The story of Colonel Rogers
ROGERS, WILLIAM PELEG (1819-1862).
William Peleg Rogers, lawyer, political activist, and Confederate officer, son of Timothy Lincoln and Mary (Miles) Rogers, was born on December 27, 1819, in Georgia, during a visit there by his parents, who were living in Alabama at the time. Soon afterward, the Rogers family settled on a plantation near Aberdeen, Monroe County, Mississippi. According to his father's wishes, William P. Rogers attended and graduated from a medical college in Kentucky and began practicing medicine in Pontotoc County, Mississippi. Soon afterward he began studying law on his own while also editing a pro-Whig Party newspaper in Aberdeen. On January 15, 1840, Rogers married Martha Halbert from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He was admitted to the Mississippi state bar in 1842 and began practicing law. Anxious to participate in the Mexican War,qv in the summer of 1846 Rogers became captain in command of Company K of the First Mississippi Volunteer Infantry Regiment, popularly known as the "Mississippi Rifles," commanded by Col. Jefferson Davis.qv The regiment joined Gen. Zachary Taylor'sqv small army in northern Mexico and soon saw action against the Mexicans. Rogers was one of the first to scale the walls of the fort at Monterrey on September 21 and again performed well during the climactic victory at Buena Vista on February 1847. Throughout the campaign, however, Rogers not only defied Jefferson Davis over the manner in which Davis used Rogers's company in battle, but he also felt personally slighted in Davis's and Taylor's official reports describing the fighting. At the same time, Rogers developed a haughty revulsion toward the hardships of army camp routine. "I am more than tired of a soldier's life," he wrote in his diary, "I am disgusted with it." Soon after the war Rogers became a candidate for the clerkship of the Mississippi Chancery Court but lost the election. He also failed to gain an appointment as a federal marshal. In 1849 he had decided to run for state auditor, when President Zachary Taylor, his former commander, surprised Rogers by generously appointing him United States Consul at the port of Veracruz in Mexico. His wife, however, refused to go beyond Texas with their six children, so Rogers went to Veracruz alone. In September 1851 he abruptly resigned as consul in anger over false allegations that one of his agents had embezzled federal funds. Returning to Texas, he joined his family at Washington-on-the-Brazos, where he quickly rose to prominence as a practicing defense attorney. At nearby Independence in 1857 he donated part of his time over three years as one of three professors in the new law department of Baylor University. A Baptist upbringing influenced all of Rogers's children in their eventually becoming Baylor graduates.
Rogers moved his family to Houston in 1859, where he became a Democrat fearful of the North's growing anti-slavery movement. Rogers supported his close friend and legal client Sam Houstonqv in his governor's race in 1859 and his presidential ambitions in 1860, but Abraham Lincoln's election to the presidency in November 1860 prompted Rogers join the radical pro-slavery secessionists. He was elected a delegate from Harris County to the Texas secession conventionqv and signed the ordinance of secession on February 1, 1861. He then served on the committee that demanded compliance from Governor Houston, who soon resigned rather than affirm secession.qv After offering his services to the Confederate War Department, Rogers was tendered a colonelcy in command of the First Texas Infantry, a unit destined for Virginia. At his wife's insistence, however, he accepted a commission as lieutenant colonel of the Second Texas Infantry,qv commanded by Col. John Creed Moore.qv The regiment joined Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston'sqv Army of the Mississippi barely in time for the battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, April 6 and 7, 1862, where the Second Texas lost more than one third of its men in casualties. "The gallantry of our regiment is spoken of by all," Rogers wrote to wife. Upon Moore's promotion to brigadier general, Rogers was promoted to colonel and given command of the regiment. In August 1862 the principal officers from at least twenty regiments in the army addressed a letter to the War Department urging Rogers's promotion to major general and command of a division. Although he knew that President Jefferson Davis, his nemesis from the Mexican War, would probably ignore the petition, Rogers valued the officers' recommendation as "a very high compliment." During the fall of 1862 the Confederate attempt to retake northern Mississippi and western Tennessee hinged upon Gen. Earl Van Dorn'sqv ability to use his army of 22,000 southerners, including the Second Texas Infantry, in dislodging Gen. William S. Rosecrans's firmly entrenched force of 23,000 men at Corinth, Mississippi, the region's most strategically vital railroad hub.
On the morning of October 4 an impatient Van Dorn called for a series of headlong frontal attacks against the enemy's heavily fortified position. Colonel Rogers's divisional commander, Gen. Dabney H. Maury, who later described the Second Texas Infantry as "one of the finest regiments I have ever seen," ordered Rogers to lead the vanguard of the assault on Battery Robinett, a small fort anchoring the center of the Union line. After one bloody repulse, Rogers led a second desperate charge. Remaining on horseback in the face of a barrage of cannon and musket fire, and finally carrying the regimental colors himself, Rogers reached the deep trench fronting Battery Robinett, dismounted, and led several hundred Texans and Alabamians down into the trench, up the steep embankment, and into the fort. Suddenly federal reinforcements closed in from both flanks. Rogers shouted, "Men, save yourselves or sell your lives as dearly as possible." A few seconds later he was struck by multiple rifle shots, killing him instantly. Scores of others fell with him, and the battle soon ended. The Second Texas Infantry had lost more than half its numbers in casualties. The failure of Rogers's attack sealed Van Dorn's defeat at Corinth and insured a powerful federal thrust toward Vicksburg the following year.
In a remarkable tribute to Rogers's personal bravery, General Rosecrans ordered his burial attended with full military honors, a ceremony normally reserved only for Confederate general officers. In 1912 the United Daughters of the Confederacy,qv together with several Rogers family descendants, dedicated a white marble obelisk to mark his gravesite atop a hill overlooking the battlefield.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Joseph E. Chance, The Second Texas Infantry: From Shiloh to Vicksburg (Austin: Eakin Press, 1984). Confederate Veteran, February, July 1896, March 1913. Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (4 vols., New York: Yoseloff, 1956). Eleanor Damon Pace, ed., "The Diary and Letters of William P. Rogers, 1846-1862," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 32 (April 1929). William P. Rogers Papers, Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin.
T. Michael Parrish