previous next

Doc. 86.-the Unionists of Alabama.

Report of Colonel Streight.

headquarters Fifty-First Indiana volunteers, camp near Mooresville, Ala., July 16.
sir: While in command at Decatur there were several small parties of loyal Alabamians who came into our lines begging me to give them protection and a chance to defend the flag of our country. The tale of suffering and misery, as told by each as they arrived, was in itself a lamentable history of the deplorable condition of the Union people of the South. Notwithstanding the oft-repeated assertion that there was a strong Union sentiment in portions of the Cotton States, I had long since given up all hopes of finding the people entertaining it; hence I was at first incredulous as to what they said, and even suspicious that they were spies belonging to the enemy; but as their numbers increased, each corroborating the story of the other, I at last became [282] convinced that the matter was worthy of notice. About this time, on the tenth instant, I was informed by a courier that there was a party of about forty men some five or six miles toward the mountains trying to come to us, and that about the same number of the enemy's cavalry was between them and Decatur, trying to intercept and capture them. As my orders were to defend the town only, I did not feel at liberty to send out assistance to the Union men without further orders, and there being no telegraphic communication with you, I at once informed Gen. Buell by telegraph of the circumstances, whereupon I received the following reply:

Huntsville, Ala.
A. D. Streight, Colonel Fifty-first Indiana Volunteers:
Send out what force you deem sufficient to assist the Union men in, and drive off the rebel cavalry, and see that they are not playing a trick to draw you out by these reports.

James B. Fry, Colonel, and Chief of Staff.

Owing to a storm that was passing over the telegraph-lines, the above was not received until near three hours after I sent Gen. Buell the first despatch; but as soon as I received the above instructions from Colonel Fry, I at once ordered three companies of my regiment to cross the river with their arms and full forty rounds of cartridges. This was done in the least possible time, but just as the three companies were in line ready to march, another courier arrived stating that the Alabama boys had succeeded in avoiding the rebels, and had got within our lines. But a short time elapsed before they arrived. Such were the manifestations of joy and gladness exhibited by them, that all doubts were fully expelled from my mind; whereupon I resolved to go to the assistance of those who were left behind, providing I could get permission to do so. Consequently, I telegraphed the following:

Decatur, Ala., July 10, 1 o'clock P. M.
sir: I have the honor to report to you that the party of Alabama volunteers has just arrived, and forty of them have been mustered into the service of the United States. Their accounts of the hardships endured are sufficient to enlist the sympathies of the hardest heart. They report that there are several hundred who would come, but for the danger of passing from the foot of the mountains here, some twenty-five miles distant.

If you will give me one company of cavalry to take with my regiment, I am fully satisfied that I could, by going, say fifteen miles toward the foot of the mountains and then sending out a few of these new recruits to notify their neighbors, bring back with me at least five hundred volunteers. If you will allow me to make the experiment, my word for it, I will return safely with my command.

I am, sir, your most obedient servant,

A. D. Streight, Colonel Fifty-first Indiana Volunteers. To Col. James B. Fry, A. A. G., Chief of Staff.

Nothing was heard from the foregoing despatch till about two o'clock P. M., the next day, (July eleventh,) when Captain Leonard handed me the following communication from Col. Fry to Gen. Wood, with verbal instructions to carry out its provisions:

headquarters, Huntsville, July 11.
General Wood:
Colonel Streight reports that there are several hundred men about twenty-five miles south of Decatur, who are trying to come on to join our army, and Col. Streight is anxious to go with his regiment to bring them in. You can order an expedition of this kind. In doing so it will be necessary to send another regiment to take Col. Streight's place near Decatur. It will not be practicable for you to cross cavalry over to send, but the Colonel can take any cavalry that may be at Decatur. Instruct Colonel Streight to be cautious, and not expose his command to ambuscade or surprise, or to attack from superior force. He should not be gone more than three or four days, and must take no baggage. He must be careful, and not let the people suppose that his presence indicates a permanent occupation, and thus lead theta into demonstrations for which the rebels would make them suffer after our withdrawal. Give such orders for the details and precautionary instructions as the case may seem to you to require.

James B. Fry, Colonel, and Chief of Staff.

