The 23rd Alabama Volunteer Infantry Regiment mustered into Confederate service at Camp Wilcox near Montgomery, Alabama on November 19, 1861. The men enlisted for three years or the duration of the war. Like many other Confederate units, private citizens and the State of Alabama armed and equipped the Regiment rather than the Confederate government. 1 Colonel Franklin K. Beck assumed command as the Regiment's first commander and remained the Commander until his death near Resaca, Georgia in October, 1864. Colonel Joseph B. Bibb was the Regiment's last commander.
The Regiment was initially assigned to the Army of Mobile and ordered to garrison Mobile, Alabama. The Regiment spent the winter of 1861-1862 in long hours of drill and training. Brigadier General Withers, their Brigade Commander, reported the Regiment's strength on December 2, 1861 as 30 officers and 333 men present with another 362 soldiers assigned but absent. 2 On February 18, 1862, General Braxton Bragg ordered the Regiment, along with the 5th Georgia, 9th Mississippi, and the 20th Alabama Infantry Regiments, to move by train to Knoxville, Tennessee to strengthen the Confederate defenses on General Albert Sidney Johnston's eastern flank.3
Shortly after their arrival in Tennessee, an outbreak of typhoid fever rendered both Alabama regiments ineffective for the month of March, 1862. 4 Many soldiers fell ill, and at least eight men died between the two regiments. On April 9, 1862, Major General E. Kirby Smith, the Department Commander, in response to a directive from the Confederate government following the defeat at Shiloh, Tennessee, ordered five regiments, including the 23rd Alabama, to move to Corinth, Mississippi to reinforce General P.T.G. Beauregard's army. 5 However, before the units could be moved, the order was canceled due to a Federal move threatening Knoxville, Tennessee.
In June, 1862, General Smith assigned the Regiment to Colonel T.H. Taylor's Brigade, stationed near Morristown, Tennessee.6 The Regiment moved to Blain's Crossroads the third week of June, 1862, to oppose a threatened federal advance southward from the Cumberland Gap.7 After this failed to materialize, the Regiment was shifted further west to Clinton, Tennessee to oppose a Federal advance.
In August, 1862, the Confederate Army under General Braxton Bragg began its invasion of Kentucky. Taylor's Brigade, including the 23rd Alabama Infantry, was assigned the initial objective of driving Major General George Morgan's Union forces from the Cumberland Gap to open to way into Kentucky for General E. Kirby Smith's Army. This task was completed on September 17, 1862, and Taylor's Brigade followed Morgan's forces northward into Kentucky forming General Smith's right flank. By the middle of October, 1862, General Smith's forces had advanced as far north as Lexington, Kentucky. However, General Bragg's defeat at the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky on October 18, 1862, forced all Confederate forces to fall back to Tennessee. 8
In November, 1862, following the Confederate withdrawal from Kentucky, General Smith reorganized his department in accordance with Confederate policy changes directing that units from the same state be brigaded together whenever possible. Accordingly, the 23rd Alabama Infantry was assigned to Brigadier General Tracy's Brigade, McCowan's Division along with two other Alabama units. 9 In December, 1862, Tracy's Brigade was reassigned to Stevenson's Division and ordered to Mississippi to reinforce General Pemberton's Army opposing General Grant's attempt to seize Vicksburg. The unit moved by train through Atlanta, Georgia, and Mobile, Alabama, thereby missing the Battle of Stone's River, Tennessee on December 31, 1862.
