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[513]

The killing of Colonel Dennis J. Halisey.

By Captain George B. Eastin.
On what was known in Morgan's command as the “Christmas raid” into Kentucky, from the fact of its having taken place during Christmas week of 1862, it became necessary for us to leave the State rather precipitately, because of our being pressed by a large Federal cavalry force in our rear. It also became necessary, on our retreat from the State, for us to flank the town of Lebanon, Kentucky, which lay in our most direct road south, from the fact that the garrison there had been heavily reinforced, and the town occupied by a large force of the enemy. This necessitated our leaving the turnpike road at Springfield on the evening of December 30th, 1862; and on that bitter night, which will be long remembered by every member of the command, we made the famous all-night march around Lebanon, and owing mainly to the almost impassable condition of the mud roads, found ourselves at day-light the next morning only about ten miles distant from the point we had left the evening before.

Thus compelled to leave the main highway, we struggled along, making slow progress over mud roads, in which our horses sank in many places to their knees, trying to get the artillery over these difficulties, and aiming to strike the turnpike running from Lebanon to Campbellsville.

During the day Captain Alexander Tribble, of Chenault's regiment, who was afterwards killed during the attack on Green River Bridge stockade, proposed to me that we should get permission from General Morgan to go ahead of the advance guard to a little town called New Market, for the purpose of getting some boots and shoes for some of the men in our respective companies. We had the impression that the command was to pass through New Market that afternoon; in which, however, we afterwards found ourselves mistaken. Acting on Tribble's suggestion, I went with him to General Morgan, and without difficulty we obtained his permission to pass on in front of the advance guard for the purpose mentioned, which we accordingly did. After going several miles, we learned by inquiring of a farmer, that New Market was about three miles off to the left of the road we were then traveling, and by his direction we left that road by the first lane leading to the left. This lane led us, after traveling over it for about a mile, into another main country road, where we had been directed to turn to the right; and following these directions we came to the junction of this road with the [514] Lebanon and Campbellsville turnpike where we found the little town of which we were in search. We dismounted at the best looking store in the village (which consisted of a few houses strung along on either side of the pike), but soon found that our mission was a fruitless one, as the store contained nothing that we cared to buy, even for Confederate money. In the meantime we had been asked by several citizens of the little town, and along the road, if we were Colonel Halisey's men, to which inquiry we generally responded in the affirmative. The fact was, however, that we had never heard of Halisey until the day before, and then mainly through the prayers of the enthusiastic women sympathizers of the South, who had flocked to the road-side to see the command pass, and had besought us that we would kill Halisey before we left the State. Halisey, we knew was in command of a brigade of Federal cavalry that was pressing our rear guard and picking up every unlucky straggler who happened to fall behind.

After briefly looking over the stock of goods in the store at which we had dismounted, we told the proprietor that we were members of Morgan's command. He replied that we were, perhaps, in much greater danger than we were aware of, as small bands of Federal cavalry had been passing through the village all day, at short intervals, going on to reinforce Lebanon, which place they expected Morgan to attack that night. To confirm his statement, he pointed to a house a few hundred yards further down the pike, and told us that the horse hitched there belonged to a Federal soldier who had stopped there as the last squad had passed through a few minutes before.

Tribble and I thought that we might capture this fellow, and at once mounted and started in the direction of the house referred to. We were, however, quickly discovered by the cavalryman, who seemed to know our uniforms better than the citizens we had met, and he immediately mounted and started in the direction of Lebanon at full speed. We gave chase for a short distance, but soon found that the Yankee was out-running us; and having concluded that New Market was not a very congenial clime in which to tarry, we turned our horses' heads, and going back through the village, turned off from the pike into the dirt road over which we had come, hoping soon to rejoin our command.

