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General Kirby Smith's Kentucky campaign.

No. 4.

by Major Paul F. Hammond.
It is not without anxiety that I now approach that part of the campaign in Kentucky which brought disaster upon our arms. Hitherto I have had to speak only of success and award well merited praise; but it devolves upon me now to deal with failure, and to try to show wherein lay the causes of it. To ascertain how far defeat is the result of inevitable accident, and how far it comes from errors which should have been avoided, to what extent fortune intervenes to wrest away fruits fairly won, and to what extent they are lost by faults of conception or of execution, requires a knowledge of facts in detail and an accuracy and nice discrimination of judgment not easily attained. It is natural, therefore, to approach with diffidence and much misgiving the discussion of these grave and difficult questions.

On the 13th of September General Bragg reached Glasgow, Ky., and on the 15th advanced on Mumfordsville, a fortified post. On the afternoon of the 16th an unsuccessful assault was made by Chalmer's brigade; but during the night the enemy was surrounded, and cannon placed in position on all the commanding eminences, and the following morning the garrison, 4,000 men, surrendered with all their arms and munitions.

These were the first brilliant and auspicious fruits of General Bragg's rapid march from Chattanooga. The hopes of the army, and all the friends of the Southern cause, were raised to the highest pitch. The strategy of the campaign was, up to this point, completely successful in all quarters. Buell, hemmed in at Bowling Green, would, it was firmly believed, be compelled to give battle on such disadvantageous terms that nothing but defeat and destruction awaited him.

Up to the time of General Bragg's entry into Kentucky the two invading armies, pursuing routes widely asunder, and without communication, were entirely distinct. General Smith held the independent command of the Department of East Tennessee, while General Bragg had lately superseded General Beauregard in that of Mississippi. It is true that the troops with which Smith won the battle of Richmond belonged to Bragg's army, having been detached by the latter to assist the former in his movement into Kentucky; but General Smith had a fine army of his own, more than 20,000 strong, which for months he had been engaged in organizing and disciplining with great care and [456] labor, and in which he justly placed great pride and confidence. The two armies acted in concert, in pursuance of a prearranged plan, but that of General Smith had not been subject to the orders of General Bragg. To whom, if any one man, is due the credit of planning the campaign into Kentucky it might be difficult to determine, and it is of little consequence to inquire. But when in Kentucky it became necessary for the two armies to be united, General Bragg, of course, assumed command of the whole. Hitherto, whatever either General had accomplished belonged exclusively to his own reputation; hereafter, in assuming the entire command the entire responsibilities devolve upon General Bragg. I do not propose to tire my readers, if ever there should be any, with military or moral dogmas or platitudes, but it is well to remember that, while a commander may be mislead by the advice of subordinate officers, it has never been deemed sufficient excuse for failure, rarely even for palliation, that he received and acted upon false information or the mistaken views of counsellors. To him belongs all the glory of success, and upon him rests equally all the obloquy of defeat. When, moreover, after a campaign is concluded, no charges are preferred, no prominent officers relieved of command, it is fair to infer that there has been no treachery, no gross negligence nor disobedience of orders, no flagrant breach of duty.

General Smith had withdrawn his forces from their position in front of Covington, with the view to cooperate with General Bragg, when, on the 24th of September, he received information that the Federal General, Morgan, had evacuated Cumberland Gap on the 17th instant, and was seeking an outlet by Manchester and West Liberty to the Little Sandy.

