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Doc. 102. the battle at wild Cat, Ky., fought October 21, 1861.

Col. Coburn's official report.

Rockcastle hills, camp wild Cat, October 22, 1861.
Gen. Albin Schoepff:
sir: In pursuance of your order to take possession of, and occupy an eminence half a mile to the east of this camp, I took four companies of the Thirty-third regiment of Indiana Volunteers, at seven o'clock on the morning of the 21st instant, and advanced to the position designated.

The command was composed of Capt. McCrea, Company D, Capt. Hauser, Company I, Capt. Hendricks, Company E, and Capt. Dille, Company G--about three hundred and fifty men. The companies were immediately deployed around the hill as skirmishers. In less than twenty minutes the rebels, who were concealed in the woods around, began firing. At almost the first fire private McFarren, of Company D,. was killed. The enemy, in ten minutes after this, appeared in front of our position, to the south, at a distance of half a mile, in the valley. They were in large numbers, and for half an hour passed by an open space in the road and forced in line; very soon they drew near us under cover of a wood, which entirely concealed their approach until we were apprised of their immediate presence by the firing of their musketry. At this time we were reinforced by a portion of the Kentucky regiment of cavalry, Col. Woolford commanding, about two hundred and fifty in number. They immediately formed and took part in the engagement. The firing at this time was very hot, and for a moment this (the Kentucky) regiment wavered and retreated, but was rallied and formed in order, and after this fought with spirit.

The enemy engaged was composed of a portion of Gen. Zollicoffer's command, and consisted of two regiments of Tennessee volunteers under Colonels Newman and Bowler. These regiments charged up the hill upon us, and were met by a galling and deadly fire which scattered them, wounding and killing many. The front of their ranks approached within a few rods of our men, ascending the hill with their caps on their bayonets, declaring they were “Union men” and “all right,” at the next moment levelling their guns at us and firing. After a fight of about an hour, the enemy retreated, leaving part of their dead and wounded and arms. Our men have found and buried their dead, and taken the wounded to our hospitals. Nineteen corpses have been found up to this time. They carried off their dead and wounded in wagons in numbers greatly exceeding those left behind. It is fair to say their loss is three hundred.

The gallantry of the Thirty-third was tested thoroughly, and I can say without hesitation that universal cheerfulness, promptness, courage, and good sense characterized their action in the fight. I will mention the brave conduct of Capt. Hauser, in fighting in company with his men. musket in hand, upon the very brow of the hill, until disabled by a wound, though he continued on the field all day and did his duty nobly. Capt. McCrea with his men held a small breastwork, and did fearful execution among the enemy. Capt. Dille was active in rallying and urging on the fight in all parts of the field. Capt. Hendricks, with cool and quiet courage, kept his men in their places, and fought without slacking during the engagement. I cannot pass by the active and bold Adjutant Durham, who was wherever duty and danger called him. Lieut. Maze, of Company D, exhibited remarkable coolness, daring, and energy.

About the close of the engagement, four companies of the Seventeenth Ohio regiment came upon the hill and formed in the line of battle. Company E, Captain Fox, Company C, Captain Haines, Company R, Captain Rea, and Company H, Captain Whisson, took their positions with promptness, eager for the fray, under the command of Major Ward. They remained on the field during the day and night, and assisted in fortifying the place. About two o'clock P. M. we were again attacked, and at this time Company C, Capt J. W. Brown, of the Fourteenth Ohio regiment, appeared on the field. They immediately formed and fired upon the enemy, and this company, with others, also assisted in making fortifications. Later at night Company G, Captain Eccles, Company B, Captain Kirk, of the Ohio Fourteenth, Colonel Stedman, reinforced us. At ten o'clock at night Lieut. Sypher, of Capt. Standart's Artillery, came on the hill, and on an alarm fired three rounds: these were the last shots fired. At about two o'clock in the morning we heard sounds which betokened a movement of Gen. Zollicoffer's army. It proved to be the retreat. From a prisoner I have ascertained that his command consisted of two Tennessee regiments, two Mississippi, and two Alabama regiments, [227] together with a regiment of cavalry and a battery of six pieces of artillery.

