3rd Alabama Infantry Regiment

"The Glorious Third" Alabama's first volunteers

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3rd Alabama Volunteers

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The 3d Alabama Regiment of Volunteers was organized at the Montgomery Fairgrounds, north of the Capitol, April 27, 1861.  It was assembled from existing militias of the Alabama Volunteer Corps (AVC) and despite the designation “Third Alabama” it was actually the first regiment deployed outside the state and the lowest numbered regiment to exist intact for the duration of the war. The 1st Alabama and 2d Alabama Regiments were designations of relatively short duration. Many of the men in these regiments were sent to Tennessee and were surrendered at Fort Pillow in February 1862. Those repatriated were absorbed into other units.

The organization of 3d Alabama at Montgomery was:  Jones Withers of Mobile, elected Colonel; Tennent Lomax of Montgomery, elected Lieutenant Colonel; Cullen A. Battle of Tuskegee, elected Major. This distribution of Field Officers, from various parts of the state, satisfied the major voting blocs within the regiment. The largest bloc (of four militias), was from Mobile; Mongomery was represented by two (The True Blues, and The Metropolitan Guards) and were allied with the Lowndes-Beauregards and the Wetumpka Light Guards. Major Battle represented the more rural Macon County interests: The Tuskegee Light Infantry and the Southern Rifles (of Union Springs––located in Macon County at that time).

The gloriously named militias were now consigned to the alphabet:

Co A: The Mobile Cadets, under Capt. Robert M. Sands, age 36

Co B: The Gulf City Guards (Mobile), Capt. William Hartwell, 41

Co C: The Tuskegee Light Infantry (Macon Co.), Capt. William Swanson, 45

Co D: The Southern Rifles (Macon Co.), Capt. Richard H. Powell, 39

Co E:  The Washington Light Infantry (Mobile), Capt. Archibald Gracie, 28

Co F: The Metropolitan Guards (Montgomery), Capt.F. Winston Hunter, 42

Co G: The Montgomery True Blues, Capt. William G. Andrews, 35

Co H: The Beauregard-Lowndes, Capt. M. Ford Bonham, 33

Co I:  The Wetumpka Light Guards, Capt. Edward S. Ready, 27

Co K: The Mobile Rifles, Lewis T. Woodruff, 45

To avoid confusion in written orders, there was no Company “J” in either army.

Early on there was great rivalry between the militias: before the war city-wide and annual state-wide competitions recognized the best drilled, best marksmen, best equipped, etc. In Montgomery, at the organization of the regiment, the militias were assigned to guard various points around the city. The Mobile Rifles were given the plum assignment of guarding the Capitol. Governor Moore made them his personal pet. When he asked Captain Woodruff  “What do you wish for your Company?” he assumed the old merchant would request some item the volunteers were in need of. Instead, Woodruff merely replied “Marching Orders.”
“What…” the Governor said, “Do you want nothing in the way of arms, accouterments, etc.?”
“Nothing but marching orders,” repeated the captain.    
“Would that all could say as much…you shall have them.”

3rd Alabama: In Norfolk

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The regiment stood in a pouring rain at Lynchburg Depot and  before dawn, boarded wet cattle cars for the journey eastward to Norfolk.   Twelve hours later, they had covered the hundred miles to Petersburg, where they gratefully accepted a banquet provided by the citizens. Afterwards they re-boarded the same cars (now swept out and relatively clean) and finished the final eighty miles to Norfolk, arriving on the outskirts at 4 AM.

Yankee crewmembers from the Sloop of War USS Cumberland––anchored at Newport News––had crossed Hampton Roads and torched Gosport Naval Yard (located south of Norfolk) some days before in an attempt to destroy all materiel useful to the Confederacy. They fired several frigates, including The Merrimack, which was under construction. Several of the buildings were also smoldering ruins. Little Billy Mahone had curtailed the destruction by cleverly running his locomotives back and forth along his lines, leading the Yankees to believe a huge deployment of angry rebels was descending upon them. Thanks to that ruse, 1200 Dahlgren guns––large smoothbores for coastal defense––were saved from destruction, and these would protect many southern ports over the next four years. 3d Alabama was among the first reinforcements to reach Hampton Roads, and insured there would be no more Yankee incursions. The Norfolk area would be their base for the next twelve months.

Their first bivouac was at Doyle’s Farm until May 18, when they moved across the Elizabeth River and a couple of miles east of Norfolk to Harrison’s Farm. Soon after, 300 “hands”, i.e. slaves, began construction on a two-mile, chest-high palisade across the land between Broad Creek and Tanner’s Creek––blocking the likely invasion route from a Yankee landing. This “entrenched camp” became the brigade’s line of defense until well into November. Ironically, it was the use of blacks to construct this fortification (and others, like the shore batteries around Sewell’s Point), that led General Butler at Fort Monroe to declare escaping slaves who came to him, “contraband.” Because the slaves had been used as a military asset by the South, i.e. as manpower, Butler declared them confiscated; the first step taken in the slow but inevitable march towards Lincoln’s emancipation of slaves.

At Norfolk, Colonel Withers’ regiment fell under the departmental command of General Benjamin Huger, a West Pointer of “the old school.” They were brigaded with the 6th, 12th and 44th Virginia under Brigadier Billy Mahone. Surely, it must have rankled Withers, a West Point graduate himself, to be under Mahone (the tiny Railroad President stood no more than 5′ tall and weighed under 100) so Withers set about politicking for a promotion and transfer. He spent little time with his regiment––which did not pass unnoticed by his troops, especially the Mobilians who had worked so hard to elect him over Tennent Lomax. By July 1, to no one’s sorrow, Withers was made Brigadier and transferred back to command at Mobile. The Volunteers overwhelmingly elected Lomax and Battle as their new colonels. The election to fill the open position of major was not so straightforward.

Written by boothma

November 20, 2012 at 12:58 pm