Brigadier-General Morgan was at once dispatched to Irvine, with a regiment of cavalry, with orders to get in the enemy's front, and destroying supplies and felling timber along his line of march, retard his progress as much as possible. At the same time General Heth was ordered to Mount Sterling, whither General Smith proceeded the next day. There he learned that Morgan had made his escape, having passed West Liberty. From the declarations of many citizens about Lexington, who professed to know the country well, General Smith was led to believe that Morgan would find the route he attempted impracticable, even for infantry, but he succeeded in getting his artillery safely off. This perilous march, with armies equal to his own in numbers and superior in condition in front and rear, reflects great credit upon the Federal commander. It cannot be denied that the failure to effect his capture rests solely with General Smith. It was owing chiefly to the [457] unaccountable delay in the transmission of the fact of Morgan's evacuation. General Stevenson should have followed more closely; but that officer abandoned the pursuit at Manchester, and turning abruptly to the left, marched to Lancaster, deeming, probably, that the cooperation of his division with Gen. Bragg's forces was of more consequence than the tiresome pursuit of a flying column, which, if it escaped capture, could not be recruited in time to assist Buell in the stirring events about to transpire in Kentucky.

From Mount Sterling, Heth was sent back to Georgetown, Marshall to Owingsville, to prevent Morgan from taking that route to Cincinnati, and General Smith returned to Lexington.

In the meantime Colonel Duke, with a portion of Morgan's cavalry, had attacked the enemy in the town of Augusta, on the Ohio river, and captured his entire force. In this bloody combat Duke lost several of his best officers, shot, it was said, from the houses after the town had surrendered. It was with difficulty that the justly infuriated soldiers could be restrained from executing summary vengeance.

After the surrender of Mumfordsville General Bragg advanced towards Cave City and offered Buell battle. But the latter would not leave his intrenched position at Bowling Green, and finding it impossible to procure subsistence in that desolated region, Bragg retired to Bardstown. Buell then left Bowling Green, and, actuated by a desperate impulse, marched in a direct line for Louisville, passing immediately in front of Bragg, exposing his entire flank. This movement was accomplished without molestation. It is hardly possible that General Bragg could have been taken by surprise, and yet it is not a little singular that he should willingly refrain from striking an enemy in a disadvantageous position whom but a few days previously he had been eager to engage on equal terms. His incomprehensible failure to attack may be explained on the supposition that Buell's army was much stronger than he had estimated, or that it had been heavily reinforced — opinions in either case which it is now quite certain were incorrect.

Thus the two Federal armies extricated themselves from positions of the greatest peril, and displayed in retreating an amount of audacity, which they had never shown in any attack. Morgan's escape was considered unfortunate, but Buell's was universally regarded as a great if not irretrievable disaster. Now that the prime object of the campaign was lost, the greatest vigor of action and dexterity of conduct were required of General Bragg--vigor and dexterity which, it is due to truth to say, did not characterize the subsequent operations in Kentucky. But perhaps the most lamentable consequence of this failure [458] was, that it shook, if it did not destroy, the confidence of the army in General Bragg-confidence which, up to this time, he possessed completely.

In the latter part of September General Bragg left his army at Bardstown and came to Lexington. He entered that city on the 2nd of October, and, addressing the citizens from the balcony of the principal hotel, assured them of the security of the Confederate cause in Kentucky. To believe this was a strange infatuation, for it is difficult to see how any one, well informed, could fail to perceive the critical condition of our affairs at this time. It is more than probable, however, that Bragg had already begun to regard his retreat from the State as a contingency by no means improbable, for it was said that at Bardstown he labored under feelings of despondency in striking contrast with buoyant spirits, in which he entered the State. But, a man of variable temperament, subject to the greatest elation at one moment, and equally great depression at the next, it is probable that under the influence of the enthusiastic applause with which he was received by the people of Lexington, his temporary excitement betrayed the reflections of a soberer moment.

His proclamation issued at this time, declaring Confederate Treasury notes a legal tender, was a violent assumption of power and a direct infraction of the Constitution of the Confederacy. There is little doubt that it would have created great dissatisfaction among the people, and met with the bad success usually attending such measures, had subsequent events permitted its enforcement. The inauguration of Captain Hawes, a respectable old gentleman, but not fitted, in vigor or reputation, to hold the reins of power in these tumultuous times, as Provisional Governor of Kentucky, by the General of a free Republic, was also an anomalous act.

