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The Kentucky campaign.

By Major Paul F. Hammond.

No. 6 (conclusion.)

Thus the writer has endeavored to trace accurately and faithfully the main features of the campaign in Kentucky. A few words of comment, recalling attention to what seems to have been its chief errors and summing up its results, may not be inappropriate, in conclusion, nor wholly useless. It is certainly no very difficult, but at the same time it is no pleasant task, to point out errors after they have been committed; yet it is only by its disinterested and impartial performance that we can gather for ourselves the full fruits of experience, the best if bitterest teacher, or pluck from disaster the lessons which may lead to future triumphs.

The experience of this war has remarkably illustrated the time-honored truth that the most serious misfortunes often follow from apparently trifling causes, and that in every employment, but in war above all others, it is necessary to be thorough in order to be successful. [159]

The first great errors in the Kentucky campaign came from a defect which follows, more or less, the entire military organization of the South-and that is, the want of adequate arrangements for obtaining and transmitting information. To this was due the escape of the Federal General Morgan in his perilous retreat from Cumberland Gap. Again, had constant daily communications been kept up between Generals Smith and Bragg, the former after the battle of Richmond, would have been informed of the latter's position as well as that of Buell, and of such importance was this information that, in the possession of General Smith, it must have led him to advance on Louisville, which would have fallen easily into our hands, with its valuable accumulation of Federal stores, at the same time hemming in Buell so completely that the destruction of his army must have followed as an almost certain consequence. As it was, Gen. Smith received no communication from General Bragg from the time he left Barboursville, on the 27th of August, until the 13th of September, during which time he was kept in a state of anxiety and suspense which precluded any further decisive movement.

The first object of General Bragg in his movement from Chattanooga was, by rapid marching, to get between Buell and Louisville, cut his lines of communication, and force him to give battle in the open field; his second, to defeat and destroy his army. When the former was accomplished under such flattering auspices, by the capture of Munfordsville, the latter was hardly regarded as matter of doubt. That Bragg refrained from attacking at Bowling Green may be understood, since Buell's circumstances, rendering his strong position there untenable for any length of time, would soon force him into the open field; but that he should have permitted him to escape unmolested, by a desperate movement, in the face of his whole army, is an unexplained mystery. That Buell was weak was shown by the anxiety with which he avoided battle, the very thing he would have desired had his army been strong enough to give him any reasonable hopes of success.

This was a decided reverse to our arms, and that without a battle. Any General is liable to defeat, when attacked by superior numbers, if his troops fail to do their duty, or by errors or untoward accidents in the confusion of the actual combat; but it is among the gravest reflections upon the abilities of a commander that he suffers himself to be foiled in his greatest purpose without fighting, especially when he has commenced the campaign by being the assailant, and proposes to continue on the offensive. [160]

If Buell's escape was owing to a surprise, it is clear that General Bragg should have followed him at once and attacked him in Louisville before he could strengthen his army by organizing the raw levies, which, it was well known, were gathering there and at Covington in large numbers. If, on the other hand, he had refrained from attacking because he felt himself too weak, as he could not hope ever to possess greater relative strength in Kentucky, it was equally clear that Bragg should have retired at once, and seizing upon Nashville, if possible, fortify the Cumberland, or, else, the strongest availble line of defense in the territory from which the enemy had been driven, and occupy it for the ensuing winter's campaign. But adopting neither of these policies, General Bragg left his army at Bardstown, almost at the very moment when an attack by forces numerically superior was commencing, and came to Lexington, for no other purposes, that the issue has shown, than to enjoy a short lived triumph, declare Confederate treasure notes a legal tender, and inaugurate Mr. Hawes provisional governor of Kentucky, in which office there was slight hope of maintaining him, as he actually failed to do even for a single day.

After this, if General Bragg hoped to maintain his position in the State, it was of the utmost importance that he should seize the earliest opportunity to give battle--first, because the enemy were gaining strength every day and we were not, and, secondly, because his only prospect of support was from the people of Kentucky, which could only be fulfilled by inspiring these people with confidence in his ability to hold his position in the State; and besides, if finally worsted his line of retreat lay through a country exceedingly difficult at any time, and almost impassable in cold and wet weather, the season for which was close at hand. But it has been seen that he refused battle at Frankfort. It is true that he fought at Perryville, but only after detaching the chief portion of his army to meet a small force of the enemy, while with the remnant he attacked their main columns. With even one-half of Smith's forces upon the field of Perryville a victory would have been gained, the fruitful consequences of which it would be difficult to overestimate.

Thence the campaign could only be retrieved by some bold stroke of genius or happy turn of fortune. General Bragg's personal gallantry has been conspicuous on battle fields in this war and in the Mexican, and even his worst enemies do not deny that he has ability, but the preceding conduct of the campaign did not furnish much reason to hope that he could regain by his own efforts that which he had lost, and, disheartened by failures, it was hardly to be expected that he would [161] even seize what Fortune offered. Hope revived for an instant, but only for an instant, at Harrodsburg. Great errors had been committed and great dangers menaced on all sides, but whatever had been the errors and whatever dangers attended other measures, in retreating at the verge of winter, with troops ill-clad and without sufficient food through a destitute country, by wretched roads and over mountains, a desperate policy was adopted. Unless forced to it, a stupendous mistake was made, and if forced to, when the brilliant prospects of but a few days earlier are recalled, it may well be asked, “What reduced the grand Southern army to this extremity?”

By the Kentucky campaign, North Alabama was relieved and Middle Tennessee re-occupied. Nearly 10,000 prisoners, 14,000 stand of small arms, some cannons, and many wagons and mules were captured. The Confederate armies subsisted for six weeks upon the enemy's territory, and during that time received into their ranks more volunteer Kentuckians than they lost men in battle. It cannot be denied, that much was won, and at little cost, comparatively; unless, indeed, we estimate those immense results, which although never actually won, more than once seemed surely ours. It is equally true, that much more might have been gained, and ought to have been gained, possibly ending the war. The campaign began with brilliant successes and terminated ingloriously, and it terminated thus on account of a series of errors and mishaps so unexpected, so inexplicable, and so inconsistent with the abilities of the Commanding General and his Lieutenants, and so fatal, despite the vigilance and experience of his subordinate officers, and the unsurpassed courage, discipline and devotion of the soldiers, that we feel tempted to cry, with the superstitious children of the East, it was Destiny. Allah il Allah, it was God's will.

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