Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Bravest Man: Colonel William P. Rogers

Colonel William Peleg Rogers

       William P. Rogers was born in 1819 in Georgia, but grew up in Alabama and later Mississippi. His father wanted him to become a doctor. Rogers graduated medical school and practiced medicine for a short time before becoming an attorney. He joined the army during the Mexican War and was made a captain in the 1st Mississippi Infantry. That regiment was commanded by Jefferson Davis, the future president of the Confederacy. 
       Rogers proved to be an excellent leader, but he had trouble with Davis as his commander. Davis had to control every part of his regiment down to the smallest detail. Although Rogers had performed admirably during two battles, Davis slighted the man in his reports. The war ended with both men having a strong dislike of each other and ironically both would return home a war hero. 
       Rogers moved to Texas and worked as an attorney and dabbled in politics until the Civil War began. He was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the Second Texas Infantry and saw his first action at the Battle of Shiloh. There the regiment lost over one-third of its men. General Hardee called the regiment a "bunch of cowards". Rogers took offense to the statement and vowed to prove Hardee wrong. 
       Rogers would be promoted to colonel and over the next few months the commanders of over twenty regiments petitioned President Davis to make Rogers a general. Rogers was pleased with the recommendation, but deep down he knew Davis would never make him a general. 

Battery Robinette

       William Rogers most glorious moment would occur at the Battle of Corinth on October 4, 1862. He was given the task of leading the assault on Battery Robinette. Riding in front of his regiment, he shouted, "Forward, Texans!"
       He led the regiment from the tree line and across the field at a slow steady march. The Federals described the sight of the Confederates slowly moving toward them as nerve grating. Colonel Rogers rode in front of his line as cool as if he were leading his men to dress parade. Within a hundred yards of the earthen fort the Federals opened fire. Men went down by scores. Rogers ordered his regiment to charge. They were forced to fight through abatis and over the dirt walls. 
       Four of his color-bearers had been killed, so Rogers dismounted and picked up the flag. With his pistol in one hand and the flag in the other, he climbed the wall and planted his regiments colors on the parapet. Over half of his men were shot down within minutes. William Rogers realized there was no way he could hold the position. He shouted, "Men, save yourselves or sell your lives as dearly as possible!"

Scene at Battery Robinette

       Those would be his last words. Despite wearing a bullet proof vest, Rogers would be killed. One of the bullets penetrated his body near the arm where the vest didn't cover. He was killed instantly. 
       Following the battle, General Rosecrans, the Federal commander would come to Battery Robinette to see the brave colonel. Rosecrans would become known for denying Confederates a burial with military honors, but not Colonel Rogers. Rosecrans said, "He was one of the bravest men that ever led a charge. Bury him with military honors and mark his grave, so his friends can claim him. The time will come when there will be a monument here to commemorate his bravery.”

Rogers Grave at Battery Robinette

       Rosecrans would be correct in that prediction. Today there stands a large obelisk just a few yards from Battery Robinette marking the grave of the brave Texas colonel. Colonel John Daly of the Eighteenth Arkansas would also be killed assaulting the fort. No one would ever accuse the Second Texas of cowardice again. 

William Rogers (L) and John Daly photographed after the battle

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