We had gone but a short distance in that direction before we met two stragglers from our own command going in the direction of New Market. We told them they were going in the wrong direction, and made them turn back and accompany us. It then occurred to Tribble and myself that, as we could get no shoes to add to the comfort of our men [515] in walking, the next best thing we could do would be to take in a couple of fresh horses, which might obviate the necessity for some poor fellows having to walk without shoes.

We had by this time come to the mouth of the lane through which we had passed in getting into this main dirt road, and where we would have to turn off to get back to the road on which we had left the command. About two hundred yards from where we then were, and just opposite the mouth of this lane, stood a comfortable looking farm-house with a good looking horse grazing in the yard. It was then agreed between Tribble and myself, that he should take one of the men whom we had just before met, and get this horse, provided he should find him suitable for our purposes, while I was to take the other man, and go further on down this main road to see if I could not capture, or, as we then expressed it “press” another horse. Accordingly, Tribble started for the horse referred to, and I, with one of the stragglers we had picked up, proceeded down this main road, still going away from New Market, and having passed the lane at which we should have left this road in order to get back to our command.

My man and myself had gone perhaps half a mile when at a sudden turn in the road we were met by three more men from our command going at full speed, and as though the whole Yankee army was at their heels. As they dashed by us they had time only to call out to us, “if you are Morgan's men you had better be getting away from here, as the Yankees are right on us.” I looked in the direction from which these men had come, and saw three Federal cavalrymen coming rapidly down the road in pursuit. I then started after the men who had dashed by me so hurriedly, and who had been promptly joined by the man who had been with me, and ordered them to halt, assuring them that there were but three Yankees in sight, and if they would stop there would then be five of us to fight them. But so badly demoralized were they that the bare suggestion of stopping to make a fight seemed only to accelerate their flight, and with my late companion well up with them, they kept on at the top of their horses' speed. We soon came in sight of the house at which Captain Tribble had stopped, and I commenced calling to him to come and join us. He recognized me at once, but thought the four men flying along in front of me were Yankees, whom I was pursuing, and although about to put a halter on the horse, for which he had gone, and which he had just succeeded in getting hold of, he dropped his game, mounted his own horse, and with the man he had taken along to assist him, started as rapidly as possible for the road-gate. The four demoralized Rebels, who were making [516] such good time in front of me, dashed by this gate, and kept straight on in the direction of New Market, passing by the lane at which they should have turned off in order to get back to our command, and, so so far as I know, I never saw either of them again. I reached the gate at which Tribble must come out into the road, perhaps a minute before he did, and stopped there in order to hold it free for him to get into the road, but before he had reached it, the three Federals who were pursuing, having gotten within fifty yards of me, halted in the road and fired two or three shots at me, which I returned, in order to hold them in check. This I did, until Tribble and his man reached the road and passed through the gate, and our respective parties then numbered three on each side. Two of our enemies had, besides their side arms, carbines, with which they were firing at me, while neither of us had anything but pistols. Tribble at once called my attention to this disadvantage under which we were placed as long as we were in the open road, and suggested that we must get to the woods, where we would be able to bring our enemies within shorter range, and be on an equal footing with them. Accordingly we all three started in a run down the lane, which would take us back to the place where we left the command, and as soon as our horses' heads were turned, our opponents, as we had anticipated, started in pursuit of us, firing an occasional shot at us, which we would return, in order to keep up their interest in the chase.

We had gone this way for perhaps half a mile, running just fast enough to encourage our pursuers to follow us, without trying to run entirely away from them, and had not yet found the trees for which we were looking. As we thus galloped along this lane, I suddenly discovered, as I thought, the very place for our purpose. I saw that we were approaching a small, sluggish stream which crossed our road, that on the side from which we were approaching, the road, which had evidently been used for many years, was cut or worn down quite deep; that the fence on one side of the road did not extend entirely down to this stream, forming the corner of an old field, and leaving an unenclosed space, perhaps thirty or forty feet wide, between the fence and the edge of the creek. I discovered that by turning our horses squarely around this corner into the unenclosed space spoken of, we would be entirely out of sight of our pursuers until they should come within a few paces of us. I therefore turned as abruptly as possible into this open space, and called to Tribble to do the same; but before he understood my purpose his horse had carried him into the little stream above referred to. The man who was with Tribble and me, [517] ran straight on without making a atop, and afterwards said as I was informed, that his horse was running away with him.