The number of our loss is as follows: Company D, one killed and five wounded; Company I, one killed and ten wounded-three mortally. Col. Woolford lost one killed and eleven wounded. The forces now on the hill are in good spirits and ready for future service.

In conclusion, I must commend the coolness, courage, and manliness of Col. Woolford, who rendered most valuable assistance to me during the day.

John Coburn, Col. Thirty-third Regt. Ind. Vols.

Cincinnati Gazette narrative.

Camp wild Cat, October 23.
If you look at a map of Kentucky, you will find that two roads lead from the “bluegrass country” --the heart of the State--toward Cumberland Gap. The one runs from Nicholasville, through Camp Dick Robinson, Lancaster, Crab Orchard, Mount Vernon, and Camp Wild Cat, to London, four miles this side of which place it is joined by the other route, leading from Lexington through Richmond. The first is a good turnpike road as far as Crab Orchard, eighteen miles from this camp. The other is an equally good road till it reaches the “Big Hill,” nineteen miles south of Richmond, when it becomes as “hard a road to travel” as ever Jordan was.

On Monday evening, the 14th, the Seventeenth Ohio, Col. Connell, was quietly reposing in Camp Coffey, at the foot of the Big Hill, surrounded by castellated mountains, and happy in the recollections of the golden days preceding, when they found how warm Kentucky hearts can be in the kindness of Richmond. But they had come to the South, not to receive magnificent ovations, but to fight, and they were not sorry to receive the command to march to London. One day was spent in making the road passable, and on the 16th our brave boys, each company detailed to push hard, yell at mules, “chunk,” and pry its own wagon, marched through a weary rain, and at nightfall encamped on a wet hillside-Camp Goulding. That night, while a few of us sat trying to dry our clothes before the fire, a messenger came from Col. Garrard, in command at this post, saying that Gen. Zollicoffer was advancing by forced marches toward London, and would certainly attack one of us. As it was most probable that Camp Wild Cat, long hated for the protection it has given to the Union men of this mountain region, would be the point of attack, he desired us, if possible, to cooperate with him in meeting the enemy. The next morning, while our regiment pushed for-ward toward Rockcastle, now on its prescribed line of march, Lieut. Showers and myself rode through the mountains here bearing promises of all the assistance possible, though that was necessarily a vague hope, as you will see what we had to do to fulfil it. Immediately after our arrival, Col. Garrard--a plain, earnest, brave, and cautious man, possessing all the virtues which belong to the Kentucky character, with none of those foibles which we of the North attach to it from our point of view — took us over his camp to see the situation of things. The strength of the position has been greatly over-estimated.

After crossing Rockcastle River, the road ascends gradually, for about two miles, a wooded ridge, with steep sides, looking, on the west, toward the slightly-diverging river, and on the east, into a valley, broken by frequent spurs from the hills, heavily timbered for the most part with oak and pine. The highway then deflected from the river to the left, creeping around a frowning limestone cliff which sweeps, around in almost a semicircle, its face to the road, its back high and thick with evergreens, leaning on the river. After winding along the foot of this cliff for a distance of three hundred yards, you rise by a steep ascent to an open space on which Col. Garrard had pitched his camp. Leaving this space you find yourself at the base of another cliff, thrown across from the first one I have mentioned, and forming the front of another ridge stretching nearly parallel to the first, but beyond its furthest extremity to the distance of three-quarters of a mile. This ridge is wider than the first, by which it is commanded, and upon it, at a distance of about two hundred and fifty yards, were encamped a small body of Home Guards. At the point where their tents were pitched, the valley — or rather broken succession of valleys, of which I have spoken, running back from the point where the road crosses the river, and forming the left outlook of the road, is divided by a narrow ridge, barely wide enough for a single wagon to pass. This ridge is about a hundred yards long, and at its east end rises into a bluff commanding every portion of the camp. A road, known as the Winding Glades road, runs on this natural bridge, and crossing a wilderness of hills intersects the Richmond road at a point four miles distant from the upper Rockcastle ford, and nine miles from London. The bluff over which it climbs after leaving the Home Guard camp, was the first position of great importance which met the eye. It could be reached either by marching from London by the Winding Glades road, or by crossing the hills which intervened between it and the road running from the camp to London. To defend this point nothing had been done except to cut trees across the Winding Glades road, at various places within two miles of the camp. An enemy in possession of this road would have been able to cannonade the camp, and at the same time, by throwing skirmishers along the valley and over the hills toward the lower Rockcastle ford, surround any force situated on the camp ground.

