Organized in Middle Tennessee, summer, 1863.
According to a report by Colonel R. D. Mussey, Commissioner for Organization Colored Troops, dated October 10, 1864, organization of this regiment was begun at Murfreesboro in July, 1863 from laborers in the staff departments at Clarksville, Gallatin, Murfreesboro, etc. These men were brought into Nashville and formed the nucleus of the 13th U. S. Colored Infantry Regiment, recruiting for which began on September 24, 1863.
On August 27, 1863, Major General W. S. Rosecrans advised Governor Andrew Johnson that he wished to place the building of the Northwestern Railroad under his charge, and mentioned the 12th and 13th U. S. Colored Regiments as forces which he might be able to assign to him. Evidently, this was before the regiment was organized.
On October 19, 1863, Lieutenant Colonel Trauernicht, in a letter to Adjutant General Stearns, at Nashville, stated the regiment was at that time thirty miles west of Nashville, on the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad, the advance post of troops in that area. He stated that he had not enough men to act as guards and furnish laborers, and urged the necessity for completing the organization of the regiment immediately, saying: ~f, in our present state, we can do no good service here, we had better have remained in Nashville, as we are now simply an outpost, with no chance to improve our drill and discipline. * * The officers, for the most part, are enlisted men acting as officers. In case of capture, doubt seems to exist whether they will be treated by the enemy as officers of the U.S., or will they be considered an irregular body and hung as spies. * *Give me a full regiment, and we can do much good in this direction. As we are, I fear we can only be an expense to the government."
Colonel W. W. Wright, Chief of Engineers, reporting on the construction of the Nashville and Northwestern, said the 13th commenced work November 19, 1863, and was relieved May 10, 1864, furnishing an average of 500 men as construction workers during this period.
On December 31, 1863, the 13th was reported as part of the troops under Brigadier General Alvan C. Gillem on the Nashville and Northwestern, along with the 12th U. S. Colored Infantry, and the 12th and 13th served together in the same brigades until July 7, 1865. (See the history of the 12th U.S. Colored Infantry for brigade assignments during this period.)
After completion of construction work on the railroad in May, 1864, the regiment remained on guard duty along the line of railroad until November 30, 1864. During this time, part of the regiment was at Johnsonville during General Nathan B. Forrest's attack on that place the first week in November. Reports of the engagement state that some of the men from the 13th were on the river bank as sharpshooters, armed with Enfield rifles, and did good execution.
On November 30, the regiment was ordered to Nashville and placed in the 2nd Colored Brigade under Colonel C. R. Thompson, and as part of that brigade, suffered heavy losses in the battle of Nashville December 15-16, 1864; especially in the assault of Overton's Hill on the 16th. Colonel Thompson's report said the 13th was in the second line in that assault, but when the front lines faltered, pushed forward and some men actually mounted the Confederate parapet, but were forced to retire. "These troops were here, for the first time, under such fire as veterans dread, and yet, side by side with the veterans of Stone's River, Missionary Ridge and Atlanta, they assaulted probably the strongest works on the entire line, and though not successful, they vied with the old warriors in bravery, tenacity, and deeds of noble daring." Colonel Hottenstein reported the regiment went into action with 556 men and 20 officers; Lieutenants John M. Woodruff, George Taylor, L. L. Parks, and James A. Ison, and 51 men were killed; four officers and 161 men wounded; and one missing; total casualties of 221. This was a loss of nearly 40 per cent of those engaged, a terrific percentage. Colonel Hottenstein reported: "Captains Bensinger, Park, Duncan, Chamberlin, Dougall, and Wallace led their companies in the most gallant manner. Lieutenants Dickerson, Marble, Ricketts and Snell behaved with marked gallantry, but all did nobly."
The regiment took part in the pursuit of General John B. Hood's army into North Alabama, and started back to Nashville on January 7, 1865. At Scottsboro, Alabama, on the 8th, it was called back to take part in the pursuit of Brigadier General H. B. Lyon, but when Lyon escaped across the Tennessee River, the regiment returned to Nashville, arriving on January 15, 1865. It stayed in Nashville for about two weeks, and then reoccupied its former stations on the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad.
On July 7, 1865, the 13th was relieved from duty in the Middle Tennessee District, and ordered to proceed to St. Louis, Missouri, and report on arrival to Major General W. T. Sherman for further orders. It was mustered out of service December 11, 1865.
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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