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Only half-dozen historical markers dot the site, and there are no massive battlefield maps or push-button audio tapes to guide the curious observer. Britton's Lane boasts no cannons lining the road as does Shiloh or Stone's River; in fact, the countryside is so calm and pastoral that it's hard to believe the land has witnessed anything more than an occasional disagreement between neighbors. Yet thousands of brave soldiers from Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Illinois, and Ohio fought and died there in a feverish, four-hour battle. Many of those soldiers were from Madison County, and some tendered the supreme sacrifice within ten miles of their own homes.Following the stunning Union victories of Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and Shiloh in the spring of 1862, Federal General Jeremiah Sullivan marched into Jackson on June 6th and occupied the city. Most Madison County citizens, being of southern sentiment, were disappointed and disillusioned by the Federal hold on West Tennessee.
Throughout the hot summer months they hoped everyday for liberation by the Confederate Army now quartered in north Mississippi.The Federal occupation army used Jackson primarily as a quartermaster depot in 1862, sending supplies to its lead armies farther south.
Situated around the city, along critical points of the railroad line and at important bridges and river crossings, were isolated detachments of Union soldiers.
Their mission was to guard against forays by Confederates against the Union supply line, and to give early warning of an attack on Jackson.
Armstrong to take his cavalry brigade north from Holly Springs, Mississippi into West Tennessee. Despite the exaggerated reports, Armstrong never had more than 3,300 troopers, and his mission was not to liberate Jackson. Armstrong's mission was classic for cavalry - raid north along the Mississippi and Tennessee Central Railroad, harass the enemy, stir-up the Federal detachments, interdict and disrupt the enemy's supply line, and do not become decisively engaged.The man that Sterling Price chose to command the mission, Frank Crawford Armstrong, had only a year before been a Federal officer at the Battle of Bull Run. Having reconsidered his allegiance in the fall of 1861, Armstrong had earned his commander's confidence by performing well at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, and received command of his own brigade.On the 22nd of August, Acting Brigadier General Armstrong left Guntown, Mississippi with the core of this brigade, stopping in Holly Springs to pick up three more regiments.
When he left there a few days later (August 27th), his command was 3,300 strong, including:Col. Dennis, who would later figure dramatically in the battle at Britton's Lane, informed Colonel M.K.
Lawler, commander of the post of Jackson, that Confederate General Bragg was at Guntown, Mississippi with an army of 6,000 cavalry, and that the soldiers at LaGrange were only the lead element.After riding to within a few miles of Bolivar, Tennessee on Friday, the 29th of August, the Confederates were to taste their first battle whenthey encountered a Federal garrison the following day.
After some seven hours of off-and-on skirmishing, the Federals drew back into Bolivar at nightfall on the 30th and prepared for a renewed attack the next day But at daylight on the 31st, Armstrong's brigade had disappeared - bypassing the enemy and again moving north, gobbling up isolated groups of Federals in blockhouses guarding the railroad. After driving several detachments into the center of the community, Armstrong came upon some 150 Union soldiers barricaded behind cotton bales in the train depot.
He sent a force to reconnoiter the enemy position, and was considering an attack when six companies of Federal reinforcements began arriving by train from Jackson.
He must have realized that his encounters at Bolivar and Medon Station had alerted every Federal outpost for a hundred miles, and that the city of Jackson was bracing for an assault. In a dispatch to his boss, General Price, Armstrong seems to suggest that his mission has been accomplished.. Frank Montgomery of the 1st Mississippi Cavalry, in his Reminiscences of a Mississippian (1901),Early next morning we started on our return to camp in Mississippi, having accomplished all we could by our raid, and took a road leading towards a place or town called Denmark. At last he told me he was impressed by a presentiment he would be killed before we got back to Mississippi.
A sergeant of the 20th Illinois Infantry, who was hospitalized in Jackson, made the following entries in The Civil War Diary of Allen Morgan Geer:Sat. 31st 1862-Sharp skirmishing reported in the vicinity of Bolivar our forces hold their ground..
Lawler expected Armstrong in Jackson at any time, so on August 31st he sent a message to Colonel Elias S. Dennis who commanded a brigade stationed at Estanaula landing, some twenty-five miles from Jackson along the Hatchie River.