The Regiment arrived at Vicksburg, Mississippi on January 1, 1863, too late to participate in the repulse of General Sherman's Army at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou. However, upon their arrival, General S.D. Lee ordered the Regiment, along with the 2nd Texas, 3rd Tennessee, and 30th Tennessee Infantry Regiments, to pursue the beaten Federal army back to their transports on the Yazoo River. 10 Following that victory, the 23rd Alabama, along with the other regiments of Tracy's brigade, occupied defenses near Snyder's Bluff, Mississippi.11 Lieutenant General Pemberton shifted Tracy's Brigade south to Warrington, Mississippi in March, 1863 in response to General Grant's southward movement past Vicksburg to Hard Times on the Louisiana shore.12
On May 1, 1863, the Regiment participated in the Battle of Port Gibson, Mississippi against General Grant's Army. In this battle, General Tracy's Brigade, numbering 1,516 soldiers, was assigned to General Bowen's Division. General Bowen had about 5,500 men engaged against roughly 23,000 Union troops.13
Tracy's Brigade moved from Warrington, Mississippi, by a forced march of about 30 miles, on April 29-30, 1863, to join General Green's Brigade at Port Gibson. The Regiment "...arrived, jaded from a forced march and without provisions. I [General Bowen] ordered them to halt near town, to collect stragglers, cook rations, and after a short rest to report to [General] Green, who would point out their position." 14
The Federal army began their attack about 1 a.m. on May 1, 1863, and by 8 a.m., the Confederate left flank under General Green was in trouble. General Bowen directed General Tracy to reinforce General Green. General Tracy ordered the 23rd Alabama and his artillery battery to move to Green's assistance. Immediately upon their arrival, General Bowen ordered the 23rd Alabama to support the 6th Mississippi Regiment and an Arkansas regiment, in charging an artillery battery to relieve the pressure on his left flank. "I called upon the Sixth Mississippi to charge a battery in front of them, to which they nobly responded, and were well seconded by the Twenty-third Alabama on their right, but not by the Arkansas troops, to their left." 15 These two regiments held this position for about an hour before being forced back to their starting positions.16
General Bowen gave his troops the order to retire from the battlefield about a half hour before sundown. The Twenty-third Alabama Infantry , still with General Green's forces, was among the first to leave. The rest of General Tracy's Brigade, now under command of Colonel Garrott due to General Tracy's death, followed General Green's Brigade to Grand Gulf, Mississippi.17
By May 15, 1863, Major General Stevenson's Division, including the 23rd Alabama Infantry, was posted at Edward's Depot, Mississippi.18 That evening, in accordance with Lieutenant General Pemberton's orders, General Stevenson moved his division 20 miles southeast to Raymond, Mississippi, in an attempt to sever the Union Army's lines of communication and supply.19 However, the next morning General Pemberton ordered the division to retrace its steps and move instead to Brownsville, Mississippi, where he intended to regroup his forces and join General Joseph E. Johnston's Army at Canton, Mississippi.20 While enroute to Brownsville, General Grant's advance into Pemberton's right flank compelled him to make a defensive stand at Champion's Hill [Baker's Creek] on May 16, 1863.21
General Pemberton placed General Stevenson's division on his left flank occupying Champion's Hill itself. Pemberton placed his other two divisions southward from Champion's Hill along a ridge line to block the federal approach.22 The 23rd Alabama Infantry Regiment, as a part of Brigadier General Stephen D. Lee's Brigade,23 occupied the center of General Stevenson's Division.
General Grant began his attack at about 2 p.m. by assaulting General Stevenson's Division with General Hovey's and General Logan's Divisions. The Union force "...advanced in force on my [General S.D. Lee's] center and left, but was handsomely repulsed by the Forty-sixth, Thirtieth, and Twenty-third Alabama Regiments...".24 The 23rd Alabama Infantry "...having moved forward under a heavy fire and driven back a battery of the enemy which had been placed within 400 yards of our line." 25 However, General Lee's right flank was not as stout and had been forced to retreat. This exposed his center to enfilade fire and he "... ordered the Forty-sixth, Thirtieth, and Twenty-third Alabama Regiments to retire about 600 yards to the rear, where my second line was formed. These three regiments behaved with distinguished gallantry, retaining their positions against heavy odds."26
General Grant continued to hammer away at Pemberton's left flank with increasingly greater numbers of men, until the pressure became too great and General Stevenson's Division gave way. General Pemberton ordered his men to retreat and formed a new defensive position at Big Black Bayou, 10 miles east of Vicksburg.
General Stevenson's Division assumed the role as Lieutenant General Pemberton's reserve force and bivouacked at Bovina Station about four miles west of the Confederate position at Big Black Bayou. Following General Grant's successful assault at Big Black Bayou, General Pemberton ordered General Stevenson to cover his defeated army's retreat to Vicksburg. General Stevenson assigned this mission to General S.D. Lee's Brigade, who placed his soldiers in a temporary defensive position on the western heights overlooking Big Black Bayou. The Confederate Army began their retreat to Vicksburg about 10 a.m. protected by General Lee's Brigade.
When General Lee's Brigade finally withdrew, "By a mistake in the transmission of the order, the regiment of Colonel Beck (Lee's Brigade) [the 23rd Alabama Infantry] remained at the river, resisted the attempts of the enemy to cross until 11 o'clock that night, and only withdrew upon the receipt of a preemptory order."27
General Pemberton's retreat from Big Black Bayou to Vicksburg "...was conducted in a leisurely and orderly manner, and the troops entered the line of fortifications at about 3 p.m".28 The Confederate retreat was so leisurely that the troops had time to collect cattle, sheep, pigs, and corn along the way in preparation for the siege.29 That General Pemberton's army was able to withdraw from a severe defeat unmolested, can be directly attributed to the valiant, if unintentional, stand by the 23rd Alabama Infantry at Big Black Bayou.
When the 23rd Alabama Infantry finally pulled back to Vicksburg, they, along with the rest of General Lee's Brigade, occupied fortified trenches from the Railroad Redoubt, located immediately south of the Vicksburg and Jackson railroad, to Fort Garrott, located about 1/2 mile south of the railroad. The 23rd Alabama was positioned to the left of the 20th Alabama Infantry who held Fort Garrott and the trenches immediately northward.
