Friday, May 25, 2012


Wheat's Louisiana Tigers helped rout the Federal
forces at Front Royal, Virginia on May 23, 1862
150-years-ago. Seen here is reenactor Luke Jones
portraying one of Wheat's Tigers.
(Photo by Mike Jones)
[Editor's note: Excerpt from the The Tiger Rifles: The Making of a Louisiana Legend Michael Dan Jones. The battle took place May 23, 1862 and was part of Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862.]

The attack began soon after Belle Boyd’s dramatic appearance, about 1:45 p.m., with the Marylanders and Louisianans swooping down the hill and scooping up the advance pickets. Jackson, Ewell, and their staffs were close behind. Campbell Brown, aide-de-camp on Ewell’s staff, gave this impression of Wheat’s Battalion: “I shall never forget the style in which Wheat’s Battalion passed us, as we stood on the road. He was riding full gallop, yelling at the top of his voice – his big sergeant major running at top speed just after him, calling to the men to come on -- & they strung out according to their speed or ‘stomach for the fight,’ following after – all running – all yelling – all looking like fight. Their peculiar Zouave dress, light striped, baggy pants, bronzed and desperate faces wild excitement made up a glorious picture. Wheat himself looked as handsome in a fight as any man I ever saw. . . . That day, the enemy having hurried across the bridge tried to fire it. Wheat’s position, on the right of Johnson, brought him nearer their line of retreat & consequently he was the first man at the bridge. He put spurs to his horse, galloped through the already kindled flame in the face of enemy fire, & saved the bridge – so I was told by him and others at the time and afterwards & never heard it denied.”

When the Confederates got into the town, the battle developed into a rare urban battle with fighting house to house. The civilians in town also recorded their impressions. Lucy Buck wrote in her diary, “There was heard the quick, sharp report of a rifle, and another and another in rapid succession. Going to the door we saw Yankees scampering over the meadow below our house and were at a loss how to account for such evident excitement on their part until presently Miss B. White rushed in with purple face and disheveled hair crying – ‘Oh my God! The Southern Army is upon them – the hill above is black with our boys.’ ”[1]

     Col. Johnson halted his Marylanders on the edge of town so they could catch their breath. They then began the process of taking a building that was being used as a hospital. “. . . Major Wheat shot by like a rocket, his red hat gleaming, revolver in hand, and in first, throwing his shots right and left. The hospital was taken,” Johnson wrote. The Federals fired from the hospital windows and wounded six Marylanders. As they pushed through the town, Johnson could see the enemy had a line of battle on the side of a hill on the road to Winchester. The bluecoat skirmishers came rapidly down the hill and into a wheat field. The Confederates met them with the Marylanders on the right side of the road and Wheat’s Tigers on the left. “The enemy opened on us sharply with shell from two pieces, and though shooting remarkably well, did no execution. During the rest of the afternoon, after a short struggle, their skirmishers were driven back, and Captain Nicholas was ordered to take a white house to the left of the road, which would give us flank fire on their line. . . . Nicholas got nearly to his position, but was obliged to give ground on account of Wheat’s battalion falling back and exposing his flank,” Johnson wrote. [2]

Johnson was referring to the Federals who had reformed in a strong line on Richardson’s Hill,  and with two rifled artillery pieces prevented the Confederates from directly charging their infantry position. Due to the strung out condition of the Confederate army, the attackers were unable to bring up their own rifled pieces in time to provide effective counter-battery fire. Taylor sent the 8th Louisiana Infantry across the North Fork bridge, which the Federals had tried to burn, and the 6th Louisiana to the left to outflank the desperate northerners. Realizing he had been outflanked, Colonel Kenly withdrew to save his command. Johnson and Wheat then led their men in a run on the abandoned position and a Maryland private captured the enemy’s colors. The Confederate cavalry, Lt. Col. Flournoy’s 6th Virginia, caught up with the Federals at Cedarville and the Virginians badly cut them up with their sabers before the bluecoats surrendered. Kenly was wounded and captured.  In his official report, Taylor wrote of the Tigers at the opening of the engagement, “Here Major Wheat’s battalion, of five companies, was immediately ordered forward into the town, to assist the Maryland regiment in dislodging the enemy, the Sixth Louisiana Regiment following as a reserve.” After the town was cleared, “Major Wheat performed his part in gallant style, charging through the town, and drawing up his command on the bank of the Shenandoah in a position sheltered from enemy’s shells . . . .” Wheat’s Battalion lost one man killed and six wounded in the Battle of Front Royal. Another sidebar to the story of Wheat’s Tigers at Front Royal is their capture of a train chugging in to the town with tons of supplies for the Federal army, during the afternoon lull in the battle.  Since communications had been cut off before the battle, the train engineer had no idea he was entering a combat zone. Wheat, seeing the slow moving train, and always quick to seize an opportunity, swarmed the engine, hopped on, began tooting the horns and taking control of more loot for themselves and the Confederate army. [3]
     Lucy Buck also wrote in her diary of an amusing joke the “N.O. Tigers” played on the “Yankees.” She wrote, ‘The Tigers doffed their uniforms and donned the Yankee blue. Then they got on the cars and steamed off to Markham where the news of the fall of Front Royal had not arrived and the Federal troops of course took them to be some of their own men and coming out of quarters at the invitation of the Tigers a number of them concluded to ‘take a ride a little way.’ The hospitable Rebels not only extended the ride to Front Royal but also gave them lodging and board there.” The next morning Lucy noted that she had some of the Tigers and other Louisiana troops over for breakfast at the Buck home, which was called Bel Air.

[1] William Buck, Sad Earth, Sweet Heaven, The Diary of Lucy Rebecca Buck, (Buck Publishing Co., Front Royal, Va. 1995) 78.
[2] Driver, First and Second Maryland Infantry, 70-75.
[3] Driver, First and Second Maryland Infantry, 70-75. Ecelebarger, Three Days in the Shenandoah, 88, 89. Official Records, Reports of Brig. Gen. Richard Taylor, Vol. 12, Series 1, 800. Robert G. Tanner, Stonewall in the Valley: Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Spring 1862, (Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, N.Y. 1855) 213.

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