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Doc. 143.-capture of Mount Sterling, Ky.


Colonel Garrard's account.

camp of the Seventh Ohio cavalry, Lexington, Ky., April 10, 1863.
on the night of Friday, March twentieth, at ten o'clock, I received an order to report at once at headquarters. General Gilmore showed me a despatch just received from Col. Walker, Tenth Kentucky cavalry, dated Hazel Green, stating that he had “hemmed Cluke in, and that his only way out was by way of Lexington.” Col. Walker's command was composed of the Tenth Kentucky cavalry, and a portion of the Forty-fourth Ohio mounted infantry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson.

The General's opinion was, that Cluke would return direct to Mount Sterling and capture the detachment and the public stores at that place. Pegram was, at that time, approaching from the Cumberland, and the General was disposed to concentrate his forces, rather than disperse them. Therefore, instead of ordering me to reenforce the detachment at Mount Sterling, he ordered me to Winchester, a point half-way between Lexington and Mount Sterling, and ordered Capt. Ratcliffe, in command of Mount Sterling, to fall back on Winchester.

This order was received by Captain Ratcliffe about twenty-four hours before he was attacked, and was deliberately disobeyed by him. He decided that he was strong enough to hold the place, and refused to fall back on Winchester. Of this determination to disobey the General's order he sent me no notice. On reaching Winchester I went into camp, and awaited the arrival of the forces from Mount Sterling. My orders were, to guard carefully the approaches to Winchester, and particularly the country between Winchester and the ferries, on the Kentucky River. I sent out strong patrols on the roads I wished to observe, with orders to them to return to camp at nine o'clock the next morning. My command consisted of three hundred and fifty of the Seventh Ohio volunteer cavalry, a section of Laws' howitzer-battery, and two companies of the Twenty-second Michigan infantry.

At four o'clock precisely on Sunday morning, I received a letter from Captain Ratcliffe, stating that an old negro had come to him with information that Lieutenant-Colonel Stoner and three hundred of Cluke's men were camped on the Owingsville road, about five miles from Mount Sterling, and that they were going over to the Maysville road. He did not inform me that an immediate attack was apprehended, asked for a reenforcement of three hundred and fifty mounted men, and said he could hold the place until they arrived. I gave this communication full consideration, and decided that it was not my duty to move from my post until the return of my patrols assured me that no portion of Cluke's command was moving on the district intrusted to me.

I remained up about an hour, and then lay down and slept till reveille, which was soon after. As soon as my patrols reported that there was no movement of the enemy near Winchester, I started for Mount Sterling with the cavalry and howitzers leaving the infantry posted in the courthouse. When a mile out on the road, I met a post-train loaded with wood, on its way to Lexington. I ordered this train to be unloaded, and ordered the infantry to follow me in the wagons with all the speed they could make. The infantry were able to reach Mount Sterling, in this way, a short time after I had passed through the town. They halted there, as they had no hope of overtaking me, as I quickened my march from a trot to a gallop on learning that Cluke had but four miles the start of me out of the town.

I was much assisted in obtaining correct information by Major Hawley Smith, who met me on the road near Winchester. It is well enough to state here, that, with the inferior force, I compelled Cluke to abandon his ammunition and provision train, even to his ambulance, and got a scare on him which kept him travelling until mid-night. Prisoners taken from his command a few days afterward by Captain Rankin, company E, Seventh Ohio volunteer cavalry, reported that we killed eight and wounded some fifteen of their men. I have no further information of this than the prisoners' report.

Major Brown is able to state from his own observation, how much less was accomplished by the first expedition after Cluke that consisted of superior forces to Cluke's. He may also, perhaps, be able to account for the fact that Cluke slipped through the forces that went after him to Hazel Green, and got back to Mount Sterling twenty-four hours or more in advance of the mounted troops under Col. Walker and Lieut.-Col. Wilson. To be twenty-four hours behind the enemy that was marching in the direction of the important post at Mount Sterling is a phenomenon in cavalry movements that ought certainly to occupy the attention of Major Brown, to the exclusion of any thing that was done by the Seventh cavalry.

My movement to Mount Sterling was a voluntary one, and not under any order. My orders [471] took me no further than Winchester. I was fully informed of the orders that had been sent to Captain Ratcliffe to fall back on Winchester, and of the plan by which the men and stores at Mount Sterling were to be protected.

When called on to act in direct violation of the General's plan, I determined not to do it, until I was fully satisfied, by the report of my patrols, that I had no work on hand near my own post. I marched on the instant my patrols reported, and marched as rapidly as was consistent with the object of my having horses fit for service when I came up with the enemy.

I am not able to perceive that there was any fault in the plans of the General, or any neglect in issuing and delivering the orders necessary to carry them out; nor am I able to perceive either common-sense or military propriety in these attempts to shield Captain Radcliffe from responsibility for the manifest consequences of his disobedience of the General's orders. The habitual vice of the press is loose abuse of commanding officers, and ignorant criticism of military movements.

My regiment has taken an honorable part in all the expeditions after Cluke, and I therefore feel at liberty to say, that to capture or exterminate a small and well-mounted band of horsemen, without any incumbrance of army train, in a country they are familiar with, and which they travel over in any direction, without regard to roads, is one of the most difficult of all military operations. My intimate acquaintance with all the movements enables me also to say, in reply to newspaper correspondents, that General Gilmore has always furnished liberally to the colonels commanding in the field all the forces needed to clean Cluke out, and that he has not prevented their success by orders interfering with their plans. That Cluke has not been destroyed by the superior forces that have pursued him, is not the fault of the General commanding the district. The various colonels, lieutenant-colonels, majors, and captains who have made the failures, had better distribute the blame among themselves, and instruct their letter-writers accordingly. It is the right thing to do.

Very respectfully,

Israel Garrard, Colonel Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry.

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Cluke (12)
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Charles A. Walker (3)
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G. W. Gilmore (2)
Israel Garrard (2)
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Stoner (1)
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