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Campaign of General E. Kirby Smith in Kentucky, in 1862.

by Paul F. Hammond.
Prefatory Note.--This narrative was written in the spring of 1863, a few months after the return of the Confederate armies to Tennessee, more for the purpose of recording the facts, while they were fresh in my memory, than from any view of publishing, then or thereafter. It may contain reflections and speculations which will seem novel, curious, and perhaps absurd, to the reader of to-day, especially in the light of subsequent events; and doubtless there are many crudities which one, ambitions for the reputation of a fine writer, would not willingly submit to public criticism. But it may be that those very reflections which appear the least reasonable to the reader who was not familiar, from personal experience, with the tone of thought and feeling, the hopes and fears and aspirations of the soldiers and citizens of the Southern Confederacy, will serve, in some measure, to give the truest pictures of the South under the old regime, and were I to undertake to re-write the narrative, the temptation might prove too strong, I fear, to fashion some of its features more in accordance with results, or to sacrifice historical accuracy to the prevailing sentiments of the times. I am hardly anything of a Bourbon, and certainly have no wish to be classed with those of whom it has been said, “Ils n'ont neu appus, ils n'ont neu oublie,” (they learn nothing, they forget nothing). But I have never learned that the South was not absolutely right in maintaining the sovereignty of the States, though it would be an error to assert it now, and Bourbon folly to seek to make it a living issue. I have never learned that the South had not a perfect right to defend her property in slaves, nor forgotten that she was less responsible for the institution, and especially for its cheif evils, than the North or England; but, as it had to go, we have all learned that it is better gone. I have not learned that the South could have refused, with manliness, to accept the war which was forced upon her, or that she did anything, in its inception, in its conduct, or after its conclusion, which could tarnish the escutcheon of a brave, noble, and enlightened people.

I have learned that the results of the war have practically made of the United States one Nation, but I have not forgetten that, within that nationality we can struggle, and ought to struggle for the rights of the States as against Centralism, and for government of the people for the people, against the domination of the few. [226]

Worse than confiscation, prison or rope, which could only reach a limited number, the South, under the reconstruction laws, was subjected to the most humiliating conditions of a conquered people, and, but for her pluck and patience, would have been destroyed; nevertheless, we have all learned, and all believe, that now, as an integral part of this great country, we all owe the same loyalty to the American nation that we owed, primarily, to the States. And so, notwithstanding little expressions that may ruffle sectional pride, and others that might indicate, if uttered now, the fatherhood of that bete noir of the Stalwarts, Bourbonism, with this explanation, begging forgiveness for its apparent egotism, I will add this little contribution to the historical records of the war as it was written nearly two decades ago, with only such corrections of its careless execution as a proper respect for Mr. Lindlay Murray, and the printer, may impose.

Paper no. I.

I do not propose to write a history of the Confederate campaign in Kentucky, but to give a true and faithful narrative of those events of which I was an eye witness, or which came to my knowledge on unquestionable authority. My very friendly acquaintance with Dr. L. A. Smith, the Medical Director of the Army of East Tennessee, and sometimes called the “brains of the army” --in whose rare sagacity and judgment General Kirby Smith placed the greatest trust; General John Pegram, the Chief Assistant Adjutant General on the staff of Kirby Smith--one of the noblest and gentlest gentlemen it was ever my good fortune to know; and Colonel Wm. G. Brent, also an Assistant Adjutant General on the staff, and a man of very decided talents and the highest courage — and the confidence they reposed in me, gave me the opportunity to know and to understand, not only the actual movements of that portion of the army, (and it was the largest portion,) which General Smith led into Kentucky, but the causes which produced them and the objects sought, and, thus enables me to make the narrative of the achievements of this wing of the army, and its chiefs, an almost absolute historic verity.

But with the history of that part of the campaign, conducted under the immediate direction of General Bragg, the situation is altogether different. Not only have I no accurate knowledge in detail of many of the movements of his troops before the armies were united, but although General Bragg has since been bitterly assailed in the public press, and defended with an equally partizan zeal, no one, it is probable, outside [227] of his own military family, and the president, perhaps, comprehends satisfactorily the motives which influenced him at some of the most important periods of the campaign — notably, for instance, in permitting, without a battle, the escape of Buell and his army from Bowling Green.

It is then with General Kirby Smith's campaign that I shall mainly deal.

Through the kind offices of a gentleman, lately the chief of General Smith's staff, but then prostrated by a terribly broken limb, and, much to his mortification, so utterly disabled as to be unable to take part in the impending movements, I received an invitation to act as a volunteer on that staff.

