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General Kirby Smith's campaign in Kentucky in 1862.

By Paul F. Hammond.

Paper no. 2.

General Kirby Smith is comparatively young — just fairly entering upon the prime of life. He is thirty-seven. You would not be impressed as by a man of remarkable intellectual endowments, but the phrenologist would say, that his high, receding forehead, narrow at the base, but prominent over the eyes, and widening as it ascends, gives evidence, if not of great mental powers, of uncommon quickness of perception and rapid mental movements. Tall, sinewy, not graceful, every gesture indicates intense physical activity and muscular vigor. In perfect health, black haired, black bearded and mustached, slightly graying, black eyes, penetrating and restless, swarth complexion; the simple statement of these features might give the idea of only the rude, rough soldier; but on the contrary, with the exception of the gentle Pegram, I have known no officer of the army more habitually under the influence of the kindlier virtues and emotions. An earnest Christian and a [247] gentleman, pleasant manners flow naturally from the goodness of his heart, while an impulsive temper is kept under almost perfect control. At this time he was little known to the country. A grand charge at Manassas, which he led with dashing courage, routing the enemy and deciding the victory; and a wound believed to be mortal, and nearly proving so, had given rank to the man who was now about to lead five and twenty thousand soldiers into one of the most hazardous and up to a certain point, most brilliant campaigns of modern warfare. If Morgan had been captured, and if Louisville had been occupied, ensuring the overthrow of Buell, as some military critics are saying, and not without a show of reason, it must be confessed, might have been done, and ought to have been done, the name of Kirby Smith would have been placed, at once, high upon the roll of great captains.

Barboursville, a dilapidated village, twice the size of Boston, is the metropolis of this mountain region. Before our arrival it had been a depot of supplies for the Union army at Cumberland Gap. Our cavalry under Col. Scott, which entered Kentucky by the Jamestown road, captured London two days before General Smith reached Barboursville, and the enemy's trains at the latter place were hurried off to the Gap and escaped.

The command of General Smith, at this time in Kentucky, consisted of Cleburne's and Churchill's divisions, six thousand men, in the neighborhood of Barboursville, Heth's division, three thousand strong, at Boston, and Scott's brigade of cavalry, twelve or fifteen hundred men, beyond Boston. The greater portion of the artillery and the wagon trains were still engaged in the difficult passage of the mountains at Big Creek Gap. The artillery horses were of little service, so steep was the ascent, and the footing insecure, but the men fastened long ropes to the guns and caissons, and, twenty or thirty pulling together, dragged them slowly but steadily over the worst places. This was the Army of Kentucky then. In Tennessee, Stevenson's splendid division, ten thousand men, with a brigade of cavalry, remained for the present threatening Cumberland Gap, and various detachments, guarding important points throughout the department. It was necessary to pursue one of three courses. To assault Cumberland Gap, where the Federal General Morgan was powerfully fortified with ten thousand men; to remain where we were, and by cutting off supplies compel Morgan to come out and give battle in the open field; or to advance boldly into the heart of Kentucky. Even a simultaneous assault in front and rear upon Cumberland Gap, never a very promising operation where easy communication between the assailing forces is impossible, could [248] only succeed, if it succeeded at all, at very great sacrifice of life. To remain where we were, hoping to compel Morgan to evacuate his position from want of food, offered equally doubtful results. He was believed to be provisioned for a month, and in that time an army could be raised in our rear which might force us to abandon the siege and retreat across the mountains. Lastly, to advance into Kentucky was a bold and hazardous movement, but less hazardous for its very temerity. It was thought that the enemy, not anticipating it, would be taken unprepared, which proved correct. It was known that he had but few old troops in Kentucky, and his raw levies were counted as nothing in the hands of our veterans. The movement created the liveliest emotions among the soldiers, and a sure reliance could be placed on their courage and endurance. Reducing the transportation to the minimum, we could move with such celerity, that, General Smith trusted to be able to fall upon the enemy in the blue grass region before he was well aware that we had crossed the Kentucky line. General Bragg, who had begun his advance against Buell, from Chattanooga, with 25,000 men, feared the movement was premature; but General Smith, with the enterprise and audacity so essential, and generally so successful, in offensive warfare, adopted it, and prepared rapidly for its accomplishment. One division was sent to Manchester and the other to London. Brigadier-General Leadbetter, of Heth's division, was stationed at Cumberland Ford, while Heth himself was to remain at Barboursville until Reynolds' brigade, three thousand strong, which had been ordered from Stevenson's command across Big Creek Gap, could join him. It was necessary to delay the advance until the artillery and wagon trains came up. In the meantime the soldiers subsisted on beef and roasting ears. Scott had captured some sutlers stores and a large number of wagons at London. On the 23d he attacked Metcalfe's cavalry and Garritts' infantry at Big Hill, and defeated them with severe loss. On the morning of the 27th of August, Cleburne's and Churchill's divisions moved forward to support Scott, and on the afternoon of the same day General Smith, leaving Heth in occupation, took the road northward. That night we bivouaced on the banks of a muddy stream, fifteen miles from Barboursville, and, starting early the next morning, reached Rockcastle river by noon. Churchill's division was there, Cleburne's a few miles beyond.

