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Colonel Wier Boyd

52nd REGT GA VOL CSA & FL WAR

In an article written by William S. Kinsland which appeared in the summer 1985 edition of the North Georgia Journal, Mr. Kinsland tells about the men and the legend of the "52nd Georgia Regiment". He states:

"It was early February, 1862 when Dahlonega Attorney, Wier Boyd penned a letter to his son, 17 year old, Augustus F. Boyd, who was off in the Carolinas and Virginia fighting with the Blue Ridge Rifles in Phillip's Legion. Boyd's letter reflected the alarm that was felt by many Georgians that winter, the bright prospects of an easy victory had faded quickly the previous summer after the costly success at Mannassa. The Union Army had been dealt a severe blow, but the proverbial sleeping giant of Northern Industry and wealth had been aroused and would ultimately overwhelm the South with its limited resources. As Boyd penned his letter, he felt great concern about the naval blockade at Savannah and along the Georgia coast. Salt, coffee and cloth were already in short supply. Union forces had taken Tybee Island and were laying siege to Fort Pulaski near the mouth of the Savannah River. All of Georgia anxiously awaited news, expecting any minute to hear a mighty Federal invasion from the sea. Wier Boyd was not one to sit quietly in the midst of impending danger. In January, 1861 he had obtained leave from Gov. Joseph E. Brown to raise a regiment. In his letter to his son Gus, he said: 

"I have become somewhat tired of doing nothing and am anxious to see this war come to a close and peace... prevail. And I have concluded the best way... is to convince the Lincoln Government that we were all ready to fly to arms in defense of the country. Therefore, I have applied to Governor Brown and have obtained leave to raise a regiment in Northeastern Georgia for the war."

Traveling about from county to county, Boyd enlisted the support of hundreds of men and prominent community leaders. It appears from the correspondence between Boyd's daughter, Fanny, and his son, Gus, (these letters and papers of Col. Wier Boyd are on micro-film, located at the William R. Perkin's Library, Duke University, Durham, N.C.) that Harrison Riley also attempted to raise a regiment and probably competed with Boyd for leadership of the unit.


However, Boyd was confident in his eventual election to the office of Colonel. Indeed, on March 16, 1862, the men of thenewly formed regiment at Camp McDonald elected Boyd to be their first leader. On March 20, Gov. Brown signed the commission making a full Colonel and commander of the 52nd Georgia Regiment. Although they had not yet faced hostile gunfire, the new recruits confronted with many hazards and hardships. They came down from the isolated little communities in the hills of Habersham County, from the gold mines of Lumpkin County, from the copper mines and mills of Fannin County, and from the cabins and farms of Dawson, White, Franklin, Towns, Union and Rabun Counties. They all came together and marched from the old rallying places of former wars like the Dahlonega Mustering Grounds and the Denton Springs Mustering Ground and elsewhere. In the early spring of 1862, these men marched down from the mountains in the midst of torrential rainstorms, crossing swollen rivers and trudging through mud by day and sleeping in rain-soaked haystacks by night.

Nor were their troubles over when they reached camp near Big Shanty (now Kennesaw) on Thursday, March 13th. In a letter written to his wife, Sarah, Boyd said:

"We arrived safely at Camp McDonald on Thursday last amid great storms of rain. The authority had no tents for us and we, with several other companies from our region, stopped east of Camp McDonald some 2 miles."

Disease was, by far, the greatest killer in the war. The Microbe theories of Pasteur and Lister were virtually unknown among American Physicians. Thus, the mechanisms of infectious diseases and their propagation remained an enigma which would kill nearly two-thirds of the estimated 600,000 American troops who died from 1861 to 1865.

The 52nd Georgia experienced more than its fair share of deadly epidemics. With hundreds of young men fresh from the relative isolation of the mountains, and as yet unexposed to smallpox, measles, typhoid and malaria, most of the soldiers of the 52nd Georgia became ill in March and April, 1862. Scores of these soldiers died and lie buried in Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery.

Boyd's letter's reflected the measles epidemic which was rampant in Camp McDonald at the time:

"The men in my Regiment...are all passing the ordeal of camp sickness. Seven men have died in my Regiment here. Over a dozen have died in Col. Henderson's Regiment."

Based on analysis of the incomplete data given in Lillian Henderson's Roster of the Confederate Soldiers of Georgia, Vol. 5, no less than 89 men died of disease in the regiment over a three year period. However, through various means of estimation, it seems possible that nearly 220 men may have been killed by disease. Of this total number, more than 50 percent died in March, April and May, 1862.

On the morning of April 12, 1862, a Federal agent named James J. Andrews and some 20 disguised Union soldiers boarded a northbound passenger train at Marietta. Their mission was to steal the train and burn the bridges over the Chickamauga, Oostenaula and Etowah Rivers.

