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General Kirby Smith's campaign in Kentucky.

Paper no. 5.

By Major Paul F. Hammond.
The army now occupied nearly the arc of a circle described from Perryville by Harrodsburg upon Versailles. Polk held the centre at Harrodsburg, with Heth on his immediate right, reaching to McCown's Ferry on the Kentucky river. Stevenson occupied Versailles on the extreme right, while Hardie on the left retired slowly upon Perryville, harassed at every step by the enemy. Marshall had come up from Owingsville within supporting distance.

Thus the main object of the late movements was accomplished with trifling loss of men or material. General Bragg's entire forces were now concentrated and well in hand, in a position of his own selection, and a fair field upon which to operate.

The enemy crossed the Kentucky river at Frankfort, and were ambuscaded, and severely handled by Colonel Scott, who, nothwithstanding, was forced to give way before largely superior forces. General Bragg concluded that the main attack was coming from this quarter. It proved to be a great error, and unfortunately led him to violate a first principle of military science by dividing his army in the immediate face of the enemy, undoing in a moment all that the retreat, the sacrifices and the hard work of the last few days had accomplished. General Smith reinforced with Withers's division, raising his effective strength, exclusive of cavalry, to more than five and twenty thousand muskets, was sent in the direction of Frankfort to meet this attack, while General Bragg, with the remainder of his forces, some sixteen thousand men, was left to check the enemy at Perryville. Leaving the banks on the morning of the 8th of October, General Smith marched to Versailles, where he learned that only one column of the enemy, 10,000 strong, commanded by General Sill, had crossed at Frankfort, and that this column had taken the road for Lawrenceburg. In the hopes of capturing it, Smith proceeded rapidly to that point, while Withers, who was on the Salorsa turnpike, a few miles to our left, was ordered to make a detour still further to the left, which would bring him to Salt river, directly across Sill's line of march. If thus intercepted in front and pressed in rear by superior forces, Sill's command would inevitably be compelled to surrender. At ten o'clock at night General Smith encamped within a mile of Lawrenceburg,, [71] whither he had moved with such secrecy and dispatch that neither the enemy nor the citizens dreamed of his proximity. Late in the night the enemy's trains could be heard rumbling along the streets of the town, and before dawn we moved forward, confident of seizing the prey. But Sill, without suspecting his danger, was making forced marches to join the main army, and instead of encamping near Lawrenceburg, as was anticipated, pushed on, though late at night, to Salt river. A few wagons and prisoners were captured, but the main column escaped, and our forces were withdrawn, and took the road at a quick-step for Harrodsburg. This was done with great chagrin, but circumstances made it imperative. It was now apparent that General Bragg was completely outwitted, or had deceived himself, and that he had fought at Perryville what, unhappily, proved to be the decisive battle of the campaign, with the smaller fraction of his army, while nearly 30,000 men were thirty miles away, in a futile chase after a supple and comparatively insignificant division of the enemy. There was little reason to hope that he had been successful, but on the contrary, very great cause to fear that he had suffered a disaster.

On the 8th of October the battle of Perryville was fought. Sixteen thousand Confederate soldiers held the field against a greatly superior force, and great credit was reflected upon our arms; but the victory, if victory could be claimed, was barren, while to achieve it a loss of 2,500 men was incurred.

General Smith entered Harrodsburg on the morning of the 10th. General Bragg was there, but his army had retired to Camp Dick Robinson, twelve miles in the rear. Bragg was in confident spirits, greatly elated by the gallantry which his soldiers had displayed upon the field of Perryville, he seemed fully determined to await the enemy at Harrodsburg.

At Cave City, at Bardstown, and at Frankfort, one advantage after another had faded away without profit, while the most fertile and friendly portions of Kentucky had been abandoned to the enemy. But again, at Harrodsburg fortune seemed to offer one last opportunity for the redemption of the State and the triumph of our cause.

