Captain John W. Morton’s Light Artillery Company

“Burns Light Artillery”

Formerly Captain Thomas K. Porter’s Tennessee Light Artillery Company.

This company was organized July 1, 1861 as State troops, and mustered into Confederate service on September 30, 1861 at Nashville, with some men detailed to it from the 3rd (J. C. Brown’s) and 18th (Palmer’s) Tennessee Infantry Regiments. On September 15, 1861, prior to the muster into Confederate Service, Porter’s Battery was reported at Camp Trousdale. On October 28, 1861, in the organization of the Army Corps of Central Kentucky, it was placed in Brigadier General Simon B. Buckner’s Division at Bowling Green, Kentucky.

On February 6, 1862, Buckner, at Russellville, Kentucky, objected to an order for Porter’s Battery to report to General Floyd, saying that it would leave his division without any artillery. At any rate, both Buckner’s Division and Porter’s Battery soon moved to Fort Donelson, where the battery took part in the struggle there, attached to Buckner’s Division. Brigadier General John B. Floyd, in his report of the Federal attack on February 13, said: “Too high praise cannot be bestowed upon the battery of Captain Porter for its participation in the rout of the enemy in this assault.” It was again prominent in the Federal assault on Buckner’s lines late in the afternoon of February 15. Buckner reported: “I cannot bestow sufficient praise on Captains Porter and Graves for the gallant and efficient handling of their batteries.” In this attack Porter’s battery lost more than half of its gunners, Captain Porter was severely wounded, and Lieutenant Morton took command of the battery. Morton reported 31 killed and wounded out of 48 cannoneers. Reports from brigade and regimental commanders were unanimous in the chorus of praise heaped upon the battery for its conduct in the three day fight.

The battery was surrendered on February 16, along with the rest of the forces surrendered at Fort Donelson. Captain Porter had to have his leg amputated as a result of his wound, and never served with the battery again. Upon his exchange he was promoted to Chief of Artillery, Department of East Tennessee, on November 5, 1862.

The battery was exchanged at Vicksburg, Mississippi September 16, 1862. According to a letter from Captain Morton, the battery, when exchanged about October 25, 1862 was ordered by Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman to report to Major General J. C. Breckinridge at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which it did. When General Bragg arrived at Mui{reesboro, he ordered Lieutenant Morton to report to Brigadier General N. B. Forrest at Columbia, to take charge of his Horse Artillery. Upon reporting, Forrest told him that he had only one battery (Freeman’s) with a full complement of officers, and did not want it disturbed. Morton replied that he would like to serve in Forrest’s Command unfil Forrest could give him a battery, but Forrest referred him to Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler for assignment. Upon request to Wheeler, he was ordered to report to Forrest for assignment to duty about December 5, 1862. On his West Tennessee raid the last half of December, Forrest captured a section (two pieces) of artillery and gave it to Morton, and at Middle-burg, on December 23, ordered a section commanded by Lieutenant Gould “of Colonel Napier’s regiment to be thrown with mine, thus forming a battery” to which Forrest appointed Morton as captain. From this time on, Morton’s Battery was attached to Forrest’s Cavalry Command.

In Forrest’s report of his West Tennessee raid, he stated that on December 20, Lieutenant Morton, with two guns, was sent with Colonel George Dibrell to destroy the bridge over the Forked Deer River, but they were driven off by superior forces. He also stated that Captain Freeman and Lieutenant Morton, with all their men, deserved special mention for their actions in the Battle of Parker’s Crossroads on December 31, 1862.

Morton’s Battery was sent with Dibrelrs Cavalry Regiment to Florence, Alabama, on February 24, 1863, where they remained until April 10, and while there, had a brush with Federal gunboats on March 25, 1863. Freeman’s and Morton’s batteries composed the artillery attached to Forrest’s Division until after the Battle of Chickamauga. Morton’s company report showed station at Kingston, Tennessee, on June 30. At Chickamauga, Morton’s Battery was attached to Dibrell’s Brigade, Brigadier General F. C. Armstrong’s Division of Forrest’s Corps. On October 9, 1863, the company report showed station at Dalton, Georgia.