Just at this point where the Winding Glades road joins the main road, at the camp, the latter begins a rapid descent into a valley, winding for miles between thickly wooded hills. The western face of this valley is the chief [228] front of the ridge on which the Home Guard camp was situated. The crags are very bold and high, completely commanding the road for a half mile, when, after a gradual rise of the ridge which they bound, they turn toward the west and slope into a narrow valley running from the road toward the river. The hill on the south side of this last-named valley was in possession of Zollicoffer during the succeeding fight. Along the brow of the crags slight timber breastworks had been thrown up for some distance.

To the left of the road, when it reached the valley under the fortified cliffs, arose the crowning strength or weakness of the whole position. A round, wooded hill, steep and with frequent ledges of rocks cropping out from its sides, its top overlooking the camp from a distance of six hundred yards, its base lying heavily in narrow valleys separating it from the great sweep of the Winding Glades bluff on the left, and the camp ridge on the right.

While artillery held this position, no force could hope to successfully assail the camp in front. The only modes of attack would have been by flanking it by means of the Winding Glades road, as I have before said, or by obtaining possession of the first high spur I have mentioned, rising between the camp and the river to the west. But were the enemy to obtain possession of this hill with artillery, they could have at once rendered the whole position untenable. The same result would have been obtained had the enemy succeeded in planting artillery on the extreme edge of the ridge on which the second camp was situated. There were then four points vital to defence, and separated from each other by almost impassable valleys — the Winding Glades bluff, the Round Hill, and the south ends of the two cliffy ridges I have described. A line thrown through these points would have approached a semicircle of two miles, which must be defended at the same time that the Home Guard camp, the centre of the whole position, should be retained, and so that the only chance of retreat toward the river and the north should be retained.

To defend these isolated and widely separated points, Col. Garrard had, on the evening of the 18th, barely six hundred effective men. The Home Guard camp was almost deserted, and nearly three hundred gallant fellows lay wasting with dysentery and measles.

The nearest assistance that could be obtained was from the Seventeenth regiment, which could only come by venturing to reach the Winding Glades road in the face of the enemy, lying near London, and scouring the country with his cavalry, or by crossing mountains traversed by a single bridle path on the north side of the river. At Crab Orchard, eighteen miles toward Dick Robinson's, lay the Thirty-third Indiana, which could advance only by disobeying orders. Forty-five miles to the north was Gen. Thomas at Camp Dick, but so swift was Zollicoffer's swoop down from his mountains, that he was within thirty miles of his coveted prize before the danger was ascertained, and a messenger despatched for aid.

We lay down that night, fearing that day would break to the thunder of rebel guns attacking us. The sick were hastened through the short night across the swollen river, but with a Spartan resolution the brave Kentucky colonel resolved to defend his position to the last, against a force estimated by the best information we could obtain at eleven thousand men.