The enemy were reported eight miles in front, steadily advancing. From early morning until noon, column after column of our army filed through the streets of Harrodsburg and wheeled into its appointed position, in line of battle. Through the cold, pelting rain, along the sloppy roads, the travel-worn veterans of the Army of Kentucky moved with the firm tread of conscious strength. Exhausted by a march of fifty miles in less than two days, the near prospect of battle seemed to [72] revive and refresh every soldier. There was no tumult, straggling, or noisy excitement, which is characteristic of raw troops on such occasion, but a stern and ominous silence, and perfect discipline were preserved in all the ranks. The light of battle gleamed in every eye, and the determination to conquer was written in the lineaments of every face.

No one who witnessed the scenes of that day can ever forget them, the immense stake at issue, and the soldierly bearing of the brave Southern army which was to contend for it, thrilled every heart.

The strength of the Confederate army at this time was about forty-eight thousand men,1 with two hundred pieces of artillery. Of these thirty thousand were at Harrodsburg, between thirteen and fourteen thousand at Camp Dick Robinson, while Marshall's brigade, whose exact locality it was often difficult to ascertain, was somewhere between there and Lexington. This was exclusive of a large and excellent body of cavalry, comprising the brigades of Wheeler, Wharton, Scott, Morgan, Alston and Buford, numbering not less than ten thousand men.

It would be difficult to compute with any exactness the effective force [73] of the enemy. Their prisoners claimed that their armies left Louisville ninety-five thousand strong. Of these more than three thousand were put hors du combat at Perryville; Dumont with five thousand was slowly advancing on Lexington, which we had abandoned, while Sill had just been driven in disorder, with the loss of several hundred prisoners, across Salt river, and could hardly join the main army in time or in condition to take part in the impending battle. When, in addition, it is remembered that this army was composed, to a great extent, of raw levies, hastily collected and organized, with little discipline, and unaccustomed to the march, and had been pushed forward from Louisville with great rapidity, on scant rations, through a badly watered country, a moderate allowance for stragglers, and the details necessary to guard its long line of communications, would reduce its effective strength of all arms below seventy thousand.

During the greater part of the day General Smith was occupied in choosing the battle-field, some two miles beyond Harrodsburg. The country is rolling and mostly cleared, and offered advantageous positions. In the afternoon General Bragg rode along the lines, making some slight alterations, and was enthusiastically cheered. At dusk he returned to Harrodsburg, and General Smith took quarters close to and a little outside of the lines. At midnight the enemy were reported within three-fouths of a mile, moving in force around our left, in such a manner as to require a change of front, for which the proper dispositions were promptly made. About 3 A. M. General Smith was sent for by Gen. Bragg, and remained in consultation with him till nearly daylight, at which hour, when every ear was pricked to catch the first notes of the coming storm, he returned with orders for an immediate and rapid retreat, and by sunrise not a Confederate soldier remained upon the field.

Thus at last were destroyed all the bright hopes with which fortune had so long tantalyzed us.

At Cave City, at Bardstown and Frankfort, great advantages were foregone. When it is recollected how much might have been gained at Perryville, the battle there can be regarded as little short of a disaster. But at Harrodsburg the campaign was finally abandoned, with the total defeat of all its prospects.

Two reasons were assigned for this retreat--one, the exhausted condition of the troops that had fought the battle of Perryville, the other the heavy movement of the enemy on our left flank, which threatened to intercept our line of retreat. [74]

The army was concentrated and halted at Camp Dick Robinson in an impregnable position, formed by the junction of the Kentucky and Dick rivers.

One brilliant, though hazardous, movement remained, which offered a possibility of retrieving the failing fortunes of the campaign. The Kentucky river, rising in the southeastern portion of the State, flows in a northwesterly direction to Boonsboro, when, turning to the left, it sweeps around in a semi-circle to Frankfort, and pours thence directly into the Ohio.

