yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee

The Battle at Centerville

by W. R. Morris

from the B. R. Jennings collection

It was a clear and frosty Monday morning, September 26, 1864 when Colonel John Murphy and 250 men of their 2nd Tennessee Mounted Infantry (U.S.V.) left his headquarters to scout southward for Confederates. The Regiment had been posted for the past month or so at a stockade located at the Hurricane Creek Trestle Section 54 of the Nashville and North Western Railroad in Humphreys County, TN. At that time the rail road was being used as a prime section of General William T. Sherman's supply line during his campaign to Georgia. It was frequently plagued by marauding confederate cavalry and guerrilla actions which threatened the workmen, residents along the track, and supply movements. Murphy ventured forth southward along Hurricane Creek to the mouth of the Duck River. They forded the river and continued southward for three miles and went into camp.

Murphy's men were relatively well equipped for their contemporaries. Having been furnished horses or mules and cavalry equipment they ranged far and wide on their scouts along the Tennessee River from upper Middle Tennessee to Lauderdale County, Alabama. The men were armed with the imported .58 caliber Enfield muzzle loading rifle (a rather cumbersome weapon for mounted service) and several had a Remington Army or Navy six shot revolver. Murphy, with great difficulty had seen to it that his men were also armed with two 12 pounder mountain howitzers (A small muzzle loading cannon which could shoot an explosive or solid projectile of about twelve pounds in weight and pulled by a single horse.) Murphy brought both cannon with him on this scout.

The following morning the men received information that Colonel Jacob Biffle of the 19th (9th) Tennessee Cavalry (Confederate) could be found in the area. Biffle had in the past been a great thorn in the Regiment's side. On this occasion Biffle had returned to Tennessee to recruit additional troops. Then being under he command of Major General Joseph Wheeler, Biffle was directed on September 20th to command a brigade. In a short time he had under his command Captain Robert Anderson's Company F (men from Leatherwood Wayne County) of his own Regiment, Captains Thomas Easley and Green. He also had the detached companies of Henon Cross (regarded by the federals as a Bushwacker) and David Miller. Federal intelligence reports indicated Biffle's force was between 400 and slightly less than 1000 men with two pieces of artillery. Murphy broke camp and began seeking out Biffle's force, unbeknownst of Biffle's strength.

Later that date Murphy's advanced force ran into a portion of Biffle's men at Lobelville. A brisk battle ensued which resulted in Biffle's forces withdrawing towards the south. Murphy's men closely pursued the confederates to Beardstown where they again attacked and drove them back. Murphy continued pursuit but halted a short time later with nightfall rapidly approaching. Darkness was favored tool of the rebel ambusher. During the cloudy raining evening Murphy's men again went into camp.

The following morning, Wednesday September 28, Murphy sent out scouts in the rain to locate Biffle's troops. The scouts returned reporting no sign of the confederates. Being low on artillery ammunition from the attacks the day before Murphy decided to return to the rail road by way of Centerville, Hickman County. He had hopes of being able to attack the rebel commands of McNairy and Miller. The weather cleared as Murphy lead his men up Cane Creek, not suspecting what was about to happen.

At or about 4:00 pm Murphy halted his column near the Wade home on Beaverdam Creek. On halting the columns rear guard was attacked and driven in by attacking confederates. The federals quickly formed and began skirmishing with the Confederates until dark. The Union troops lay at arms through the night.

At sunrise Murphy found himself outnumbered with the roads leading to Beaverdam and Centerville blockaded by Biffle's forces. Murphy devised a plan of escape. He formed his forces as if to attack Biffle on the Beaverdam road. The Confederates moved their remaining forces to meet the expected attack. Murphy then abruptly reversed his column, leaving two of his Companies to delay pursuit, proceeded rapidly to Centerville. The Confederates repeatedly attacked Murphy's rear guard. Biffle attempted to outmaneuver the Federals by getting in front of them. However the Federals were too fast and they made it to Centerville before the Confederates.

Centerville had been the sight of several conflicts to that time. It had been occupied at various times by members of the 2nd Tennessee and other troops. The old courthouse had been loopholed and fortified.

On reaching Centerville Murphy halted to rest and feed his men and their mounts. Murphy observed that Biffle's forces were steadily being reenforced and outnumbered his own. It was apparent that he must remove his men as best he could and quickly ordered to save them from capture or worst. He began his withdrawal.

Murphy formed his column and proceeded out of Centerville and into contact with the Confederates. In order to return to his stockade and the remaining three fourths of his command, he had to proceed north across the Duck River. The Confederates had placed themselves to command the heights of the crossings. Murphy selected a point then locally known as "Nigger Ford" to cross the river. As the federals crossed the ford they came under heavy confederate small arms fire. Several of the Federals became scattered and took to the woods. Others were captured, wounded, or killed. Eventually the bulk of the force made it back to the stockade.

Federal reports received that date from Columbia indicated Biffle had near 1,000 man under his command and was moving towards the Nashville & North Western Rail Road. Colonel Murphy's report of the action commended Major J.M. Dickerson, Lieutenant M.R. Harris (Adjutant), Captains George E.Huckaba, R.A. Guthrie, Lieutenants Robert, Thrasher, and Brumley for their gallantry. Lost were the following;


Pvt. WILEY A. ADAMS 18 yrs. missing in action at Centerville

Pvt. WILLIAM C. HILL 18 yrs. Reported as captured at Centerville, paroled at Vicksburg, MS, but on June 30, 1865 died as a result of wounds.