Pulled by the locomotive "General", the train rolled into Big Shanty shortly after daybreak and stopped to allow its passengers and crew time to eat breakfast at the old Lacy Hotel. Just across the tracks from the Hotel, the 52nd Georgia carried on its seemingly endless routine of drilling and marching at Camp McDonald. But something happened that day which would make it a memorable one for the regiment. 
Sergeant-Major Gus Boyd, learning earlier that his father had been elected colonel of the regiment, was transferred from Phillip's Legion to join his father in the 52nd Georgia. Gus Boyd arrived at Camp McDonald that fateful day in the midst of a great deal of excitement and uproar. In a letter written the following day to his mother in Dahlonega, he described the situation:

"The train came up here yesterday and stopped for dinner. While the train hands were over at their dinner some persons (I suppose they were Yankees) loosed all the boxes but two and put on the steam and left. We soon procured an engine and Col. Phillips and several persons started after them. They overtook the train at Ringold. When the scoundrels perceived that they were pursued, they stopped the car and made their escape. Our men are still hunting them, and I hope they may catch them. There are two here under arrest who are supposed to belong to the same crowd."

On April 13th, it appears that the 52nd Georgia was mustered into the regular service and their men were paid their long awaited $50 bounty. On or about April 17th, the regiment boarded a northbound train and moved out for Dalton where they stayed only a few days. Then they moved on to Chattanooga. Because of a bitter feud between Gov. Brown and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the soldiers of the 52nd Georgia were ordered to leave their firearms behind and were told to expect to be armed by the Confederate government when they reached their destination.

Indeed, when the troops arrived in Chattanooga, they were armed quickly with brand new .58 caliber Enfield rifles confiscated by Confederate ordinance officers from the cargo of the raider CSS Nashville. The 12 boxes of rifles had been brought from England and were destined for delivery to Gov Joseph E. Brown at Milledgeville. This particular incident sparked a bitter exchange of communications between Gov. Brown and Confederate War Secretary George Randolph.

By April 27th the regiment had reached Camp Van Dorn near Knoxville. Another epidemic was taking its toll among the troops. Col. Boyd wrote to his wife Sarah:

"About half my regiment are yet unfit for duty. None, however, that we have brought here, have died, and none are thought to be dangerously ill. Measles, mumps and fever are the prevailing diseases...a man of sympathy would be sick to see so much suffering as is seen here."

Throughout May and the first part of June, 1862, the regiment spent much time marching through the mountains near Cumberland Gap which was a strategic passage through the mountains between Tennessee and Kentucky and Virginia.

During this period, Col. Wier Boyd became ill and was forced to return home to Dahlonega. Temporarily taking command, Lt. Col. Charles Philips was faced with the difficult task of keeping an effective fighting force on its feet in the wake of yet another epidemic which left only 300 men able for duty. By June 18th, the Federal forces had mustered enough strength to push the confederate forces out of Cumberland Gap. But the fighting and skirmishing continued as General E. Kirby Smith and General Braxton Bragg prepared to launch a major thrust into Kentucky.

As the summer wore on, the fighting for control of the Gap became more intense. In another letter home, Gus Boyd described an engagement with Federal forces under Brig. General C. W. Morgan at Tazwell, Tennessee in early August:

"We marched in about a mile and a quarter of the enemy and halted then... it was not long before we heard the boom of the cannon and the whistle of the ball... the fight was opened...our regiment was ordered onto the field. We marched on with a brave heart, and we soon reached our position... the firing became incessant, but when we opened up in our second volley, the enemy began to break their ranks. Then we gave a loud yell and charged down the hill and it would have done you good to have seen them run..."

Boyd also described an incident in which he and Col. Phillips had with a close brush with death:

"Once me and Col. Phillips were crossing a fence, and just as we were getting over, a shell struck right under us but did not explode. If it had, it would have killed us both."

Having partly recovered form his illness, Col. Wier Boyd returned to the regiment on September 4th and wrote to his wife:

"I find the Regiment in better health than since we left Camp McDonald...my captains are all now at their posts."

By October 26th, the 52nd Georgia had crossed the Gap and was now camped in 4 inches of snow near Rutledge, Tennessee. At that point, General Seth Barton advised the brigade that they must prepare for a winter campaign. In a letter home Gus Boyd wrote:

"We are going to send one man home from each company to procure clothing for the men. You can send me a pair of pants and a coat. Tell mother to make me a short coat."

This passage reflects an interesting reality of the Confederate uniform, that it was often supplemented with civilian clothing to provide adequate protection against the elements.

The balance of the cold autumn saw the 52nd Georgia from one camp ground to another in central Tennessee, from Cumberland Gap to Chattanooga and back to Cumberland Gap, all with virtually no fighting. It was during this snowy autumn that many changes of command took place. Col. Wier Boyd, now gravely ill in a hospital at Macon, Georgia, was examined by surgeons and found to be unfit for duty to "disease of the kidneys and liver." Boyd submitted his resignation on November 1st. Shortly thereafter, Charles Phillips was commissioned a full colonel and took command of the unit. Sergeant Robert Quillian was promoted to adjutant. Gus Boyd was elected by the men of Company "B" to serve as their Captain, replacing John J. Moore, who was promoted to Major.

