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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

When Beauregard's Napoleons Departed Missionary Ridge

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

by Gordon Thorsby

Thomas Barker Ferguson was a twenty-one Citadel graduate when he was made first lieutenant of his forming artillery company. His second-in-command was René Toutant Beauregard. He had a well known father. Together, Ferguson and Beauregard worked magic; Ferguson successful in recruiting and Beauregard an ability to wrangle some guns from “Dad” and consistently obtain hard-to-get supplies. The officers in the battery were from the landowning classes around the coast and the enlisted men were from the hills of Northwest South Carolina. The enlisted men were not the energetic soldiers fighting for their state and secession from the United States. These men didn’t care about secession and wanted no part of fighting but they slotted into the ranks anyway.

When the smoke of Chickamauga cleared in 1863, Bragg was desperate for replacements and Beauregard’s Battery got the call. The battery consisted of four twelve-lb. Napoleons forged from the Macon, GA foundry. Animal flesh was a touchy subject because artillery used up horseflesh quickly. When the battery reached Chattanooga, it flunked inspection due to the scrawny, broken horses and mules. The army quartermaster resupplied the company with 74 new horses and 24 mules but still insufficient. The battery was on top of Lookout Mountain when impending pressure from the right required the battery’s shift over to the right flank on Missionary Ridge on November 24.

view of Missionary Ridge (LOC)

Col. James Cooper Nisbet of the 66th GA. Reported “Ferguson’s battery of 12 pounder Napoleon guns had to be dragged up to the summit… with the use of ropes and pulleys manned by artillery crews and infantry.” Lt Beauregard commented that the horses were too weak. A company of the 66th was assigned to each piece and with great effort, they hauled up the four guns in total darkness of a cold night. At daylight, Beauregard saw that his guns were posted 3/4 of a mile from the railroad tunnel. When Sherman's regiments advanced up the hill the next day, Beauregard's Napoleons served well in repulsing every effort against the right. It wasn’t until Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne rode over to inform Beauregard that the Confederate center had collapsed and to basically, “get the hell out of here.”

Hauling the guns down the eastern side of the ridge required the same manual support from Nesbit and the retreat did not go well. Horses failed to overcome geographical obstacles like the muddy roads at the bottom of the ridge and the muddy creek bed of Chickamauga Creek at Graysville. Infantry escorts nursed the guns and limbers along. Efforts became fruitless for one cannon and the damaged Napoleon was dumped into a ravine at Graysville. In the midst of rumbling artillery wheels, men swearing and slogging through mud, the hooves of Union cavalry could be heard approaching.

As told by a Orderly Sgt. W.H. Burton of Co. A, 6th Tennessee Infantry:

Attacking from ambush, they fired into T.B. Ferguson’s SC battery and its infantry supports of the 41st TN and 16th SC. Howling like wolves, the Federals charged capturing three cannon of the battery, limbers and caisson, their flag and about 110 prisoners including killed and wounded. The cannon were mired in the mud.” Captured guns from Missionary Ridge

The losses in men and guns was not about a division, corps or army commander. It was not about negligence of a poor battery commander. It was about logistics. It was about broken down horseflesh that had been replaced by more broken down horseflesh.

Note: Thomas Ferguson was severely wounded at Jackson in June, 1863. René Beauregard became commander of the company for the rest of the war. The name label for the battery is used interchangeably.

Reported: The Union cavalry had been approaching along what is now modern day Hwy 41, crossed Peavine Creek in the dark and attacked along modern day Graysville Road.


Ferguson’s (Beauregard’s) SC Artillery Company, by Rucker, Christopher D., Farm Lake Press, 2020, Pp. 64, 69-70.

Shipwreck of Their Hopes, by Cozzens, Peter, University of Illinois Press, 1996, p368.

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