Hitherto the country was well watered. But from Barboursville to Rockcastle river there is no stream but the muddy creek just mentioned; and between Rockcastle river and the foot of Big Hill lies a barren, desolate region, destitute of water for men or animals. The [249] troops suffered much from this privation, but they bore it cheerfully, marching in excellent order and with great celerity.

At Rockcastle river General Smith received dispatches from Scott, informing him that the enemy were advancing in force to drive him from his position. It was of vital importance that the position should be held, and Cleburne was ordered to move to Scott's assistance as rapidly as the condition of his troops would permit. At 3 A. M. we left our bivouac upon the banks of Rockcastle river. Churchill's column was already moving. Day dawned upon us on the top of Big Hill, a wild region almost uninhabited. Here was first fully appreciated the importance of Scott's victory a few days previous. Numerous positions offered, in which a regiment of good soldiers, with a few pieces of artillery, could have opposed a very serious obstacle to our advance, and perhaps compelled us to retire. That the enemy had not seized and fortified these positions afforded General Smith great satisfaction, inasmuch as it furnished conclusive evidence that our movements were unknown or misinterpreted.

General Cleburne was forming his men in line of battle when we reached the foot of Big Hill to meet a reported advance of the enemy. It proved to be, however, only his cavalry, which retired. The troops were exhausted by their long and rapid march, and required rest; and Churchill's division coming up soon after, the entire command was moved forward a short distance, strong pickets thrown out on all the roads, and the soldiers allowed to rest on their arms in battle order. Late in the afternoon a sharp cavalry skirmish occurred, in which Scott was forced to abandon one of his guns. The enemy's cavalry charged with great audacity. That night the opposing armies lay so near each other that some of the enemy's pickets were thrown out within our line, and the next morning, as greatly to our surprise as theirs, captured.

We had now marched nearly one hundred miles into Kentucky, and met not one man who sympathised with the Confederate cause. The enemy, reported seven full regiments strong, was immediately in our front, while we could muster not more than five thousand five hundred men, worn by long and arduous marches on insufficient food. But doubt was ruin; to hesitate was to be destroyed. Behind us was a barren mountain country, and a ferocious and bitterly hostile population; beyond the enemy in our front the “blue-grass region,” the garden of Kentucky, teeming with inexhaustable supplies.

General Cleburne was ordered to attack at daylight. So far from hesitating, the determination of the enemy to offer battle here gave General Smith the liveliest satisfaction. It had been feared that he [250] would post himself upon the high bluffs of the Kentucky river and dispute its passage; and the few places at which the passage could be effected were susceptible of every defence against greatly superior numbers. But if he could gain a victory here, General Smith counted upon pressing the enemy so closely, that he would not be able to rally his broken columns this side of Lexington, and perhaps of the Ohio river.

The morning of the 30th of August came warm, clear and beautiful. No brighter sun ever scattered the mists of early day. No fairer field ever offered upon which to do battle. No two armies ever encountered with greater confidence. The one in numbers and superior arms and equipments, the other in discipline, in endurance, in Southern skill and pride, and in the indomitable courage which a profound conviction of the justice of our cause inspires.

At 8 A. M. General Smith reached the battle field. An artillery duel was in progress. The enemy were drawn up on both sides the Richmond turnpike, with the artillery in the centre. Cleburne's division was formed in line of battle on the right of the turnpike, with the artillery on its left. The head of Churchill's column had barely reached the field, marching along the “pike,” but concealed from the enemy by the undulations of the ground. Churchill was ordered to take a circuitous route through the ravines to the left, and debouching on the enemy's right and rear, cut him off from his line of retreat to Richmond. The other brigade was held in reserve. Captain Martin's battery, of Florida artillery, was sent forward to take position on the rising ground by a brick house to the left of the road, but, mistaking the order, advanced quite near the enemy and unlimbered. His sharp-shooters immediately opened upon it, wounding Martin and his senior lieutenant, and a number of men, when the battery, being without support, retired to the position originally designated. Cleburne was apprised of Churchill's movement, and ordered to hold the enemy in check until it could be accomplished. By this time the infantry fire had become severe on the extreme right, and soon the enemy's line could be seen advancing rapidly in an effort to turn our right flank. This movement was skilfully foiled by Brigadier-General Preston Smith, upon whom the command of Cleburne's division had devolved, (that officer having been wounded a few moments earlier,) who in turn succeeded in turning the enemy's left, driving him from the field in great confusion. Churchill barely reached his position — in time to pour a volley into the broken ranks, but not to intercept the retreat.

