previous next

Doc. 141. the battle at Piketon, Mo.

Report of Chaplain Bayless.

Ivy Mountain, Big Sandy, Floyd County, November 9, 1861.
on the morning of the 8th we left Prestonburg, and took up the line of march for Piketon, [337] and were in motion as early as five o'clock, moving forward rapidly. Col. Marshall's battalion, composed of Companies A, B, C and D, of his own regiment, and Capt. Berryhill's company of the Second Ohio Volunteers, constituted his command, and were placed in advance of the Second, Twenty-first and Fifty-ninth regiments of Ohio Volunteers. Upon our boys devolved the duty of climbing the mountains as scouts; to do which, and keep at the same time in advance of the main column, required of them the most exhausting toil. General Nelson, in order to form a junction with a force which he had moved forward in advance of us about twenty-four hours, was compelled to make a forced march. As our rout was somewhat circuitous, distance could only be overcome by speed.

All our movements were rapid — sometimes advancing at the double-quick step. Our boys who scaled the mountains, often making extended detours to head the gullies, had to bound like the deer, to keep ahead of those travelling in a straight road and on a plain surface. I felt for them, as they came in from the mountains, wet with perspiration, faint, exhausted, yet determined.

About twelve miles from Prestonburg we came upon about fifty of the enemy's cavalry scouts. The guard and Colonel Marshall opened fire upon them, and put them to flight. Suspecting that some of the foe were still lurking in ambush, the moral effect of a shell was tried, with what effect upon their nerves, if any were near, I cannot tell. After this little episode, we urged our way toward Piketon, the expected field of definite action; but when we had proceeded between two and three miles, and the head of Colonel Marshall's battalion was approaching the upper part of the mountains, the guide and Captains Gault and Reed, being considerably in advance, discovered that the foe, who were a thousand strong, were concealed behind rocks, trees and bushes, reserving their fire for a further advance of the column.

Captain Gault, who fortunately was armed with a five-shooter Colt's revolving rifle, opened fire upon them, discharging the contents of his gun, and about the same time both the guide and Mr. Reed discharged their muskets upon the foe, which brought them into a more precipitate action than was laid down in their programme. The horse of Captain Gault was shot from under him, and the guide received two of the enemy's balls, which brought him to the ground. Reed's horse was also killed; and such was their perilous and exposed condition, that both were under the necessity of taking shelter under the cover of a shelving rock, which induced Reed to suggest to the captain, in his peculiar style, “that they were both gone up, sir!” Colonel Marshall urged on his column, which was between a quarter and a half mile in advance of the Second Ohio, when the battle commenced.

Captain Gault was out off from his command, and in order to rejoin it, with the least prospect of safety, had to swim the river, encumbered with his sword and carrying Col. Marshall's revolving rifle in his hand, and then return, and reach this side of the river at a point lower down. By this time the engagement between Col. Marshall's command, on the narrow road at the base of the mountain and immediately on the banks of the river, and the foe, who had intrenched themselves upon the top and along the brow of the mountain, became general, and three of Capt. Gault's men fell at the very commencement of the action, and a number more of them were wounded. This company, from their position, had to bear the brunt of the battle, and courageously and persistently did they do so.

Captain Berryhill's company of the Second Ohio, which had been placed in Col. Marshall's command, bore themselves most gallantly, and rendered most effective service by scaling the mountains, where, under the command of their fearless and intrepid captain, they accomplished deeds of noble daring. In point of suffering the company stand second on the list, as will be seen by the more detailed account of the result of the engagement. It is copied from Major Harris' official report, prepared to be submitted to General Nelson. It soon became evident that the foe was faltering before our fire, when we were opened upon from the opposite side of the river, and thus exposed to both fires, our command maintained their ground until the artillery was brought into action, greatly to our relief. The slain of the enemy left on the battle-field on this side of the river, whom we buried, are nine, and of the three wounded prisoners who were cared for by us, two have died, making the number of their dead, so far as our personal knowledge extends, to be eleven. It is stated, however, that they acknowledge their loss in wounded, prisoners, and slain as many as sixty. The Second and Twenty-first Ohio participated in the action, doing good service. The Fifty-ninth, who came up later, by a well-directed volley, silenced the foe, who, by their fire, were trying to pick off the artillerymen from the other side of the river.

In this contest our boys faced the fire, and showed a spirit of determined bravery, every way worthy of Kentucky's ancient fame. They fought — they conquered. Among the incidents not detailed in Major Harris' report, I must mention that he is among the slightly wounded. That he is alive is doubtless owing to the fact that a silver spectacle-case and a well-filled pocket obstructed the passage of the ball, so that only the point of the bullet was imbedded in the flesh. Col. Marshall's Kentucky jeans are badly riddled; both his upper and nether garments look decidedly the worse for the contest. Even his cap was ventilated, and his noble steed fell a victim to the enemy's fire. To the great gratification of all his command, he still lives unscathed and unharmed. I know that he will [338] ever cherish with the most grateful emotions the many instances of devotion shown him by the gallant soldiers whom he led and cheered by his voice and presence during the battle. He heard the cry time and again, as he passed along the line among his soldiers: “Colonel, we are with you;” “Colonel, we will stand by you;” “Colonel, get out of the way, they are shooting right at you,” etc.

This engagement lasted one hour and a half. After our men were brought into action, they never yielded one inch of ground, although they were exposed to the enemy's cross fire, both from their mountain ambuscade and the opposite side of the river. The advance, under Col. Marshall, including Captain Berryhill's company, was less than five hundred, while our information is that the assault was made upon us by a force of one thousand, who had chosen their ground well. We routed them, taking four prisoners, beside the three who were founded.

