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Doc. 190.-the fight at Big Hill, Ky.


General Nelson's order.

headquarters of the army of Kentucky, Richmond, August 26, 1862.
General orders, No. 2.

on Saturday, the twenty-third instant, the Seventh Kentucky cavalry, under Col. Metcalfe, together with a battalion of Houck's Third Tennessee regiment, under Lieut.-Colonel Childs, attacked the enemy on Big Hill, in Rockcastle County. Col. Metcalfe led the attack with much gallantry, but had the mortification to find that not more than one hundred of his regiment followed him; the remainder, at the first cannonshot, turned tail and fled like a pack of cowards, and are now dispersed over a half-dozen counties, some fleeing as far as Paris.

All provost-marshals are hereby ordered to arrest and commit to jail any of this regiment, officers or men, who may be found, under any pretence, to be in their neighborhoods, and report their names and rank to the Adjutant-General at these headquarters, and to hold them subject to orders.

The conduct of the Tennessee battalion, under Lieut.-Col. Childs, presents a refreshing contrast to the foregoing. They met the enemy bravely, checked his advance, rescued Col. Metcalfe, abandoned by his own regiment, and though too few to retrieve the action, at least saved the honor of our arms. Lieut.-Colonel Childs will accept the thanks of the Major-General, and convey to his officers and soldiers his high appreciation of their gallantry and good conduct.

By order of Major-General Nelson.

J. Miles Kendrick, A. A.G. and Chief of Staff. Official: J. E. Stacey, A. A.G.


Colonel Metcalfe's letter.

Richmond, Ky., August 24, 1862.
I have had stirring times since I left Lexington. Yesterday, about one o'clock, my pickets were driven in from the top of Big Hill, about fifteen miles from Richmond, to my camp near the foot of the hill. I immediately called out all the men I could call together, numbering four hundred. and started for the summit. When near our destination we dismounted, and made the attack on foot upon the enemy, who were posted about four hundred yards beyond the top.

One company, commanded by Captain Berry, had gone forward, but returned to the top, several men being killed, and Col. Berry having had two horses shot under him. We then moved forward on foot, amid a shower of bullets and shells, which so terrified my raw, undisciplined recruits, that I could not bring more than one hundred of them in sight of the enemy. The great majority, I am sorry to say, mounted their horses and fled, without even getting a look at the foe. It was impossible to rally them, and they continued their flight to some distance north of Richmond, and were only checked by meeting the brigade under Colonel Link, who compelled them to return to Richmond, where they now are.

The brave boys who did their duty were sacrificed through these cowards; for I have no hesitation in saying that, if the latter had obeyed my orders, the rebels would have been whipped. Weakened as they were, the hundred men fought the enemy for an hour and a half, and compelled them to fall back. My men were frightened by the shells, but I do not think a single person was killed by them, or a wound received, except a [591] slight one on my hand, from a shell which exploded within a few feet, enveloping me completely in smoke and dust.

Fifty men will cover our loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners--ten men being killed. We killed twenty-five of the rebels.

I have been holding the enemy in check for four days, though their forces are greatly superior to mine, and are posted on both sides of me, less than fourteen miles distant, and may each attack me at any hour. I had determined, however, to fight before giving up the advanced position I then held, hoping that reinforcements, forage, and provisions would arrive. During the four days my horses had been fed with corn but twice. The country south of Big Hill is entirely destitute, and subsistence for cavalry must be sent from Lexington. To supply one cavalry regiment at the Gap one hundred wagons will be required.

I had a narrow escape. Shortly after the above encounter, while with Col. Oden, some distance behind our men, a hundred rebels dashed down the road after us. Fortunately I had placed about two hundred Tennessee infantry in the bushes on the roadside, who fired on the enemy as they were seizing us. Several of them were killed and wounded, the rest driven back, and we saved. At the time the Tennesseeans fired there was not a man of my regiment in sight. In company with my deliverers I hastened to the camp, where I found about two hundred men, and tried to rally them. The enemy appeared again in five or ten minutes, when my force ran pell mell at the first fire. The Tennesseeans, however, showed good courage, and checked the rebel approach, killing several by their well-directed fire.

They also took some prisoners, who say that their command consisted of two regiments of cavalry, having one battery of three pieces of cannon. They were reported to number about one thousand two hundred men.

The odds were fearful--twelve to one--but I was determined to have a fight, and would not leave my position unless driven from it. I think we did exceedingly well under the circumstances.

The enemy pursued us to this place, where we arrived about ten o'clock. Shortly after they sent in a flag of truce, demanding an unconditional surrender of myself and the town. I replied that I would not surrender, and would fight it out. I sent their flag-bearer out of town, and immediately despatched runners out on the Lexington road to hasten Col. Link, who was approaching from that direction. He arrived about twelve o'clock with reinforcements, and the enemy concluded to postpone their attack, and to-day retreated.


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