Federal reports from Southeastern Kentucky.a disastrous defeat — Sufferings of the Federal troops.
[from the correspondence of the Cincinnati Commercial
A change of Destination.An order has just been issued ordering every regiment in this brigade to move at eight o'clock this evening. The object of it is not generally understood. Those to whom it has been explained are surprised and chagrined. The column is ordered to move back as rapidly as possible to Crab Orchard, and to transport all the sick who can be removed. The order was predicated upon an order from Gen. Thomas, who forwarded it by express relays from Crab Orchard. It is reported that a heavy column, divested from Buckner's command, is running rapidly forward upon Somerset, to cut us off. Thus you perceive that a big scare is at the bottom of the retrograde operation. It is not necessary to speculate on the subject. I suspect, however, that this is but a brilliant cover for the ridiculous termination of the great Cumberland Gap expedition. It may have been devised, also, as a decent apology for recalling the Tennessee regiments.
After the march.
Can't take us, can't take us,
On a long summer's day."
’ It was impromptu at the Wildcat fight, so was the song as they retreated: ‘ "Old Zollicoffer can't catch us,
Can't catch us, can't catch us,
'Cause we're running away."
’ More forcible than elegant, and more expressive than poetical. And so each regiment, followed by its baggage train and sad procession of invalids, moved up the road, melancholy and mad.--Most of the Tennesseeans had fallen in behind the 14th Ohio, and moved on sullen and sorrowful, bitterly expressing their disappointment, and denouncing the frauds with which they had been deluded. Some were imbued with the idea that they were to march up the Somerset road — about three miles above London — to meet the enemy, and agreed to go that far, but not beyond. Upon reaching that point the head of the column failed to halt. A few Tennesseeans madly broke from the ranks and moved back towards camp.--Several threw themselves sullenly on the ground and refused to march. As we moved forward, they continued to leave the ranks in pairs and squads. Then squads multiplied into sections, sections into platoons, and platoons almost into whole companies. A private came back from the front and appealed to an officer to stop the deserters. He said the regiment was disorganized — the men were going back to Tennessee; their officers could do nothing with them. The poor fellows, with despairing exceptions, continued to proclaim their loyalty, but could not stand the disappointment. Occasionally a stout-hearted fellow would proclaim his determination to follow the flag wherever orders carried him--‘"but it is hard on Tennessean, boys,"’ he would say to the Buckeyes. In a march of four miles we must have passed two hundred stragglers.--Some were lying prone on the ground, sobbing; some stood by the highway, swearing defiantly; others leaned against the fence, sullenly, undetermined whether to move one way or another. Here was the adjutant of the regiment addressing a squad, ‘"For God's sake, boys move on. Look at the Ohioans. Don't let them beat you. You are fighting for the Union. Let's keep, Tennesseeans, together. Come, boys."’ ‘"Well, adjutant,"’ said one, ‘"It will do for you who ride, to talk, but we who do nothing but march up and down this infernal road, don't appreciate it."’ ‘"Get on my horse, and I'll walk."’ said the adjutant, and the transfer was made. And so the column trudged on heavily, and halted for jaded teams to dislodge from the mire, or pushed ahead, leaving ve to be extricated by whomsoever would do it. At midnight there was a long line of straggling Tennesseeans, from the head of their column clean back to their camp. It was marked by the lurid hue of the atmosphere, illumined by their blazing bivouse fires in the forests, around which they huddled in shivering groups. Hardly a nuclear for the regiment was left in column, though many stout fellows pushed on, determined to follow where orders commanded.