Col. W.P. Rogers Story Corinth Mississippi Sons of Confederate Vetrans

 

Although his father, Timothy Rogers, was at the time living in Alabama, William Rogers was born in Georgia on December 27, 1819, while his parents were there on a visit. After a brief period, the family moved to Mississippi and settled on a large plantation near Aberdeen in Monroe County, and it was there that his youth was spent. Since he had one son who was a lawyer, Timothy Rogers decided that William, the second son, should be a physician. He sent him accordingly to a medical college much against his son’s own inclination. He graduated before the age of 21. His father arranged for an office to be provided for him in Pontotoc in northeast Mississippi. After a short time he sold out and began the study of law. This created a serious breach with his father which was not healed for many years.

William Rogers married Martha Halbert, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama on January 15, 1840. To support himself while a student in law, Rogers edited a Whig newspaper in Aberdeen. The newspaper failed, but his law studies were a success and he became a practicing attorney. When the war with Mexico erupted, William P. Rogers was a young lawyer of 2 years rapidly gaining prominence at the bar in Aberdeen. As soon as the call for volunteers was issued, he raised a company from among his friends and acquaintances in the neighborhood and offered to go to the front. This group later known as Company K (the Tombigbee Guards), was a member of the famous First Mississippi Regiment. This regiment, known as the Mississippi Rifles, was commanded by Colonel Jefferson Davis and Lieutenant Colonel A.K. McClung, the noted duelist. Rogers was made captain and the unit was soon sent to the Rio Grande to become part of General Taylor’s army. Rogers quickly acquired a reputation for bravery and leadership in Mexico. He was first cited for bravery in the capture of Monterrey. With General Zachary Taylor observing, McClung and Rogers, in that order, were the first and second Americans to enter the Mexican Fort Teneria while under heavy enemy fire. In the battle of Buena Vista, the Mississippi Rifles formed one wing of the famous “V” which helped to break up the Mexican cavalry charge of General Minon and saved an out numbered American army.

The young captain returned from the war quite taken with Mexico. On his return to Mississippi, Rogers was defeated in a campaign for the Chancery Court clerk ship in 1848. He next sought the marshals of Mississippi’s northern district and was a candidate for state auditor in 1849. At about that time he accepted a position as consul to Vera Craz, Mexico offered him by Taylor as soon as the latter became president. Rogers resigned in September of 1851 after an investigation of an alleged embezzlement by one of his agents. At the time he was appointed, consul Rogers would have taken his family to Mexico if his wife had not positively refused to move to a foreign land. She consented, however, to go as far as Texas. The autumn of 1851 found the small Rogers family on its way to that state.

The family — there were four children by this time —settled in Washington, Texas and Rogers resumed his law practice. Nearby was Independence, the location of Texas’ first institution of higher learning, Baylor University. Rogers lectured law students there once a week on a voluntary basis. Six years later the growing importance of Houston caused him to move his law practice to that city where he soon became one of the foremost attorneys of the state. Realizing the importance of the political situation in 1860, he be came a candidate for the legislature. He exerted great effort at the meeting in Austin to effect a peaceable settlement between Governor Sam Houston and the secessionists, for a strong personal friendship existed between the two men in spite of their political differences. Rogers had rapidly achieved fame as a defense attorney. He was a cousin of General Sam Houston’s wife and lifetime political supporter and personal friend of the General. Rogers felt that secession was not the answer to the problems of the South, but he also felt a deep loyalty to the Southern people and accordingly cast his lot with the Confederacy. He was selected to the secession convention as a delegate from Harris County and voted for the secession ordinance. President Jefferson Davis offered Rogers the command of the First Texas Infantry, then a regiment in Virginia, but at his wife’s behest, Rogers refused this invitation and accepted the junior command of the Second Texas Infantry Regiment.

The War Department also named William D. Rogers as lieutenant colonel of the regiment.
In March, 1862 Colonel Moore received orders report General Van Dorn in Arkansas. Before departure the ladies of Houston in a festive ceremony, presented the regiment with a silk battle flag. On March 18, 1862 the regiment departed from Houston by railroad. It proceeded to Beaumont, Texas, then by steamboat up the Neches River to Weiss’s Bluff, followed by a march overland east from there through the thickets and swamps to Alexandria, Louisiana. From Alexandria, travel continued by steamboat on the Red Rivertoits junction with the Mississippi River and thence up that river to Helena, Arkansas. At Helena, orders were received to report to Corinth, Mississippi. Again by steamboat, the regiment traveled the Mississippi from Helena to Memphis, TN., and completed the journey with a march overland to Corinth there on April 1, 1862 The regiment spent but one day at Corinth where it half rations. On April 3rd, the regiment joined the army and took up the march toward Pittsburg’s Landing on the Tennessee River north of Corinth, scene of the forthcoming battle of Shiloh. By Saturday morning, April 5th, the regiment’s rations were exhausted and many of the men were without shoes. Rain continued to fall as the soldiers of the Army of the Mississippi slogged into their assigned locations in the battle formation. The men of the Second Texas bedded down in a muddy cornfield without tents or a blankets for cover. From this corn field, the Second Texas was within three to four hundred yards of the Federal camps. The men were ordered to speak in whispers so as not to alert the unsuspecting Federal pickets.

