The History of Bankhead’s Battery

In April of 1861, although Tennessee had not seceded from the Union, Governor Isham Harris was already calling for an Army to defend the state. His friend Gideon Pillow was made the commander of the Tennessee State Army and set out recruiting. Smith P. Bankhead, a 37-year-old Memphis lawyer, began forming an artillery company on May 13, 1861. This unit was intended to become battery B of the 1st Tennessee Artillery Corps, but will become known as Bankhead’s Battery. Joining him that day was his lawyer friends W.Y.C. Humes, age 30, and J. C. McDavitt, age 27. Humes was made 1st Lieutenant and McDavitt, 2nd Lieutenant.

Two days later on May 15, 1861, a young 20-year-old lawyer William B. Greenlaw joined Bankhead as 2nd Lieutenant. He was from a prominent Memphis family and his father had influence. The first two privates were also recruited that day. They were W. J. Harrison and Michael Nason. Fifty-two additional men were recruited throughout the month of May.

On June 4, 1861, Tennessee seceded from the Union and William L. Scott, a 27 year old lawyer from Memphis, joined Bankhead’s Battery as a 2nd Lieutenant. These officers and the 54 men made up the nucleus of the Battery and moved to Fort Pillow for artillery training although they had no cannon of their own.

During the month of July, Bankhead made numerous trips to Memphis to recruit additional men. He was specifically looking for artillery officers and recruited James E. Johnson, J. A. R. Gatch and Edward Ford. He also recruited Isaac Harrison to be the unit Furrier. Seven more privates also joined from Memphis.

Bankhead’s Battery received six artillery pieces (6 pounders and 12 pound howitzers) at Fort Pillow and moved to New Madrid, Missouri, where Bankhead began recruiting more men on July 29, 1861. In the mean time, the cannon did not have limbers, but they were available in Memphis. Bankhead’s long time friend L. J. Dupree was sent back to Memphis to bring back the limbers. Twenty-one men were recruited at New Madrid and one Man from Sikeston, Missouri. Louis Myers joined the Battery as a bugler after being recruited in Nashville, Tennessee, by Col. McCowan and Emile Huffmeister was transferred to the Battery by order of Col. McCowan. He will become the first deserter in less than two months.

By September 1, 1861, Bankhead’s Battery had one Captain, one First Lieutenant, three Second Lieutenants, and 87 enlisted men. One man, John Rooney, was under civil arrest in Sikeston, Missouri and was unable to be in the ranks. Training was going well and the Battery was moved to Columbus, Kentucky, in October 1861,where drill on the pieces continued. The Battery was now part of Polk’s Corps.

On November 8, 1861, W. Y. C. Humes was promoted to Captain and received the command of the Artillery on Island 10 in the Mississippi River. This created a problem for Bankhead. He had lost his devoted friend and Captain Bankhead requested that the battery be allowed two First Lieutenants as most of the other batteries were being organized this way. He received permission and promoted J. C. McDavitt and William L. Scott to First Lieutenant on November 19, 1861. Seeing that he needed another Second Lieutenant, General Polk transferred Lewis Bond from Jackson’s Battery to Bankhead’s Battery. Jackson’s Battery was at the time overstaffed with officers. William B. Greenlaw believed that he should have been promoted instead of William L. Scott based on his seniority and protested the fact that he was not promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant.

General Polk and even General Albert Sidney Johnston got involved and Smith P. Bankhead had to explain why Greenlaw was not promoted. In a lengthy letter to General Polk, Bankhead explained that Greenlaw was too young and inexperienced for such a promotion. Captain Bankhead went on to explain that it was well known that William Greenlaw intended to leave the Army after one year’s enlistment was up. Promotion for such a short period before his resignation made no sense. In light of this letter, William Greenlaw resigned from the Army on January 25, 1862 and the Secretary of War accepted it on March 5, 1862.

In February of 1862, Bankhead’s Battery was ordered to New Madrid, Missouri. Lewis Bond returned to his original unit and General Polk’s son, William M. Polk, was assigned to the battery as Second Lieutenant. Joseph Phillips, who had been a recruiter, filled William Greenlaw’s position as Second Lieutenant. Joseph Phillips had actually been responsible for recruiting seven men to the battery from Nashville on November 25, 1861.

In March of 1862, orders came to move to Corinth, Mississippi for what would become known as the Battle of Shiloh. The command of the Battery would be in the hands of Captain Smith P. Bankhead, First Lieutenants James C. McDavitt and William L. Scott, and Second Lieutenants William M. Polk and Joseph Phillips.