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Chapter 18:

The second day after the battle, General Bragg moved up to within cannon-shot of Chattanooga, where Rosecrans, reassured by the failure of pursuit and the strength of the defenses which Bragg had constructed, suspended his movements for retreat inaugurated in the Federal panic, and settled down to stand a siege. Bragg disposed his army in the valley between Missionary Ridge and Point Lookout, from which latter elevation every movement in the beleaguered town was distinctly visible. He remained there until November 25th. Meanwhile Burnside had captured Knoxville, and [183] Longstreet was sent to dislodge him, but was foiled, after a desperate assault on the strong fortifications, and the greater part of East Tennessee was permanently lost to the Confederacy. At the same time Federal reinforcements poured into Chattanooga, and General Grant, full of the prestige of Vicksburg and looming up into the prominence which soon placed him at the head of the Federal armies, was sent to restore the shattered confidence of Rosecrans' army. The result is told in few words.

The ‘Battle of the Clouds’ on Lookout Mountain is a myth. The battle of Missionary Ridge was little short of a disgrace. The resistance was as feeble as that of many of the detachments which Morgan captured in his raids, and with the loss of a few hundred the Confederate army fell back beyond the Chickamauga and went into winter quarters at Dalton, Ga. With it went the Kentucky brigade, farther and farther from home, yet with the same brave and loyal spirit which ever characterized it.

General Preston had, before the battle of Missionary Ridge, been restored to his department in southwestern Virginia, but had left the Fifth Kentucky, which became permanently a part of the Orphan brigade. In a short time he was sent as minister to Mexico, and his military career ceased. In his place General Buckner was ordered to Virginia, and after a brief service was, at his own request, assigned to the Trans-Mississippi, and was thenceforward separated from the Kentucky troops with whom he had so long been associated. In common with many other officers from Kentucky and elsewhere, he had been involved in unpleasant controversy with General Bragg, and longer service in his department became distasteful. Thus almost simultaneously the army of Tennessee, as it was still called, lost two of its most conspicuous officers. But it was soon to lose a third. President Davis, recognizing the capacity and influence of General Breckinridge, and the demand for an officer of his merit in that field, [184] in the early part of February tendered him the command of the department of Southwestern Virginia, and he accepted it. The announcement of the fact brought gloom to the Kentucky brigade, and the parting was touching. The night before he left they called in a body to take leave of him, and besought him to secure their transfer to his department. When he went to Richmond on his way to take command, he made the application, and afterward repeated it urgently; but when the matter was referred to Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who had succeeded General Bragg in the command, that officer disapproved the transfer, saying in compliment to the brigade, which ever endeared him to it, that its place could not be supplied. Thus the year 1864 started off with a general shakeup in the army at Dalton, and the several officers went to their new fields of service, not again to be united.

Leaving the Kentucky brigade in quarters at Dalton for a season of rest and recreation, a brief record will be made of General Breckinridge's after service and that of the Kentuckians who came under his command, as little account has ever been made of it within the reach of his admiring countrymen.

The department to which he had been assigned was one of great territorial dimensions, and of an altogether inadequate force. It extended from the Alleghany mountains as far west in East Tennessee as was held by the Confederate arms, and northward the same. It had been the graveyard of Confederate generals as far as their reputations were concerned, owing to the fact that, with a front of nearly three hundred miles open to invasions of the enemy by routes impossible to guard, whenever it was invaded blame fell upon the commanding general and his prestige was destroyed. It came near being the ruin of General Lee, while Floyd, Loring and a number of others were in turn retired and their future usefulness destroyed.

In the latter part of February General Breckinridge assumed command of the department with headquarters [185] at Dublin Depot, Pulaski county, on the East Tennessee and Virginia railroad, a few miles west of New River. One of his first acts was to make a horseback tour along his front, extending from Warm Springs on the northeast to Abingdon, involving a ride of three hundred miles in wintry weather. His infantry consisted of two brigades, that of Gen. John Echols, at Monroe Draught, near the Greenbrier White Sulphur Springs, and that of Gen. G. C. Wharton, at the Narrows of New River. At Warm Springs was a cavalry brigade under Gen. W. L. Jackson, and other detachments of cavalry were at other widely separate stations, of which there were sixteen and with which communication was chiefly by courier. Gen. John H. Morgan, who had reorganized the remnant of his command, was in the vicinity of Abingdon, and there also were the brigades of Gen. H. L. Giltner and Geo. B. Cosby, chiefly composed of Kentuckians, while other bodies of cavalry not necessary to enumerate, detached and of smaller numbers, were disposed with reference to scouting, forage and subsistence. Within his department were the Wythe county lead mines, from which came the principal supply for the armies of the Confederacy, and the salt works at Saltville, from which was derived in great part the salt necessary for the whole South, east of the Mississippi. Added to these features was the fact that soon after he took command General Longstreet, who had occupied that part of East Tennessee not held by the Federal forces, was called to Northern Virginia, increasing largely the responsibility of his charge. His coming was greeted warmly by the people of that part of Virginia, and by the troops to whom his high reputation was an assurance of an improved service.