There was little sleep that night in Camp Wild Cat. I left it early in the morning of Saturday with the heavy heart one carries when he sees his friends lying on the brink of destruction, and fears no help can save them. My companion had returned to our regiment the evening before. I hurried along the mountain paths in despair at the thought of ever crossing them with the train of a regiment. I had nearly reached the point where our men had encamped the night before when I heard the sound of axes, and the voices of eager men hurrying, in a work of life or death, and in a few minutes more I saw a hardy band of pioneers under the command of my comrade of the preceding day, and hurrah!--the bayonets of the Seventeenth, with our noble colonel, rushing through the forest. There was no pause that day. Four companies were left to drag the train through, each loaded wagon drawn by doubled teams of mules and oxen, and lifted up the steep ascents and down the miry mountain sides by fifteen strong men. Never did human hands work harder; and yet it was the fourth day, when the last wheels climbed the long ascent from the river to our present camp. But six hundred men were free, and in four hours: they marched the fourteen miles that lay between them and the place where, in all probability, they were to find in bloody graves the reward of their courage and labor. That night the men lay down supperless, tentless — even without blankets; for, to hasten their march, they had left their knapsacks in the wagons. It was raining drearily. A dismal Saturday night--and the morrow? Was it a Sabbath rest we looked for?

The morning came. I went among the boys as they arose from their comfortless bivouacs, with no prospect of any thing to eat before midday. You must remember that orders to join Col. Garrard, at all hazards, had reached our colonel only at midnight the night before, and there was no time to prepare rations. It was a scene dismal enough. There seemed to be no spirit left in our hearts. But suddenly a messenger dashed down the hill from Garrard's camp two miles distant. The sound of Zollicoffer's morning gun had not been a dream. “Our pickets are driven in. The enemy is attacking.” The long roll was beaten. In three minutes the regiment was in line of battle, and in a moment more the column was rushing up the [229] hill at double quick, cheering as .though the victory was already gained. A messenger was despatched for the companies left with the wagons. They hastened on, rushing through Roundstone Creek, a stream over which I had swam my horse on Friday, and which was still so deep that the men had to lift their ammunition breast-high to keep it dry. Their comrades had done the same the day before. Before eleven o'clock the whole of the regiment was in battle array along the ridge by which the Winding Glades road crosses the valley, while Garrard's boys crested the cliffs from the Home Guard camp to our extreme right. Only a few Home Guards had held the Round Hill, and they had abandoned the position. But the enemy gave no further signs of approach. By noon our camp fires were burning, and in kettles, borrowed from our Kentucky neighbors, we were preparing our breakfast.

At four o'clock we heard the tramp of horses, and up the road from the river trooped three hundred and fifty of Woolford's Cavalry, and at their head rode one whom we had never seen, but a first glance showed that we had found a General. A noble form — a face in which the courage of the soldier and the kindness of the man are blended in a countenance of singular force and goodness, clear hazel eyes, dark brown hair, firm mouth, fringed by a gentleman's moustache — every lineament and movement displaying the accomplished officer and man — all these things we at once discerned in General Schoepf; while in his Assistant Adjutant-General, Captain Everett, we saw the experienced American soldier, one worthy of aiding such a leader as chief of his staff. Without waiting for ceremony or introduction, accompanied by Col. Garrard, they rode over the position. The Thirty-third Indiana regiment, Col. Coburn, following at quick-step, was divided as it came to the brow of the hill, four companies filing by a narrow path to the Round Hill, while the greater part of the rest of the regiment, under the command of Lieut.-Colonel Henderson, was sent to occupy the first ridge, overlooking at once the river on the right and the camp on the left. Four hundred of the Seventeenth were already at work cutting timber for breastworks on the Winding Glades bluff, the rest lying along the road which connected it with the camp. Col. Woolford's Cavalry returned to the river to find forage and water, and encamp during the night.

Monday morning at daybreak there was no sign of the enemy. From all that I could gather, he had retired in the night. I rode four miles for corn for my horse and breakfast for myself. None could be procured nearer at that time. At the house where I breakfasted I found the ladies of the Indiana field officers, and so sure was I that Zollicoffer had gone, that finding they were anxious to rejoin their husbands, I encouraged them to proceed, and saw them seated in a hay wagon, the only mode of locomotion we could find. Riding leisurely back, I heard more than once that an attack had commenced, but attached no importance to tho information. At the river I found the Ohio Fourteenth, Col. Steadman, and Captain Standard's battery of rifled guns about to cross. They had pushed from Camp Dick by forced marches since ten o'clock on Saturday.