This was the combat of Mount Zion in the battle of Richmond. On the right we lost several gallant officers and a number of men. The [251] enemy's loss was considerable, and a few prisoners and some ambulance and ammunition wagons fell into our hands. But, although beaten and driven from the field in great disorder, the enemy rallied within a mile and renewed the fight, at long range, with rifled cannon. Churchill's division was advanced a short distance on the left, while Preston Smith's was halted on the ground from which the enemy had been driven. The artillery of this division had exhausted its ammunition, and some delay occurred in bringing up the ordnance train.

General Smith now felt confident of victory, and ordered Scott to press forward with his cavalry, by a route to the left, and take position in the rear of Richmond, with the view of cutting off the enemy's retreat. At 1 P. M., our entire line advanced. The engagement began on the extreme left, and the firing was severe, even as we drove steadily backward the skirmish line.

The main force of the enemy was massed in front of Churchill. The country is open fields mainly, but intersected with fences overgrown with vines and bushes, through which the sight cannot penetrate. With their line prostrate behind one of these, the enemy was perfectly concealed, and attempted an ambuscade, which nearly proved disastrous. Rising from their concealment, they delivered a terrible fire at short range, and moved to the charge. Our line wavered, and its defeat and destruction seemed inevitable. But Churchill's voice rang out clear above the din, steadying the men, and ordered a counter charge, and the brave fellows sprang forward. The rattle of musketry deepened into a roar, furious and incessant, and as the smoke lifted, the enemy could be seen within less than a hundred paces of where we stood, but in full flight, broken almost at the point of the bayonet. It was at this moment that General Smith lost for an instant the admirable coolness which he had evinced throughout the day, and rushed to the front in the act and perfect spirit of charging with his staff alone, hardly looking even if they followed.

But Pegram's1 urgent remonstrances checked his pace, and the brave [252] Nelson, of Columbus, who commanded a cavalry company of eighty young gentlemen of the best families of Georgia, which composed the escort, came up and begged to be let go. The much longed for permission was given, and Nelson and his splendid fellows dashed forward in gallant style into the very midst of the melee, and captured three hundred prisoners. The Federals were again driven from the field, and a gun captured, but they rallied and formed anew, and opened fire with their rifled guns, showing that although broken they were not yet entirely beaten.

It was now 3 P. M., and our men had been marching and fighting since daylight, without water. It was necessary that Colonel Scott [253] should be allowed time to get in the rear of Richmond, and prepare his ambuscade. The entire army was, therefore, halted, and the troops permitted to rest. The Federals could be seen distinctly formed in their encampment. Much to our surprise they cheered vociferously. This, we afterwards learned, was caused by the arrival of Major-General Nelson. Brigadier-General Manson had commanded in the combats of Mount Zion's Church and Wheat's farm. A three-inch Parrott gun was trained upon them and they retired out of view.

At 5 P. M., our army moved to attack for the third time on that day. We found the enemy's encampment deserted by all but a few wounded men, and the surgeons attending them. Shortly, however, the booming of cannon on our left, and the screaming of shells over our heads, announced that victory was yet to be won. The Federals had fallen back to the outskirts of the town of Richmond, and chosen a strong position on the crest of a hill, their line passing through the cemetry. McCray's Texas brigade was ordered to turn their right, while Preston Smith advanced steadily on their left and centre. Again the fierce hum of minnie balls was followed by the sullen thud of the rifle, and cannon boomed at short intervals like the baying of the deep-mouthed bloodhounds above the din and clatter of the beagles. We were met with great obstinacy, and the fighting was more vigorous all along the lines, and the loss on both sides greater than at any former period of the day. But McCray succeeded in flanking, and Preston Smith, with a dashing charge through a murderous fire, captured the cemetery. A charge was now ordered of the entire line, and the enemy pressed rapidly through the town. On the farther side they made a feeble attempt to rally, but a few shells started them again; and the army, now no longer an army, but a mob, cavalry, infantry, artillery, and wagons, mingled together in complete confusion, rushed along the road for Lexington.