The enemy were already reported advancing in considerable strength from Louisville; but it was believed to be only a reconnoissance en force. General Smith repaired to Frankfort on the afternoon of the 2nd of October, and concentrated his army there. Stevenson, with 11,000 men, arrived that night. Heth, with 7,000 men, came up from Georgetown almost at the same time. Brigadier-General Davis had been stationed at Frankfort, with two regiments, for some time. Gracie, with one regiment and a battalion, was at Lexington, while Humphrey Marshall, with his brigade, 4,500 men, was ordered from Owingsville, and Cleburne, retiring from Shelbyville before the overwhelming forces of the enemy, fell back to Frankfort. Thus, in a very short time, three and twenty thousand veteran soldiers were collected at Frankford, with [459] 5,000 more within supporting distance. General Bragg's army, 22,000 strong, was still at Bardstown.

The enemy emerged from Louisville in three coloumns; one in the direction of Bardstown, another by Shelbyville, on Frankfort, and a third upon Taylorsville, apparently for the purpose of interrupting communication between our armies. Perceiving this, General Smith suggested to General Polk, commanding the right wing of Bragg's army, the necessity of defeating it, to which that officer responded promptly, and began manoeuvring with his right for that purpose.

On the afternoon of the 3d of October General Bragg came from Lexington to Frankfort, and the following day inaugurated Mr. Hawes Provisional Governor of Kentucky. This idle pageant was not imposing in ceremony, nor likely to be useful in results, while it was conducted to the sound of the enemy's guns, which boomed at intervals eight miles from the town.

That keen, but solemn excitement, which among veteran troops precedes an impending battle, pervaded every rank of the army. I believe that, at this moment, not a soldier or subordinate officer dreamed of retreating. Early in the morning Cleburne's division had been sent in the direction of Taylorsville, but the twenty thousand splendid soldiers who remained ought to have been a match for any force the enemy could bring against this point at this time. But General Bragg thought otherwise, and determining to concentrate his army before risking a battle, early in the afternoon ordered an immediate and rapid retreat. At sunset the bridge over the Kentucky river was fired, and the army took up its line of march for Versailles.

It cannot be denied that our forces were too widely separated, which, however, was equally true of the enemy's, and that in manoeuvering to concentrate, General Bragg acted upon the soundest military principle; but it may be questioned if the same object could not have been better gained by using the opportunity offered of defeating the enemy's left wing, while it was quite certain that by retreating he was given the great advantage of taking the initiative, while at the same time that portion of the State was abandoned, in which there were abundant supplies, for another in which there was less. It permitted the Federal commander to develop his attack at his leisure, and in his own way — enabling him to mask his real purposes and heaviest movements, which alone, as will be seen, proved fatal to us — and inspired his new levies with the confidence and elan of a pursuing and apparently successful army.

Its effect upon our friends in Kentucky was very lamentable. It [460] fell among them, literally, like a thunderbolt from a cloudless sky. In vain we assured them, at Versailles and elsewhere along our route, that it was only a strategic movement, and that we would soon return with overwhelming power.

With that unerring prescience of coming and inevitable evil, which sometimes exhibits itself as a mysterious attribute of human nature, these poor people, better than ourselves, divined the real results of all these movements, and were sunk in despondency.

At Versailles, General Smith stopped at the house of Mr. Porter, an ex-Lieutenant Governor of the State--a gentleman of cultivated intellect, possessing considerable property in lands and negroes, and devoted to the Southern cause. With less prudence than many others, he had not refrained from showing his warm sympathies with us, and, consequently could hope for little mercy from the Federal army when it re-occupied the State. The probability was, that he would be sent to Camp Chase, and his property destroyed by the brutality of the common soldiers, or seized and confiscated by the higher authorities. The former result he intended to elude by leaving the State with us, the latter there was no escaping.