"The Twenty-third Alabama held the position assigned it during the siege under incessant fire from the enemy in our front. The artillery fire was severe during the whole siege, with occasional brief intermissions. At times it was excessively heavy. During the whole time the men and officers discharged their duty with firmness and steadiness. The fire from our trenches upon the enemy was slow and deliberate. We did not waste our powder, but no Abolitionist could show his head without danger from ball or buckshot. The necessity for constant watchfulness made the sentinel duty at night heavy and wearing, but the men, with a noble devotion to the cause in which their hearts are enlisted, stood to their posts with patience and cheerfulness. The enemy, much to the regret of the men, made no direct attack on the trenches which the Twenty-third Alabama held, but they received a heavy and effective fire from us as they came into range of our guns in their attempts on the left and right of our brigade. Casualties in [the] Twenty-third Alabama during the siege of Vicksburg: Killed, 17 ; wounded, 15."30
The Regiment surrendered with General Pemberton's Army on July 4, 1863 and was paroled. They marched to Demopolis, Alabama to await exchange. While there, General Pemberton furloughed the men and allowed them to go home for 30 days.31
The Regiment was exchanged on September 12, 186332 re-equipped and, in November, 1863, assigned to General Bragg's Army of the Tennessee, General Stevenson's Division, Pettus' Brigade. This Brigade was composed of the Twentieth, Twenty-third, Thirtieth, Thirty-first, and the Forty-sixth Alabama Infantry Regiments.33
Shortly thereafter, the Regiment joined General Bragg's Army laying siege to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and took positions on the Confederate's extreme left flank atop Lookout Mountain. Both sides recognized the mountain was of little tactical importance, and its possession was not a critical part of the Confederate's defensive plan.34 It served only as extension of General Bragg's line and its defense, assigned to General Stevenson's Division, was little more than a strong picket line. He posted one brigade, General Walthall's Alabama brigade, on its northwestern slope, another at the eastern base of the mountain, and General Pettus' Brigade, including the 23rd Alabama Infantry, on the top of the mountain.
The 23rd and 30th Alabama Infantry Regiments, were assigned the mission of holding the passes on Lookout Mountain from its northern point and extending southward for 2 1/2 miles. Additionally, reserves from both regiments were held at the town of Summertown on the mountain's summit, under the command of the Officer of the Day.35
The Union attack on November 24, 1863, focused on the Cravens' farm on the northern point of Lookout Mountain and was met by Walthall's Brigade which General Stevenson had posted on the mountain's northwestern flank. When General Stevenson ordered General Pettus to reinforce Walthall's brigade, he also directed him to leave the 23rd and 30th Infantry regiments in place. Therefore, the 23rd Alabama Infantry did not take an active part in the defense and subsequent defeat at Lookout Mountain.
Early on the evening of November 24, 1863, General Bragg directed General Stevenson to evacuate Lookout Mountain and withdraw his division to the Confederate main line of defense on Missionary Ridge. General Stevenson's Division bivouacked that night just east of Chattanooga Creek near Rossville, Georgia. The Regiment participated the next day in the Battle of Tunnel Hill on the north flank of Missionary Ridge, and retreated with the rest of the army when the Confederate's center collapsed.
Following their defeat at Chattanooga, the Army of Tennessee, including the 23rd Alabama Infantry, pulled back to winter quarters in Dalton, Georgia. The 23rd enjoyed this respite until February 25, 1864 when General Grant attempted to force General George H. Thomas' Corps through the gap at Rocky Face Ridge west of Dalton. The Twenty-third Alabama Infantry, as a part of General Pettus' Brigade, was held in reserve about 100 yards behind Brigadier General Cumming's Brigade. Although they were not directly engaged, the Twenty-third Alabama Infantry suffered seven wounded, one of them mortally in this engagement.36
In the last two weeks of April, 1864, the Twenty-third Alabama Infantry prepared defensive positions on Rocky Face Ridge in the vicinity of the signal station. Early in May, 1864, Pettus' Brigade, with the Twenty-third Alabama Infantry, was moved from the trenches they had just completed to new positions atop Rocky Face Mountain. On May 8, 1864, the Federal Army began its attack on the Confederate positions. Their attack was focused on the angle in Pettus' line on the mountain and was quickly repulsed. The next day, the Federals again assaulted General Pettus' positions and, again, they were repulsed. 37 However, following their unsuccessful attacks, the Federal Army made a flanking movement to the south of the Confederate position compelling them on May 13, 1864 to withdraw to a new line at Resaca, Georgia.
