Forty-Third Alabama Infantry Regiment SHORT HISTORY OF 43RD ALABAMA INFANTRY
The 43rd Alabama Infantry Regiment

A Short History

January 1861 to August 1863

Alabama seceded from the Union in January 1861 and immediately began raising troops for the Confederacy. The war got off to a rather slow start, but a year after secession it was apparent that still more soldiers would be needed to defend against several imminent Union invasions.

The 43rd Alabama Infantry Regiment was raised by a New Yorker, Archibald Gracie.  Gracie graduated from West Point in 1854 and served in the west two years before resigning his commission to join his father's business in Mobile.  At the time of Alabama’s secession, Gracie was the captain of Mobile’s Light Infantry Company.  When the war got under way, that company became part of the 3rd Alabama Regiment. After brief service with the 3rd Alabama, Gracie was  appointed major of the 11th Alabama, with which he served in Virginia during 1861.  In February 1862 Gracie was authorized to return to Alabama to raise a new regiment.  Gracie took back with him two other officers of the 11th Alabama: Captain Young Moody (Marengo County) and Assistant Surgeon Matthew Arnold Jolly (Greene County).

Ten companies of men were enlisted in the spring of 1862 from Greene, Jefferson, Marengo, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, and Walker counties. The 43rd was officially established in May at Mobile. Gracie was appointed its colonel. Young Moody was appointed the regiment’s lieutenant colonel. Company C of the 43rd was recruited in Greene County.  Its first captain was John J. Jolly, the younger brother of the surgeon.

In July 1862 the 43rd Alabama was sent to East Tennessee to help resist an expected attack from Kentucky. The Confederate Department of East Tennessee, commanded by Major General Kirby Smith, was protecting the Cumberland Gap and the railroad running from Bristol, Virginia through Knoxville to Chattanooga. A larger Confederate force to the west was General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Mississippi. In September 1862, Smith and Bragg invaded Kentucky with the intention of raising volunteers and drawing the Federal forces away from Nashville. To the men of the 43rd, the Kentucky campaign meant long, arduous marches to and from Kentucky.  However, the regiment was not involved in either of the campaign’s two battles  (Richmond and Perryville).  After returning from Kentucky at the end of October, the 43rd remained on "picket duty" in East Tennessee until the following June.  In late June, most of the troops in East Tennessee were quickly moved to Tullahoma to reinforce General Bragg.  But after a couple of weeks they returned to East Tennessee.

August 1863 to Chickamauga

In the summer of 1863 Federal General Rosecrans began a campaign to capture Chattanooga, an important Southern rail junction on the direct route to Atlanta. General Bragg’s army (now the Army of Tennessee) was at Tullahoma.  Rosecrans advanced from Murfreesboro towards Bragg’s army at Tullahoma. Bragg could not ascertain the movements of Rosecrans’ three approaching columns, and he decided to retreat back to Chattanooga.  Rosecrans followed.  Meanwhile, in Kentucky, General Burnside’s corps was advancing towards Cumberland Gap and Knoxville.

Bragg was outfoxed again. Expecting Rosecrans’ attack on Chattanooga to come from the north, he learned too late that most of Rosecrans’ army had crossed the Tennessee River to the southwest and was threatening his army’s rear and the supply lines to Atlanta.  On September 7 Bragg evacuated Chattanooga, spreading false stories that his demoralized army was fleeing to Atlanta. For the next ten days the two armies groped through the ridges and passes south of Chattanooga trying to locate each other. Finally, on September 19, the two armies confronted each other along Chickamauga Creek.

Joining Bragg near Chickamauga were the troops of East Tennessee, which had fallen back before the advancing Burnside.  The 43rd Alabama was now commanded by Colonel Young Moody, since Archibald Gracie had been promoted to brigadier general.  John Jolly had been promoted to lieutenant colonel. Gracie’s brigade, in addition to the 43rd Alabama, included the 63rd Tennessee and the First, Second, Third and Fourth Alabama Infantry Battalions.

During the first day’s fighting at Chickamauga, the 43rd was on Bragg’s far left flank and not involved. During the night of the 19thth-20th, Lieutenant General James Longstreet arrived from Virginia and was designated commander of Bragg’s left wing.  Early on the 20th, Longstreet was up greeting his own two divisions that had preceded him to Georgia, meeting his new "western" subordinates, viewing the enemy positions, and planning an attack.  He arranged a column of brigades that amounted to a force stronger than in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg.

