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Book IV:—Kentucky

Chapter 1:


THE defeats of Pope in Virginia, followed by the invasion of Maryland, had reawakened the aggressive ardor of the Confederates in the West. Believing that Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia were already in the power of Lee, both soldiers and officers in Bragg's army dreamed in their turn of the conquest of Cincinnati and Louisville, the deliverance of Nashville, Memphis, and even of New Orleans. The secessionists, who were numerous in Kentucky and in the majority in Tennessee, were becoming bolder every day; the expeditions of Morgan and Forrest during the month of July, 1862, had restored all their confidence. These two daring partisans had admirably opened the way for the campaign which their commander was contemplating, and had overrun the States he intended to invade, like a sudden and subtle blast which penetrates the forest and then vanishes before some great storm of which it is the certain precursor.

But we must resume our narrative from the early days of July. We have said that Buell's army, drawn up a little in rear of the right bank of the Tennessee, rested its right wing upon Huntsville and Athens, while its left extended from Stevenson to opposite Chattanooga. Its supplies were obtained through the two railroads which leave Nashville, one for Athens, the other for Stevenson. The capital of Tennessee was therefore the centre of his depots, which in turn could only be supplied from the Northern States, depending entirely for that purpose upon the railroad coming from Bowling Green and Louisville. In fact, the waters of the Cumberland were then too low for navigation, and the [361] line of railway from Nashville to Columbus through Union City passed through regions infested by guerillas. This army, therefore, which occupied the ground last conquered by the Federals on the banks of the Tennessee, only communicated with its true base of operations, the river and State of Ohio, by a single line of railway, five hundred kilometres in length, from Stevenson to Louisville; it was, besides, liable to the incursions of the Confederates, who, being masters of the Alleghanies and West Virginia, found themselves much nearer Louisville and the Northern States than Buell.

Bragg, encouraged by Lee's victories before Richmond, resolved to take advantage of the situation to strike his adversary at this weak point, and restore the Confederate flag to those States in which large numbers of partisans were ready to welcome it.

Murfreesborough, a small village of Tennessee, situated at fifty kilometres from Nashville, on the Stevenson Railroad, had become one of Buell's principal intermediate depots; it was also the headquarters of a provost-marshal, who, under pretext of pursuing guerillas, had undertaken the impossible task of arresting all the inhabitants who secretly sympathized with the enemy. The immense quantity of provisions to be captured, and the large number of prisoners to be freed, were a sufficient incentive to induce the Confederates to attempt a sudden dash against Murfreesborough, especially as this position was poorly defended. No entrenchment of any importance surrounded it; its garrison, numbering eight hundred men, consisted of two regiments, which, espousing the quarrels of their commanders, had had so many disputes among themselves that it was found necessary to send one of them, the Third Minnesota, to camp at some distance from the village; moreover, a new commander, General Crittenden, who had just arrived, had no knowledge whatever of the country. The Federals were only roused from their fatal security on the morning of the 13th of July, when they were startled out of their sleep by the tramping of two thousand horses coming at full gallop along the railway track. Some negroes had indeed told them the day before of having met the terrible Forrest and his mounted men, but no one would believe them: ‘Negro yarns!’ everybody exclaimed. It was he, nevertheless. In an instant the [362] streets of the village were invaded, the houses attacked, and a large number of Federals either captured or killed before they had time to defend themselves. The others, however, soon rallied and attacked the invaders; Forrest's horsemen, being very much exposed in their turn, were for a moment staggered, when they were joined by a timely reinforcement, and the whole of the Ninth Michigan was captured. The other regiment, which was encamped at some distance, with a battery of artillery, was only feebly attacked; it was on the way to relieve Murfreesborough, when it received information that it would arrive too late. It could have retired, and would certainly have escaped the disaster, but its colonel became confused and surrendered, despite the protests of his officers. It was Forrest's only exploit, but for a time it seriously interrupted Buell's communications with Nashville, compelling him to scatter his troops along the railroads through which he obtained his supplies in order to protect them more effectually.

During this time Morgan had also put himself in motion. Leaving Knoxville on the 4th of July, he crossed the mountains which separate the Tennessee valley from that of the Cumberland, with only nine hundred horse; and marching directly east, he encountered the first Federal detachments at Tompkinsville, on the other side of the Cumberland, near the point where it emerges from the State of Kentucky. After driving them back with ease, he reached Glasgow on the evening of the 9th, where he found supplies, and the next day, his men having rested and being well fed and well armed, struck the important line of railway between Nashville and Louisville near the famous grottoes called the Mammoth Cave. They destroyed the bridge which spans Barren River, and Buell's communications with the North were thus interrupted. For a few days Morgan scoured this line and destroyed it entirely, avoiding the troops in pursuit of him, falling unexpectedly upon isolated posts and constantly deceiving his foes, thanks to the connivance of the majority of the inhabitants, his own daring and the admirable use he made of the telegraphic lines of the enemy. An agent skilful in handling this instrument accompanied him everywhere with a portable apparatus, and, whenever he found a wire, detached it and adjusted it to his own machine. In this way he intercepted all the signals [363] that were being exchanged along the line; to messages coming from Louisville he replied in the name of the Nashville office, to those from Nashville in the name of the Louisville office. All the despatches passed through his hands, revealing to him the movements of troops destined to surround his little band. This clever trick was repeated everywhere and with the same success. When any private despatches thus fell into his hands, he says that he kept no copies of them, but availed himself of the opportunity to give his Federal interlocutor some startling information regarding Morgan's movements; he thus engaged in telegraphic conversations, by means of which he learned a great deal about the enemy, and by his false representations frustrated the best plans the latter might have formed. We can form an idea of the confusion prevailing among the Northern generals, who believed they were communicating with each other, while all their despatches were intercepted and modified by a skilful adversary. Ellsworth, the Confederate telegrapher, played his part with imperturbable presence of mind, representing several offices at once; he had scarcely ceased holding conversation in one direction when he commenced again in another. At one time he tried, but in vain, to persuade a train of cars to fall into an ambuscade prepared by Morgan. At another time he surprised a Federal employee, and compelled him to send off some unimportant despatch in his presence, in order that he might see how he handled the instrument, what was his handwriting, as it were, so that he might imitate it closely. Some registers he had succeeded in procuring revealed to him all the secret signals; and if the meaning of some of these symbols escaped him, he would soon find the means of unravelling it. Thus one day he receives despatches signed Z; not knowing whence they came, he telegraphs to Z: ‘One of my friends bets you cigars that you cannot spell correctly the name of your station.’ ‘Done!’ answered Z. ‘Lebanon Junction. How did you suppose I would spell it?’ ‘We have lost; I thought you would spell it with a double b,’ ingeniously responded Ellsworth, who had obtained all he wanted. In conclusion, the intercourse being ended, he did not withdraw without ironically expressing his thanks to his correspondents. Having nothing more to fear, and suddenly transformed again into [

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