MEMORIES OF THE 23RD ALABAMA REGIMENT
(By Henry J. Beasley)
After a lapse of 44 years it is difficult to remember names' and dates, but I will try and write something of my company and regiment. I was in the 23rd Ala., Co. H. We went out in the autumn of 1861; we were mustered into service at Montgomery about the 16th of November. F. K. Beck was our colonel. From there we went to Dog River near Mobile and were there for a while. From there we went up in Tennessee and Kentucky. We were under General Bragg in the Kentucky march. It was a hard march, with but little to eat--parched and raw corn for several days--but we had a large quantity of bacon stored at camp. When we retreated it was fired and burned up. I saw the light of it for several miles, but we managed to get several pieces; so we had meat for several days. Some of the boys threw theirs away; and they were so worn out and footsore they could hardly march empty handed. Our Regiment did not do any fighting of note on this trip through Kentucky. We came through the gap of the Cumberland Mountains in the fall of 62 and wintered in portions of Tennessee and Mississippi. In the early spring of 63 we went to Vicksburg. While there we went for a day's march up the Mississippi River and got lost in the swamps. We were lost three days and nights and it rained the whole time we were there. We had nothing to eat while in the swamp. Our good Colonel Beck offered us his horse if we would eat him. We declined his generous offer and told him we would share the pangs of hunger with him; that we were true soldiers and wherever he went and suffered the 23rd Regiment never flinched from duty when in the face of danger or suffering. We all loved our officers, especially Colonel Beck.
On the day that we got out of the swamps the sun rose clear and bright. We knew Vicksburg was east of us so we marched in that direction. A short while after we started we came in sight of a house. I said to Ed Mock, "Here is where we can get something to eat." So we stopped and they began preparing something immediately. But Ed became impatient and would not stay, so I was left to enjoy my feast alone. I was not alone either for there were two pretty girls, there, and this hungry "Reb" enjoyed himself immensely, and I thought of my comrade Ed Mock. I remained with those good people for hours and rejoined my command at Vicksburg about 11 o'clock that night and the boys had my rations drawed and cooked, so I happened to good luck at last.
We went next to Port Gibson; there we were engaged in a hard battle. The boys fought well, but we had to fall back. Lost several, killed and wounded and some captured. E. W. Pettus of the l0th Ala., was captured, but escaped from the enemy by swimming.
The next battle was at Big Black under General Pemberton. There was some desperate fighting done there. The artillery roared all day long. The loss of life was terrible. We fell back to the trenches at Vicksburg where we remained for 40 days.
The closest place I was in was while I was on picket duty all alone when about four Yanks centered their fire on me, but I stood my ground and had the satisfaction of seeing the litter bearers carry off several of them. We had a hard time in the siege of Vicksburg. We held them in check until we had nothing to eat and were in a famished condition. We surrendered on July 4, 1863. The Yankees were very kind to us; they gave us hungry "Rebs" plenty of rations, and we all came home on parole. After spending some days at home, we went to Demopolis in parole camps, and after the exchange we went to Tennessee. The next battle was on top of Lookout Mountain. This was a peculiar battle, as er fought with rocks part of the time by rolling them down the mountain side on the yanks. The next engagement was at Missionary Ridge. This was a bloody battle and the yanks outdone the "Rebs." At this time the 23rd Ala. Regiment was in E. W. Pettus' brigade to the surrender; we were in Stevenson's division. If I am not mistaken, our regiment went into quarters at Dalton Ga.; then we were in the tights from Dalton to Atlanta for nearly 100 days. In a charge near Marietta' one of my brothers was killed, and at Rasaca we lost our colonel, F. K. Beck. My captain, B. L. Selman, was wounded at this time, and Lieutenant John McDonnell, our second Lieutenant took charge of our company. He was a brave and true soldier. I would be glad to tell of all the brave deeds of our soldiers in Georgia, but I have not time.
At New Hope Church we had a bloody battle, at which I was slightly wounded in the leg, but I did not stop fighting. All through northern Georgia I saw plenty of Sherman’s monuments in shape of lone chimneys and blackened spots where he had burned the houses. I saw women and children left without shelter or anything to eat and no prospect for the future. On our retreat we could tell the way Sherman's march was going by the smoke of the burning buildings. He burned everything--houses, barns, fences, etc. In the two days fight at Atlanta there was some hard fighting. The Yankees fought well. I think they had about fifteen pieces of artillery right in front of the 23rd Ala. Regiment and the fiendish screams of the shells was terrible.