These people in Kentucky were very much worse off than those on the southern coast who had been driven from their estates. Unlike them, they had no friendly back country to retire into with all their movable property, but were separated from the South by the nearly impassable barrier of the mountains, infested by a savage Union population. The cruel reverses of fortune which they suffered — reduced from luxurious competence to absolute indigence in a single week — must always be regarded as one of the most lamentable results of the Kentucky campaign, and commend these people to our commiseration and active assistance.

The following morning General Smith moved to the Kentucky river, and placed his headquarters at the house of a Mr. Thornton, near McCown's Ferry. Mr. Thornton had lived fourteen years in Mississippi, in the employment, as an overseer, of General Zachary Taylor. Nothwithstanding these antecedents, he frankly confessed himself an Union man, while his wife, an excellent woman, was as staunch in her sympathies with the Southern cause. When I expressed my astonishment to Mr. Thornton that he, an owner of slaves, should continue to be an Union man after President Lincoln's emancipation proclamation, he enquired, with an incredulous air, if Lincoln had really issued that proclamation, stating that his neighbors said it was a Rebel hoax. The monstrous system of downright falsification (to use a mild term) [461] which the Federal Government has established, and which is endorsed and acted upon by its highest officers, civil and military, in all serious and trivial affairs, ought to be regarded as one of the wonders, and most disgusting moral deformities of this war; but it is not more wonderful than the credulity of the people who, for so long a time, continue to receive its statements with perfect faith, while they treat everything opposed to them with contemptuous disbelief. The processes of the old despotisms of Europe, by which the people are deluded and held in subjection, are easily and readily adopted by this “Free Government,” and, apparently, with equal success; and the reports of generals, big and small, and penny-a-liners for the press, imitate and surpass, with the coolest indifference to truth, the exaggerated bulletins of the great Napoleon.

Our kindly demeanor gained upon the confidence of Mr. Thornton, and, coming to put some trust in our assurance, he declared that the emancipation proclamation was more than Kentuckians would bear, and that for himself, although he had always been an Union man, he was one no longer. It is probable that this desperate measure of the Federal Administration would have produced effects favorable to the Confederate cause, had its army been able to remain in the State for a time longer; but it is extremely doubtful withal, if a majority of the Kentuckians could be induced to declare openly for the South by any thing short of the complete overthrow of the Federal power. As a people, they no longer possess the high qualities for which they were once famous. The sturdy woodsmen, who drove the Indians from the State, and rendered her gallantry conspicuous on many battle-field, have ceased to exist. The rocky bluffs of the Kentucky river, illustrious since the days of Daniel Boone, do not now echo the crack of the rifle and the savage war-whoop. The country has grown rich and populous. The indefatigable Yankee has overrun the land, and petty farmers and horse-traders have succeeded the hunters of Yore.

This class constituting the bulk of the population in the wealthier districts, like the same class everywhere, are guided more by their apparent interests than by the higher influence of principle, honor and patriotism. There are others, descendants principally of the Old Virginia settlers, and those from the more Southerly States, who are brave, intelligent, courteous and hospitable, not possessing perhaps the high polish to be found along the Atlantic coast, but compensating for it by the genial vivacity of their manners, and frank and manly bearing. They are, almost without exception, either in the Southern army, or declared adherents of that cause. A distinct people, already mentioned, [462] are to be found among the mountains in the South-eastern section of the State, who are scarcely one step removed from savages. They are fiercely and blindly devoted to the Union, and, being under the operation of universal suffrage, the peers at the ballot-box, of the highest in the land, give preponderance to the Northern party.1 It will be impossible ever to overcome their prejudices; and should Kentucky ultimately come with the South, great dissatisfaction will not cease to exist among these people until the present generation at least has passed away.

1 These remarks apply only to the people who inhabit those portions of Kentucky through which the Confederate armies passed. The writer had no opportunities for observation in the western part of the State.

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