Josiah Meigs and the 2nd U.S. Colored Light Artillery, Battery “A”

A couple months ago a photograph traveled the Civil War web-site and blog scenes. There were captions, but never a story that told more. The captions were things like “colored artillery,” “Battle of Johnsonville,” or 2nd Light Artillery.” I looked upon that as a challenge; here is the rest of the story, but first, of course, the photo.

 The camp of the Tennessee Colored Battery, pictured during the Siege of Vicksburg at Johnsonville, Tennessee, in 1864.

Johnsonville, TN. Camp of Tennessee Colored Battery – Library of Congress

A report by Col. R. D. Mussey, Commissioner for the Organization of Colored Troops, dated October 10, 1864, stated “Josiah V. Meigs, a native of Tennessee, received permission in January to raise a battery of Light Artillery at this place (Nashville). This is Battery A, 2nd U. S. Colored Light Artillery.” The report continued “The battery is full, and has been stationed here. It has but recently gotten horses. The men are pretty well advanced in the school of the piece and have had a few mounted drills.” See the end of this article for the short, but full, report.

During its service it performed garrison duty at Nashville and in Middle Tennessee, until January, 1866 and was at the Battle of Nashville, December 15-16, 1864. It was mustered out January 13, 1866. At Nashville it was assigned to Steedman’s Brigade on the far left of the Union’s lines. They were posted near the rail-line to Chattanooga and during battle were pitted against Smith’s Brigade, led by Col. Olmstead and his Georgia troops.

All but a few of the black volunteer units that served during the Civil War belonged to the United States Colored Troops. One hundred thirty-seven infantry regiments comprised the bulk of these black troops, but they also included 6 cavalry and 13 heavy (or foot) artillery regiments, along with 10 light artillery batteries. More than 25,000 black artillerymen, recruited primarily from freed slaves in Confederate or border-states, served in the Union Army during the Civil War. “Remember Fort Pillow!” became a battle cry of the U.S. Colored Troops. Combat for the black artillerymen, in this case heavy artillery, was rare, but four companies from the 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery were serving at Fort Pillow, Tennessee in April 1864, when Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest attacked. The ensuing “massacre” of almost two-thirds of the black soldiers, many of them after they had surrendered, was decried in the North, and “Remember Fort Pillow!” was born – from Black Artillerymen from the Civil War through World War One by Roger D. Cunningham

On Nov. 1, 1864 a call from the quartermaster forces at Nashville called for volunteers to go to the reinforcement of Johnsonville. Listed as part of the force that volunteered was “one section Battery A, Lt. Meigs, two Napoleon guns, 30 men.” Col. Mussey reported: “the behavior of the colored troops at Johnsonville was, I am informed by several eye-witnesses, excellent. A section of Meigs Battery made excellent practice, dismounting one of the guns of a battery placed by the rebels on the opposite shore, causing the battery several times to move its position.”

The Battle of Johnsonville was without doubt a Confederate “victory,” however it barely altered events that were about to follow. During the evening of November 3, 1864, Confederate General Bedford Forrest’s Artillery positioned their guns across the river from the Federal supply base at Johnsonville. The base was a transfer point for Union boats and the rail line that connected Nashville to the east. Forest was intent on disrupting Sherman’s Atlanta supply line. Forest’s guns bombarded the Union supply depot and the 28 steamboats and barges positioned at the wharf. All three of the Union gunboats were disabled or destroyed. The Union garrison commander ordered that the supply vessels be burned to prevent their capture by the Confederates. Forrest observed, “By night the wharf for nearly one mile up and down the river presented one solid sheet of flame. Having completed the work designed for the expedition, I moved my command six miles during the night by the light of the enemy’s burning property.” (Wikipedia)

During his bombardment of the base Forrest caused enormous damage at very low cost. He reported only 2 men killed and 9 wounded. He described the Union losses as 4 gunboats, 14 transports, 20 barges, 26 pieces of artillery, $6,700,000 worth of property, and 150 prisoners. One Union officer described the monetary loss as about $2,200,000. An additional consequence of the raid was that the Union high command became increasingly nervous about Sherman’s plan to move through Georgia instead of confronting Hood and Forrest directly.