I had seen some service with the army of Mississippi upon the staff of General John C. Breckinridge.

Depleted by disease, caused mainly by the want of water, which a little foresight should have provided, that army, as it is well known, was forced to retreat in the latter days of June, 1862, from Corinth all the way to Tupelo, and it was generally understood that no serious operations were likely to transpire in that quarter during the ensuing summer. “The greatest necessity of a soldier,” said Napoleon to O'Meara, “is water,” of which a true history of the Confederate army at Corinth would furnish a sad and disastrous illustration.

Delayed by a severe attack of fever, I did not reach Knoxville until the 15th of August. General Smith had already left to place himself at the head of the column, which was toiling at slow pace, but with indefatigable energy and in glorious spirits through the difficult, and by the enemy considered, for artillery at least, impracticable pass of Big Creek Gap, a few miles westward of the old road over the mountains at Cumberland Gap. Not a little annoyed at the prospect of the long and lonesome ride before me, to overtake General Smith, I was relieved when Colonel Brent, of Virginia, for some months a member of General Bragg's staff, but lately assigned to duty with General Smith, called at my room and proposed to join me. Like myself, he had reached Knoxville only that day. The proposition was of course joyfully accepted.

The officers left in charge of the post persuaded us to remain in Knoxville until an escort could be provided. Bushwhackers, native born white men of East Tennessee and Southeastern Kentucky, as savage and relentless, and nearly as ignorant, as any redskin of romance or of history, infested the country, waylaid the roads, and from mountain side and behind rock or bush shot down the unfortunates who, [228] journeying by themselves or in small parties, wore the Confederate gray, and dispatched the wounded, without mercy, in the name of patriotism and the Union.

We left Knoxville with an escort of four cavalrymen, but finding, when a few miles from town, that they were unprovided with rations for themselves or horses, we sent them back. At this time we gave but little credence to the stories told us of bushwhackers; much less than they deserved, as our experience taught us a few days later. We stopped that night with a Mr. J., one of the few Confederates in this section; but, notwithstanding his southern proclivities, I saw here, for the first time in my life, a practical exhibition of the social equality of the races. We breakfasted early with Mr. J. alone, and recalled to the room a few moments after we had finished, I found my yellow man, Harry, enjoying his meal at the table with our hostess and her children, to all appearance a carefully tended guest. We encountered at this house a singular character in the person of a Mr. W----, of Georgia. Mr. or General W--, as he was called, was an old man, large, fat and shabbily dressed, but an expression of humor and good nature saved his countenance from being repulsive, while his broad forehead and firmly set jaws gave token of courage, accompanied by no ordinary amount of sagacity. He was both scout and spy on his own responsibility. Notwithstanding his age and obesity he had the previous spring travelled from Knoxville to Louisville on foot, evading or deceiving the enemy, and bringing back valuable information. He had been through the enemy's camps at Cumberland Gap and gained accurate information of their numbers, positions, fortifications, batteries, &c., &c., all of which he immediately communicated to the military authorities at Knoxville. He was now on his way to Kentucky--still on foot. We met him a few days afterwards at Barboursville, where he was sent back on some errand to Knoxville by General Smith, and again, six weeks later, at Lexington. Having concluded his business at Knoxville he started for Lexington with a company of cavalry, which was attacked at Big Creek Gap and all the men, with the exception of two or three, either killed or captured. W — was among the number who escaped, and, still afoot, the first to bring the news of the disaster to Lexington. For his services he would receive no remuneration, although they were really valuable, and exceedingly difficult and dangerous. He represented himself as already rich — the owner of a large cotton plantation in Mississippi, and another in Georgia--and doing his work neither for fame nor money, but solely to gratify his own peculiar tastes. Altogether old Mr. W----was a very [229] mysterious character, much used, but, whether justly or not, much less trusted.

The next day we rode forty miles, crossed the Cumberland Mountains at Big Creek Gap, after night, and halted in the valley between there and Pine Mountain, at the house of an Union man. With great difficulty we procured a few ears of corn for our horses, and a cup of milk and crust of corn-bread for ourselves. Spreading our blankets in the piazza of the rickety old house we were soon asleep. At 3 A. M. Brig.-General Davis aroused us with the information that General Heth, a few miles ahead, expected an attack at daylight. We mounted and pushed forward, and a little after sunrise reached Heth's Headquarters beyond Pine Mountain. General Smith, with six thousand men, had followed the road leading up Powells' Valley, some thirty miles to the right, while General Heth, with three thousand men, pursued the more direct route, which leads by Boston to Barboursville, at which point the columns were to unite. Informing General Heth of our anxiety to reach General Smith, especially as Colonel Brent bore dispatches from General Bragg, he advised us to remain with him. He expected to join General Smith in a short time, and being now in the enemy's country, and a very ferocious enemy too, it was imprudent for small parties to separate themselves from the main column.