At 9:30 a. m. the day’s fighting again began on the Confederate right.   About 11:00 a. m. Longstreet’s attack got underway.  Thanks partly to a Federal mistake that left a wide gap in the Union line, Longstreet’s attack was extremely successful.  Soon an entire Federal corps, and General Rosecrans himself, were fleeing back to Chattanooga.  By mid-afternoon, Longstreet turned his attack north, but met very stubborn resistance from the forces of Major General Thomas, the senior Union officer still on the field.  Confederate attacks stalled at a trio of steep, wooded hills called Horseshoe Ridge.  About 5:00 p. m., Longstreet ordered into action his only uncommitted brigades, Gracie’s and Kelly’s.  Gracie’s Brigade formed line of battle facing the eastern-most hill of Horseshoe Ridge.  Most of the hill was wooded, but the northeastern slope was a corn field. The 43rd was initially on the left flank of the brigade line, but found itself overlapping another brigade.  Gracie moved the 43rd around to the right to fill a gap left by the 63rd Tennessee, which had drifted too far to the right.  The 43rd, along with the other units, had to attack uphill against barricaded Federal.  The 43rd was not deterred.  Led by its officers, it continued up the rise under heavy fire.  When about 40 yards from the Federal line, the regiment fired its first volley, and the for an hour stood and bravely traded volleys with the enemy, eventually driving them back from the crest.  With the Federals at the eastern end of the ridge pinned down by Gracie and Kelly, Trigg’s Brigade (the third brigade in Preston’s Division) slipped up a ravine to Kelly’s left and circled behind the Union line and captured the better part of three regiemnts. By the time the hilltop was secured, the men of the 43rd were out of cartridges. When relieved by a Florida regiment from Trigg’s Brigade, they withdrew a short distance to replenish their ammunition. The few remaining Federal forces withdrew in the gathering darkness and left the field to the Confederates.

Observers of the battle noted the spirited and professional manner of Gracie’s troops in the attack, especially remarkable as it was their first.  The casualties reflected the temper of the battle.  Colonel Moody, in his after-battle report, noted that LtCol Jolly and six company commanders were killed or severely wounded early in the attack.   In all, the 43rd suffered 16 killed and 83 wounded in less than two hours fighting.

Chain of Command at Chickamauga, September 20, 1863:
Army of Tennessee  (General Braxton Bragg)
Left Wing  (Lt. General James Longstreet)
Buckner’s Corps  (Maj. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner)
Preston’s Division  (Brig. Gen. William Preston)
Gracie’s Brigade  (Brig. Gen. Archibald Gracie)
43rd Alabama Infantry Regiment (Col. Young Moody)

October 1863 to May 1864

Shortly after the battle at Chickamauga, the Confederates occupied the high ground overlooking the Federal position in Chattanooga.  The 43rd Alabama was stationed on Missionary Ridge with Buckner's division.

During this period, Gracie’s Brigade was reorganized. The 41st Alabama joined the Brigade, replacing the 63rd Tennessee, which was moved to an all-Tennessee brigade. The four Alabama Battalions were consolidated into the 59th and 60th Alabama Regiments and the 23rd Alabama Battalion Sharpshooters.

In late November the reorganized brigade, along with Johnson's Tennessee Brigade, reinforced Longstreet’s detached command that was attempting to capture Knoxville. After one unsuccessful assault on Knoxville’s fortifications, Longstreet learned that Bragg had been badly defeated at Chattanooga and was falling back towards Atlanta.

With Bragg now cut off from him, and a second force under MajGen Sherman approaching Knoxville, Longstreet abandoned the siege at Knoxville.  He decided to spend the winter in northeast Tennessee, keeping as many Federal forces in the area as possible.  In December, Gracie’s Brigade led a successful attack at Bean’s Station, which cost 24 killed and 128 wounded.  Gracie himself was wounded in the elbow.

The rest of the winter was very hard.  The men suffered from the cold, scanty food, and difficult marches. Fortunately, most of the actual fighting consisted of cavalry skirmishes.  In the spring of 1864, Longstreet and his two divisions were recalled to the Army of Northern Virginia.  Gracie’s brigade was ordered to Richmond, Virginia and arrived there at the beginning of May.  For the next eleven months there would be no respite from fighting.

May 1864 to March 1865:  Meadow Bridge Road, Drewry’s Bluff & Petersburg

Soon after arriving at Richmond, Gracie’s Brigade was sent a few miles south to Drewry’s Bluff, where the Confederates had constructed strong fortifications overlooking the James River.  But on May 12 the Brigade was called back to Richmond to counter a threat by General Sheridan’s cavalry raid.  The Brigade marched all night in the rain, passed through the city in early morning to the cheers of the inhabitants, and then moved out in line of battle from Richmond’s northern defense lines along Meadow Bridge Road. The 43rd was deployed in front of the Brigade as skirmishers. A firefight ensued, during which Colonel Moody was wounded in the ankle. (It was not a serious wound, but it kept him out of action for months.) The show of force "encouraged" the Union cavalry to keep moving.