When the battle of Shiloh opened on Sunday, April 6th, Bragg’s Second Corps, to which the Second Texas belonged, was situated on the Confederate left. The Second Division containing the Second Texas had been ordered to serve as a reserve unit for the attack. The spirits of the regiment were boosted as Commanding General Albert Sidney Johnston rode up, accompanied by Lieutenant Colonel Rogers. The regiment had left Rogers seriously ill in Houston,Texas when it departed for Corinth. Rogers, having partially regained his health, had rushed to join the regiment, finally overtaking it that morning. The men of the regiment began to cheer on seeing Rogers, but were silenced by the officers for fear alarm be spread to the Federal Camps.
The Rebel assault was unleashed on the unsuspecting Federal camps at daybreak or shortly thereafter. The Second Division was soon sent to fill a gap on the Confederate right flank bordering on Lick Creek.

The Second Texas was heavily involved in the fighting all along the front from east to west. This included the murderous fighting at the Hornets’ Nest, an area in the center of the battlefield characterized by prolonged and fierce fighting. The Second Texas Regiment played a significant role in forcing the collapse of General Hurlbut’s left flank of the Hornets’ Nest. Colonel Moore’s command captured more than 1,000 Federal troops with accompanying arms and sup plies. The Second Texas, which had been separated from Jackson’s Brigade, halted in an advanced position within the original Federal lines.

On Monday, April 7th, the Second Texas, which had camped behind Federal lines during the night, moved south along the Tennessee River to Lick Creek. Colonel Moore received a battlefield promotion to brigadier general and relinquished command of the Second Texas to Lieutenant Colonel Rogers who was promoted to colonel. Moore, who had been promoted to brigade command, directed a brigade consisting of the Second Texas and the 19th and 21st Alabama Regiments.

However, battle-weary Texans were no match for General Buell’s fresh troops and were slowly repulsed, as was the entire Confederate battle line. General Beauregard broke off action with the Federals at about 3:00 p.m. and the withdrawal to Corinth began.

At Corinth beginning April 9, 1862 the Second Texas experienced marked depletion of its ranks from disease in addition to wounds sustained at Shiloh. One member stated, “Out of 850 brave healthy men who left Houston, only some 175 or 200 will be able to go into the fight. Many on the sick list will go into the fight.” The Second Texas was assigned to picket duty north of Corinth for a significant portion of the time it was located in that area. On May 8, 1862, Rogers and the Second Texas participated in the engagement at Farmington, eight miles east of Corinth.



The massive union army under General Hafleck, who had arrived to take command, slowly approached Corinth and by May 23rd his army faced the north western defenses of Corinth. Colonel Rogers reported that his horse was killed by a bombardment. General Beauregard in a surprise move evacuated Corinth on the night of May 29th. The 47,000 Confederates withdrew south to Tupelo, Mississippi; here the army was reorganized and reassigned. The Second Texas remained at Tupelo with the corps commanded by General Sterling Price. In the camps at Tupelo, Colonel Rogers resumed regimental drill, as did the other regiments of the army. Rogers worked diligently to re-recruit and resupply the regiment. His star was clearly on the rise. The leadership that he exhibited in battle at Shiloh and in the camps at Tupelo and Corinth had attracted the attention of his fellow officers. Rogers wrote to his wife at that time that the top officers of about twenty regiments from the states of Texas and Arkansas had written a letter to Richmond urging Rogers’s appointment as a major general to command the troops from their two states now on the east side of the Mississippi River.

At Iuka an ambush planned by Colonel Rogers was executed by the Second Texas Sharpshooters and contributed the Confederate offensive. For this action, the Second Texas and Colonel Rogers were cited by both General Price and General Maury in their official reports of the battle of Iuka he Second Texas, following the battle of luka, proceeded to Saltillo, Mississippi, a few miles north of Tupelo, to rendezvous with Confederate General Van Dorn’s forces who were planning an attack on Corinth.



