“We Don’t Surrender Much”

As December comes to a close, we are approaching the anniversary of the battle of Stones River. The most significant engagements occurred on December 31, 1862, and January 02, 1863. General Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland faced General Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. General Rosecrans moved south from Nashville to bring battle to Bragg near Murfreesboro.

A number of Michigan infantry regiments participated in the battle of Stones River, but this post is about the First Regiment of Michigan Engineers and Mechanics who happened to take an active role in combat on January 01, 1863, at Lavergne, Tennessee. I wrote about the Sligh family connection to this regiment in an earlier post. The First Regiment Michigan Engineers and Mechanics were organized and commanded by Colonel William Power Innes of Grand Rapids, MI.

On December 31, Bragg struck first and hard. The Confederates swept away the right wing of the Army of the Cumberland. Stout resistance and leadership from the likes of Phil Sheridan and William Hazen saved the Union from complete disaster.

With the infantry occupying his front, Rosecrans had to deal with another dilemma to his rear. Confederate cavalry had managed to harass his supply line, take prisoners, and disrupt communication with Nashville. Rosecrans sent Colonel Innes and the Michigan Engineers to protect the supply wagons at Lavergne, which was an important depot between Nashville and Murfreesboro. The Engineers were accustomed to building bridges and repairing railroads with their arms stacked nearby. They would prove their mettle in battle.

Charles R. Sligh, son of Captain James W. Sligh, wrote about the New Year’s Day engagement at Lavergne in his book History of the Services of the First Regiment Michigan Engineers and Mechanics During the Civil War 1861-1865.

According to Sligh, Innes arranged his wagons in a half-circle and created temporary breastworks at Lavergne. Innes had only 391 men at his disposal when he was attacked by a cavalry force ten times that number. The Confederates also had two pieces of artillery. The Michigan Engineers held their position against numerous charges. In light of his superior numbers, the Confederate General Wheeler urged Innes to surrender. Colonel Innes reportedly responded by saying, “We don’t surrender much” and/or “I can’t see it, so long as my ammunition holds out.” The Confederate cavalry would eventually withdraw, leaving the Michigan Engineers to care for the dead and wounded left on the field.

In his official report, General Rosecrans praised Colonel Innes and the Michigan Engineers for their work at Lavergne.

The 1st Regiment of Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, at Lavergne, under command of Colonel Innes, fighting behind a slight protection of wagons and brush, gallantly repulsed a charge from more than ten times their number of Wheeler’s cavalry

General William S. Rosecrans official report of Stones River as quoted in Michigan in the War Revised Edition, Lansing, 1882.

One member of the Michigan Engineers was killed in action at Lavergne, Private John W. Coykendall of Company D. He was 29 years old. Corporal Charles Mingo and Private Mathias Reiser would later die from wounds received at Lavergne. A number of others were wounded, but the casualty list is remarkably short.

In a letter home, Captain James W. Sligh noted that about 50 rebels were killed or wounded at Lavergne. Other reports list the Confederate casualties as high as 100. In his words, the regiment spent the next day strengthening the position, dealing with dead horses and mules, and burying dead rebels.

In the days ahead, the Army of the Cumberland prevailed in battle and would fully occupy Murfreesboro. The shockingly high cost of the battle of Stones River meant that the army would camp for the winter and prepare for the spring campaign of 1863. The dreadful and expensive prize of 1863 would be Chattanooga.

In honor of the upcoming anniversary of Stones River and this particular engagement at Lavergne, I purposed to visit the grave of Colonel William Power Innes. Colonel Innes mustered out after his three year enlistment and did not see the end of the war with the regiment. He is buried in Fulton Street Cemetery just east of downtown Grand Rapids. I don’t yet know much about him, but I look forward to future research.

William Power Innes
1826 – 1893
“How beautiful it is for man to die upon the walls of Zion. To be called like a watchman and weary sentinel to put his armor off and rest in heaven.”

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