The 17th Battalion Tennessee Cavalry (Sanders’ Battalion) was a small three-company formation, with one Tennessee and two northern Mississippi companies. My ggg grandfather Joel B. Weatherford served in one of the Mississippi companies (the “the “Chickasaw Mounted Guards,” originally commander by Lonent E. Hill and, after Hill’s death at Thompson Station, Telemicus C. Brown). The battalion was formed in late 1862, and commanded by Maj. Edward J. (or I.) Sanders. At about the beginning of 1864, it was officially joined with the similar numbered 17th Battalion Mississippi Cavalry to form Miller’s Mississippi Regiment, later designated the 9th Mississippi Cavalry Regiment. In short, the unit was based out of Northern Mississippi through the beginning of 1864, with various forays into Tennessee and Alabama. It was sent to mid-Mississippi in early 1864, then to the Army of Tennessee in May 1864.
I have been researching Sanders’ Battalion over the past several years. I have read the sections for it in “Tennesseans in the Civil War” and “A Military History of Mississippi,” as well as all the Official Records I could find for the unit. The battalion is not often mentioned, perhaps due to its very small size. I am interested if there are any surviving accounts, diaries, etc., by men who served in the battalion, which might shed more light, or a personal light, on its activities.
I am also very interested in information concerning activities in the first part of 1864. The battalion, and Miller’s regiment to which it was later joined, were assigned to Samuel Ferguson’s Brigade. In December 1863-January 1864, Nathan Bedford Forest’s new separate cavalry command was set up in Northern Mississippi, taking over the area previously the domain of Ferguson’s Brigade. In late January 1864, Ferguson’s Brigade was ordered south to the Jackson area, and ended up countering Sherman during his march to Meridian and back to Vicksburg in February and March 1864. However, I theorize that the 17th Tennessee Battalion may not have went south with the brigade at that time, stayed north a while longer, and was only later actually joined with the 17th Mississippi Battalion into Miller’s Regiment. I think this is a possibility for several reasons:
1. The 17th Mississippi Battalion (Steede’s Battalion) had been in southern or mid-Mississippi. I do not think the two battalions were joined in northern Mississippi on the ‘official’ date of the regiment’s formation in December 1863; I do not think the Mississippi battalion went north.
2. When it was ordered south, out of Forest’s new sector, Ferguson’s Brigade was ordered to leave behind Barteau’s Tennessee Regiment (the 2nd or 22nd Tennessee Cavalry) with Forest, apparently because it was a Tennessee unit. Ferguson’s Brigade would officially thereafter be a Mississippi and Alabama brigade. It would make sense that the 17th Tennessee Battalion, especially if not yet joined with the 17th Mississippi Battalion, would have also been left with Forest.
3. In his report on the Meridian campaign, Ferguson states that in early February, “that portion of Miller’s regiment in camp was sent out on a reconnaissance to Jackson, which duty was promptly and efficiently accomplished. This command did not rejoin me until Feb. 14.” Perhaps “that portion” meant only Steede’s 17th Mississippi. Also, there are several reports from General Loring during the campaign that reference Major Steede (i.e., as if his battalion is still on its own and not joined with the 17th Tennessee Battalion).
4. Most important, there is a report dated June 23, 1864, concerning a roll of “rebel officers” at Fort Deleware being sent for exchange to South Carolina. Included is Major E.J. Sanders, of “Sanders’ Battalion.” This document states Maj. Sanders was captured on February 19, 1864, at Aberdeen, Mississippi. During this time, Ferguson’s Brigade would have been well to the south, near Meridian. However, the Aberdeen location makes sense if the 17th Tennessee Battalion had been left north with Forest, as William S. Smith’s Union cavalry were in the area (and Forest was about to engage them).
5. Finally, my ggg grandfather was captured in Shelby County, Tennessee, on April 5, 11, or 12, 1864. Possibly, he had deserted and was picked up there. However, Forest was active in West Tennessee at the time; the fight at Fort Pillow, about forty miles upriver of Memphis (Shelby County), occurred on April 12th.
Interestingly, in a November 1864 report, by which time the unit was in Georgia, Maj. General Franklin Gardner requested his cavalry in Mississippi be reinforced, and noted “I also apply for Sanders’ battalion of cavalry, which is recognized as a permanent independent battalion.” That Gardner would take note of the three-company formation seems unusual. However, Gardner is listed on the same exchange list as Major Sanders, so perhaps the men came to know one another at Fort Delaware.