At 10:00 a.m. on October 3rd the Confederates formed a line amid the battle for Corinth commenced. The Confederates approached Corinth from the west, roughly along the line that parallels and is astride the Memphis & Charleston railroad bed. Maury’s Division formed the right flank of Price’s line of attack north of the railroad, with Moore’s Brigade flanking on the railroad. The Confederates pushed back the Federals some 300 yards to the old Beauregard Unit. Repeated charges led by the Second Texas forced back the Federal line further. The fighting lasted all day and the Confederate assault on the outer defenses of Corinth had been successful on all fronts. Darkness on October 3rd found the besieging Confederate Army drawn in a battle line outside the inner defenses of Corinth. Van Dorn telegraphed Richmond, “We have driven the enemy from every position. We are within 3/4 of a mile of Corinth … Our loss, I’m afraid, is heavy. On October 4th, another scorching hot day, Van Dorn a sunrise attack. Upon awakening. Maury’s Division, which was to strike Stanley in the center, noted with dismay the formidable Federal defensive position that they must attack. With the premonition of the danger facing him, Colonel Rogers donned an armored vest and pinned a short note on his clothing on which was written his name, age, rank, command and the address of friends. Acting, apparently as the rank of brigadier general, led the Second Texas, the Sixth Texas, the Ninth Texas, a portion of the Thirty-Fifth Mississippi, and a company of the Forty-Second Alabama against Battery Robinett, their objective.

From their advanced positions within 400 or 500 hundred yards of Battery Robinett, Rogers’s Brigade
four columns of men, forming Colonel Rogers’s Brigade, appeared from the woods west of Battery Robinett and moved forward. Attention was now shifted to Rogers’s men and fire was concentrated on them. The columns became disorganized. The men scrambled through the complex abates. The Second Texas and other brigade units advanced within rifle range in the face of murderous rifle fire. The thinned ranks fell back out of range out of the withering fire. The colors of the Second Texas fell to the ground as the fourth color bearer of the day was shot to death. Colonel Rogers seized them and rode back to rally his troops for another assault. Waving the regimental colors from horseback, Colonel Rogers lead the column on horseback, gauged his pace to match the steps of his men and carried the colors aloft. The columns reached the ditch of the battery and Rogers jumped his horse over the ditch, dismounted, dashed up to the side of the battery where he planted the colors squarely upon the fort. Bitter hand-to-hand fighting ensued. Thirteen of the 36 men serving the guns of Battery Robinett were either killed or wounded in this desperate struggle. The Confederates took possession of Battery Robinett. Suddenly they caught the first sight of a massive sea of blue uniforms moving toward them in a counter-attack. Realizing the hopelessness of the situation, Rogers and Foster waved handkerchiefs to surrender their troops. Other Confederates about the fort, however, did not see the surrender sign and continued to fire into the mass of Union soldiers. Massive fire was returned on the Confederates at very close range, and Colonel Rogers fell dead with eleven wounds. The remainder of the attacking Confederates had to fall back bringing with them their most prized possession, the regimental flag.

An Iowa soldier at Battery Robinett later wrote, “General Rogers, with a flag in one hand and a revolver in the other, led them straight into one of the awful death-traps of the war.”
The remainder of Maury Division re-entered the woods west of Corinth and within a short time General Van Dorn terminated the Confederate attack on Corinth. Maury’s Division was cut to pieces; of the 4,000 men that formed the unit, over 2,000 were killed, wounded or missing. Of the 324 men of the Second Texas regiment that marched on Corinth, only 124 mustered for dress parade on October 18th. Newspaper correspondents at Corinth provided dramatic eye witness accounts to the daring Confederate assaults on Battery Robinett to both Northern and Southern newspapers with unanimous praise of the bravery of Colonel Rogers and the Second Texas Infantry. General Van Dorn praised the bravery of Colonel Rogers in his official report of the battle. The Confederate Army at approximately 1:00 p.m. was ordered to retreat from Corinth. It was not pursued by the Union Army that day.

The battle of Corinth was short, but bloody. The Federal loss was 355 killed; 1,841 wounded and 324 missing; the Confederacy, 473 killed; 1,977 wounded and 1,763 missing.
The body of Colonel Rogers was buried with military honors by order of General Rosecrans in a single grave near where he fell at Battery Robinett. The other brave Confederate soldiers involved in the attack were buried in a mass grave. An 1884 photograph showed Colonel Rogers’s grave in a field covered with weeds and surrounded by a sagging picket fence. However, an article in the Galveston Daily News; 1892, written by J.R Wiles, entitled, “A Neglected Texan’s Grave” stimulated the interest of Texas and by March 8, 1896 an association known as the Rogers Monument Association was created for the purpose of erecting and maintaining a monument to Colonel W.P. Rogers.