At Resaca, the Twenty-third Alabama Infantry, as a part of General Pettus' Brigade, occupied the second line of General Stevenson's position north of Resaca, on the right side of the Resaca and Dalton road. Although General Pettus' Brigade was present at the Battle of Resaca on May 14, 1864, General Stevenson never ordered it into battle.38 Another Federal flanking movement to the south, compelled General Johnston to withdraw from Resaca. He moved his army to New Hope Church, Georgia, where he once again hoped to stop the Union Army.
The Twenty-third Alabama Infantry occupied the front line of General Stevenson's Division, as a part of General Pettus' Brigade at New Hope Church from May 25 to June 4, 1864, but the enemy did not directly assault them. Instead, they were subjected to a heavy fire of skirmishers and artillery which inflicted considerable losses. 39
Once again the Confederate were forced to retreat and next took up defensive positions outside of Atlanta, Georgia. The Twenty-third Alabama Infantry fought in the Battle of Atlanta on June 22, 1864 as a part of General Stevenson's Division along the Powder Springs road near Marietta, Georgia. At about noon on June 22, 1864, General Stevenson moved his division to Mount Zion Church and by 2:30 p.m., had engaged the Union forces.
1. The Official Record of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 6, pp. 764-765. Return
2. Ibid., p. 772. Return
3. Ibid., p. 894. Return
4. The Official Record of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 10, pp. 309 & 320. Return
5. Ibid., p. 406. Return
6. Morristown, Tennessee was located about 30 east northeast of Knoxville, Tennessee along the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad. Return
7. Blain's Crossroads was located between Knoxville and Morristown, Tennessee. Return
8. Gen. Bragg allowed his forces to disperse while the Federals concentrated against and defeated his left flank units. The 23rd Alabama Infantry Regiment, along with the rest of Gen. Smith's forces, was not present at the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky. Return
9. The 20th Alabama Infantry, the 46th Alabama Infantry Regiments, the 43rd Georgia Infantry Regiment, and Captain Waddell's Alabama Artillery Battery. Return
10. The Official Record of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 17, Part 1, p. 684. Return
11. Snyder's Bluff was located about 20 miles north northeast of Vicksburg, Mississippi on the Yazoo River. Return
12. The Regiment suffered approximately 12 non-battle deaths in March, 1863, possibly from a fever contracted during this movement. Return
13. The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume II, by Shelby Foote, p. 347. Return
14. The Official Record of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 24, Part 1, pp. 663-667, Gen. Bowen's report of the battle of Port Gibson, May 1, 1863. Return
15. Ibid. Return
16. The 23rd Ala Inf Regiment suffered a number of casualties during this battle, as reflected in the Regiment's muster rolls, to include having several men captured by the Federal army, however, no reliable casualty reports were ever submitted by the Regiment for this battle. Return
17. Grand Gulf, Mississippi was located about 10 miles northwest of Port Gibson on the Mississippi River. Return
18. Edward's Depot was located about 16 miles due east of Vicksburg, along the Vicksburg to Jackson road. Return
19. Gen. Grant had, by this time, moved from Port Gibson, Mississippi to attack the state's capital at Jackson. Return
20. Gen. Johnston, Pemberton's commander, had ordered him to leave Vicksburg and join him. Gen. Johnston intended to unite the two Confederate armies and defeat Gen. Grant. Return
21. This battle was know as Baker's Creek to the Confederates. Return
22. The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume II, by Shelby Foote, p. 371. Return
23. Gen. Lee assumed command following Gen. Tracy's death at Port Gibson, Mississippi. Return
24. The Official Record of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 24, Part 2, pp. 101-102. Gen. Lee's report of the Battle of Baker's Creek [Champion's Hill], Mississippi, May 16, 1863. Return
25. Ibid., p. 102. Return
26. Ibid., p. 102. Return
27. Ibid., p. 97. Return
28. Ibid., p. 343. Return
29. The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume II, by Shelby Foote, p. 378. Return
30. The Official Record of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 24, Part 2, p. 353; Captain A.C. Roberd's report of the Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, May-July, 1863. Captain Roberd made the report as the 23rd Alabama's acting commander since Colonel Beck had been injured during the retreat from Big Black Bayou. Return
31. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, C.S.A.; A Different Valor, by Gilbert E. Govan and James W. Livingood, p. 218. Return
32. The Official Record of the Rebellion, Series 2, Volume 6, pp. 279-280. Return
33. The Official Record of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 31, Part 2, p. 662. Return
34. The Army of Tennessee, by Stanley F. Horn, p. 296. Return
35. The Official Record of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 31, Part 2, p. 726. Return
36. The Official Record of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 32, Part 1, p. 482. Return
37. The Official Record of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 38, Part 3, p. 811. Return
38. Ibid., pp. 812-813. Return
39. Ibid., p. 813. No casualty figures are available. Return