He had, however, not long been in command when the campaign in Eastern Virginia began, and on the 5th day of May, when he was preparing to resist an invasion from the Kanawha valley, he received a dispatch from General Lee, who was engaged in the battles of the Wilderness, [186] to move at once with all his available force to Staunton for the defense of that point, and defend it against Sigel, who was moving up the Shenandoah valley. Breckinridge started immediately with his two infantry brigades for a long march over the mountains, and arrived at Staunton on the 11th, calling out the militia of Augusta county and the cadets of the Virginia military institute at Lexington. It was generally supposed that he would fortify and await Sigel's advance, but on the 13th he put his forces, numbering about 3,500, including a small cavalry force under General Imboden, in motion to meet Sigel, who was reported about fifty miles northward.

On the evening of the 14th he had reached a point within nine miles of New Market, near which and to the north he learned that Sigel was camped. At one o'clock that night, the weather being rainy, he marched north, and at daylight on the morning of Sunday, May 15th, his infantry was in line of battle just south of New Market, almost within cannon shot of Sigel before that officer knew there was any infantry force between him and Staunton. There was little delay for preliminaries, and by noon Sigel, who had about twice the number of troops led by Breckinridge, had been forced to fall back beyond New Market, where he took a strong position on the crest of a hill from which there was a gentle slope of nearly a mile through wheat-fields and blue-grass pastures. General Breckinridge was reluctant to put the cadets, of whom there were 225, into the battle and at first proposed to detach them as rear guard to the trains, but they pleaded so earnestly that he finally yielded and gave them the post of honor in the center, between the two brigades, as a color line for them to dress by. He had but one line, but his flanks were protected by a bluff bank of the Shenandoah on the left, and swampy ground at the right. From the nature of the topography, he could not use artillery directly, but ascertaining by reconnoitering that he could move it to an eligible position on the right and [187] advance even with, or a little in front of his line, he moved his command up, while with the artillery, whose fire he directed, he selected for his own post the right, where he kept himself in view of his troops and inspired them by his presence. The line moved in spirited order in the face of a galling fire; while advancing his artillery, consisting of ten pieces, he secured somewhat of an enfilading or quartering fire upon the enemy and diverted their attention in the interest of the infantry. Its effect was felt first by Sigel's reserve line, among which arose confusion, which Sigel sought to counteract by a cavalry charge from the left of his line; but canister soon repulsed that, and in a short time, the Confederate infantry having approached to within a few hundred yards of the enemy without a break in their line, the enemy gave way and fled in disorder.

Several hundred prisoners were captured, and Sigel, crossing a bridge a few miles in his rear, burned it and made good his retreat nearly to the Potomac. The casualties to the Confederates were not as heavy as would be inferred from their exposed position, but among the cadets the loss was in proportion to their number the greatest, there having been seven killed and fifty-four wounded. It was a glory dearly bought, but gave to the corps a prestige which will endure for all time. No troops of veteran service ever bore themselves with more steadiness or valor or wore their honors with more becoming grace. General Breckinridge issued a special order commending them for their good behavior, and next day General Lee, relieved of the danger thus averted from his flank, sent to General Breckinridge his hearty congratulations.

On the same night, the rear of Lee's lines being threatened by a formidable raid of Sheridan, who had approached near Richmond, and at the Yellow Tavern had numbered among the dead the valiant and chivalrous J. E. B. Stuart, General Lee directed General Breckinridge [188] to move as rapidly as possible to Hanover Junction and protect the bridges over the North Anna river. Accordingly, relieving the cadets, he started immediately for Staunton, and on the morning of May 20th arrived at Hanover Junction in time to save the bridges and protect the railroad. The celerity with which he had moved, and the thoroughness with which he had accomplished the purpose to which he was assigned, evoked the greatest applause throughout all Virginia. When, a few days later, the army of General Lee, falling back from Spottsylvania Court House, reached Hanover Junction, Breckinridge not only received in person the hearty thanks of that great commander, but whenever he came within the presence of the veterans of that grand army of Virginia, he was received with the most enthusiastic cheers, which rang down the lines until the sound faded out of hearing. They all knew what it meant and never tired in the ovation. And surely nature has rarely fashioned a man more calculated to inspire enthusiasm or evoke applause from his fellow men. Of a presence and manly bearing which even in the sober garb of a civilian would excite the admiration and attract the attention of the veriest stranger, in the uniform of an officer and superbly mounted as he always was, he was the very embodiment of manly grace coupled with intellectual force. Besides, his name was familiar as a household word to every man and woman of the South. After brilliant service in Congress from the home of Clay, whose mantle had descended with a blessing upon his shoulders, and whose eulogium he had fittingly pronounced in Congress, he had been chosen Vice-President at an age when he was barely eligible. Serving his term he had gone from the chair of the presiding officer to a seat for a full term in the Senate, after leading the forlorn hope as the choice of the Southern people for President. To these civic honors had succeeded a brilliant service in the army, where he proved his merit at Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, and [189] other lesser battlefields. To few men has it been given to show such a record at the age of forty-three years-a period in life at only the threshold of mature and vigorous manhood. Nearly a quarter of a century has elapsed since he passed away, and yet there is no name in his native State which inspires more of genuine admiration for his superb manhood, or whose memory is more secure among her people, than that of John C. Breckinridge.

