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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

The Michiganders Meet the Lancaster Grays and the Invincibles

by Gordon Thorsby

View near Knoxville of the Tennessee River

Maj. Gen Ambrose Burnside established a delaying defense so the could get his trains into Knoxville or face total destruction from Longstreet’s Corps. On his left were the the 2nd, 17th and 20th Michigan squared off against Bratton’s Brigade and its repeated assaults. In those troops, there were soldiers from a twelve square mile area of central Michigan fighting men from a twelve mile area from the Lancaster County area Northern South Carolina.

Bratton’s brigade consisted of the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, Hampton’s Legion and the Palmetto Sharpshooters. The 1st included the Lancaster Grays, the 2nd had its Lancaster Invincibles, and the Sharpshooters were man hand picked for the abilities from the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th and 9th from the 5th SC. A few of the Sharpshooters had Whitworth sniper muskets but most preferred the British Enfields. The brigade had been at Gettysburg where it made the attack into the Wheatfield, and at Chickamauga where it was instrumental in the breakthrough on the 20th.

The Michiganders fell back from Little Turkey Creek and established a second position on Smith’s Hill. The Michigan men established this line on the slope of the hill and behind a fence. Smith’s Hill was not its original name as it earned its name when the 2nd Michigan’s Col. Huntington Smith dropped from his horse with a bullet to the head from a skirmisher from across the field.

Kennedy Billings, veteran of Mexican War, Captain of the Grays.

Bratton’s South Carolinians began working its way up the hill, but the Brigade’s Col. William Humphrey, seeing the 17th begin to fall back, reigned his horse and yelled, “17th Michigan, what are you doing here? Forward,” and forced the Palmetto Brigade to retreat. Humphrey then ordered his Michiganders to retire across the field to a road junction, established a third line, and threw out skirmishers.

Corporal JD Holmes was from Ovid and in Co. B of the 17th. Andy McMurray was from Taymouth in the 2nd Michigan, a few short yards from Holmes and they would remember the day the Michigan boys had such a large, open field of fire and blasted away at the Carolinians. On the attack, included as many as 300 men that were from the Lancaster area. There was Col. John Kennedy of Lancaster who commanded the 2nd SC after John Bratton of Winnsboro took command of the brigade.

Col. Morrison’s of Ferrero’s division moved his brigade up on Humphrey’s right. A fourth Michigan regiment now joined the defense, the 8th Michigan also known as the ‘wandering regiment.” Among the men in the 8th included Ben Davidson of Havana Mills, Jim Persons of Maple Grove, and there William Austin of St. Charles.

As much as they tried, the Confederates failed to break their line, by frontal assault, by turning their right or even breaking its left. Eventually, the Michigan line withdrew in good order as pressure mounted on both flanks simultaneously. The bad news for the Confederates was that Burnside set up yet another line a short distance back at a fourth position; a creek crossing at Turkey Creek named Campbell’s Station. It was at the station a fifth Michigan regiment joined the fight, the 23rd Michigan. Lt. Hercules Stannard, F Co. 2nd MI of Chesaning, was wounded in the fighting. Sgt. George Beamer, 38 also of Co. F, from Montrose, and was mortally wounded and died one week later. Reinforced, the rearguard force withstood every effort by Confederate infantry and Burnside’s men and supplies escaped into the defenses of Knoxville.

The 300 from Lancaster came in clusters and they came in clans. Many of Co. H (the Invincibles) 2nd SC enlisted on Dec. 20, 1860 the day South Carolina seceded. The Lancaster Grays of the 1st SC enlisted during Ft. Sumter and were among the first at Manassas. Micah Jenkins reorganized the 5th SC by redistributing soldiers to other regiments and created the Sharpshooters. The Caskeys of the Lancaster County had four brothers in the fight, two in the Grays, one in the 6th and one in the 3rd (fought at Ft. Sanders.) There were the five Hortons from Kershaw (modern day name), four in the Invincibles, one in the Hampton Legion. There was 23 year old Jimmy Shaver who was a 2nd Lt in the Palmetto Sharpshooters who led co. A. Then there was even “Mose” Frazier, who didn’t fight. He was a slave to Bill Funderburk (2nd SC.) The Lancaster boys suffered few casualties at Knoxville. Petersburg would be another story.

Ambrose Burnside

Burnside’s defense continued from within the walls of Knoxville and the Michigan and South Carolina men would someday meet again in and around the defenses of Petersburg.

Note: Moses Frazier lived until the ripe old age of 92 passing away in 1934. He lived a long life and saw much of the bad and good of this country.


The Knoxville Campaign, by Hess, Earl J., University of Tennessee Press, Louisville, Ppg. 59-60.

Rigdon, John C. - Editor Civil War Soldiers Service Records - South Carolina. 2012. Cartersville, GA. Eastern Digital Resources.

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