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Chapter 15:

  • Winter quarters continued
  • -- scant rations supplied to the troops -- high prices of provisions and clothing resulting from the blockade -- sufferings of the poor -- refugees from Kentucky -- true State of public feeling there -- letter from a friend, containing an account of the opening of the campaign in Kentucky and Tennessee -- battle of Mill Spring, January first, 1862 -- General Zollicoffer and most of his staff killed -- surrender of Fort Donelson, February ninth -- strange conduct of General Floyd.

The monotony of camp life was felt severely during the winter, notwithstanding the resources I have mentioned in a previous chapter. General Hill was a strict disciplinarian, and would permit none to be out in town after nightfall, unless furnished with a pass countersigned by the Provost-Marshal. So strictly was this rule enforced that I have known a whole squad of officers arrested and put under guard, including two full-blown Colonels and sundry Majors, simply for going to and fro unarmed with the necessary “countersign.”

With books and writing materials, many of us made the winter evenings pass off very agreeably, while others had become proficient in vocal and instrumental music; so that if we could only smuggle a gallon of apple-brandy into camp, a roaring fire of logs, pleasant punch, and entertaining society made our cabins very enjoyable.

The usual discomforts of a deficient commissariat we had of course to endure: a variety of rations were allowed which were never forthcoming. Coffee, sugar, rice, vegetables, and beans, we never had, save for two or three weeks during the first year of service; we knew, however, that Government did the best it could, and therefore, as patriots, did not murmur, but bought what we could. Coffee, as Southerners, we could not do without; hence, if on picket, we exchanged tobacco for it with the Yankees, but otherwise used parched barley as a substitute, as the whole South was cheerfully doing. Bacon or beef, with baker's bread, or flour, were the only rations we had regularly: [124] any luxurious addition to this simple fare we had to purchase, and this at the most preposterously high price.

For example: even in this, an agricultural country, turkeys sold for four dollars and five dollars each; two chickens, ditto; wretched liquors at twenty dollars and thirty dollars per gallon, and seldom to be had even at that; common coarse homespun jeans, five dollars per yard; common Manchester prints, one dollar per yard; common white cotton shirts, five dollars each; linen, ten dollars; cotton socks, one dollar per pair; boots, common, and clumsily made, twenty dollars to thirty-five dollars per pair; common felt hat, ten dollars; coffee, three dollars per pound; tea, five dollars; brown sugar, fifty cents per pound; white, seventy-five cents; flour, twelve dollars to fifteen dollars per barrel; bath, seventy-five cents; hair-cutting, seventy-five cents; shaving, twenty-five cents; washing, three dollars per dozen; the most common writing-paper, twenty dollars to twenty-five dollars per ream; printing paper was not to be had at any price-many suspended publishing, others printed a sheet not much larger than quarto; horse's feed per day, two dollars; boarding, from fifty dollars to one hundred dollars per month-one dollar per single meal. These items may suggest to the thoughtful what great trials and privations the poor had to endure in consequence of the war!!

With regard to wearing apparel, when money and cloth were exhausted, friends at home would send on our cast-off clothes, in big bales, together with whatever the numerous “soldier-serving societies” could furnish; so that, all in all, although we looked like a regiment of dilapidated dandies, we were warmly clad, and laughed good-humoredly at each other's grotesque peculiarities of costume. I have more than once caught our good old major darning his socks, and espied the spruce, good-looking adjutant cobbling up his parade boots! The ladies, Heaven bless them! were ever at work, night and day, in our behalf-their flannel petticoats have been made into undershirts; their white skirts converted into lint; and I have known the blankets snatched from their beds and sent to the soldier, shivering on the snow-covered hills or plains of Virginia.

During the winter we received several excellent recruits from [125] Kentucky, who had successfully run the “blockade,” and joined our fortunes. I personally knew them when in college, and was much interested in the intelligence they brought concerning the affairs of that State. The revolutionary party had formed a Provisional Government and passed acts of secession;. still Governor Magoffin filled the chair, to which he had been elected before the war, and his term was not expired. When hostilities commenced, no one doubted which cause had the sympathies of the people of Kentucky, but by artifice men were admitted to her councils, who, under the name of “neutrals,” played fast and loose with the populace, until Lincoln perfected his plans for their enthrallment. It was argued by these leading men, that Kentucky was, and always had been, a true Southern State, and would so remain, but in this quarrel of “extremes” she would preserve a strict and “armed neutrality!” --an idea that could only have found favor with a people who had been taught from childhood to believe in State Rights, and who scoffed at the idea “that any man could be found who should dare to interfere with the sanctity of the Constitution.”