General Lee, by his masterly strategy, foiled General Grant, who, with his overwhelming numbers and great abilities as a general, was unable to get nearer to Richmond than Cold Harbor; where on the 3d of June he was repulsed with a slaughter rarely equaled during the war, while the loss of the Confederates reached but a few hundred. General Breckinridge occupied an important position on the line of defense, and acquitted himself with his usual merit. He narrowly escaped death when his horse was killed under him by a solid cannon shot, and he was injured in the fall. In a few days after the battle he was again ordered with his division to the valley, to defend it against the advance of Gen. David Hunter. Of these operations it remains for other pens to write. Suffice it to say that for four months, in command of a corps under General Early, he fully sustained his reputation as an able officer. He was conspicuous at the battle of Monocacy in Maryland, July 9th, and a few days later saw the Capitol at Washington from the homestead of his relative, Francis P. Blair. At the battle of second Kernstown, July 26th, he executed a movement suggested by himself as the result of his habit of bold and thorough reconnoitering, which resulted in a decisive victory over a superior force, and which alone would have placed him in the front rank of military commanders. Not bred to the profession of arms, at a period when an education at West Point was regarded as a prerequisite for military success, he was undoubtedly the ablest general from the volunteer service, excelled by few who had the trademark [190] of the profession, and superior to scores who claimed distinction by virtue of their diplomas rather than their merit or success in the field. After the battle of Winchester, Va., September, 1864, in which he rendered his usual service, he was ordered back to the command of his department, reaching there just in time to repel an attack upon the salt works, Gen. John S. Williams having opportunely arrived with a body of cavalry from Gen. J. E. Johnston's army and defeated Burbridge, who commanded the Federal force.

During the absence of General Breckinridge in the Shenandoah valley, General Morgan had made an extensive raid in Kentucky in June, doing much damage, but suffering severely at Mt. Sterling and Cynthiana. His command was much demoralized as the result of this expedition, and by the subsequent death of its distinguished chief.

In December, General Breckinridge successfully resisted a formidable raid against Saltville, led by General Gillem, who captured Wytheville, but was foiled in his further designs by the skill and energy of General Duke, under the personal direction of General Breckinridge. The cold weather was intense, and the men suffered much from exposure, but compelled the retreat of the enemy without any material results from the raid. General Breckinridge gave thorough satisfaction to the government as well as the people in the administration of his department. The citizens of Southwest Virginia found in him a commander who respected all their rights, and with the forces at his command, being chiefly Kentucky cavalry, protected them from the depredations of the enemy.

In — the latter part of February, 1865, General Breckinridge was appointed secretary of war, and upon his acceptance his military career ended. He was succeeded by Gen. John Echols, a veteran officer of Stonewall Jackson's original brigade, afterward long identified with Kentucky in the development of her railroad system. [191] Upon the evacuation of Richmond by General Lee, General Echols marched with all his force eastward to join him. When near Christiansburg, he learned of the surrender at Appomattox. He called a council of war, and it was determined to furlough the infantry, indefinitely abandon the wagons and artillery, and march immediately with such cavalry as would go to General Johnston's army in North Carolina. General Duke and Gen. J. C. Vaughn elected to make the march, while General Giltner and General Cosby, regarding the war as practically over, concluded to march toward Kentucky and receive their paroles there if their conclusion was correct. Accordingly on the 12th of April, immediately after the council closed, the movement began. General Duke had about three hundred men, but they were not mounted, their horses being near Lincolnton, N. C., where forage could be obtained. His men were furnished with horses and mules from the abandoned wagons and artillery, and thus mounted, without saddles and with blind bridles, these men, together with Vaughn's brigade, accompanied General Echols two hundred miles to Salisbury. Here they met President Davis, who was much touched at the action of these Kentuckians, who had thus elected to share his fate.

General Echols in his report made to General Lee, after the surrender, says: ‘The bearing of General Duke's command, which with unbroken ranks faced the hardships of a march which was leading them at every step farther from home and to a destination full of danger and uncertainty was beyond praise. Even had they been fully equipped their bearing would have been worthy of praise, but when it is remembered that they were mounted on barebacked horses and mules with blind bridles, and nevertheless preserved the same discipline and order as upon a regular march, their conduct reflects great honor upon them.’ After a few more days they terminated their military service in the general surrender. [192]

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