Friday, December 23, 2011

G. W. Askew and Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment (44th Mississippi Infantry Regiment)

In 1860, my GGGrandfather, George Washington Askew, was 22 years old and a recent graduate from University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), had just returned to the family farm in Lowndes County, Mississippi. On January 9, 1861, Mississippi became the second state to secede from the Union and on February 28, 1861, George enlisted at Columbus, MS, as a private in Captain Butler’s Company of the 5th Regiment, 1st Brigade of Mississippi Volunteers.  His company was known as the Tombigbee Rangers which was raised from volunteers within Lowndes county.  The seceded states became the Confederate States of America with the ratification of the Confederate constitution on March 11, 1861.  On August 8th of the same year, George’s unit was mustered into Confederate Service as Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment, named after the commander, Lieutenant Colonel Blythe.  A review of George’s service record places him and his unit at New Madrid, Missouri on August 8, 1861.  On September 7, 1861, Blythe’s Mississippi regiment was assigned to the brigade of General B.F. Cheatham, near New Madrid. Later, Preston Smith commanded the brigade within Cheatham's Division.

It is interesting to note that one of George’s early company commanders was Captain J. H. Sharp, who later became a General during the Civil War, and George’s younger brother, Joseph married General Sharp’s daughter after the war.  Both J. H. Sharp and Joseph Askew were involved in Mississippi politics during the reconstruction period.

Cheatham’ Division defeated Union forces under the command of U.S. Grant at Belmont, Missouri.  On November 6, Grant moved by riverboat from Cairo, Illinois, to attack the Confederate fortress at Columbus, Kentucky. The next morning, he learned that Confederate troops had crossed the Mississippi River to Belmont, Missouri. He landed his men on the Missouri side and marched to Belmont. Grant's troops overran the surprised Confederate camp and destroyed it. However, the scattered Confederate forces quickly reorganized and were reinforced from Columbus. They then counterattacked, supported by heavy artillery fire from across the river. Grant retreated to his riverboats and took his men to Paducah, Kentucky. Blythes Mississippi Regiment participated in the repulse of the Union forces.  Preston Smith reported that the men of his brigade "displayed the greatest coolness and determined courage, and although under fire for the first time, bore themselves like veterans, sustaining the reputation of Tennesseans and Mississippians on the glorious battle-fields of New Orleans and Buena Vista." The regiment took part in the attack on the gunboats as Grant was re-embarking.  The Confederates viewed Belmont as a Southern victory, since Grant had staged a demonstration and been driven off. Union losses were 607 (120 dead, 383 wounded, and 104 captured or missing). Confederate casualties were slightly higher at 641 (105 killed, 419 wounded, 106 captured, and 11 missing).

On March 9, 1862, the regiment was listed in Preston Smith's Brigade of Polk's grand division.

Blythe's Regiment participated in the Battle of Shiloh, April 5-6, 1862.  General Bushrod Johnson commanded during the battle and mentioned the command in his reports. In describing the actions of the brigade, April 6, General Cheatham said, "Blythe's Mississippi advanced to the left and attacked the enemy, and, wheeling to the right, drove one of the enemy's batteries, with its support, from its position; but as it advanced upon the enemy Colonel Blythe was shot dead from his horse while gallantly leading his regiment forward in the charge. Within a few minutes of his fall Lieutenant Colonel David L. Herron and Captain R. H. Humphreys, of the same regiment, both officers of merit, were mortally wounded and the command devolved on Major James Moore, under whose direction the regiment was actively engaged during the remainder of the day and throughout the subsequent action of the 7th. The regiment at all times eminently manifested the high spirit which has always characterized the soldiers of Mississippi and no braver soldier than its heroic leader was lost to our cause." Col. Preston Smith, who took command of the brigade after Johnson was wounded, found about 200 men of Blythe's Regiment fit for duty in the next engagement, but they were of such quality that they were entrusted alone with the support of a battery after the other regiments had fallen back for ammunition. With Marcus J. Wright's Tennessee Regiment and Joe Wheeler's Alabamians they reinforced Chalmers in time to take part in the last desperate charge against overwhelming odds.

While at Corinth, on April 26, the regiment was transferred to Trapier's Brigade of Withers' Division, Braggs' Corps. In the reorganization under General Bragg, the regiment was assigned to Chalmers' Brigade.  George remained with the 44th Mississippi until he was elected 2LT at Camp Hardee, Columbus, MS and joined F Co, 42nd Alabama Infantry Regiment in May 1862.   Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment was designated the 44th Mississippi Infantry Regiment on June 6, 1863 and continued through the remaining portion of the war.

Portion of the Original Muster Roll of the Tombigbee Rangers

Portion of the Original Muster Roll of the Tombigbee Rangers depicting George W. Askew Age 23

Original Battle Flag of the Tombigbee Rangers, on display at the Stephen D. Lee house in Columbus, Mississippi

At Shiloh National Battlefield Park where Blythes Mississippi Regiment was engaged

At Shiloh National Battlefield Park where Lieutenant Colonel Blyth was Killed In Action

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