When the plans of the Northern Government were matured, the people of Kentucky had not to wait long to find the man “who should dare,” etc., for the Secretary of State coolly took upon himself the direction of their State affairs, elected whom he pleased, and imprisoned whom he desired. When compelled to supply her quota for the war, the Lincolnites officered the men, monopolized every contract, dictated laws to the State, and, in short, ruled with a rod of iron. No one was permitted to pass from city to city without having sworn allegiance; schools were invaded, and Southern children held as hostages for the behavior of their parents! property was confiscated, men were thrown into loathsome dungeons on mere suspicion, negroes were taught to despise, mock, whip, and murder their late masters, while mothers, daughters, or sisters were insulted, violated, and murdered. Such were the results brought about by the treachery or cowardice of those whom the people elected in good faith to expound their views, and among the betrayers of the parent State must be numbered one of her own most gifted and trusted sons. As long as history lasts will his name be handed down with curses and maledictions.

My knowledge of the campaign in Kentucky and Tennessee [126] is derived solely from friends who participated in it; among other letters received by me, I present the following from a young artillery officer, who had good opportunities for knowing the facts of which he speaks:

Bowling Green, Green River, Ky., Jan. 20th, 1862.
Dear. Tom: If there is one class of persons more likely than another to bring disaster upon our sacred cause, it will be those half-witted editors who imagine that every thing is wrong which they do not themselves comprehend. Before I came to Bowling Green I must confess that their articles had some influence upon me; and I, among the rest, could not see why Sidney Johnston did not muster his forces, advance farther into Kentucky, capture Louisville, push across the Ohio, sack Cincinnati, and carry the war into Africa, etc. But since my arrival here, my thoughts have materially changed, and my wonder now is, how the commander has courage enough to stay where he is, and how he has managed to deceive the enemy as to his, real strength. We were led to believe that there were at least one hundred thousand men here, and that the fortifications were frowning terrifically with cannon. All this, my friend, is pure fiction. We have not more than twenty-five thousand men, all told, and I think cannot count more than fifty light field-pieces. It is true, we have some few dozen heavy siege-guns, but by no means enough to frighten an enemy seriously bent on mischief. The position of Bowling Green is an admirably selected one, with Green River along our front, and railway communication to Nashville and the whole South. Had we simply to contend with an enemy advancing from Louisville, and attacking in front, we should have nothing to fear; but, as you are aware, our flanks and rear are threatened by an immense force, and, although they have made no demonstrations in those quarters, I cannot believe their generals to be so blind as to be unaware of their advantages by the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. Grant, who is now at Cairo, longs for an opportunity to retrieve his disgrace at Belmont, and while be has full command of the rivers, there is nothing to prevent him from advancing with his gun-boats and transports upon Nashville. True, the rivers are low at present, and it may be a question whether his vessels can ascend them, even at a flood — this remains to be seen. The only warlike [127] obstructions to his progress would be Forts Henry and Donelson. If, when Buell advances in concert, we do not “get out of the way in a hurry,” the Anaconda may give this little army a hug not pleasing to our prospects.

The subjoined is part of a letter from the same friend, at a later date, descriptive of engagements in which he participated:

Murfreesboro, Tenn., Feb. 20th, 1862.
friend Tom: I am “hit” at last, and must tell you all about it. When writing to you last from Bowling Green, I had apprehensions that all was not going on well with us, and stories were circulated round Headquarters regarding ‘immense forces’ ‘somewhere;’ by which there was reason to conclude we should be compelled to relinquish our hold of Kentucky, and possibly cross the Tennessee! We were not long left in suspense. Buell dared not attack us in front, but waited for Grant to ascend the Cumberland in our rear. Our right flank was threatened also by a large Federal force under Thomas at Somerset, which was advancing against Crittenden's small force at Beech Grove.

Zollicoffer, being but second in command to Crittenden at Beech Grove, had but little influence in the management. Our troops had been almost in a starving condition for some time, and had but scant rations for several months. Crittenden was fully informed of the Federal advance at Columbia and Somerset, but did little to prepare for the attack. In fact, it is said that he was incapable of commanding, from social failings, and did not heed the many warnings of friends, who foresaw that the enemy were bent on surrounding him. On learning that Thomas was at Mill Spring, Crittenden set out to meet Rim, thinking it possible to drive him from his fortified camps. On the morning of the nineteenth of January, (Sunday,) Zollicoffer's advance exchanged shots with the enemy, and the battle opened with great fury. Zollicoffer's brigade pushed ahead, and drove the Federals some distance through the woods, and Were endeavoring to force their way to the summit of a hill which fully commanded the whole field. The Federals fought desperately for this position, but scarcely any thing could withstand the dashing onset of our troops. Misinformed as to their true position and number, Zollicoffer was rapidly advancing up-hill, but unexpectedly rode up to an Indiana regiment, [128] mistaking it for one of his own. Not being able to retreat, he determined to sell his life dearly, so rode forward with his staff, and began pistolling right and left at the officers, but soon fell, mortally wounded, and with him most of his staff. The fall of this commander greatly confused the troops; but finding himself overpowered, and determined to make a bold push for victory, Crittenden himself rode to the front, and endeavored to gain the hill: after three hours fighting, he was obliged to retreat to Beech Grove and push onwards to the Cumberland, leaving many dead, wounded, some prisoners, stores, a few pieces of cannon, and other things behind him.1

When this news was brought to Bowling Green, it explained why Johnston had been so careful in transporting all supplies and ordnance to the rear for more than two weeks. None doubted that a retreat was inevitable: the enemy had shown their strength on our right, and driven in Crittenden, while Grant was preparing to ascend the Cumberland. The fortifications were dismantled and blown up. General Buckner watched Green River and our whole front; the sick and baggage had been sent away many days before; and while Buckner was engaging the enemy along the river-bank, our whole force departed.