The boys could not stand to see such a waste as that, and they got busy dipping it up in their hands and drinking it, and went on their way rejoicing.Elias S.
Dennis had under his command his own 20th Illinois Infantry, the 30th Illinois Infantry, the 4th Ohio Independent Cavalry Company, thirty- four men of the 4th Illinois Cavalry, and a two~un section of Battery E, 2nd Illinois Light Artillery - all totaling some 1,500 men. As his brigade marched for Jackson, Dennis continued to hear rumors of a large Confederate force moving north.
Armstrong, now moving west along present- day Collins Road, seems to have anticipated no fight at all.
Next came the 20th Illinois, his artillery section with assorted supply trains, and the 30th Illinois behind them. The column must have stretched some three or four miles back in the direction of Denmark when Foster's cavalry encountered Armstrong. If he turned and fled toward Denmark, he could not hope to outrun the cavalry that would pursue him, and such a move might lead to the wholesale slaughter of his brigade, or its capture at the very least. Making a virtue of necessity, Dennis decided to take his chances with a fight, and quickly brought the rest of the 20th Illinois into line behind a wormwood fence to support his artillery. By selecting a strong defensive position along a ridge, covered on the flanks by rugged terrain that the enemy's cavalry would not be able to negotiate, he had effectively blocked Armstrong's route of march.


Dennis initially deployed companies B and G of the 20th Illinois on the left of the road, and the remainder of the regiment on the right. Then after positioning his two cannon squarely in the middle of Britton's Lane, and dispatching a courier to order the 30th Illinois forward at the doublequick, he braced for an attack.Immediately after taking fire, and more as a matter of reflex than that of planning, the lead regiment of Armstrong's brigade, the 2nd Missouri, along with Forrest's old regiment, made a hasty charge to silence the cannon. But the supporting Union infantry combined with the artillery to pour a heavy fire into their ranks and drive them back.Frank C. Dennis along this country road in south Madison County has led to much speculation during the past century.
Why did Armstrong, after declining to get heavily involved in two other battles - Bolivar, where he greatly outnumbered his opponent - and Medon Station, where a sudden, aggressive assault might have captured both the defenders of the depot and their on-rushing reinforcements - suddenly find it worth the price to fight at Britton's Lane? If Armstrong believed his mission was completed, as his report and the observations of his men would indicate, why did he not skirt west of Dennis' position and return to Mississippi unscathed via Estanaula? His command was full of Madison County men who knew every road and cowpath in that part of West Tennessee, and certainly he knew that by taking what is now called the Steam Mill Ferry Road he need not fight Dennis at all. Dennis' infantry were not going to catch him on foot, and given the Federals' situation, Armstrong moving on would probably have been a relief to Dennis. Many have advanced theories as to why it was so important for Armstrong to reach Denmark, suggesting everything from the need for supplies and ammunition to a quest for hidden gold.
His reasons may never be known, but whatever they were, Armstrong began what amounted to a four-phase attack, and decisively committed his cavalry force against Dermis.PHASE ONEHearing the artillery, Armstrong came galloping forward to the head of the column, just in time to meet the two regiments repulsed in their first attempt to silence the enemy cannon.
It was almost ten o'clock now, and Armstrong immediately ordered the 2nd Missouri, with Forrest's old regiment (Ltc. A second time the Confederates drew sabres and galloped toward the enemy.One of the Federals observed that "in front, and on the left and right were bare fields, swarming with rebels preparing to charge.
At last on they came, the ground fairly trembling beneath their heavy tread Since the 20th Illinois had not yet fully deployed into line, this second charge was swift and determined enough to nearly succeed in capturing the artillery. Many of the Southerners rode up to within several feet of the enemy, who poured a murderous volley into them from behind the fence. But again they were turned back with considerable loss.PHASE TWOIt was after ten o'clock now, and still the stubborn Federals held their grip on Britton Lane.
But nearly losing their artillery in the last charge had caused them to limber-up and move the guns across a gully, some 300400 yards back in the direction of Denmark. They now rushed forward and were ordered to immediately assault the enemy position.Ordering the 1st Mississippi to dismount and fight on foot, Armstrong sent them on the left of the 2nd Missouri, and then ordered the 7th and the 2nd Tennessee to charge mounted on the right.