On December 18th, the regiment got its marching orders. Fortunately, for their blister feet, most of the travel would be by railroad. On December 19th they marched to Murfreesboro,Tennessee where they camped for the night. The next morning they boarded a southbound train and traveled to Chattanooga. There they changed trains and went on to Atlanta. Changing again in Atlanta, they rolled on to West Point, Georgia where they boarded another train for Montgomery, Alabama, then on to Jackson and finally Vicksburg. By December 28th they were disembarking from the train in the midst of heavy cannon fire.

On December 27th, Wier Boyd and his family back in Dahlonega had learned of Gus's promotion. Col. Boyd wrote a letter of congratulation and admonition to his son: 

"I desire you to be courteous in your new position, be firm in your discipline but kind to your officers and men. Act always with an eye to the dignity of your position but never be proud and haughty... study Bible and military discipline very closely; avoid bad habits...and you will have nothing to fear."

At daylight on December 29th, the Federal Army under Major General W. T. Sherman near Vicksburg commenced shelling and followed with a furious infantry assault on the Chickasaw Bluff breastworks. The 52nd Georgia, still in Barton's Brigade, was in the center of the fighting. Holding a position on Indian Mound which overlooked a crossing point on the Bayou, the 52nd and other regiments in Barton's Brigade fought off five determined assaults that day.

The fighting at this point was furious, and the marksmanship of the mountaineers wasdeadly. In his report of January 5th, 1863, Brig. Gen. Seth Barton wrote:

"...nine large grave-trenches, of capacity of 75 men each, were left filled...the ground for 150 yards in front of the breastworks gave frightful evidence of the great slaughter committed here."

A cease-fire was called when Union Col. Slaughter of the 8th Missouri Regiment sent in a flag of truce and asked for permission to bury the dead and remove the wounded from the field. General Sherman reported that he had lost 208 killed, 1005 wounded and 563 missing. Confederate losses were only 63 killed, 134 wounded and 10 missing. The 52nd Georgia reported only 1 man killed and 3 wounded.

The carnage at Chickasaw left a deep impression on Gus Boyd who wrote to his family:

"It made me feel sorry for the poor fellows to see them lying there cold and dead in the mud and water. They fought bravely and charged up to our breastworks three or four times so close that we could see the fire flash out of the muzzles of their guns."

Conditions improved slightly for the regiment when their tents and other gear finally caught with them on January 22nd. Some 50 tents belonging to the regiment had been inexplicably lost in Atlanta during their transit from Tennessee. Quartermaster John Logan brought the equipment from Atlanta by railroad.

On January 25th, Captain Gus Boyd was detailed to return to North Georgia to collect deserters from the unit and to recruit new troops. This would be Boyd's final trip home and the last time he would see his family. He was accompanied by Captain John Gaily and Lieutenant Lewis Gilreath. Two other men identified only as "Lt. Hodge and Lt. Weaver" accompanied them.

It is believed that this was the point at which Boyd had the only known photograph of himself made.

As the winter wore on and spring came, the 52nd Georgia was still operating around the Vicksburg area but engaged in little significant fighting. In the meantime, Sherman gave up his effort to break the Confederate defenses around Vicksburg temporarily and commenced operations along the Arkansas River. As Gus Boyd's 14-year-old sister Fannie wrote, Vicksburg had become the "Gibraltar of the West".

On May 14th, 1863, Jackson, Mississippi fell to the Federals. On May 16, General Pemberton ordered his troops to march eastward to link up with General Joseph Johnson's 12000-man force which had evacuated Jackson. As Pemberton's troops marched, they ran head on into Grant's Army at Baker's Creek (Champion's Hill). The battle was joined.

Barton's Brigade, of which the 52nd Georgia was a part, was one of the first to send troops into the fray. The 42nd Georgia under Col. R. J. Henderson and a section of the first Mississippi Artillery were sent to hold the bridge over Baker's Creek. At about noon that day, Federal General McClerndan's Corps launched an assault on Confederate lines. The remainder of Barton's Brigade was ordered to the left flank to support General Stepen D. Lee's Corps.

The troops were marched at the double quick. Barton's Brigade formed a line of battle with its left wing on the bridge road and the right wing adjoining Lee's left. Barton's troops moved through dense thicket. Suddenly, the 40th, 41st and 43rd Georgia encountered the Union troops which had driven Lee's left flank back, and pushed the Federals back some 300 yards into the timber. The Union line was then reinforced and Barton's advance was checked.

Meanwhile, the 52nd Georgia had been held in reserve to cover Barton's left flank. Barton ordered Col. Phillips to move his regiment forward. As Barton later reported: "I had reserved the Fifty-second Georgia on the left to protect that flank; it was now moved up rapidly and in hansom style engaged a brigade that was turning the left."

Undaunted courage was not enough to stop the Union tidal wave. As Barton later wrote: "...my right flank was soon overwhelmed...the left was like manner enveloped and a heavy fire was poured in from the rear." Barton's Brigade was virtually surrounded.

The Union assault turned into a slaughter. Men in grey fell where they stood. Others were so quickly overtaken that they had no choice but to surrender. A Federal bullet struck Captain Gus Boyd in the forehead above the left eye. At age 18, he fell dead, his young life snuffed out.

 

 

 

2016