Floyd, as you will remember, had been under Lee in Western Virginia, among the mountains, but as that campaign, from paucity of numbers on our part, had been productive of more expense than profit, he was ordered to cross the mountains and report to Johnston at Bowling Green. His force was a small one, but well seasoned; so that, upon Grant appearing in the Cumberland, he was ordered to Fort Donelson, and was chief in command by seniority. Buckner's force was also ordered there, arid [129] myself with it, but our total strength did not amount to more than fifteen thousand men, and we had but little artillery. Very soon Grant steamed up the river, and having captured Fort Henry without difficulty, approached Donelson to find it prepared for a fierce resistance. His fleet of steamboats came up within a few miles of us and landed immense masses of troops, while light-draught iron-clad gunboats opened on us fiercely, both night and day. When the Federal troops came within view, it was determined to march out and give them battle. In the mean time, the fort, indeed, kept up a lively fire from three tiers of guns upon the boats, doing considerable damage, and keeping off their steady advance. The lower tier, or “water battery,” as it was termed, was served splendidly, and sank several vessels, killing commanders of note) and wounding Commodore Foote, chief of the flotilla. If I am not mistaken, we engaged twenty gunboats, and sank or crippled five.

When it was determined to give battle in the open ground, our men were jubilant, and, though fully aware of the disparity of numbers, resolved to sell their lives as dearly as possible. Floyd, Buckner, and Pillow were in chief command: nothing could withstand the impetuosity of our men; they heroically drove the. enemy before them at all points with the bayonet. Still, all this heroism was useless; fresh divisions of the enemy arrived hourly, and each day saw their lines around us growing stronger. As often as they approached our outer works they were repelled with great slaughter; yet other regiments would follow, and our men, completely exhausted from want of rest and food, and numbed by the intense cold-fires were prohibited within the works, though snow and rain constantly fell — were completely unstrung and incapable of further action. A council of war being held, it was determined to march out and invite battle, rather than die like rats in a hole. Accordingly, for the third time we marched out against the enemy; but we found them fortified, and 10th to meet us in the open, although far away from our guns and under the protection of their own. Never did men fight more gloriously than ours: when I heard their yells ringing in my ears as they advanced at the “ charge,” I almost felt tears rolling down my cheek, as, wounded in the arm, I retired within the fort, incapable of [130] further exertion. This day was the most glorious of all! Well might the enemy retire to the woods when they saw the boys advancing with deafening shouts and levelled bayonets. All, from the highest to the lowest, performed their part with exemplary valor, and I may safely predict that the defence of Donelson against such fearful odds will be one of the brightest pages in our future history.

At the close of the third day-after this last attack — a grand council of war was held; what its purport was I know not, but in the stillness of the night Forrest's cavalry took their departure by the only point of egress remaining, and, soon afterwards, Floyd's command followed them. Thinking the movement was general, I procured a horse, and arrived at Nashville. General Pillow also made his escape with a few of his troops, leaving the brave Kentuckian Buckner to do the best he could with his small command. In explanation of this strange proceeding on the part of our chief, I hear it whispered that Floyd was afraid of falling into the hands of the Federals, having, when Secretary of War under Buchanan, surreptitiously supplied the South with more than the fair proportion of national arms, without which the war could not have been begun. This may be all true enough, but can never exculpate him for deserting his post at such a trying moment.

As might have been expected, Buckner was appalled at his situation, and after the departure of Pillow, he surrendered the fort and the remaining troops to General Grant, who spoke in complimentary terms of “the splendid but useless resistance of the rebels.” The number of prisoners was about six thousand; and whatever else fell into the hands of the enemy was of very little value, as most of the guns were spiked or broken, and with regard to stores, we had none, the men, with but few exceptions, not having tasted food for three days. This affair has thrown great gloom over the country, and of course is the subject of Hallelujah Choruses North! Our people are waking up, however, and begin to understand it requires numbers, as well as “pluck,” to beat back the invader; and I have no doubt, when properly considered, the fall of Donelson will be an invaluable lesson to us. Yours ever, ...

1 General George B. Crittenden is a Kentuckian, about fifty-five years of age. He entered the United States service as brevet Second Lieutenant, Fourth Infantry, July first, 1832; resigned April thirtieth, 1833, was appointed Captain of Mounted Rifles, May twenty-seventh, 1846, and served with much distinction in the Mexican war, and was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel Mounted Rifles, December thirtieth, 1856. He is generally considered to be an excellent and reliable officer when free from the influence of drink and gay company. It is said that, previous to his appointment as commander at Beech Grove, he had rendered himself unfit for service by intemperance, and there are many who protest that he was greatly under the influence of liquor during the battle of Mill Spring. This vice is too prevalent among talented men of the South.

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