The sun was setting, our troops had driver the enemy over ten miles of broken country, and fought the entire day. They were exhausted, all the reserves had been brought into action, pursuit was impossible, and the enemy were left to be dealt with by Colonel Scott. That officer having reached the Lexington Turnpike, masked a battery to sweep the road, and concealed his men on either side. Pell mell, right into this ambuscade, the poor discomfitted fugitives fled. The havoc was frightful, and the Federals lost here nearly as many men as in all the previous fighting of the day. They threw down their arms and surrendered in crowds, and of the few who escaped not one in ten carried his musket with him. Manson was captured here, and Nelson barely [254] escaped capture by concealing himself in a field of growing corn.

In Richmond a half dozen political prisoners were released from jail, and they ran capering about, almost frantic with joy. General Smith addressed the troops, congratulating them upon their victory and urging them to maintain the discipline and good behavior which had characterized them throughout the march, and to respect private property.

Thus ended the battles of Richmond — a complete victory. By acknowledgement of General Manson to General Smith the enemy had 10,000 men upon the field, we only 5,500, exclusive of Scott's cavalry. Our loss in killed and wounded did not exceed 500, theirs was 1,000--a great disparity, owing chiefly to the slaughter inflicted by Scott. All their trains and artillery and a large number of prisoners fell into our hands. 5,300 prisoners were paroled from thirteen regiments. Of these two or three were old regiments, and several others reorganized — as, for instance, the Twelfth Indiana, a twelve month regiment which had fought at Shiloh. The Federals had probably 2,500 veterans upon the field, the remainder were of the new levies.

1 Note.--May 1881.--Poor Pegram! his was a nature as amiable and kindly as the gentlest woman's. He was scarcely handsome, but neat and fresh as a new leaf on a spring morning, amid all the dust of the camp, with just the daintiest little touch of dandyism. Frank, open face, winning smile and manner, natural and graceful in every movement. No man's or woman's eye rested on Pegram without an emotion of pleasure. He was brave as a Paladin of old; a graduate of West Point, with all the coolness and presence of mind of the trained soldier. Notwithstanding his misadventures in the early months of the war in West Virginia, there was no doubt that he possessed very considerable abilities. His services in this campaign gained for him the rank of General of brigade. He was in love with, and I believe engaged to, a beautiful young lady of Baltimore. Never have I known of a more tender and devoted attachment than Pegram's. He wore her miniature in a little locket always next to his heart. They were afterwards married in Richmond. It was very sad. He was killed within a few months at the siege of Petersburg.

What a contrast between Pegram and another officer of the staff of nearly equal rank. Lieutenant-Colonel Polignac, or Prince Polignac, as he was usually called, was undeniably ugly, and he clothed his ugliness in garments neither tidy nor becoming, which certainly had no suspicion of Parisian elegance about them, and which helped to give him the mingled appearance of buffoon and Italian organ-grinder. Morose, unsociable, silent, perhaps melancholy, and misunderstood for the most part, and seemingly inclined to be tyrannic, the prince was anything but popular. He was devoted to mathematics. That was his greatest and only recreation. He carried his calculations on little slips of paper, in a pair of old leather bags, which were constantly strapped about his person; and no sooner was a halt called, or camp struck, than throwing himself upon the ground, face downwards, Polignac had out his papers, and utterly absorbed, pursued his logarithms by the sunlight, or the flickering flame of the camp fire, while jest and laugh circled merrily all around and about him. It was these boys that led Captain N------on one occasion, when the prince had treated some of his men as he thought with unnecessary harshness, to describe him in language more forcible than elegant, as “that------little French peddler.” Shades of ye Chevaliers! aux armes! ye tutelar saints of the noble house of Polignac! But Polignac was brave, and, doubtless, a genuine friend of freedom. He preferred the line, and the constant conflict of the field, to the generally lesser risks of the staff of the General-in-chief; and the writer recalls one occasion, the battle of Richmond, Kentucky, he thinks, when the prince with the permission of Kirby Smith left the staff, and placing himself at the head of a regiment, which had just lost its superior officers, fought it gallantly, and remained with it until some officer was fit for duty. He, too, gained his General's rank in Kentucky, or, very soon after, and following General Smith to the trans-Mississippi, won the affections of his men, it was said, in spite of strong natural prejudices, by the distinguished courage and judgment with which he led them in action.

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