alone stopping the carnage of the day and the wholesale slaughter of man.

The days’ work ended amounted as near as I can certify as follows; - we drove the enemy about five miles, captured 4000 prisoners, among them several Generals; 22 pieces Artillery; several thousand small arms; their killed and wounded was very great and supposed several times our own; We also destroyed several hundred wagons, stores, &c. The first Ky. Brigade, commanded by Gen’l. R. W. Hanson, was not in the engagement being left to support some batteries and hold a certain piece of ground, - one of the most responsible positions of the whole field – from this position we could look upon the opposing hosts as they neared each other and poured into each others’ columns the missiles of death – all stand in breathless anxiety – the booms bursting around us in our exposed position are unheeded – every moment expected to decide the fate of the day; now a yell goes up from the boys of freedom; the charge with a desperation bordering on madness; our would-be subjugators give way, they fly in wildest confusion before our rapidly advancing columns; the shouts of our brave boys go up louder and clearer than before and many a one of the retreating foe are made to bite the dust – a just fate.

Thursday, Jan. 1st 1863

The day was spent in skirmishing, artillery firing & feeling of the enemy’s position along the whole line, clearing the fields of the trophies of yesterday’s victory & burying the dead.

Jan 2d

Besides skirmishing & throwing a few shell now and then all was quiet until about 3 1/2pm when Gen'l Breckinridge moved his division

out to attack the enemy who had crossed the river on our right and taken a strong position in a woods. Little was known of the nature of the ground the enemy occupied & we were in total ignorance of his strength or position. The General commanding was certainly much to blame for not being perfectly familiar with the battle ground for he had ample time to examine it before the fight began.

Gen’l Hanson’s Ky Brigade (except 9th Ky. Reg. Which was left to support Cobb’s Battery) was the left wing of the front line, a Tenn. Brigade the right wing – two other Brigades formed the second line of battle.

Our orders were to move upon the woods occupied by the enemy at a double-quick and to rush upon them at a charge bayonet – the orders were strictly obeyed but there not being room for the line to maneuver between the bends of the river some confusion arose from being crowded en masse but nothing daunted, all went in with a yell and drove the enemy before them in the wildest confusion – the slaughter was great, many being left dead & wounded on the field and many killed in the fight, several hundred are taken prisoners, some cross the river and many shelter themselves under he cliffs. The rout was complete and our loss thus far was trifling. The orders were to halt at the edge of the woods beyond the range of the enemy’s grape and canister but the race was too exciting and our boys too impetuous, we could not hold, must still pursue; as well might you ask the winged lightnings to quit their celestial course or the planetary worlds to change their orbits as to bid the Southern patriot to withdraw from the slaughter of the destroyer of his peace, despoiler of his land and desecrater of his home. No; revenge was in his heart & vengeance was in his eye and he sped recklessly on regardless of his own safety’s fate.

Having advanced as far as possible for the River which left us in the form of a “V” we halted when the enemy opened several masked batteries upon us, mounting near 100 guns, at a distance of about 200 yds, and they advanced several divisions of infantry which poured upon us an enfilade fire. With the river in front we could not advance to storm their batteries nor could we reach them with our small arms from the low position we occupied; we were being flanked on our right, there was no alternative but to fall back but there was a general rally as soon as we were beyond the reach of their grape and canister when the enemy were checked by Breckinridge’s Division.

We accomplished the object of our battle – drove the enemy across the River but were unable to hold the ground taken from him owing to his strong commanding position.

There never was a more gallant charge than that of this evening – the only possible fault was the too great impetuosity of the troops which cost many a brave life.

After the fight we held the same position as previous to it. We lost three pieces of Artillery and 1700 men in killed, wounded and missing. Loss of the enemy supposed equal, if not greater than ours, with several hundred prisoners.

After successfully checking the enemy our (Hanson’s) Brigade was moved back to our former position on “the Hill”. We spent a most uncomfortable night being visited by a cold rain to which we were horribly exposed.

Saturday – Rained almost incessantly all day & we had no shelter to protect us from the falling torrents and freezing winds.

About 8 p.m. the enemy made a charge upon a portion of our line – and heavy firing continued for some time. From our position we could witness the action by the light of the discharged pieces. I have no words To describe the grandeur of the scenes – it beggars description. From each side went up an almost solid flame of living fire and the cannons were belching forth their deadly missiles, red with burning rage; and the bacchanalian yells of the contending forces were given freely to the breeze. The heavens were lighted up by the minstrels of death and night rendered hideous by their awful sounds. ‘Twas a grand, a sublime but a horrible sight – there was eloquence even in the bleak darkness which followed when we were left awhile to our meditations.

When the engagement begun we were ordered into our pits which were several inches in water and we were compelled to remain there until all was over; almost unconscious of our own situation so deep was the interest we took in the engagement progressing on our left.

Sunday – Were called into line at 1 O’c A.M. & immediately commenced a retreat, our Brigade being in rear. Rained until daylight. We made a slow retreat as far as Alizon where we arrived Jan. 7./ 63. and remained until 9th when we moved back to Tullahoma, where Hardee’s corps was camped while Polk’s was at Shelbyville.

Our suffering upon this retreat was very great. It was in midst of winter and I had no blanket. During the day I would drag wearily along & when night came I would lay me down with no bed but the wet, cold ground; no covering but the bleak, frozen clouds; the chilling winter winds & an icy atmosphere as constant companions and an unappeased appetite a faithful fried, but tired and exhausted I would sleep and sleeping dream of home and all its comforts, - perhaps never more to be enjoyed by me, - of flaming fires – just beyond my reach – of sumptuous feasts – but not set for me – ‘Twas only a dream.

Originally published in the Winter, 2005 The Lost Cause

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