This third attack, which may have taken place before the Federals could re-establish their artillery in its new position, was also repulsed, but it is most likely during this charge that the Southerners captured several of the enemy's wagons and supply trains, seizing them before they could safely reposition.
How so many men got out of that field alive is one of those unaccountable things that sometimes occur in war. PHASE THREEIt was past eleven o'clock now, and Armstrong's quiet, uneventful march to Denmark and back to Mississippi had turned into a desperate two-hour battle that some participants said was hotter than S~oh. These men would know, for soldiers on both sides had fought on those bloody April days along the Tennessee River.At last Wirt Adams' Regiment, which had been in the rear of the march column, and Colonel Slemmon's 2nd Arkansas which immediately preceded it, arrived at the scene of the fight. The 7th Tennessee, 2nd Missouri, and Balch's men were now badly mangled, and were withdrawn. Armstrong sent Wirt Adams' men and company L of the 7th Tennessee (which had been held out of the action thus far) on a wild and daring charge directly into the mouth of the enemy guns. Ordering both units to form a column of fours and charge, Armstrong struck the decisive blow. McNeil, a participant in the fight, quotes from a letter written only a few days after the battle:Col. The other cavalry charging in support were held up by the dead men and horses that choked the lane.
Now the two cannons Armstrong had paid so dearly to possess were in danger of being lost, particularly since the 30th Illinois was making timely arrival on the battlefield, having doubl~timed at least two miles in the September heat. The fresh Federal troops wasted no time pouring a galling fire into the victorious rebels.B. MacDonald writes,Just before we got to the front the rebs captured the two guns, and had the 20th pretty well demoralized, and was making another charge just as we were climbing a little hill, and the command was on right into line, and firing as we came into line, and with a yell drove the enemy back, and just had time to form a good line with the 20th when another charge was made.This last charge probably refers to the dismounted men from Pinson's and Slemmon's regiments who moved up in support of the captured artillery. Many Federals had already skedaddled, some of them not stopping until they reached Jackson.
The 20th Illinois had been steadily giving ground, and with the poor visibility, may have suspected they were being surrounded. This could account for William Witherspoon's curious observation.The Federals were whipped several times in that fight, had hoisted several times the white flag, certainly an index of defeat.
Linking up with the exhausted 20th, the 30th Illinois, under command of Major Warren Shedd, formed a line from which the Confederates were unable or unwilling to drive them. Montgomery reports that the 1st Mississippi Cavalry alone lost fifty men killed and wounded. Losses were also heavy in the 7th Tennessee and Wirt Adams' regiment.What happened next is another source of debate and speculation surrounding the battle.
The Confederate cavalry had clearly and decisively driven the Federals from their position, captured their artillery, and had many of them demoralized and looking for an end to the fight.


The next tactical maneuver would normally have been to pursue a weakened and disorganized enemy and capture or kill as many of them as possible. But Colonel Armstrong chose instead to consolidate his position and not to pursue the enemy. His actions were questioned not only by later historians and scholars, but by the very men he led at Britton's Lane.Montgomery writes,While Colonel Pinson and myself were consulting as to the advisability of renewing the assault on the enemy by a flank movement [against the 30th Illinois], which could easily have been done, as we believed, we were ordered back to the horses. Dennis afterwards told me he was ready to surrender." That the majority of Federals wanted to surrender is doubtful. Several men in the 20th Illinois did surrender, but the 30th seems to have been ready and willing to continue the fight. Despite the shaky condition of the Federal forces, Armstrong chose not to press the engagement, but to march north and west through the woods, emerging near Denmark, where he took the Estanaula Road toward the Hatchie River. At one point in this withdrawal, Armstrong and his escort (Company E, 2nd Tennessee Cavalry) ran into a number of the retreating Federals - possibly skulkers or deserters - and was nearly captured.
The longer he tarried in West Tennessee, the more opportunity he provided the Federals to surprise and encircle him. His unexpected fight at Britton Lane had held up his march for almost a full day, and he may have believed the Union forces he bypassed at Medon were closing upon his rear.
