BURROUGHS' BATTERY,Tennessee Light Artillery,CSA

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The Rhett Artillery 1861-1865

"My time is swiftly rolling on
When I must faint and die;
My body to the dust return
And there forgotten lie..."
Fom an Appalachian folk tune




Captain William H. Burroughs'



Tennessee Light Artillery


"Rhett Artillery"

{Serving in the Army of the Dept. of Western Virginia and the Army of Tennessee}

Burroughs' Battery Tennessee Light Artillery was organized in Knoxville on May 28, 1861 as Company C, 4th Tennessee Infantry (Provisional Army). Captain William H Burroughs, who was in Knoxville assisting in drilling the new recruits, was assigned to command this company sometime in June, 1861. The battery was unable to procure field artillery pieces, and continued as part of the 4th Tennessee. In October, the battery was ordered to Cumberland Gap and the unit assumed control of the artillery there. The company remained there, detached from its parent unit until January 21, 1862. At that time the Confederate Secretary of War detached the 72 members of the battery from the 4th Tennessee Infantry and created an independent company. Colonel James E. Rains was commanding the post during this period. Skirmishes occurred on March 22, and April 9, 1862.

The battery was assigned to Brigadier General Carter Littlepage Stevenson's Brigade on May 31, 1862. Stevenson, however, was promoted to division command 10 days later. Colonel Thomas H. Taylor assumed command of the brigade. Burroughs' battery remained at Cumberland Gap until it was abandonded to the Federals on June 18. The Rhett Artillery moved to Cedar Ford. Taylor's brigade engaged the Federals at Tazewell in July, 1862, but the artillery battery did not participate. Burroughs and his men did participate in the siege of Cumberland Gap from August 10 to September 21, 1862. At this time, General E. Kirby Smith was preparing a multi-faceted invasion of Kentucky, and it was important to keep the Federals forward post at Cumberland Gap bottled up. General George Washington Morgan, Federal garrison commander at Cumberland Gap, abandoned that position on September 21. Burroughs' battery was moved to Lenoir, Tennessee, but was back at Cumberland Gap by December, reassigned to Brigadier General Archibald Gracie's Brigade.

After spending the winter at Cumberland Gap, Burroughs' battery was reassigned to Brigadier General Alfred E. Jackson's Brigade on April 5, 1863. The company moved to Zollicoffer. In June a section under Lieutenant Graham was assigned to Carter's Depot. Burroughs' battery remained at Zollicoffer until September, 1863, when the Confederates were pushed out of east Tennessee by Ambrose Burnsides' Federals. The Confederates regrouped in southwest Virginia under the overall command of Major General Samuel Jones. Reinforcements from eastern Virginia enabled the Southerners to make a concerted effort to retake the region.

Burroughs' battery fought at Livingston's Depot, September 8 and at Limestone Station on September 9 as part of Alfred Jackson's Cavalry Brigade. On the 9th, the participated in the capture of a Federal blockhouse and 255 prisoners. Burroughs' battery fought at Rheatown on September 11 and at Carter's Station on the 20th. On October 10 the battery, joining with Brigadier General John Stuart Williams' 2000-man-strong cavalry command, fought at Blue Springs in Greene County. At this battle, Burroughs' Battery was the only artillery the Confederate force had on the field. The following day the battery was engaged at Henderson Mills, near Rheatown, and on the 14th fought for five or six hours at Blountville with Brigadier General William Edmondson "Grumble" Jones's command. On October 28, the battery was ordered to report to Saltville and Major General Jones for reassignment.

Burroughs' battery was assigned to Lieutenant Colonel John Floyd King's Artillery Battalion on November 30. The unit listed 78 men on the roll. In December, the battery had been detached from King's battalion and was back at Saltville with McClung's battery. Morale apparently sank, and by February it was only reporting 38 officers and men present for duty.

In May, 1864, General John Hunt Morgan led most of the forces out of southwest Virginia on a raid deep into Kentucky. Burroughs' battery, along with the rest of Morgan's artillery,  remained in the Old Dominion, and the battery was moved to the Lead Mines in Wythe County by June 9. Many of the absentees returned and by August it was reporting a strength of three officers and 74 men present for duty to man four rifled guns.

Federal General Stephen Burbridge made a major effort to destroy the salt works at Saltville in early October 1864. It was questionable whether or not the Confederates would be able to muster enough forces in time to thwart the attempt, but they did. Major General John Cabell Breckinridge returned to southwest Virginia from the Shenandoah Valley, and determined that the opportunity was right for the Confederates to raid into east Tennessee. Major R. C. M. Page was assigned to command the artillery in the department, and Burroughs' battery became part of his battalion.

Major Richard C. M. Page, a 23-year-old native of Albemarle County, Virginia, reported to General Breckinridge on October 7 at Wytheville. Breckinridge realized that his artillery needed help, and he had asked for an efficient officer to organize his cannoneers. Page was informed that McClung's Battery and the remnants of Lynch's(Tenneaaee) and Byrne's(Kentucky) batteries were camped with Vaughn's Brigade in Washington County, not far from Saltville. Some cannoneers, Captain John W. Barr's and Captain William King's Virginia Batteries, were at Saltville proper; one battery, Burroughs' Tennessee Artillery, was near Max Meadows and the lead mines in Wythe County; and still another( Douthat's) at Wytheville. Douthat's Battery would be returned to the Shenandoah Valley on the 22nd of October. King's Battery, The Saltville Artillery, was ordered to join the Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg.

Page inspected Burroughs' Battery on October 12 at Max Meadows, and Douthat's Botetourt Virginia Artillery on October 14 at Wytheville. Both of these batteries were materially better off than those nearer Saltville.