Col. W.P. Rogers monument

The monument was unveiled in Corinth on August 15, 1912 and the white marble shaft contains the following inscriptions:

East side facing the grave:
William P. Rogers,
A Native of Alabama
December 17, 1817 A.D.
Captain of Mississippi Rifles, 1845-1847.
First Man to Mount Walls of Monterrey.

United States Consul to Mexico, 1849.
Signed Ordinance of Secession of Texas, Feb. 1, 1861.
Colonel 2nd Texas Infantry.
Brevet Brigade Commander.

North side:
Fell Leading Moore’s Brigade, Fort Robinette,
October 4, 1862.
‘He was one of the bravest men that ever led a charge. Bury him with military honors,’
(Maj. Gen. W.S. Rosecrans, Commanding Army of the Cumberland, U.S.A.)

South side:
‘The gallantry which attracted the enemy at Corinth was in keeping with the character he acquired in the former service. (Jefferson Davis)
His last words were:
‘Men, save yourselves or sell your lives dear as possible.’



West side:
‘Erected by the Texas Division, United Daughters
of the Confederacy, the surviving members of the
family, and admiring friends.
August 15, A.D. 1912.

At the same time that the Rogers’s monument was dedicated, a marker to the unknown dead of Colonel Rogers’s charge was also unveiled.


The following article is from the 'Confederate Veteran', Volume IV, Number 7, Nashville, TN., July 1896. "With Col. Rogers When He Fell" was written by J.A. McKinstry, who was a private in Company D, Forty-second Alabama regiment and at the time the article was written was of Wyeth City, Ala., May 26, 1896.

"With Col. Rogers When He Fell"
For thirty years I have been urged by comrades to put in print what I saw and did in the storming of Battery Robinette, at Corinth, Miss., Oct. 4,1862, but for reasons of my own I have until now refused to do so. In a recent issue of the Confederate Veteran my name appears in connection with a mention of that terrible charge, and my gifted college chum, also gallant comrade, Dr. John A. Wyeth, of New York, renews the request that I give to surviving comrades a description of the charge, and the death of Col. Rogers, Capt. Foster, and the brave thirteen who fell with them, as I recollect it, and I consent. In doing so, I wish to preface my description by saying that I am not accustomed to write for publication, and that I do not claim to be mathematically correct as to time, position, and distance in what I say; but merely give the recollections that were indelibly impressed upon the mind of a barefooted boy, who went as far, and who saw and felt as much, as any one that day.

I was a private in Company D, Forty-second Alabama Regiment, Moore's Brigade, Maury's Division, Price's Corps; and Col. Rogers' regiment (the Second Texas) was a part of our brigade, and acted as skirmishers in that engagement. I was only seventeen years of age, and weighed less than one hundred pounds. Being the smallest member of the company, my position was on the extreme left, which rested upon the regimental colors. On Friday, the 3rd of October, we stormed the outer works of the Federals, and carried them. The first shot fired at our regiment was a shell that exploded a few feet in front of our colors. It killed and wounded eleven men, including the color bearer. I was knocked off my feet by the concussion, but not otherwise hurt. The flag was instantly raised by Corporal J. A. Going (now of Birmingham, Ala.), and we were soon in possession of the works. We had several running fights during the day, as the Federals were driven from the outer to the inner fortifications. We lay on our guns during the night, and just before daylight we took position in a skirt of woods, directly in front of Robinette and some four or five hundred yards from it. We were discovered at dawn, and Forts Williams, Robinette, and College Hill opened a terrific enfilade fire of shot and shell upon us. We lay flat upon our faces. and the shells passed a few feet over us (we thought these feet were only inches), doing but slight damage. We remained in this position, hugging the ground, for four mortal hours before the signal gun was fired and the order to charge was given. The forts caught the sound of the signal gun, and ceased firing. We raised the rebel yell, and made a rush for the opening, some fifty yards in our front. There we were met by a deadly volley of shrapnel shells from the three forts, and our men fell dead and wounded all along the line.

