The Battle of Missionary Ridge,Tennessee:
November 25th, 1863
At 4:00 pm on November 25th, Deas' men watched as the federal army formed in attack formation outside of Chattanooga. Methodically and precisely, the federal army advanced toward the base of the ridge. General Manigault, commanding the brigade to Deas' left, watched as Louis and his men at the base of the ridge
"stood firm, and when the enemy arrived within two hundred yards, gave them a volley...but then followed a scene of confusion rarely witnessed....some men were seen scrambling back up the steep ridge, while others continued to fight. Still others knelt dumbfounded in their rifle pits, not knowing what to do".
Realizing that resistance would be futile at the base of ridge, the men of the 39th clawed their way up the steep ridge for three to four hundred yards under a devastating fire in their backs from the advancing federals below. Many men discarded their rifles and accouterments rather than face capture. The fortunate ones that made it to the crest were, in the words of Brig. Gen. Manigault, "..broken down, exhausted, and demoralized".
The enemy, seeing Louis and his comrades fleeing up the slopes, mistakenly thought that all of the army was retreating. The Ohioans and Minnesotans chased after the men. By the time the federals reached the crest, the men of Deas' command were reduced to half strength, as one-half of the men were utterly worn out and exhausted and could do little but try to catch their breath and drink water. Looking to their left, the men of the 39th watched in horror as Manigault's Brigade began to flee from the crest in disorder. Next, friendly artillery were seen being placed near Deas' men - but shockingly being aimed directly toward the brigade, in anticipation of Deas' position being overrun! The 39th managed to fire one ragged volley, then every man fled in complete disorder to the rear. The commander of Company B reported bitterly after the battle that his command had stayed in place "until the entire regiment had left us". One company commander reported that the battle was not a battle, but an 'affair'. The officers of the 39th Alabama were bitter and angry. The strategic blunder of splitting the men on the ridge had led to disaster. The tone of the after-action reports of the line officers in the 39th Alabama would reflect the frustration felt by the soldiers.
The right wing of the Army of Tennessee, north of Louis and his comrades, had not been placed in the 'split' position, and had repulsed a much larger federal force during the battle. Regardless of their remarkable performance, the entire army was forced to withdraw into Georgia. In hindsight, the defensive positioning of the Army of Tennessee at Missionary Ridge had been poorly conceived and was ultimately disastrous. The men had been poorly clothed and breakdowns in the commissary operations had allowed them to go exceedingly hungry. After nearly destroying a strong federal army at Chickamauga, the Army of Tennessee was driven from the field by the same yanks, due in large part to poor command performance by Bragg and his lieutenants, only two short months later. The men of the Army of Tennessee became utterly demoralized from the debacle, and many men began to desert the army.
The 39th Alabama's losses were light in the engagement, and no soldiers or officers are noted as being killed. Colonel Whitfield Clark, the commander of the 39th since April, and the Captain that had originally recruited Louis Frazier, resigned from the service following this 'affair'. General Braxton Bragg, the confederate commander of the Army of Tennessee since it's conception, submitted his resignation to the President. Interim command of the army was assigned to General William Hardee until a successor could be found. A successor was named by Christmas, 1863. The successor was General Joseph E. Johnston.
On December the 10th, command of the 39th Alabama was officially transferred to Major Colin McSwean following Colonel Whitfield Clark's resignation. Major McSwean, the original captain of Company C, was from Scotland, and had migrated to Barbour County in the 1840s. Major McSwean refused to accept command of the 39th on a permanent basis, and elected to resign from the service. By December the 14th, Captain William C. Clifton, the commander of Company E, was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and given command of the 39th Alabama.
A muster roll taken of the 39th Alabama Volunteer Infantry on December 14th, 1863, revealed the following: 337 present ; 291 effective ; 584 aggregate - present and absent ; 219 arms [rifles] 57 rounds of ammunition per man
During the Christmas season in 1863, the men of the 39th Alabama Infantry, after less than two years of service, and after three significant engagements with the enemy (Murfreesboro in December of '62, Chickamauga in September of '63, and Missionary Ridge in November of '63), had been reduced to less than 25 percent of their original fighting effectiveness. The men had seen their colonel shot at Murfreesboro, and felt the pain as the colonel's brother died from his wounds from the same battle. The men had seen a glorious victory at Chickamauga, but Private Frazier had witnessed 25 soldiers in his company go into battle at Chickamauga, only to see seven emerge unscathed. The hungry, wet, cold, and exhausted men had had to face an enormous federal attacking force bearing down on them at the foot of a mountain with a steep, rugged, wooded slope to their backs, with nowhere to go but straight up the steep slope amid musketry fire from both the front and the rear. Despite all of this, the regiment still carried 219 muskets, and the majority of the men continued to do their duty, as the men shouldered their muskets and marched to their next destination, Dalton, Georgia.
Days at Dalton:
The Army of Tennessee spent the winter of 1863-1864 in Dalton, Georgia. The men of the 39th Alabama learned that a new commander would be taking the reins, a commander from the eastern theater, General Joseph E. Johnston. General Johnston immediately made several changes that were favorably received by the men. He allowed amnesty to all soldiers that had deserted to return to their regiments. No charges of desertion would be brought against them if they returned to duty immediately (the ordinary penalty for desertion was execution). Secondly, he instilled a system of furloughs that allowed each and every man a chance to go home for one month during the winter. Thirdly, he improved the commissary department and the men were able to eat better meals. All in all, the men of the army appreciated Johnston's efforts, and felt that they had a commander that might truly turn things around.
The Army of Tennessee had neglected to pay the men for some time, and most of the men had not been paid since the preceding summer. Johnston improved that situation, and also provided bonuses to the men of $ 50.00. Private Frazier is noted in the State records of receiving back pay for the months of July, August, September, and October of 1863 in December of 1863.
While at Dalton, one man from each company of the 39th was ordered to return home to retrieve a box of clothing for their company. Each of the men returned home, except one man, a married man, from Company C. The married man had decided that he wished to remain at home, and refused to return. A detail from the 39th Alabama was ordered to retrieve the man, and, a few weeks later, the man was returned under guard to Dalton. The entire brigade was marched out to a clearing, where a grave had been dug to house four coffins, for four men to be executed. One of the men was the married man from Company C. The four men were blindfolded and told to sit upon their coffins. The order to fire was issued to a firing squad, and the four men fell backward, into their coffins. The men were sealed into their coffins and buried immediately