About this time Johnson was relieved of his command from the Tennessee army and Hood placed in command. We all had sad faces the day Johnson left us. We hated to give up our leader. The boys said goodbye Old Joe, we all love you. I think Davis made a great mistake when he relieved Johnson from the Tennessee army and placed Hood in command. But the boys never flinched from duty when ordered by Hood. When he said charge the boys would raid the Rebel yell and charge even if it was against superior numbers. I will relate a funny incident which happened among that picket fight. As we fell back to line of battle we had to go through an old field. We were trotting along at a lively pace. The many balls were going "zip" "zip" around us when one hit one of my company; he hollowed Henry I'm killed! killed! and he said if I'm not killed I am going to get away from this place. He outran me and beat me back to the line of battle.
After we left Atlanta on our march back into Tennessee we had a spat or two with the Yankees. E. W. Pettus brigade had to cross a creek. We had to throw pontoon bridges across to get over and then we had to charge the yanks so we could cross. This incident was in our march to Franklin, Tennessee.
The 23rd Ala. was not in the battle at Franklin, but was held in reserve and on the night of the fight we slept on our arms.
Early next morning we marched through the battlefields and here a terrible sight met our eyes.
The dead was strewn everywhere and just to the right of the locust orchard, it seemed to me, was the hardest part of the fight, the dead being in heaps.
We marched right on toward Nashville.
The 23rd Ala. was nearly all the fighting around Nashville.
Here at Nashville was the first time we had encountered Negro troops, two lines of Negro troops charging on our lines.
If you ever saw Rebs shoot, we shot them.
Our fire was too hot for them and they fell back.
Some of our boys jumped over the breastwork and captured two of their flags.
In this fight our Lieutenant Colonel was wounded by a piece of shell.
After we fell back from Nashville, we went up into North Carolina.
Our boys were in no condition to fight; they were worn out, hungry, footsore and nearly naked, and from now we did not do any fighting of any interest.
Here I will give a little of my Hospital experiences with the sick in Tennessee.
In Powell’s Valley near Clinton our boys were nearly all killed. I was detailed to take the sick to Knoxville and we put them on the boat at Clinton that came up the Clinch River. We were a day and night in getting into the Tennessee and to Knoxville.
After I got the boys in the Hospital that night one of them died.
I dressed him and saw him buried, and the next morning I said to myself I was not the boy to stay in the Hospital, so I slipped out and went to my command.
Some of the boys ask why I did not stay that I would have been out of the range of bullets.
I said I was no hospital rat, that the front was where I wanted to be.
In these memories I can state all the brave deeds the boys of the 23rd Ala. accomplished in their fourth years service.
They were as true as any Regiment that went to that cruel war.
I am proud to say that I am an old Confederate Veteran.
After the war, we came home and found everything in a ruined condition.
It seemed that everything was gone but honor.
We went to work with the determination to build up all our country and the result has been marvelous.
The old boys are now rapidly passing away and in a few more years there will be no more.
At the State Reunion at Montgomery in 1907, I was going along looking into the faces of the old boys seeing if I could recognize any of them when I noticed an old man looking about on the crowd like myself.
I took him by the hand and ask (what Regiment)?
He replied 23rd Ala. Company H.
And I said "Bill Siggars." He said, "Henry Beasley" and then everything was forgotten in our Happiness.
I had not met him since the surrender. He was eighty-two.
At the Birmingham Reunion in 1908 I met our drummer boy who I had not seen since the surrender.
We sat down on the grass at the Court House and chatted a long time about our war experiences.
Since the war it has been a great pleasure to me to meet our old comrades. They seem like brothers. I know the hardships they endured for the lost cause.
Time will fail me to tell of all the courage and fortitude of the private soldiers who endured the cold, the hunger, and the strife following their leaders to the end.
Each year our ranks grow thinner,
Veterans of 61 to 65;
Soon life's sun will sink forever
On those wearers of the gray.
One by one they answer roll call,
One by one they pass away;
Pass beyond this vale of tears,
The noble wearers of the gray.
Supplied by: James H. Wood
12601 Long Cove Drive
Charoltte, NC 28277-4029