Coming on to camp, I found that there had been some picket firing, sure enough, and that two companies of the cavalry, leaving their horses, had been thrown upon the Round Hill. Standing at the verge of the cliff, at the old Home Guard camp, and looking over upon the Round Knob and down into the valley beneath, all was still as death. There was no motion of friend or enemy. The lines of the Indiana and Kentucky troops opposite were partly visible in a cleared space which crowned the summit, but the most of their men were lying as skirmishers in the thick woods on the side of the hill.

Suddenly, a little after ten o'clock, three unearthly yells broke from the fatal woods, and their echoes were drowned in the sharp rattle of musketry. Protected by the thickets and trees, the enemy had ascended unseen to within a hundred and thirty yards of the hill-top — then forming, were advancing on two sides and in four ranks. Two regiments, Col. Newman's Seventeenth and Col. Cummins' Second Tennessee made the attack on the brave little band of less than six hundred, commanded by Cols. Coburn and Woolford. The firing was so sharp that we could not distinguish that of our friends from our foes. In the midst of it a few men, from both the Kentucky and Indiana regiments, either struck by panic, as is most likely, or mistaking a remark of one of the officers for a command to retreat, as some of them allege, took to flight and rushed down the path leading to our standpoint. Cols. Coburn and Woolford, pistol in hand, braced themselves before the fugitives when they saw them flying, and threatening to shoot the first who attempted to pass, soon restored order. Capt. Hauser, of the Indiana troops, skirmishing in front of the enemy, had a finger shot off, and obtaining leave from his colonel, came back to our hospital, had the stump amputated, and immediately returned to his men. Never did soldiers behave more admirably than did that small force. But the enemy was brave, too. They advanced to within twenty-five yards of a small breastwork of logs, thrown up on the summit, and behind which parts of two companies were stationed. Placing their caps on their bayonets, they advanced shouting that they were Union men. Lieut. McKnight, of the Indiana regiment, sprang on the breastwork shouting to his boys not to fire on the enemy, as they had submitted. The return for his efforts was a shower of bullets, which was answered by a deliberate volley from our boys, and the enemy broke and fled in confusion.

Just at this moment, while the other Tennessee regiment was still attacking on the west [230] side of the hill, I beard the band of our Seventeenth playing “Hail Columbia” behind me, and turning I saw a stir, and eager waving of hands, and caps thrown in the air, and in another moment greeted by such cheering as one seldom hears, Capt. Standard's artillery rushed up the hill, the horses at full gallop, their drivers urging them with whips and spurs and shouts, and after them at full run came the column of Col. Steadman's gallant Fourteenth. The regiment deployed to the left, occupying the Winding Glades road. Four companies of the Seventeenth had just quitted it, and led by Major Ward had crossed the ravine and hurried up the Round Hill in the face of the enemy, reaching the top in time to join in the closing tableaux with some most effective fireworks of their own.

The artillery was brought forward to the verge of the cliff and placed in position. There was a pause, when, suddenly, whiz came a cannon ball from the valley below, and immediately after a log chain followed it whirling through the air. Ball and chain-fit shot for the slave aristocracy to fire! But then there burst forth a sound which shivered the air above us, and before it had ceased to deafen us, boom went the shell far down in the valley, then a ball, then another shell, and when their last echoes had died away among the mountains, there was silence as of death, till Garrard's men on the right raised a genuine old Kentucky yell, and then friends on the hill answered it, and then we joined in with a right good will, for the enemy had fled, broken and discomfited. The boom of our cannon was the first intimation they had of the force they had to contend with. Along their march they had boasted that they were coming down to take Garrard in his “fish trap,” and then “go down to the blue grass to kill fat hogs.” From their wounded prisoners we learn that their General, on the morning of the battle, told them that they had nobody to fight but “Garrard's six hundred measly men, who would run as soon as they heard a good Tennessee and Mississippi yell.” On the whole they were rather astonished!