On October 14 Page recapped the artillery assets of the department. They had:

12-pounder howitzers 14
6-pounder howitzers 5
Confederate States 3-inch rifles 7
United States 10-pounder Parrotts 3

Total guns 29

Caissons 11
Battery forge 1
Serviceable wagons 8
Horses and Mules 177
Total effective officers and men 549

Page spent the next three weeks training his cannoneers and procuring or repairing equipment for them. On October 28 he heard that McClung's Battery, operating with Vaughn's cavalry in east Tennessee, had been captured, but some of the men had escaped. On this date he also informed Breckinridge that he had condemned several guns as worthless; with the capture of McClung's guns and the condemnations, the department only had 17 guns remaining.

Apparently Major Page succeeded in his task to make Breckinridge’s artillery efficient because it was remarked by one of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s inspectors that it was “the best battalion of artillery ever seen in that part of the world.”

Page's Battalion

Burroughs' [Tennessee] Battery

Lynch's [Tennessee] Battery

McClung's [Tennessee] Battery

Byrnes' [Kentucky & Mississippi] Battery

Barr's [Virginia] Battery

Douthat's [Virginia] Battery

King's [Virginia] Battery

Sawyer's [Virginia] Battery


A November 10, table of organization for the Department of Western Virginia and East Tennessee shows Barr's Battery still assigned there as part of Richard C. M. Page's artillery battalion. The other batteries in the battalion were Burroughs' Tennessee Battery commanded by Captain William H. Burroughs; and Lynch's Tennessee Battery under the leadership of Captain J. Peyton Lynch. ( Douthat's Virginia Battery had been ordered back to Early's command in The Valley). Page's battalion's strength was reported as 12 officers and 202 men present for duty. By Confederate accounting, 367 men were assigned in the battalion, but 87 were prisoners of war.

On the 12th Breckinridge engaged the enemy near Bull's Gap in Hawkins County, Tennessee. The first day's fighting did not go well for the Confederates, who were compelled to fall back. On November 13 the battle resumed about 4 a.m. with more success for the Southerners. The Confederates captured all of the Federal guns--six Parrotts--as well as wagons, ambulances, and a large quantity of small arms. Lynch's Battery was given two of the captured guns and Burroughs' Battery was given the other four to replace those they had lost in October. On November 16, the artillery was ordered back to Wytheville.

Douthat's Battery would return in mid-December but its stay would be short.

There was little further fighting this winter in southwest Virginia. The Federals had finally managed to destroy the saltworks and other important facilities in the Stoneman raid in December. Burroughs' battery fought at Marion in Smyth County on December 17-18. It was almost a complete rout of the Southerners.

After the December 21st battle at Saltville, Union artillerists, the 5th Kentucky Battery, spiked their guns when they retreated. They did not want to be encumbered with the guns on what would turn out to be a very difficult journey back to Kentucky. These guns, 4 U.S. 3-inch Ordinance Rifles, were recovered by Page's artillerists and refurbished to serviceable condition. They remained in service with Page's Battalion for the duration.

In late December, 1864 the Virginia batteries in the battalion were ordered to Richmond. Barr’s Battery departed to join Lee. Douthat’s Battery would soon follow. One section of Barr's Battery went to North Carolina with the Thomas Legion when it returned from the Shenandoah Valley.

On January 10, 1865, Page returned to Wytheville from a journey to Richmond to procure equipment. At that time, Page completely reorganized his artillerists.

McClung's and Sawyer's batteries were merged with Lynch's and given the four captured and reconditioned United States 3-inch rifles. Burroughs' Battery consisted of two 3-inch navy Parrotts and two iron 6-pounders. King's battery was armed with three brass 12-pounders and one Richmond 3-inch rifle. Douthat's Botetourt Artillery consisted of four 12-pounder howitzers with caissons. The total number of guns in the department was now 16, only one less than before Stoneman's raid. Four of the number were with Douthat's Battery, which recently returned from duty in northern Virginia. In early 1865 changes were made in the Confederate high command to better deal with the steadily declining military situation. In January Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge was appointed Secretary of War. His division was turned over to Brig. Gen. John Echols.

In February General Robert E. Lee was made General -in -Chief of all Confederate military forces. This act made all CSA units, including the Army of Tennessee, accountable to Lee’s headquarters.

All CSA units in departments within Virginia had always been essentially part of the Army of Northern Virginia. Now the commanders of these units became answerable directly to General Lee thereby alleviating previous inter-departmental jealousies and differences.

On the last day of February, 1865 Douthat’s Battery departed the battalion to comply with an order to join the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia in the trenches.

On April 2, 1865 Echols was ordered to bring his division to Lynchburg to join the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia in its retreat from the Richmond/Petersburg line. After this, what was left of the army would turn south and join Gen. Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina. Echols complied and was at Christiansburg, Virginia when he learned of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9.

Echols, realizing further movement was futile, disbanded his command. All the batteries in Page’s Battalion disbanded and went home except for Burroughs’ Battery. Captain Burroughs and 25 of his men headed south to link up with Johnston’s forces. Ironically, they arrived just in time to surrender with the Army of Tennessee on April 26, 1865 at Durham Station, North Carolina! They were paroled at Greensboro on May 4, 1865.


Pvt. Henry MacSpencer, a member of the original Burroughs Battery, in his later years.


MacSpencer's grave marker, located in Carroll County, Virginia.

My Thanks to Jeff Weaver. Without his able assistance and knowledge this short history of the Rhett Artillery would not have been possible.