Within this semi-circle are embraced the counties of Woodford, Fayette and Jessamine, which are regarded as the most fertile in the State, and contained supplies sufficient to subsist General Bragg's army for some time. By crossing into this Blue Grass region the easily defensible line of the Kentucky river could have been occupied. If the enemy attempted to cross at McCown's Ferry, or the fords between these and Richmond, he exposed his line of communications. At whatever fords he might attempt to cross, General Bragg, moving upon the shorter line, would have been able to concentrate a force which would render the passage impracticable. If the enemy retraced his steps, as in all probability he must have done, all that had heretofore been accomplished would have been lost, while General Bragg would have been offered the opportunity to attack him in flank and harrass his rear, and ample time to recruit his own army, which was worn by its late arduous service. If, finally, it was found necessary to retreat, the Pound Gap route was safe in any event, and that by Cumberland Gap almost equally so, while supplies could have been collected and depots established along the line of retreat, sufficient, at least, to obviate the worst of the suffering which the troops subsequently endured. That this plan was suggested, if not debated, in a council of war, there is reason to believe; but General Bragg concluded to retreat at once; determined finally, it has been said, by the rumored defeat of Van Dorn at Corinth.

With four days rations, on the morning of the 13th of October the army commenced to retreat to East Tennessee, which it would require not less than twelve days to accomplish. Bragg, in advance, took the route by Mount Vernon, with Smith to follow by Big Hill. It devolved upon him, who had opened the way into Kentucky, by his brilliant victory at Richmond, to command the rear and cover, and in the main conduct a retreat, which his judgment did not sanction. And this he did with skill, which surmounted difficulties of no ordinary character, [75] and firmness and presence of mind maintained amid the most alarming dangers.

At Big Hill the road was obstructed for seven miles by wagons in great disorder. A semi-victorious army pressing heavily in the rear, a mountain in front, with the road across it blocked with wagons, were enough to strike almost any man with consternation. The Commanding General, with one-half of the army, was already so far ahead on a better road, that no assistance could be expected from him, while it was his trains mistaking their way, which placed us in our painful position. Calling his staff around him, in the gray mists of a gloomy morning, General Smith addressed them substantially as follows: “It is necessary for me, gentlemen, to call upon you for the exercise of all your energies. I consider my army in great danger. I am determined to save it, though I may be forced to destroy the trains. Park the wagons out of the road ready for burning, then move foward those which contain commissary and quartermasters' stores, but keep the road open for my troops.”

A detail of 1,500 men was made from Heth's division, and fortunately, General Cleburn, a noble gentleman and gallant and skillful officer, twice wounded in Kentucky, at Richmond and at Perryville, happened there, and, although relieved from duty on account of his last wound, took charge of the working parties, and infused into them a portion of his wonderful energy. The soldiers lined the road on either side from the foot to the summit of this immense and rugged hill, and as the starved and tired mules faltered and fell, seized the wagons and lifted them by sheer force over the worst places. All day, and throughout the night and until noon the next day, the trains, in one unbroken stream, continued to pour over Big Hill, and then the troops followed.

We were now again in the region of bushwhackers, who were even more active than upon our entrance into the State. Their savage ferocity spared none who fell into their hands, and they audaciously fired upon the soldiers in their very camps. But, altogether, their hostility was rather serviceable than otherwise, as, in a great measure, it prevented straggling.

At Rockcastle river the danger appeared even more imminent than at Big Hill. The enemy's guns thundered on our right and almost in our front. Pressing closely upon General Bragg, it appeared to be his object to intercept General Smith at the junction of the routes near London. Bragg had already left his army under the command of General Polk, and was proceeding rapidly on the way to Knoxville and thence to Richmond. Smith communicated his perilous position to that officer, [76] and begged him to hold the enemy in check. With gallantry which has been so often conspicuous, General Polk replied that he would do his best, and the enemy should not pass. Buford's cavalry, guarding a road which intersected the line of retreat four miles from Rockcastle river, was scattered very soon after our columns passed, while all through the day the booming of cannon, with occasional rattle of musketry, could be heard from the neighborhood of London. But our brave soldiers held their ground with unflinching firmness, and the army was saved.

Here ended the pursuit. It is needless to recount the farther hard-ships of the retreat. They were such as an army marching through a mountainous country, without rations and shoes, and scantily clothed, at the verge of Winter, must necessarily suffer.