There was no more fighting till two o'clock, when the second attack was made. The “Mississippi tigers,” Col.----, from their hill opposite to our extreme right on the cliffs, attempted to drive Col. Garrard's companies stationed on our side, while Col. Newman's regiment again attempted to scale the Round Hill. The latter charge was rather intended as a feint to prevent our men from shooting at the Mississippians across the valley than with any hope of carrying the position. But the firing was sharp. Col. Connell was with his troops on the hill, and displayed all the coolness and bravery which his best friends hoped from him; while Cols. Coburn and Woolford were the same intrepid and self-possessed commanders they had shown themselves to be in the morning. Gen. Schoepf was on the hill when the attack commenced, and displayed most admirable personal courage. Seeing that the noise disturbed his horse, which he had tied at some distance, he desired a soldier to go and bring the animal to him. The man hesitating to go, Gen. Schoepf went himself, and just as he was unfastening the rein a perfect storm of balls flew around him-one passing between his legs and several striking the tree to which his horse was tied. The General leisurely mounted, and rode away as though he had been going from a dinner party.

In the mean time the muskets were talking merrily on the other hills. It was getting rather annoying to listen to such unmannerly and noisy discussions, so our big guns concluded to put in a word, or rather three of them, as in the morning. The spell had not lost its power. There was silence as before. The baffled and frightened enemy again ran for life.

We took our supper in comfort, and though we expected a night attack we lay down unconcerned, for we knew that all danger was over. Before retiring, I walked with Colonel Connell and some others, over to the hill. The path was dotted every five paces by little groups of pickets, Capt. Butterfield's company of the Seventeenth, and an Indiana company. Three or four together they lay in the shadows of the great trees looking out sharply for the enemy, and whispering low to each other of what they would do should he come. On reaching the: top of the hill we found twelve hundred noble fellows, from Indiana and Kentucky regiments, which had held the ground so well in the morning, and the Seventeenth and Fourteenth Ohio. During the afternoon they had thrown up a timber work shoulder high, with trench and parapet, around a space of an acre and a calf, a work unparalleled except by that of the rest of the two Ohio regiments, which had thrown a well-constructed breastwork across the whole of the Winding Glades ridge, in addition to “slaying more timber,” as a Kentuckian said, “than his whole State could cut in a month.”

From the summits of the Round Hill we could see the lights of the enemy's camp-fires blazing in a narrow valley two miles away, in easy range for our artillery if it had been furnished with shell enough to experiment a little on the shattered nerves of the secessionists.

On our way back we met a hundred men dragging two of the heavy guns up the hill, a work one would almost conceive impossible, so rough was the path and so steep the ascent; but it was done, and then the only prayer of the little army was that Zollicoffer might try it again. But he had had enough. Through the night our boys lying on the hill could hear the tread of men and horses and the word of command, and at morning we found they had fled, but we could not pursue. Our cavalry was too few and our infantry too tired and unprepared. So sudden had been the danger, so rapid the efforts to give aid, that not a regiment was ready to undertake a twenty-miles march. [231]

I have written a long account, not because the action was in itself a remarkable one, or the loss of life on either side very important. But of far more value than the killing and wounding of two or three hundred rebels, is the moral effect of this affair on the issues of the eat contest, and especially on the position of

Kentucky. Whether we advance or lie still, the State, so far as our line of operations is concerned, is safe — closed against attack, and may rest in pence. Spring will see no secessionists in the blue-grass country. Had Garrard been driven from his position, they would have been as thick as fireflies in harvest.

And, in the annals of war, I doubt whether an instance can be found of danger more sudden and imminent. and succor more hurried, self-sacrificing, and complete. It seems like a dream. And to-night, as I sit in my tent, near to where I lay fearful last Friday night, I can see the lights from the watchfires of eight thousand men. Their songs and laughter rise on the air, which then seemed only filled by the weary cough of sick men. The bands of the Ohio regiments are answering each other with sweet music from their respective hills, while over the trees which skirt the Winding Glades the moon rises; yet to-night it is waning like Zollicoffer's fortunes, and bloody is the fate to which he brought so many of his brave but misguided followers.


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