Upon the receipt of the above I proceeded to get my command in readiness for the expedition as quickly as possible. Four days rations were ordered, and one camp-kettle to each company. The haversacks holding only three days rations, we filled the kettles and buckets out of the remainder, and decided to get along as best we could under the circumstances. The guides were selected to conduct us to the Union settlement, who were also to act as couriers to inform their friends of the nature of our mission. There were but sixteen men and the Captain of company D, First Ohio cavalry, at Decatur, who were also put in readiness to march. In accordance with these arrangements we moved off at daylight on the twelfth inst., in the direction of a place called Davis's Gap, some nine miles south-east of Danville, and twenty-five south of Decatur. The cavalry were thrown out in the advance a suitable distance, to give notice of the approach of an enemy, and a strong advance and rear-guard was at all times kept in readiness for immediate action. When we had proceeded some twelve miles on our way, being unable to hear any thing of the enemy, I ordered the captain commanding the cavalry to proceed with his command in advance with three of the guides, and escort them as far toward Davis's Gap as he should deem safe, so as to allow the guides to give the information to the Union people that we were coming. I gave him the most positive instructions to make diligent inquiry relative to the enemy, and to go no further than he could with perfect safety, and as soon as he arrived near enough the mountains to enable the guides to get through, he should fall [283] back at once and rejoin me — I at this time having ascertained that it would, in all probability, be necessary for me to go about twenty-three miles instead of fifteen, the distance I at first expected, but did not expect to be able to get through the first day.

Under these circumstances he proceeded somewhat faster than the infantry could march, consequently when he arrived some twenty-two miles from Decatur, (ten miles from where he left us,) he was probably not more than five or six miles ahead of my regiment; but it being very hot in the middle of the day, we halted to rest, expecting the cavalry to rejoin us as ordered. In direct disobedience to my orders, the cavalry spent about an hour's time in scouting about the country after they had escorted the guides to within three miles of the mountains, after which they stopped at a Mr. Menter's house and ordered dinner, where they spent about three hours more. The captain was warned, when he first arrived in the neighborhood, that forty of the enemy's cavalry were within six miles of him, yet with these facts before him, as I have above shown, he spent nearly four hours in the neighborhood, and at Menter's house — a sufficient time to have returned to Decatur, if necessary, much less to rejoin me. At about half-past 5 o'clock he was attacked by upward of forty of the enemy's cavalry and guerrillas. Here, again, his conduct seems to have been very injudicious, for, although there were several log buildings that he could have held against any force the enemy could bring to bear against him, yet, instead of occupying them, after exchanging a few shots, in which one of his men was wounded, and two of the enemy killed and two wounded, he ordered a retreat across the field, which seems to have been accomplished very precipitately, especially, when taking into consideration the fact that the enemy did not pursue him but a few rods, and that, too, on foot. Four of his men got lost from the balance. He proceeded in a westerly, circuitous route to Decatur, where he arrived the evening of the same day, with twelve of his men.

In the mean time, I had arrived to within two miles of the place where he was attacked, before the enemy had left, and think I would have been in time to have done them justice, had I not halted to chastise some guerrillas that had the impudence to fire into my rear-guard; but, as it was, we arrived just in time to see the chivalry put spurs to their horses and leave hurriedly to the eastward, thus showing conclusively that the enemy did not follow our cavalry. We bivouacked that night twenty-three miles from Decatur, and within one mile of where the skirmish took place.

The next day was spent in ascertaining what we could relative to the extent of the damage done to the cavalry, and in notifying the people in the mountains that they could now have a chance to join the Union army. I ascertained the loss of our cavalry in the engagement to be one man missing, who, when last seen, some two miles from where the skirmish took place, was wounded in the thigh, not seriously, and one taken prisoner, one horse killed and one disabled.

Three cavalry men came in early in the morning without horses, but our boys succeeded in finding the horses and equipments near where they were left. The captain's sword was also found about one hundred rods from where the fight occurred.

I soon became convinced that the time set for me to return was insufficient to fully accomplish the object of my mission. The news of the defeat of our cavalry spread over the country like a fire on a prairie, causing great consternation among the Union people and boldness on the part of the guerrillas.

The guides became frightened, and it was very difficult to induce them to leave my command; however, after laboring under all these difficulties, we succeeded in bringing back with us one hundred and fifty volunteers. Several small parties that started to join us failed to get there in time. One party, numbering thirty-four men, were within twenty miles of us at daylight the morning we left; and although a messenger arrived giving me that information when we had marched but a short distance on our return, yet I was ordered to return within four days time, and could wait no longer.