Here we half seized, our necessities demanding, and half purchased a peck of shelled corn for our horses, and a few cold crusts of bread, and a half cup of milk, which divided between us, our hungry stomachs received with great pleasure, if not entire satisfaction. When we returned to the yard Heth had left, and his troops were filing into the road. Saddling our horses quickly, we galloped forward, and continually informed in reply to our enquiries, that the general was ahead, we passed the entire column without finding him. Still, however, supposing him ahead, and certainly that the advance of the army was covered by the cavalry, we pressed on, until, unwittingly, we had passed for some distance, Heth, cavalry and all.

A little way over the Kentucky line the road leads through a broad, shallow, and very clear mill-stream, with high, precipitous banks, and into a lane, with a corn field on one side and an old unplanted field upon the other. A man was approaching down the lane, with a musket in hand. He seemed somewhat disconcerted when he saw us, moving from side to side of the road, throwing an occasional glance backward, and twisting the gun nervously upon his shoulder, but still approaching. We halted him when he came up, and the following conversation ensued: [230]

“ Have any Confederate cavalry passed this way?”

“ Confedrit? What's Confedrit? I don't know what that is.”

“ Have any Yankee cavalry been about here lately?”

“Wall, stranger, you've got me agen. I don't know as if I've seen any Yankee. I don't know what Yankee is, neither.”

We thought the man was pretending ignorance for some purpose of deception, but we found afterwards that, in common with all the intensely ignorant people of this region, he really did not know what Yankee or Confederate meant, though they knew well enough what was meant by Union and Disunion, and used those terms alone to designate the opposing forces. But to return:

Do you know that there is a war going on — that people in this country are fighting?

“Oh, yes; I hearn tell of that.”

“Well, who are fighting, and what are they fighting about?”

“I guess they're fighten about the Union. Some men want to break up the Union, and they're the dis-Union men.”

“What are the people about here? Are they Union men, or dis-Union?”

“I reckon it would be pretty hard to find a dis-Union man about in these parts now. There was a few, but they're all left. Yes, the people here are pretty much all Union men; that's so.”

“What are you?”

“Me? I'm nothina; jes a poor man, who don't do nobody no harm. All the folks knows that. And I hope nobody won't do me none, neither.”

For some little time we had seen a number of men, in blue Kentucky jeans, the common dress of the people, moving to and fro across the mouth of the lane, beyond us, and something more than a hundred yards distant.

“Who are those men,” we enquired, “moving about yonder, at the end of the lane?”

“ I don't know. Boston's right ‘round that turn in the road. Thar's a ‘lection thar to-day. I guess that's people a going thar.”

“Where did you get that gun?” we asked, changing the subject abruptly. “That is a new Springfield musket, and must belong to the United States government?”

“It arn't mine,” came the answer quickly, with a slight tremor of voice; “a Union soldier jes left it at my house, and asked me to take care of it for him till he comed back.” [231]

“Aha! and you couldn't take good enough care of it by leaving it in your house, so you brought it along with you?”

“ Wall, you see I was a coming to mill anyhow, and sometimes I see lot of ‘pattridges’ along of this lane, and I thought I'd fetch the gun along and kill one for my old woman who's sorter ailen.”

“Look here, my friend, we rather think you're a bushwhacker, and so are those men over there,” pointing to the end of the lane.

“Oh! no, no, sir; thar arn't no bushwhackers about here; thar never was. They're all over on the Sandy. The folks about here are all peaceable folks. Thar arn't no danger for you to go right on to Boston.”

“ Well, come along with us.”

Our suspicions were excited, and marching him before us, we retraced our steps to the creek, where we found a squad of twenty men slaking their thirst, and filling canteens from the cold, clear water. A soldier took the fellow's musket, and, drawing the “pattridge” load, it proved to be ball and buck, and nine similar cartridges were found in his pockets.