By May 15 the Brigade was back at Drewry’s Bluff as part of General Beauregard’s command, preparing for an assault against General Butler’s corps. Early on the 16th, in heavy fog, the Confederate attack began.  Gracie’s brigade, with the 23rd Battalion Sharpshooters on the Confederate’s extreme left flank, was successful in flanking the enemy and capturing large numbers of the enemy.  General Butler, overreacting to the danger, fell back inside his Bermuda Hundred lines.  This Confederate victory largely neutralized General Butler's force.

Chain of Command at Drewry’s Bluff:
Department of North Carolina Southern Virginia
  (General P. G. T. Bureagard)
Ransom’s Division  (Major General Robert Ransom)
Gracie’s Brigade  (Brigadier General Archibald Gracie)
43rd Alabama Infantry  (Col. Young Moody, wounded)
A month later, Gracie’s Brigade rushed south to Petersburg, which was now being threatened by Grant’s army.  It arrived at Petersburg about dark on June 17, and a few hours later was thrown into a desperate counterattack to regain a section of the defense lines. Their fierce charge drove the Union troops out of the trenches.

Their next major conflict was at The Crater. On the morning of July 30, 1864, the Union troops besieging Petersburg exploded a huge mine under the Confederate line just south of the 43rd ‘s location. The mine killed many Confederates and destroyed a section of trenches.  However, the Union follow up attack was slow and uncoordinated, giving the Confederates just enough time to rush reinforcements to the scene.  The counterattack, in which the 43rd participated, was successful.  Union losses were very heavy.

For the next eight months, the 43rd and its companion regiments were in the trenches at Petersburg. Although the 43rd changed position in the lines several times, they were always in the same general area. Food was scarce, and sleep was even scarcer. Shelter was a "cave" in the ground, mud-filled after rain. Rifle and canon fire were incessant, and sharpshooters of both sides scored regularly.  On December 2 General Gracie was killed by a shell fragment while observing the Federal lines.  Colonel Moody became brigade commander and Lt. Col. Jolly took over the 43rd.

Winter worsened an already miserable situation. Food became scarcer, but more importantly, the Union advances in other areas of the Confederacy (for example, Sherman’s capture of Atlanta and march to the sea) left the soldiers fearing for their families’ lives as well as their own.  Desertions increased.

On March 15, 1865 the brigade was pulled out of the siege lines and moved southwest of Petersburg to help prevent Federal encirclement of the city. They fought several times in the area of White Oak Road and Hatcher’s Run.  On April 1, they were part of a successful attack that drove back a large Federal force.  But it was too little, too late.  Lee could no longer prevent being encircled, and on April 2 he evacuated Petersburg and began moving his army west towards Lynchburg.

The next few days were a confusion of constant marching and skirmishing with the pursuing Federal cavalry. There was little sleep and less food.  April 6 was another disaster. The Federal cavalry of General Sheridan caught the Rebel rearguard unprepared at Sayler’s Creek, and inflicted heavy losses both in casualties and captures.  Included among the captured were generals Richard Ewell, Custis Lee, and Joseph Kershaw, as well as several other senior Confederate officers and 7,000 men.  The 43rd was on the right (southern) flank during the action and sustained  losses both to enemy fire and to capture.

Early morning on April 9 found the 43rd Alabama among the troops camped at Appomattox Court House. Those men of Gracie's Brigade (now Moody's) who escaped Sayler’s Creek were assigned to Grimes’ Division of Maj. Gen. John Gordon’s (II) Corps.  During the night of of April 8, General Lee and General Gordon discussed the situation.  They decided that Gordon would attack in the morning.  If they were able to clear a path through the enemy, the army would use it to escape further west.  If the attack could not clear an escape route, that would be the end.  Before dawn on April 9, Gordon formed his troops into the final line of battle. The rebel yell rose once again and the hungry, exhausted men charged with the enthusiasm of fresh troops.  They drove back the lines of dismounted cavalry and even captured a pair of canon. But the victory was short lived, as two fresh Federal infantry corps appeared behind the retreating cavalry and sealed off any hope of escape.

Chain of Command, January – April  1865:
Army of Northern Virginia  (General Robert E. Lee)
Anderson’s (IVth) Corps  (Lt. Gen. Richard H. Anderson)
Johnson’s Division  (Maj. Gen. Bushrod Johnson)
Moody’s Brigade  (Brig. Gen. Young Moody)
43rd Alabama Infantry  (Major William J. Mims)
Of over 1,100 men named on the muster rolls of the 43rd Alabama Volunteers, only 15 officers and 113 men were present to be surrendered and paroled at Appomattox.

This material © Jacques Jolie, December 2000

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