Josiah Meigs 

Josiah Meigs was born in June, 1840 in Tennessee. He was the son of Return J. and Sarah Love Meigs. Josiah married Eugeina B. Shaffer on Dec. 20, 1864 in Nashville, Davidson County. Quite incidentally, Dec. 20th is immediately after the Union Army defeated Hood at Nashville where Josiah’s men where garrisoned. The roster of his regiment lists Josiah and his younger brother Fielding as Captains of the unit. The family moved to Massachusetts where Josiah later died in 1907 of A Cerebral Hemorrhage. He is buried at Lowell Cemetery and his death certificate was signed by his son, Josiah “Joe” V. Meigs, M.D.

His obituary states that Josiah invented firearms and ammunition and invented steam powered elevated monorail. Army pension records recorded the family’s residence as 22 Cordis Street, Boston, Mass. Cordis St. is a stone’s throw from the Bucker Hill Memorial Monument and Park. As I say below I am unable to make family tree connections, but this fact alone tells me much about the man and his ancestors.

Meigs Family Connections

Try as I might I am unable to confirm these connections, although there seems little doubt. It might appear that our Josiah is the son of Return J. Meigs III. The following from Wikipedia;

Return Jonathan Meigs, born Dec., 1740, died January, 1823, was a colonel who served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, was one of the founding settlers of the Northwest Territory in what is now the state of Ohio, and later served as a federal government Indian agent working with the Cherokee in Tennessee. His son Return J. Meigs, Jr. became an Ohio governor and U.S. Senator. A grandson, Return J. Meigs IV, married Jennie Ross, daughter of principal Cherokee chief John Ross, and immigrated to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.

Return J. Meigs, Jr. did not have a direct male heir, but two of his younger brothers, John and Timothy, each named a son Return Jonathan Meigs. The first of these, Return J. Meigs III passed the bar in Frankfort, Kentucky, commenced law practice in Athens, Tennessee, and became prominent in Tennessee state affairs before the Civil War. He moved to Staten Island, New York, however, at the time of Tennessee’s secession from the Union in 1861.

Of further interest, particularly to Nashville history; the current Meigs Magnet School is housed in the Meigs Building on Ramsey Street. The building was the location of the first African-American High School in Nashville and James L. Meigs was Superintendent of Schools at the time.

Report of Col. Reuben D. Mussey, One hundredth U. S. Colored Infantry, relative to action at Johnsonville. HDQRS. COMMISSIONER ORGANIZATION U. S. COLD. TROOPS, Nashville, Tenn., November 14, 1864. CAPT.: ~ ~ ~ The behavior of the colored troops at Johnsonville, Tenn., during the recent attack upon that place was, I am informed by several eye-witnesses, excellent. A section of Meig’s battery, temporarily there, made excellent practice, dismounting one of the guns of a battery placed by the rebels on the opposite bank of the river and causing the battery several times to change their location. The rebel battery devoted its attention to this section, shelling it furiously. The men stood their ground well. Some of the Thirteenth U. S. Colored Infantry, who were at Johnsonville, were upon the river-bank as sharpshooters, and armed with the Enfield rifle, and did good execution. The affair was slight, but it has gained credit for the colored troops. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant, R. D. MUSSEY, Col. One hundredth U. S. Colored Infantry, Commissioner Organization U. S. Colored Troops.      OR, Ser. I, Vol. 39, pt. I, p. 868.

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One thought on “Josiah Meigs and the 2nd U.S. Colored Light Artillery, Battery “A”

  1. Pingback: Photo Analysis: USCT at Johnsonville Depot, November 1864. Waiting for a train? | To the Sound of the Guns

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