We had scarcely time to face about, when the front man of our pursuers, who afterwards proved to be an orderly on Halisey's staff, by the name of Edwards, dashed around the corner, and though he endeavored at once to check his horse, he did not succeed in doing so until he had run squarely up to Tribble, who was then facing him. A pistol shot was exchanged between them, but neither touched the other. Tribble, who had fired first, attempted to shoot the second time, being so near that the muzzle of his pistol was against Edwards's body, but this time his pistol snapped, and left him apparently at the mercy of his antagonist. With the quickness of a tiger, however, he grappled with Edwards before the latter could fire again, and being a powerful man, and a magnificent horseman, succeeded in dragging him backwards from his horse, and landed him sprawling in the water. Each man dropped his pistol in this struggle, but Edwards being down in the water with Tribble over him, surrendered and announced himself Tribble's prisoner.

In the meantime, and not a horse's length behind Edwards, Colonel Halisey came around the corner, and reining in his horse more success-fully than Edwards had done, turned into the open space spoken of above within perhaps ten paces of me I at once fired at him and demanded his surrender. He returned my fire, and urging my horse a little nearer to him, I fired again, and saw the dust fly from the shoulder of his overcoat, though, as I afterwards discovered, the shot did not wound him. He then fired again; and spurring my horse towards him, I was within perhaps ten feet of him, and having my pistol levelled on him, was about to fire again, when he threw up his hand and surrendered to me, saying twice, “I am your prisoner, sir; I am your prisoner!” In getting within reach of him, my horse being very restive, had faced around in the other direction, thus bringing us side by side, with our horses' heads in the same direction, and he being on my left side. While in this position, and with my left leg touching his right leg, I extended my hand and demanded his pistols. Instead, however, of giving them up, he dropped his bridle rein, and reaching over with his left hand, grabbed me in the collar, and, at the same time, without taking special aim, firing under his left arm, because of our being so near together, and with the muzzle of his pistol almost touching my cheek, fired at me again. The discharge burned and blackened my face, and the flash for an instant blinded me, but [518] almost instinctively, and at the same moment, I grappled with him, and putting my pistol firmly against his temple, fired again.

In the excitement caused by the unexpected shot in my face, I held on to Halisey's body for a moment, though I saw the last shot was instantly fatal, and both horses being loose, moved side by side down into the pool of water. Here I released him to reach for the bridle of his horse, but missing this, Halisey's lifeless body fell over against me and down between his horse and mine into the water, which was, perhaps, a foot or eighteen inches deep. In the fall, his head caught in my bridle rein, which was hanging loose. This kept his head out of the water, but jerked my horse up and made him plunge around, dragging Halisey's body through the pool, until we reached the other bank, where it became disentangled.

I had scarcely time to look around and take in the situation as to my friend, Tribble, when the third man on the Federal side came dashing around the corner. Tribble was completely disarmed. The pistol that I had been using and still held in my hand was then entirely empty, and while I had one under my overcoat that had not been used there was no time to make the exchange; so I leveled the empty one at the lieutenant who had just arrived, and he seeing the fate of his companions, rode up and handed me his carbine and a pair of army pistols.

Our two prisoners were taken to our command, which we soon rejoined, and on the next day they were paroled by General Morgan.

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New Market (Kentucky, United States) (5)
Trenton (Kentucky, United States) (1)
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Alexander Tribble (17)
Dennis J. Halisey (10)
John A. Morgan (7)
Edwards (6)
George B. Eastin (1)
Chenault (1)
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December 30th, 1862 AD (1)
1862 AD (1)
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