Monday, January 24, 2011

No Braver Soldier

Brigadier General James Deshler

       James Deshler was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1833. He obtained an appointment to West Point and graduated seventh out of forty-six cadets in the class of 1854. He served in the United States Army until the Civil War began, fighting Sioux Indians and putting down the Mormon uprising in Utah. He received a leave of absence when the war began and never returned. Instead of resigning his commission, the government dropped his name from the rolls. 
       President Davis commissioned Deshler a captain and placed him in command of an artillery battery in western Virginia. He later served as an aide on the staff of Edward Johnson. In an engagement at the Greenbrier River, Deshler was shot through both thighs as he rode along the front lines. He refused to leave the field until the fighting ended. 
       Upon his recovery, he was promoted to colonel and assigned to the staff of Theophilus Holmes in North Carolina. He was chief of artillery under Holmes during the Peninsula Campaign and saw action at Malvern Hill. Holmes labeled Deshler as his best staff officer saying he couldn't afford to lose the man. 
       After the Seven Days Campaign, Holmes was transferred to Arkansas. Deshler would be sent with him, but relieved of duty as a staff officer and assigned a brigade of Texas infantry under General Hindman. His first action as infantry commander was at Arkansas Post, a fort on the Arkansas River. Deshler was spectacular there. He commanded his men to hold their fire until the Federals were within a hundred yards, breaking two enemy charges. Someone raised a white flag in the fort during the fighting, although General Churchill in command of the fort denied he authorized a cease fire. The Federal line in front of Deshler again came forward thinking the fort had surrendered. Deshler shouted that unless they pulled back, he would open fire again because he was without orders to cease firing.

Battle of Arkansas Post

       Sherman and Churchill together rode to Deshler's position. Sherman attempted to dress Deshler down, saying, "What is the meaning of this? You're a regular officer and know better."
       Deshler replied in an angry tone that he didn't have orders to cease fire. Churchill explained to Deshler that he hadn't ordered the surrender, but the fort was overwhelmed because of the display of the white flag from an unknown person. Deshler then ordered his men to stack their arms. 
       Sherman decided that he might disarm Deshler's attitude by a friendly conversation, but he didn't know Deshler very well. Deshler's parents had been born in Pennsylvania, but moved to Alabama before he was born. Sherman asked, "Are you related to the Deshler family in Columbus, Ohio?"
       Deshler, who was still irritated about being captured, replied, "I'm not related to anyone north of the Ohio River anymore."
       Sherman said he believed he gave Deshler a piece of his mind, but couldn't remember for sure. 
       Deshler was held prisoner for five months before being exchanged. He was promoted to brigadier general in July, 1863 and placed in command of Churchill's brigade of Texas troops who had lost faith in him as a commander following the surrender of Arkansas Post. The brigade was then assigned to Cleburne's Division in the Army of Tennessee under General Braxton Bragg. 
       It would be September of 1863 before Deshler would see his first action as a general officer. On September 20, he was waiting to enter the battle when Cleburne approached. Cleburne made mention to the fact that Deshler's men had yet to see action in this battle. Deshler replied, "Well, its not my fault!"
       Cleburne laughed and ordered Deshler forward. Colonel Mills soon sent word that his men were running low on ammunition. He fully expected to see one of the general's staff officer's coming to check the ammo boxes. He looked around and was surprised to see Deshler himself coming in his direction. Before he reached Mills, an artillery shell struck him in the chest without exploding and passed all the way through his body, taking his heart with it. Brigadier General James Deshler was dead before he hit the ground. 

Spot where Deshler fell at Chickamauga

       Mills reported that Deshler was "brave and generous, and kind even to a fault...Refusing to permit a staff officer to endanger his life in going to examine the cartridge boxes to see what amount of ammunition his men had...when he fell as he would wish to fall...surrounded by the bodies of his fallen comrades."

Grave of James Deshler

       James Deshler would be removed to Oakwood Cemetery in Tuscumbia, Alabama. He was loved by the men of his brigade and they would gain fame later as Granbury's Texas brigade. Deshler was 30 years old. The high school in Tuscumbia is named Deshler High School in his honor. The Dixie Station in downtown Tuscumbia sits on the site where his parents lived and he spent his childhood. 

Me standing beside the monument to Deshler beside his grave

       General Robert E. Lee wrote, "There was no braver soldier in the Confederacy than Deshler."



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