Pvt. JOHN HOLT 23 yrs. Reported as missing in action near Centerville, later found to have died from wounds.

Pvt. EWELL S. MURPHY 33 yrs. (of Lauderdale Co. AL.) Reported as having died September 28, 1864.


Pvt. JOHN DEROSIT 25 yrs. Reported as missing in action however returned to the regiment by muster out in 1865.

Pvt. JAMES DICUS 36 yrs. Captured near Hampshire, Maury County. Paroled at Vicksburg, MS, survived the disaster of the sinking of the transport SULTANA and was mustered out May, 1865.

Pvt. JOHN GRIMES 36 yrs. Captured near Centerville, Paroled at Vicksburg, MS. Was believed to have perished on the Sultana however survived as was sent to Jefferson Barracks, MO. He was later mustered out at Nashville.

Sgt. JOHN S. HAGGARD 21 yrs. Captured near Hampshire, Maury Co. He was forced to return to service with Company A 48th Tennessee Infantry (C.S.A.). Haggard was again captured by Federal forces and sent to Point Lookout, MD. There he convinced the federal authorities of his prior Federal Service and was returned to Nashville to be mustered out.

Pvt. JOHN THROGMARTIN 44 yrs. Captured near Hampshire, Maury County. He was paroled at Vicksburg and sent to Benton Barracks, MO. In July 1865 he was admitted to Cumberland General Hospital were on July 26, 1865 he died of acute Dysentery.


Pvt. FERINAND SCHUBER --yrs. Killed in action September 28, 1864 near Centerville


Pvt. JOHN A. GREEN (GREER) 18 yrs. Captured at Centerville and later paroled at Vicksburg, MS.

Sgt. JAMES M. HOLLIS 32 yrs. Reported as missing in action however later returned and was present at his muster out on May 10, 1865.

Pvt. THOMAS LAFAN 34 yrs. Captured at Centerville

Pvt. JACK RONE 37 yrs (of Decatur County, TN) Reported as missing in action near Centerville.


2nd. Lt. JOHN F. BENNETT 24 yrs. Killed in action at or near Centerville.

Pvt. ALEXANDER BUNCH 21 yrs. Captured near Centerville. On November 8, 1864 he was killed by Confederate Cavalry near Perryville, KY.

Pvt. HENRY GRIFFIN 29 yrs. Captured near Centerville, paroled on April 4, 1865 near Vicksburg, MS but on April 15, 1865 he died of chronic diarrhea.

Pvt. JOHN T. JOHNSON 17 yrs. Captured near Centerville but present on March 4, 1865 at Nashville for Muster Out.

Pvt. WILLIAM PARRISH 23 yrs. Reported as killed in action by Guerrillas in Centerville on September 29, 1864.

Pvt. BURRELL A. PIERCE 18 yrs. Captured at Columbia, Maury County, TN. HE was later paroled at Vicksburg, MS and sent to a General Hospital. He was later ordered to Camp Chase, OH.

Pvt. JOHN T. SMITH 29 yrs. Reported as killed in action on September 28, 1864.

Pvt. SALATHIA TRULL 24 yrs. Reported that on September 28, 1864 he was captured however he was present for the next muster roll for November and December 1864.

Pvt. WILLIAM WILSON 29 yrs. Captured in Centerville and confined in a rebel prison at Cohowba, AL. He was later paroled at Black River and sent to Camp Chase, OH.


Pvt. MEKINSH COZART 25 yrs. Captured near Centerville. Later paroled at Vicksburg but on July 6, 1865 died in Hospital No. 2 Nashville.

Pvt. ANDREW J. CULP 21 yrs. Reported as missing in action. On April 4, 1865 he reached Camp Chase, OH.

Sgt. WILLIAM REESE 20 yrs (from State Line Station, Obrine County, TN)- Captured in Columbia, Maury County, TN. and sent to a Confederate prison. While there he was admitted to the prison hospital with fibera typhoides. He was later paroled at Vicksburg, MS, survived the sinking of the steamship SULTANA and sent to Camp Chase, OH. He was admitted to the hospital where on June 29, 1865 he died of chronic diarrhea.

Pvt. THOMAS F. STONE 24 yrs. Missing in action, captured and admitted to a prison hospital with chronic diarrhea.


Pvt. GEORGE W. DARNELL 18 yrs. Reported as missing in action on September 29, 1864 but present for next muster roll for November and December 1864.


Murphy, John, REPORT OF COLONEL JOHN MURPHY Tennessee State Archives, October 8th, 1864.

U.S. Government OFFICIAL RECORD OF THE WAR OF THE REBELLION, Series 1 Volume 34 Part 3, Series 1 Volume 39 Part 2, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1896.

The Civil War Centennial Commission of Tennessee, TENNESSEANS IN THE CIVIL WAR PART I, University of Tennessee Press, Nashville, TN 1984.

Dyer, Frederick H.,A COMPENDIUM OF THE WAR OF THE REBELLION, Morningside Bookshop Dayton, OH., 1978.

Garrett, Jill Knight, A HISTORY OF HUMPHREYS COUNTY, 1963

Spence, W.J. & Spence, D.L. SPENCE'S HISTORY OF HICKMAN COUNTY TENNESSEE, Edward & Olgia Dotson, P-Vine Press 1981

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