Finally, on the 24th of October the van of General Smith's army entered Knoxville. Under the trying circumstances of the retreat the entire army preserved admirable discipline and order, but at Knoxville many brave men who had taxed nature beyond the limits of her endurance, sank utterly prostrated. It was estimated that not less than 15,000 men went immediately into hospital.2

1 It would be impossible to recall, at this distance of time, the exact dates at which the different bodies of Confederate troops entered the State of Kentucky, or their exact numbers. But the following table will show with sufficient accuracy the order in which our army crossed the Tennessee line, as well as the estimates of the infantry forces, as I obtained them at the time, by my somewhat petinacious enquiries, from General Pegram, who, although without official reports, was necessarily, from his position, obliged to keep well informed.

For fear of exaggeration I have rather reduced his estimates, as I now recall them:

August 13,General Kirby Smith's column6,000 
August 14,General Heth's division3,000 
August 25,General Reynold's brigade3,000 
September 6,General Bragg's army23,000 
September 7,Colonel Grace's regiment600 
September 12,General Marshall's brigade4,000 
September 18,General Stevenson's division10,000 
September 28,Colonel Hilliard's legion2,000 
October 1,General McCown with convalescents returning to their commands1,600 
Deduct for loss in killed and wounded at Richmond500 
Deduct for loss in killed and wounded at Perryville2,500 
Deduct for loss For sickness, &c., &c. (large estimate)2,000 

And it will be seen that there was something more than forty-eight thousand infantry ready for battle when General Bragg determined to abandon the State.

2 I heard this estimate made by Dr. S. A. Smith, the Medical Director of the Army of East Tennessee, a careful man, not given to exaggeration.

A poem,

by Mary Ashley Townsend,
Dedicated to the Army of Northern Virginia, New Orleans, May 10th, 1881, on the occasion of the unveiling of Stonewall Jackson's Statute which surmounts the tomb built to receive the dead who fought under him.

Comrades, halt! The field is chosen.
     'Neath the skies of Southern May,
Where the Southern roses ripen,
     We will bivouac to-day.
Here, no foe will draw our sabres
     In the turbulence of war,
Nor will drum beat, nor will bugle
     Wake the old pain in a scar.

All is rest, and calm-around us
     Beauty's smile and manhood's prime;
Scents of Spring, like ships, go sailing
     Balmy seas of summer time. [77]
Flags of battle, hanging yonder,
     Flutter not at strife's increase;
On their pulses lie the fingers
     Of the Great Physician — Peace.

In the marble camp before us,
     Silence paces to and fro--
Spectre of the din of battles
     Hard fought in the long ago.
While he marches, from the meadows,
     O'er the heights, around the curves;
Come the men of many combats--
     Death's Grand Army of Reserves.

In the swift advancing columns,
     Many a battle-blazoned name.
With Stuart, Ewell, Hays and Ashby,
     Bears the honor cross of Fame.
Down the spectral line it flashes--
     Glorious symbol of reward
Won when all the world was looking
     Unto Lee and Beauregard.

From the war-graves of Manassas,
     Fredericksburg and Malvern Hill;
Carrick's Ford and Massanutton,
     Fast the shadowy legions fill.
From the far off Rappahannock,
     From the red fields of Cross Keys,
Gettysburg — the Wildernesses--
     From defeats and victories:

Tired trooper — weary marcher--
     Grim and sturdy cannonier--
Veteran gray, and slender stripling,
     Hasten to encamp them here.
From the mountain and the river,
     From the city and the plain,
Sweeping down to join their leader--
     Stonewall Jackson — once again.

There he stands: alive in granite!
     By the hand of genius made
Once again to rise before us,
     Waiting for his “Old Brigade.”
Chieftain — Hero--Christian--Soldier--
     King of men, and man of God!
Crystalized about his footsteps,
     Greatness marks the path he trod.

[78] Soldiers! Ye who fought with Jackson
     Through the days and nights of strife;
Bringing from the fields of battle
     But the bitter lees of life:
Ye whose lips have only tasted
     Ashen apples from the fray;
Every wound ye won beside him,
     Knights ye on this field to-day.

Army of our old Virginia!
     Would ye write a legend here,
That shall win from friend and foeman,
     Honors' reverential tear?
Trace ye then upon this marble,
     With imperishable pen,
Words that shout their own hozannas,
     Stonewall Jackson and his men!

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Harrodsburg (Kentucky, United States) (11)
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Kentucky (Kentucky, United States) (5)
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