In front of us was the most obstructive abattis that it was my misfortune to encounter, or to see, during the war. Beyond this in our front, to our right and to our left, were the forts belching destruction into our ranks; yet our men did not waver or halt, but over the tops, under the limbs, around the stumps, along the fallen trunks of the trees, like squirrels, they scrambled in their effort to reach the fort in front. Forts Williams and College Hill were soon devoting their attention to the columns in their respective fronts; and when about half through the abattis, Robinette changed shells for grape and canister on us. Our yells grew fainter, and our men fell faster; but at last we reached the unobstructed ground in front of the fort, which was still a hundred yards away. Minies had been added to the missiles of death by the battery's infantry support; still we moved onward, and our badly scattered forces rallied on the flag. Twenty steps further, and our colors went down again. Going had fallen with a bullet in his leg. Comrade Crawford, of Company A, dropped his gun, and, almost before the flag had touched the dust, hoisted it again, and shouted: "On to the fort, boys!" A few steps farther, and the guns of the fort again changed their charges; now whole bags of buckshot were being belched from the cannons' mouths into our now nearly annihilated ranks, and our flag went down the ill-fated third time to rise no more on that battlefield. Poor Crawford had caught nine buckshot seven in his breast and two in his arm; but we, Only a remnant now of those who started, pressed on and reached the outside of the fort, and for a moment had protection; but before we could scarcely catch a breath, hand-grenades came flying thick and fast over the walls of the fort, and, falling in the dust, which was ankle deep, began to explode under our feet, filling the air with dust and smoke, and wounding our men. It took but a moment, however; to put a stop to this; for, having been educated in the tactics of fort defense, we quickly answered the command of a comrade, "Pick them up, boys, and pitch them back into the fort;" and immediately these infernal machines were bursting upon the inside among those who first threw them. Some one at this juncture shouted, "Over the walls, and drive them out;" and up the steep embankment we clambered. Comrade Luke was on my right, and Comrade Franks was on my left.

As we scaled the top of the parapet, a volley of musketry met us. Luke went on over, Franks was killed with a bullet in the forehead, and, as he fell backward, he clinched me around the neck and carried me tumbling back with him to the bottom of the ditch on the outside. I was considerably rattled by the fall; but I heard Luke shout from the inside of the fort," Come on, boys; here they are;" and I picked up my gun to go back to him, when I saw a "blue coat" jump from behind a stump, on the right of the fort, and run back in the direction of Corinth. He was only a few steps from me, and I held my gun on him and tried to fire, but could not. He soon got behind the fort, so that I could not see him, and I took my gun down to see what was the matter, and found that in my excitement I had only half-cocked it. Firing had almost ceased, and I heard the shout of "Victory! victory!" and I thought we had won the day. I ran to the left of the fort whence the shout of victory came, and joined a small squad of our men that were standing a few paces from the fort. Col. Rogers and Capt. Foster were in this squad. On seeing a line of Federals approaching, and before giving the situation a thought, I immediately raised my gun and fired full into the breast of a Federal sergeant, who was in front of the column, and only a short distance from us. 'Twas then that Capt. Foster shouted, "Cease firing, men! cease firing!" and waved his handkerchief; and I realized the true situation. 'Twas too late! That fatal volley had been turned on our little band from the muzzles of fifteen hundred muskets. I was still standing just as I was when I fired my last shot, and within a few feet of Col. Rogers, when a minie ball went crashing through my left hip and turned me half round; another went tearing through my right shoulder, which changed my position to front; and another ball crushed through my left shoulder, causing me to drop my gun and my left arm to fall limp by my side. I looked, and, lo! every one of the fifteen men who were standing with me had fallen in a heap. I looked again, and not a Confederate was in sight.

The battle was lost, and our men had fallen back to the cover of the woods. Desperation seemed to seize me; and, though the blood was spurting from six gaping wounds, and I was already staggering from weakness, I took my dangling left arm up in my right, and, in the face of that deadly fire, I turned and ran for a quarter (in full view of that column of Federals, who were popping away at me every step that I took), and on for half a mile before I fell. He who seems to take special care of the boys was certainly with me in my desperate flight; for, though hundreds of minies passed uncomfortably near my ears, I was not hit in the back, nor was I captured. I lay on my back for three months without being able to turn over; but twelve months from then I, with a discharge in my pocket, was again with Gen. Moore in the battle above the clouds, and on with Johnston to Atlanta.

I have only to add that Crawford, after being shot down, saved our flag by tearing it from the staff, pulling it in his bosom, and crawling out with it. Poor Luke was killed inside the fort. Of the thirty-three men belonging to our company who went into the charge that morning only eleven answered to roll call next day.
Reading the accounts of the battle published in the papers afterwards, and remembering to have heard Capt. Foster shout, "Cease firing, men," and seeing him after I fired waving his handkerchief, I have always thought that perhaps if I had not fired my last shot that day we might have been permitted to surrender without being fired upon. Consequently, while I've always loved to talk about it, I've never thought that I would like to see my terrible experience in that battle put in print. So far as I know, I am the only person near Col. Rogers when he fell who was not killed with him. Col. W. P. Rogers.

 

** In memory of Stan Hughes **
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