Perhaps he figured pursuing and routing the Federals was not worth risking his entire command in another protracted battle, particularly since his men were already weary and bloodied from the campaign.The confusion about who won or lost at Britton's Lane did not wait to surface until aging veterans gathered for reunions years after the war. Allen Morgan Geer was receiving mixed signals in Jackson on the very day of the fight.Monday September 1st. 1862 - Prepared to go to the regiment [20th Illinois but could not be allowed to go since their fate or locality was not known.
By the strict yardstick of a classic cavalry mission, Armstrong did effectively harass, interdict, and destroy the enemy's supply line. In his report to General Sterling Price, Armstrong states "my loss was small," and he enumerates the capture of 213 enemy prisoners and the killing or wounding of 75 others. Fay writes that the command "marched some 300 miles in less than ten days, fought two battles and three skirmishes, [and took] 350400 prisoners." But from the aspect of his classic cavalry mission to not become decisively engaged, Armstrong was unsuccessful. After the fight at Britton's Lane, where the Confederates lost at least 100 men killed in action (as compared to Federal casualties of 8 killed, approximately 50 wounded and more than 50 captured), Armstrong's men were demoralized. John Milton Hubbard of the 7th Tennessee writes,The whole command was discouraged by the operations of this raid, and thought that, if we had gained anything at all, we had paid dearly for it.On the days after the battle, several citizens of Denmark, among them a free negro named Shedrick Pipkins and a Mr.
Fences down, awfull [sp] flies new earth everywhere.The Battle of Britton's Lane produced five men who would become general officers. Colonel (acting Brigadier) Frank Armstrong would shortly be made a full Brigadier General, and both William H. Dennis would be promoted to general largely based upon his performance at Britton's lane, and his subordinate, Major Warren Shedd, who commanded the 30th Illinois at Britton's Lane, would also be a general before the end of the war. It is quite rare to find such a relatively small battle producing such a large number of general officers during the War Between the States.Over the intervening century, the Battle of Britton's Lane and Armstrong's Raid have generated many fascinating stories that have remained alive in the oral tradition and written history of Madison County and West Tennessee.
No one will contend that the battle at Britton's Lane determined the final outcome of the war; but it forever changed the lives of the men who fought it and many of the citizens of Denmark and Madison County. Army Major presently serving on the faculty at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. One, Two & Three order form Historic timeline and stories of early West Tennessee The BBCHA President's Page The 1854 Denmark Presbyterian Church History 1. Area MuseumsBrownsville Museum Bemis Museum Casey Jones Museum and Home Jackson NC & STL Depot and Rail Museum The Civil War Discovery Museum of West Tennessee The Childrens Discovery Museum of West Tennessee West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center Brownsville's Blues Pioneer, Sleepy John Estes 46. Meriwether Society visit June 22, 2013 49 Denmark Presbyterian Church first Service after restoration 50 Providence Road Solar Project 51 Boy Scout visit to DenmarkThe Boy Scouts visit Denmark again 52. The Smithsonian Exhibit's Closing Ceremony Book order blank Historic books Contact Us Links The Battle on Britton's Lane, Sept. After some seven hours of off-and-on skirmishing, the Federals drew back into Bolivar at nightfall on the 30th and prepared for a renewed attack the next day But at daylight on the 31st, Armstrong's brigade had disappeared - bypassing the enemy and again moving north, gobbling up isolated groups of Federals in blockhouses guarding the railroad. The column must have stretched some three or four miles back in the direction of Denmark when Foster's cavalry encountered Armstrong. Why did Armstrong, after declining to get heavily involved in two other battles - Bolivar, where he greatly outnumbered his opponent - and Medon Station, where a sudden, aggressive assault might have captured both the defenders of the depot and their on-rushing reinforcements - suddenly find it worth the price to fight at Britton's Lane? If Armstrong believed his mission was completed, as his report and the observations of his men would indicate, why did he not skirt west of Dennis' position and return to Mississippi unscathed via Estanaula? This third attack, which may have taken place before the Federals could re-establish their artillery in its new position, was also repulsed, but it is most likely during this charge that the Southerners captured several of the enemy's wagons and supply trains, seizing them before they could safely reposition.



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