Still under the impression that General Heth and the cavalry were surely ahead, we recrossed the creek and resumed our journey, but had passed little more than one half the lane when thirty or forty men, some afoot and others on horseback, drew up in line across the mouth of it. At this menacing movement we halted, when they called to us, in loud voice, to know if we were Union men. Colonel Brent replied promptly, “No; who are you?” “Come on; all right,” they replied. Brent was in favor of going on, but to this I very decidedly demurred. I was convinced that their intentions were hostile, and that we could only advance at the imminent peril of our lives. Turning to Harry (my servant), Brent said, “Gallop back to the creek, and tell those men to come to our assistance as quickly as possible.” I felt sure that the men at the head of the lane would fire as soon as the soldiers appeared above the creek, and was watching alternately in each direction. But the rascals saw our men before we did. A little puff of white smoke floated upward, and a ball struck in the road in front of us, and ricochetted over our heads. I dismounted, and sat down upon the trunk of a fallen tree, making myself as small as possible. Brent advanced a few paces, when a close bullet frightened his horse, which plunged wildly, and in endeavouring to dismount Brent was thrown to the ground. We were woefully bad off, in the way of arms, for soldiers in this predicament. Brent had only his sabre, and I an old straight sword, in silver scabbard, which had hardly done anything more than [232] militia duty in South Carolina, and a little ivory-handled pistol, the property of my wife.

The firing was rapid, the balls striking in the road before and about us, and humming over our heads with a sound by no means pleasant. But the soldiers soon coming up Brent deployed them as skirmishers, under cover of some low apple bushes, and they returned the fire, when the fellows at the end of the lane soon retired, firing random shots as they climbed the side of the mountain. We thought the affair over and congratulated ourselves upon our narrow escape. But at this moment about a hundred men of the same regiment who, hearing the firing, came running down the lane were fired upon from the field to our right and a little to the rear, and the assailants sprang from their hiding places and ran for the creek. One was killed and three wounded, and, the cavalry coming up, twenty-seven captured. Even now the affair was not completely ended, for before we reached Boston, almost in the edge of the village, three men fired upon the cavalry from the shelter of an old house by the roadside and, running out, attempted to escape through the fields to the mountains beyond. We came up in time to see the chase, which was a little exciting. Throwing their guns away, with coats and hats off and hair streaming in the wind, the men ran, as they believed, for life, while fifty cavalrymen in close pursuit made the air ring with their “wild halloo.”

A curious, but at the time, not amusing illustration was given in this little affair of the ignorance of some of our volunteer officers, when first engaged in actual warfare.

This Georgia regiment, which had helped us out of our difficulties, was a magnificent body of men, but had been mustered into service within a few weeks only, and were now on their first campaign. Their colonel, a brave man, who afterwards made an excellent officer, was a county lawyer and politician, and had been elected far more on account of his personal popularity than for any acquaintance with the art of war. When his men came running down the lane, as thick and disorderly as a drove of cattle, confined within the fences, but keen for the fray, Brent, a veteran who had seen much service, said to him, “Colonel, form your men in line of battle, throw out skirmishes and skirmish that piece of woods, we do not know what is concealed there, this may be a serious movement on the part of the enemy.” “No, no, sir, I will not risk my men in that way,” the Colonel answered. “Why,” said Brent, “that is the way to save your men, if the enemy have a field piece they will rake you fore and aft down this lane.” But the Colonel would not “risk” his men, while a discharge of grape [233] or canister, or a round shot ploughing through the living mass, would have sent us, sensibly, skirmishing to the rear at a pace which would have done more credit to the thews in our legs than the Colonel's prudence did to his knowledge of tactics.

Our prisoners were taken to Boston, made to take the oath of allegiance, a mere farce, and released. Guerrillas of the worst type, traitors and assassins all, as these people were, still it was not intended to do them any harm. They are very poor, and inconceivably ignorant. What little fatuous light they have comes from the wandering Yankees who trade among them, but leave for more civilized regions as soon as they have made a little money. The men, with few exceptions, had taken to the mountains; the terrified women and children shut themselves up in their houses. It was some time before they could be assured of their safety. It was hoped to make them friendly by treating them with kindness, but this utterly failed. They continued to hide in the mountains, firing upon small parties, or single men, whenever the opportunity offered; and when we returned from Kentucky they were more hostile than ever. Inalienably wedded to the Union, they hate us more bitterly than the worst abolitionists.

Boston is a dirty little village, of some twenty houses, hemmed in on all sides by the mountains. We remained there two days, when, hearing that General Smith was in Barboursville, we joined Major Thomas, who was on his way there with a drove of beef cattle.

Along the route the houses were closed and the occupants gone. Generally, if we stopped a few moments at a cabin, a woman would come from her hiding place in the corn patch, and tell us that her husband, or father, or brothers, as the case might be, had gone to visit his relations on the Big Sandy. Never before, we felt quite confident, had there been so much of this visiting.

The second day we reached Barboursville, without accident or adventure, and reported to General Kirby Smith.

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