On November 7, 1863, Morton’s Battery, with four officers and 67 men was assigned as part of the tiny force with which General Forrest moved to West Tennessee to assume command of the cavalry forces in West Tennessee and North Mississippi. On November 28, the battery was reported at Okolona, Mississippi with four rifled guns, and this constituted its armament for the rest of the war.

On February 5, 1864, Colonel J. E. Forrest’s Brigade and one section of Morton’s Battery were ordered to Grenada, Mississippi in preparation for a planned raid into Middle Tennessee, but the plans were disrupted by a Federal force under Major General William Sooy Smith moving into North Mississippi. In a running battle February 20-22 culminating at Okolona, Mississippi, General Forrest defeated this force and pursued it to the Tennessee border, and Morton’s Battery was engaged in this struggle.

On April 4, General Forrest, at Jackson, Tennessee, advised General Leonidas Polk: “I have ordered Morton’s battery to Tupelo, and shall bring it on here unless ordered to the contrary. I need its rifled guns, as the small guns I have are of little use.” On April 24, Polk advised; I have ordered Morton’s Battery and Chalmers’ Brigade to meet an enemy force moving up the Yazoo River.”

On May 10, 1864, in the organization of Forrest’s Cavalry forces, Hudson’s Mississippi, Morton’s and Rice’s Tennessee, and Thralls Arkansas Batteries were reported as the artillery attached to the command. On May 13, these batteries were formed into a battalion of artillery. On May 13, Forrest appointed Captain Morton as acting Chief of Artillery, and directed Lieutenant T. S. Sale to assume command of the battery. On May 15, Forrest advised: “Buford’s Division, and Morton’s and Rice’s batteries go to Corinth to-morrow.

The battery was engaged in the Battle of Tishomingo Creek, or Brice’s Crossroads on June 10; and again in the Battle of Harrisburg, July 15. General A. Buford, in reporting on this battle, stated: “On July 13, about 5:00 P. M., with Belrs Brigade, and Morton’s Battery, I attacked the enemy (Major General A. J. Smith) on his right flank during the march.”

On September 24, the battery was with General Forrest at the capture of Athens, Alabama, and on his subsequent raid to Pulaski, in Middle Tennessee. On October 29, it formed part of the force at Fort Heiman and Paris Landing which shelled and captured the steamer Mazeppa, with two barges; and on October 30, the steamer Cheeseman. A shell from Morton’s Battery was credited with disabling the Mazeppa, thus leading to its capture. On November 4, with Morton as acting Chief of Artillery, and Lieutenant Tully Brown in command of the battery, the battery took part in the bombardment and burning of the Federal Depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee.

Hardly pausing for breath, it then moved into Middle Tennessee the last half of November in General Forrest’s operations in support of General John B. Hood’s invasion. In his reports of this campaign, General Forrest made specific mention of Morton’s Battery twice. He reported that on December 1, he moved across the Harpeth River (near Franklin) and advanced up the Wilson pike where he struck the enemy in considerable force at Owen’s Crossroads, and ordered Morton to open upon him with his battery. On December 3, Morton’s battery was mentioned as taking part in the shelling and capture of Stockade Number Two on the railroad from Nashville to Murfreesboro.

Following this campaign, Forrest’s forces withdrew into Mississippi, where, on February 13, 1865, in the reorganization of his forces, Morton’s Battery was attached to Brigadier General W. H. Jackson’s Division. Along with the rest of Forrest’s command, it was paroled at Gainesville, Alabama in May, 1865; and so ended, after almost four years of service, the career of one of the best known, and most highly regarded, of the Tennessee batteries.

This unit history was extracted from Tennesseans in the Civil War, Vol 1. Copyrighted 1964 by the Civil War Centennial Commission of Tennessee and is published here with their permission. This history may not be republished for any reason without the written permission of the copyright owner.

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