--But there were pitiful scenes, and heart-touching. Soon after midnight, the 14th Ohio and the artillerymen, after scaling Wild Cat heights, flung themselves headlong on the ground. None were covered that night — or morning — save by blankets and a veneering of cold, white frost. The sick, too, in the open wagons, lay shuddering and shivering and moaning in the sharp, cutting atmosphere of a November morning. The 17th Ohio halted and bivouacked at two o'clock, in the camp which Zollicoffer's rebels had occupied the night before their repulse. I have told you where the Tennesseeans were, but I know not where was the remainder of the brigade. The Kentucky 3d, (Garrard's,) I believe, did not move that night. I know not why. The 38th Ohio and the 33d Indiana pushed forward to the summit of Wild Cat, and halted not long before day. The teams were also moving all night long. The necessity to carry the sick obliged us to leave much stores and ammunition. I am told we left twenty-two tons of ammunition at London. And yet, readers, we are making a forced march to prevent the enemy from cutting us off, or to save Blue Grass. Strange that soldiers should leave their ammunition and march to meet the enemy. At Pitman's we met thirteen wagons loaded with commissary stores, en route from camp Dick Robinson for London. These were unloaded immediately, and proceeded to London for patients and stores. Some of the regiments had necessarily left their tents and camp equipage, so that even had fatigue permitted them to pitched tents they could not have enjoyed the luxury. November 14--A heavy storm of rain roused the bivouacked from sleep. Their blankets and clothing were saturated with water. The morning was most dismal. Wildcat Heights, crowned with a heavy coronal of mist, frowned in dreary and discouraging altitude before us. The roads were already worked into a tough muck, and the pathway on the edges where the troops walked were slimy and slippery. Beyond was Rockcastle river, swift, and reported unfordable. But the word was en asant. The lads partook of their cold rations and hot coffee, and took up the toilsome march. Every step was laborious to the sturdy, agonizing to the feeble. Knapsacks almost too heavy under the fairest auspices were now doubly burdensome, and the pack-horse load was increased by the aggravating weight of water which soaked blankets and heavy army overcoats, and the nasty slime which splashed and plastered each man's breeches as high as his knees in front and rear, and filled his shoes until they overflowed with slush. During the first mile we passed one baggage wagon capsized in a creek. Its load of commissary stores and baggage were lost.--The desolate teamster and jaded horses, bedaubed with mud, gazed at it dismally and hopelessly as we moved forward. Further up the hill a half dozen wagons were stuck, and the poor animals could not move them.--A few hundred yards further, barrels of bread were tossed out of wagons and left to destruction in the forests. A stranger to the facts, passing, would have said, here is a terrified army fleeing from a pursuing enemy. Going up the mountains, we passed Tennesseeans; some are pushing on desperately. Yonder is one prone on a bed of leaves. His head is bolstered on a rotten stump. Exhaustion is graphically pictured on his lived complexion and his silent form. He is unconscious, while he sleeps the sleep of distress, that the driving rain is beating mercilessly upon him. My comrade startles me--‘"Is he dead?"’ Oh, no; he's only an exhausted soldier. He wears no shoulder straps with a silver star on each. But it is yet early in the day. Surely it is not time for soldiers to yield to fatigue. They have marched only one night, and have slept the whole of one or two hours on the damp, frosted soil. Why in the name of humanity does not the commander send back messengers to halt this column? Is there imminent danger ahead? Cannot these failing men be halted for rest? At least let messengers be dispatched to inspire them to march, march, march, to resist the foe. Anything to renew their spirit. But look at these wagon loads of sick soldiers.--See them shivering in saturated blankets, seated in pools of water which drip from their clothing as it pours from the clouds.--Hear their unceasing, discordant, and harrowing chorus of coughing. Here are candidates for the grave. But the order is stern--‘"Bring all your sick."’ ‘"Oh,"’ said one of the surgeons to me, ‘"that was the cruelest order officer ever gave. I protested in vain. I urged that it would kill my patients. But come they must. I shall lose perhaps thirty or forty of my regiment, and it will plant consumption in the lungs of two hundred more"’ And here is another picture. We splash along tediously through the mire, and mounted officers encourage their men by kind words of sympathy. Nearly all relieve feeble soldiers by carrying their knapsacks and muskets. Col. Steedman, long racked with chills and fever, and scarce able to sit on his horse, rides with his scattered columns. Col. Connell, suffering from illness, bears the burden of a sick soldier's knapsack. Col. Coburn dismounts and pushes through the mud, while a feeble lad rides his charger. The captains on foot emulate their superiors, and encourage them by example. At Rockcastle river the column is victoriously over Wildcat. The dismal train halts at the ferry in mud and rain. The jaded men fall asleep on the sod of a neighboring meadow, waiting the slow process of crossing all the column in one small float. The teamsters stuff their worn-out animals with corn. A few, in desperation, plunge into the ford where the water is swift, and some narrowly escape a watery grave. The 14th Ohio loses two wagons and contents, including twenty-five or thirty thousand rounds of ammunition. The 17th loses a wagon and twenty-six thousand rounds of ammunition at the ferry. The Tennesseeans lose two wagons and contents, with three horses; and the 38th Ohio loses one wagon. How much more was lost, I do not know. This was morning, but the column was long after night in crossing. Afterward throughout the day the scene already described increased and assumed more aggravating forms. The road constantly became more wretched. Men flung away their knapsacks and stalked onward in utter desperation, their officers refusing to see insubordination. Some stumbled and fell by the wayside, where they lay and slept the sleep of exhaustion. And the sick in the uncovered wagons, and those accursed ambulances, were racked and pounced over rocks and ruts until their weak bones ached, their countenances testifying to their utter wretchedness. And thus, hour after hour, through mud and slime and rain, over rocks and rails and logs, up the roughest and steepest grades, and down the ruggedest descents, our weary, footsore, exhausted soldiers and jaded teams struggled and toiled in pain all the miserable day and far into night; for even at midnight feeble straggler staggered into Mount Vernon, where the 14th and 17th rested, to find their comrades. This night the poor lads went to bed supperless, for fatigue was overpowering, and sleep sweeter than meat. Some of them marched 14, some 16 miles that day--13 the night and morning before. This day's work was more disastrous than ordinary battles--God knows how many sturdy constitutions it wrecked, how many brave volunteers it will kill. Crab Orchard, Nov. 17.--The 38th Ohio and the 33d Indiana are coming in slowly. The former was more deliberate, but suffered its proportion. The latter are sleeping in the woods without tents. I know not whether the Tennesseeans have got back safely to London. There is not much beauty or gaiety in a soldier's life, if it is like this. But the toil, and suffering, and sacrifices and the manly efforts of brave men obeying orders under circumstances such as I have sketched, are very eloquent. Will soldiers respect, love, and cheerfully fight under officers who abuse them as slaves do brutes? The amount of physical suffering caused by this march cannot be computed. None can tell how many sturdy frames will send under disease contracted from this ruthless exposure. The mortality list of the regiments will shortly begin to make a record. Many of the sick who were dragged out of their beds in the London hospitals, to be tortured on the rugged roads, saturated with rain and chilled with cold, must die. Many of the well must fall ill. Ah, well, there are 250 sick in the 33d Indiana; only a couple of hundred or so sick in the 14th Ohio; only a hundred or so sick in the 38th Ohio; only severed scores sick in the 17th Ohio; only a few hundreds altogether. If they die, recruit the regiments. The loss of the property is nothing. The Government is rich. Only thirty horses belonging to the 17th Ohio were knocked up and rendered unfit for service; and one died; one wagon was lost, and twenty-six thousand pounds of ammunition; about the same report is made by the 14th Ohio; so with each of the regiments. But the moral effects of the countermarch is one of the worst features. The mountaineers of Kentucky regard it as a retreat and the prestige of the victory at Wild Cat turned against us. And so ended the great Cumberland Gap expedition. But I beg you to wait, readers, for an ache from the Wild Cat brigade. If I mistake not, there will be a fierce growl are long from the Tennessean camp so as the denunciation from ‘"Most Tennessee,"’ which you read's day or two ago in the And I am inclined to believe that if this is dignant letters of the Ohio and Indiana boys are permitted to see the light of public print, none will think I have colored the foregoing picture.