At eleven o'clock A. M. yesterday, we took up our line of march for Decatur, and when we had proceeded about four miles from our encampment, we were informed that the enemy's cavalry, about five hundred strong, were posted at the crossing of the roads, about one mile ahead. The country being thickly wooded, I had nothing to fear from mounted men, but supposing that they might dismount and act as infantry, I deployed companies A and F on each side of the road, in advance, as skirmishers, at the same time ordering company D forward in the road, to form a reserve, and also to deploy six men in advance to act as signal men. One company, having been previously detailed to act as rear-guard, they too were ordered to throw out skirmishers on the flanks, to avoid an undiscovered approach from either of these directions.

The Alabamians had previously been placed next to the rear-guard. Having advanced the skirmishers and advance reserve four hundred yards, I ordered the whole battalion to move forward, each individual and company to keep their relative positions. In this order we proceeded, but as we approached the position occupied by the enemy, they fled before us without firing a gun. It now became apparent to me that the intention of the enemy was to harass our march, and as the country was mostly wooded, I concluded to continue the march in the order above referred to, thus avoiding the possibility of running into an ambuscade, or of being surprised.

The enemy fell back as we approached for about two miles, where they turned eastward. For some time afterward I was expecting a demonstration upon our rear, and made preparations accordingly; but we proceeded to march in this manner for twelve miles, frequently relieving [284] the skirmishers by sending out others, without further molestation.

It was now getting dark, and we were within seven miles of Decatur, when we concluded to bivouac for the night. Strong pickets were thrown out in every approachable direction. The boys were allowed to sleep till three o'clock the next morning, when they were awakened, and as soon as it was daylight, we were on our way. We arrived at Decatur at half-past 6 o'clock A. M., bringing back every member of my regiment that went with us.

I wish to say a word relative to the condition of these people. They are mostly poor, though many of them are, or rather have been, in good circumstances. They outnumber nearly three to one the secessionists in portions of Morgan, Blount, Winston, Marion, Walker, Fayette and Jefferson counties; but situated as they are, surrounded by a most relentless foe, mostly unarmed and destitute of ammunition, they are persecuted in every conceivable way, yet up to this time most of them have kept out of the way sufficiently to avoid being dragged off by the gangs that infest the country for the purpose of plunder and enforcing the provisions of the rebel conscription act, but their horses and cattle are driven off in vast numbers. Every public road is patrolled by guerrilla bands, and the Union men have been compelled to seek protection in the fastness of the mountainous wilderness. They cannot hold out much longer. This state of things has so disturbed them, that but very little attention has been paid to farming; consequently many of them are now destitute of food of their own, and are living off their more fortunate neighbors.

Such examples of patriotism as these people have set are worthy of being followed. One old lady, Mrs. Anna Campbell, volunteered to ride thirty-five miles, and return, making seventy miles, with about thirty recruits, inside of thirty-six hours. When it is taken into consideration that.these people were all hid away to avoid being taken by the rebels, and that the country is but sparsely settled, this case is without a parallel in American history. There are many cases of a similar nature that came under my observation, but I do not desire to weary your patience with them. Suffice it to say, that I have never witnessed such an outpouring of devoted and determined patriotism among any other people; and I am now of the opinion that, if there could be a sufficient, force in that portion of the country to protect these people, there could be at least two full regiments raised of as good and true men as ever defended the American flag. So confident am I that my views are correct, that if the Commanding General will grant me permission to do so, I will take my regiment, (the boys all want to go,) and two weeks rations of bread, salt, sugar and coffee, (meat we can get there,) and five hundred extra stand of arms, with a sufficient supply of ammunition, and locate at least thirty miles south of Decatur, where I will rally around me a sufficient number of the brave mountaineers to protect the country effectually against anything except the regular rebel army, who, by the way, would find it a difficult country to operate in. Never did people stand in greater need of protection. They have battled manfully against the most unscrupulous foe that civilized warfare has ever witnessed. They have been shut out from all communication with any thing but their enemies for a year and a half, and yet they stand firm and true. If such merit is not to be rewarded, if such citizens are not to receive protection, then is their case a deplorable one indeed.

I am, sir, your most obedient servant,

A. D. Streight, Colonel Fifty-first Regiment Indiana Volunteers. To Capt. Wm. A. Schlater, A. A.G.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
A. D. Streight (8)
James B. Fry (5)
William F. Wood (2)
J. T. Buell (2)
William A. Schlater (1)
Menter (1)
W. H. H. Leonard (1)
Doc (1)
Anna Campbell (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
July 11th (2)
July 16th (1)
July 10th (1)
12th (1)
10th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: