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History of the Fourth Kentucky infantry. Address before the Louisville Branch of the Southern Historical Society.

by Captain John H. Weller.
The Fourth Kentucky regiment of infantry, Confederate States army, was organized about the 1st of September, 1861, at Camp Burnett, Tennessee. Prior to that time, Colonel R. P. Trabue had received authority from the War Department in Richmond to raise a regiment, and had been in correspondence with parties in Kentucky who were recruiting men for the Southern service. Quite a number of small companies had reported with full complement of officers, while the following only brought enough men with them to muster into service and take rank as companies: A, B, C, F, G, H and K. The parts, or smaller companies, were commanded about as follows: Captain Willis S. Roberts, of Scott county; Captain Frank Scott, of McLean county; Captain Ben. I. Monroe, of Frankfort; Captain Thomas Steele, of Woodford; Captain Thomas W. Thompson, of Louisville, and Captain William Blanchard, of Mason county. I think it probable that company H was also made up of two or three parts of companies, commanded respectively by William P. Bramlette, of Nicholas; Joe L. Robertson, of Montgomery, and Captain Hugh Henry, of Bourbon. It seemed for a time that it would be a difficult matter to organize the “pieces” into regular companies, because those who had enlisted in Kentucky were naturally desirous of serving under the officers who had brought them out, and after the expense and danger incident to the recruiting and transportation of the men, [109] these officers wished to retain their rank and titles. Besides, when bidding adieu to their friends at home, they had pledged themselves to see to the comfort and interests of their sons. Some talked of going to Virginia, others of joining Morgan, while a few declared they would return to Kentucky, rather than be consolidated with other companies. Colonel Trabue was entirely too shrewd a man to allow these objections to disturb him. Once get enough men into camp, and he would very soon organize his regiment. He was possessed of the very tact which was needful on that occasion.

You would see him going quietly about among the officers, suggesting the manner in which the cause would be best served, and making places for disappointed ones, and on the whole fixing things to his entire satisfaction. I am yet unaware of his promises to Company H, or what he told my friend Joe Robertson on that occasion, but my memory is entirely fresh to the fact that after four or five trips to Bowling Green on special duty as Adjutant of a battalion under Captain Nuckols, I found when the balance of the regiment joined us there, that Joe was Adjutant of the command. In making him Adjutant, he had settled Company H and my “hash” atone and the same time. While I was glad to see him advanced to a good place, I could hardly realize the particular benefit that would accrue to me. I went South with Colonel Trabue for the express purpose of taking that place, and took it, and entered into the performance of the duty as such, and of course sought the Colonel to have an understanding about it. I was not long in making up my mind that a boy of nineteen was no match for a veteran of forty.

He seemed as much hurt over the affair as I was, and when I left him I actually felt sorry for him. Company D, however, took me in and kindly cared for me, and my associations with it live bright and fresh in my mind as if it were only yesterday I parted from them.

By relating the above I want you to understand that when Colonel Trabue came across an obstacle in his way he removed it. When the regiment was fully organized it stood thus: R. P. Trabue, formerly of Adair county, Colonel; Andrew R. Hynes, formerly of Bardstown, Lieutenant Colonel (these two were engaged in practicing law in Vicksburg and the South when the war commenced); Thomas B. Monroe, Jr., of Frankfort, Major; Joseph L. Robertson, of Montgomery county, Adjutant; Griff. P. Treobald, of Owen county, A. Q. M. (now of Louisville); George T. Shaw, of Louisville, A. C. S.; Dr. B. T. Marshall, of Green county, Surgeon; Dr. B. B. Scott, of Greenburg, Assistant Surgeon; Company A, Captain Joseph P. Nuckols, of Glasgow; [110] Company B, Captain James Ingram, of Henderson; Company C, Captain James M. Fitzhenry, of Uniontown; Company D, Captain Willis S. Roberts, of Scott county, which had blended with Captain Scott, of McLean, Scott being made First Lieutenant; Company E, Captain Benjamin I. Monroe, of Frankfort, which blended with Captain Steele, of Woodford, Steel being made First Lieutenant; Company F, Captain John A. Adair, of Green county; Company G, Captain Tandy L. Trice, of Trigg county; Company H, Captain William P. Bramlette, of Nicholas; Company I, Captain Thomas W. Thompson, of Louisville, which blendid with Blanchard, of Mason (Blachard sought other service, and Samuel T. Forman, of Mason, was made First Lieutenant); Company K, Captain Joseph A. Millet, of Owensboro. When we were called to the color line we numbered about 1,000 men.

It will be noticed that our regiment was collected from widely divergent portions of the State, and it was true that probably no command in the Confederate service represented so many different types of the true Kentuckian. Bluegrass and hemp lands had met with tobacco and corn, and they were not slow in speaking of their leading products either. Each section had some staple production of which it was proud. And they had their peculiar characteristics, which they clung to as they did to the cause they had espoused. And while it is a fact that each section maintained its distinct originality, under all circumstances, whether in battle or quiet camp, on the toilsome march or competing for prizes on the parade ground, the men were secretly proud of being associated each section with the other. They perfectly exemplified the phrase. “Distinct as the billows, but one as the ocean.” For instance, if one of our number visited the families in the neighborhood of our encampments in the far South, he would claim the whole of Kentucky as his own, and talk about how “we raised fine stock, barley, hemp, tobacco, corn, hogs, etc.” In camp, however, they were disposed to claim that each represented the garden spot of Kentucky.

The Fourth was one of the best drilled regiments in the army. This was due to the efforts of Major Monroe, who acted as instructor. He formed his officers into a school, assigned them regular lessons, and had regular recitations; besides which we had constant daily squad, company, battalion drill, and guard-mounting. He was very patient and persevering-so much so that before the first battle came off he had us under complete discipline.

Colonel Trabue was not a very thorough tactician, but as a provider for his men, and a never-ceasing thoughtfulness for their comfort and general welfare, I assert positively that he never had an equal. He [111] was quick to see his rights, and brave to enforce them. While he lived his men had the very best of everything. We would often be in the enjoyment of plenty to eat and wear, while those around us would be suffering. Lieutenant-Colonel Hynes was rather old to be in the war; but he filled his place nobly, all the same. He was beloved by us as boys love their fathers; indeed, he exercised the part of father to many lads who were most too young to venture so far from home. It was thus the old Fourth started on a career that was to make it immortal. Promotion was slow, as we would naturally call it. Officers above you had either to die, resign or be killed, or permanently disabled before an advancement would be made. There was no such thing as general officers saying, on the field of battle or elsewhere: “Lieutenant, you are hereafter a Captain,” or “Captain, you are now a Major,” &c., &c. You got your promotion as “next” when a vacancy occurred above you, always provided you passed the “Board of Examiners,” which was no easy matter, you may be sure.

Nevertheless, by bullets and disease, our field officers changed thus: Trabue, Colonel; Hynes resigned, and Monroe killed at Shiloh, made Nuckols Lieutenant-Colonel, and Ingram, of Company B, transferred to the artillery, and Fitzhenry, of Company C, resigned, made Roberts, of Company D, Major, and then Roberts was killed at Murfreesboro. Monroe, of Company E, being killed at Shiloh at the time Major Monroe, his brother, was killed, made Adair, of Company F, Major. Trabue died after receiving promotion to Brigadier-General in Richmond, which made Nuckols Colonel, Adair Lieutenant-Colonel. Trice, of Company G, losing his sight, resigned. Bramlette, of Company H, killed at Murfreesboro, made Thompson, of Company I, Major.

Lieutenant-Colonel Adair, still suffering from a severe wound received at Shiloh, was compelled to resign on account of it, making Thompson Lieutenant-Colonel, and Millett, of Company K, Major.

Nuckols, who was wounded in every battle, and by continuous suffering from fearful wounds, was retired, making Thompson Colonel. Millett, of Company K, was killed while Major. Bird Rogers, First Lieutenant of Company A (in the beginning) was killed while Major, leaving, when the war closed, Steele and Weller, two junior First Lieutenants (in the beginning), waiting for their commissions as Lieutenant-Colonel and Major.

By the time we were fully organized diseases incident to recruits in camp commenced to attack our men. From one-fourth to a third, and even half, would be on the sick list at once. A great many of our boys died without having fired a gun at the enemy. Thus, when the [112] battle of Shiloh took place, we did not have quite half the regiment in line, and we lost half of that half in that terrible struggle.

From the very outset the lion-hearted Trabue had endeavored to excite in the men a desire for action, which, added to the pride that they all felt for the cause in which we had enlisted, made every man eager for a “fray.”

When one of our number died in hospital about the greatest sympathy that could be expressed for him was, “Poor fellow, he has gone before getting a fire at the Yanks.” A large majority of our command was fearful the war would close before we had a battle. I have heard Colonel Trabue often threaten the men who were guilty of irregularities on the march from Burnsville to Shiloh that they should not go in the fight if they did not behave, and it was effective language used in exactly the right place.

Soldiers who by their “crooked ways” were unfortunate enough to be in the “Guard-House,” or “under guard” on the march, which is the same thing, begged their Captains to have them released, so they could participate in the coming action. I knew one man of the Fourth, who was teamster to General Breckinridge's Headquarters, but was in duress at this time, who prevailed on the General to the extent of being released only for the battle. His splendid conduct on those two days. of blood served to secure his permanent release, and he was never tried for his offence. Our regiment envied the Second for having been at Donelson, and thought General Buckner displayed a great deal of partiality in selecting it to go there. In fact, there was nothing like forgiveness in our natures until after Shiloh. We never turned green with envy after that when we saw other regiments selected for dangerous work. While the Fourth Kentucky behaved equally well on the battle-field in subsequent engagements I am inclined to think that, in view of surrounding circumstances, it deserves more credit for its conduct at Shiloh than anywhere else. We started for the scene of action about sunrise on the 6th of April, 1862. Early spring had touched all nature about us, but the warblers of morn had been frightened away by the rattling, booming sound in the short distance. Now, men, why did we not be more serious, and shake each other by the hand and bid fond adieus? Surely death lurks just beyond that hill and many of our loved ones have only a short time to live.

You are actually marching step by step to eternity. Here are young boys — beardless, rosy cheeked and smiling — who in a very few minutes will make the noblest sacrifice that can be made on earth. Their young, bounding blood will color the brooklets before us, and their lithsome [113] forms and cherished faces will soon be lying in forgotten graves. Anxious mothers in Kentucky to day, yearning countrymen at home waiting to hear from the promising lad, it will be some time before you hear the news, and ere that time it will have gone out all over the South, echoed and re-echoed, that the gallant sons you have given to their service have struck a blow that will resound through time, and pierced far beyond the already boasted name of Kentuckians. The comtemplation of that morning fires one's soul with a never-ceasing poem. If the Fourth regiment had never advanced a hundred yards after crushing the two lines of troops in front of it, its name would still have been immortal.

It was about 9 o'clock, when by slow manoeuvering (for we were in the reserve corps), we passed through a field in a small valley in which Morgan's squadron was drawn up in line. Capt. John Churchill and his men sang “Cheer, boys, cheer,” and our boys responded by affectionate salutation or pleasant repartee. Then and there we begot for ourselves a love that lasts as long as our lives. We were Kentuckians far away from home. They had just distinguished themselves, and we felt sure we would soon be flushed with victory. We then filed down the valley into a woody swamp, where we faced toward the enemy, and threw out skirmishers. The First platoon of Company A and the Second platoon of Company D (being from the right and left of regiment) skirmishers advance, the regiment follows, through the camp from which the enemy were driven early in the morning, and then meeting a regiment of Southerners in full retreat, perfectly demoralized, their Colonel trying to rally them. They would sooner die than turn toward the front. In vain our officers and men pleaded with them and threatened to shoot them. Leaving them, and the skirmishers being recalled, we were moved by the left flank into a dense wood, halted and faced to the front.

In a short time the Federals are discovered by Captain (acting Major) Nuckols, forming on our left, a little in front. To conform to their line, we had to change front obliquely to the rear on first company, which we did barely in time to receive a volley from the enemy. We were armed with new Enfield rifles, and used greased cartridges. In a much shorter time than I am reading this the ground in front of us was heaped up with dead men. Our people were also falling fast. But the regiment in our front gave way and was quickly succeeded by another, which was immediately charged, so that when we reached the edge of a field in front of us, only a few of the enemy were discernible, flying “helter-skelter” toward the river. I should have said that we [114] had no time to throw out skirmishers when the attack commenced. The Federals had out a few, for a group of fours undeployed were lying dead in front of Company D, and not more than thirty yards distant. This is the only instance I can recall where the main lines engaged in pitched battle without skirmishers in front at first.

But probably the most trying ordeal to which we were ever subjected was the passage of that retreating command through our lines, before we became engaged. Few fresh troops ever withstand it. The regiment was highly complimented at the time and often afterwards by experienced soldiers.

We advance across the field just spoken of, and halt, while the right wing of the army came swinging around toward the river, thundering heavily as it drove the enemy into the river. At this point, Governor George W. Johnson, our Provisional Governor of Kentucky, joined Company E, and shouldered a musket. He was killed the next day at his post, like a true patriot and soldier as he was.

We were then moved by the left flank, meeting as we marched, Prentiss's fine brigade coming out as prisoners, almost, if not quite, intact. On again, until we formed a line facing the river. But our victories on that field had ceased. Disaster was to be our fortune the next day. It was now late in the evening, and, after remaining under the fire of the gunboats for a while, we went into the Forty-sixth Ohio's camp and sought rest.

The next morning, after supporting the artillery for a time, General Bragg ordered the Fourth Kentucky and a small part of the Thirty-first Alabama to the right and front to intercept the enemy, who were advancing in force, promising us the support of a brigade or two from some other part of the line. We moved as directed, and found the Federals had stopped behind bags of corn, watching us move on to our position. We marched toward them a short distance, when we lay down and commenced firing. We were fighting Bull Nelson's division, and we numbered about 250 men all told. I think the troops set apart for our support tried to reach us, but it was suicidal to attempt an advance in the face of such a deadly storm of bullets.

This unequal contest was carried on for about twenty minutes, when we fell back, leaving a larger number of us lying dead and dying in the line than we retreated with.

We retired from the field about sundown, weary and sick at heart. If the life of General Albert Sidney Johnston had been spared the result might have been different. At this late day, however, we should not censure the conduct of our commanders, who did the best they [115] could for us. All were alike interested in the result, and I have no doubt he who commanded us in defeat held the cause as sacred as the illustrious chief who fell the day before.

I will not detain you longer to-night, for it is difficult to write about one of five magnificent regiments which composed the First Kentucky Brigade.

The “Orphan brigade” made everybody famous who commanded it in battle, John C. Breckinridge, Robert P. Trabue, Roger W. Henson, Ben Hardin Helm, Jo. H. Lewis, names never to be forgotten as long as there is a South for the sun to shine upon; and each time our minds recur to the “Lost cause” their names grow dearer. The Fourth loved these men as few people are ever loved. And it is not boasting too much to say that they knew greatness when they saw it, and could penetrate shallow pretense quicker than any people I have ever yet seen. Our Brigadiers have all passed away, except one, and have gone to meet a larger number of our comrades than they left behind. The first died surrounded by his friends in Lexington. The second died just as he received a long-deserved promotion. The third fell at the head of his column at Murfreesboro. The fourth was mortally wounded at Chickamauga, and carried to the grave the same sweet smile he had while living. The fifth enjoys a peaceful home in Glasgow, having had honors heaped upon him by his admiring neighbors. It is hard for me to separate the living and the dead when I dwell on the stirring events of the past. Thought is unable to divide the time of their death from the active scenes of our comrades since, and those who fell and those who survive intrude on my mind at the same time. A halo of glory seems to encircle the resting places of the dead, while a no less brilliant accompaniment of honor is clothed upon the living. So great is the number of our loved ones who “have crossed over the river” that I expect that “in the shade of the everlasting trees,” enjoying the long sighed for “rest,” they are waiting and watching for the remnant to “fall in.”

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