Among the wounded was a Captain Rust, since dead, late a Senator from Greenup County. Captain May was doubtless in command. List of the killed and wounded.--Co. A, Captain Gault, Col. Marshall's regiment, four killed and ten wounded, viz.: Edward Hall, Wm. Prather, Peter Bentz, John McCarty, killed. Corporal Thomas Donaldson, Amos Stevenson, George Burton, H. D. Collins, William Hall, Martin Grimes, William N. Collins, Charles Dillin, (slightly,) and Lieut. John S. White, wounded.

Company B, Captain Luman: one killed, three wounded. Killed.--William Hartley. Wounded.--William Hall, S. Browning, and Joseph Bailey.

Company C, Captain Wiley: one wounded, Alfred Dougherty.

Wounded of the Second Ohio, mostly belonging to Company A, Captain Berryhill: Captain Berryhill, David Hilt, Patrick Flaherty, John Elstrip, Haw. Wilson, Joseph Carter, Corporal E. B. Simpson, Corporal Fesh, Henry Giese, pioneer; Stephen A. Coleman, scout, all abed.

Gen. Nelson's order.

Headquarters camp hopeless chase, Piketon, Ky., Nov. 10, 1861.
soldiers: I thank you for what you have done. In a campaign of twenty days you have driven the rebels from Eastern Kentucky, and given repose to that portion of the State. You have made continual forced marches over wretched roads, deep in mud; badly clad, you have bivouacked on the wet ground in the November rains without a murmur. With scarce half rations, you have pressed forward with unfailing perseverance. The only place that the enemy made a stand, though ambushed and very strong, you drove him from in the most brilliant style. For your constancy and courage I thank you, and with the qualities which you have shown that you possess, I expect great things from you in the future.

Secession report: report of Colonel Williams.

Camp near pound Gap, Nov. 13, 1861.
General: Since my last report to you, I have been compelled to abandon Piketon by an overwhelming force, that advanced upon me in two columns--one directly up the river from Prestonburg, sixteen hundred strong, with a battery of six pieces; and the other from Louisa, up John's Creek, a branch of the Sandy, numbering one thousand eight hundred men, with a battery of field-pieces. Both of these columns converged upon Piketon. My whole force consisted of one thousand and ten men, including sick, teamsters, and men on extra duty. I did not believe that the advance of the enemy would be so rapid, and hoped that the artillery and reinforcements promised would arrive before they could disturb me at Piketon.

Under this confident hope, I commenced gathering supplies, explored the leather resources of the country, found them abundant, organized a corps of shoemakers, and had them at work. Major Hawes had purchased a thousand fat hogs, and a number of beef cattle, and was making preparation to salt them. My men were badly clad and badly armed, with not a knapsack, haversack, or canteen; they carried their powder in horns, gourds, and bottles. This was our condition when the enemy commenced the advance upon us. Retreat was inevitable, but there was too much public property to be abandoned without an effort to save it.

I at once ordered all the transportation possible to be collected, and sent the sick, the wounded, and the live stock to the rear, on the Pound Gap road, for the Tazewell route was no longer safe. I sent a small armed force immediately on the Tazewell route, with written orders to turn back the artillery and all public wagons to a point of safety in Virginia.

I then sent Capt. Holliday, with a small mounted party, on the John's Creek road, and Captains Thomas and Clay on the river road to Prestonburg, to observe the movements of the enemy. This was on the night of the 8th. Capt. Thomas discovered the advanced guard of the enemy about fifteen miles from Piketon. I went in person with Captains May and Hawkins, with their companies of infantry, and Lieut. Van Hook with twenty mounted men, to the position of Capt. Thomas, near Joy Creek. I found that Capt. Thomas had burned the bridge there. The men were allowed to refresh themselves, and the horses secured in a deep mountain cave, and the whole party of two hundred and fifty men moved on foot to a strong position half a mile in front of the burnt bridge, here to await what we supposed to be the advanced guard of the enemy's force.

I returned to our camp at daylight, and met the report of Capt. Holliday, who had been fired upon by an advanced guard of the enemy of [339] about one hundred and fifty men. He gave them a gallant fight, killed eight of them, having only one of his number wounded, and one horse killed.

I despatched Capt. Shawhan, with his own and.Capt. Cameron's companies, to observe the movements of the enemy on John's Creek, with Instructions to engage any party not more than twice his number, but not to attack the enemy's full force.

At half-past 1 o'clock, on the 9th inst., the enemy moved up to Capt. May's position with a force of sixteen hundred men and a battery of six pieces; and were received by two hundred and fifty rifles, and shot guns, in point-blank range, every one of which took effect. Their column wavered and fell back; but returned in good order, and attempted to carry the pass by assault under cover of their cannon, but were repulsed again with terrible slaughter. They then withdrew beyond the range of our shot guns; and threw their infantry up the hills, soon outflanking our little band, and compelling them to fall back behind the burnt bridge. Here our force made a stand; but the enemy advanced no further. I then ordered three more companies of infantry to sustain Capt. May's command, or to cover his retreat if necessary. At twelve o'clock at night, Capt. Shawhan reported to me that the enemy were advancing in full force on the John's Creek road with great rapidity. I then ordered Capts. May and Shawhan and all the outposts in. I made a display of the forces in Piketon, sent the exhausted infantry in the direction of our retreat, and waited with the balance of the command the arrival of the enemy. They came up slowly and cautiously, but were detained for an hour by Capt. Thomas' company of sharpshooters, stationed near the ford, which prevented their artillery from getting into position to rake the town. As they approached, I moved the rear guard of four hundred men off in good order. They opened upon us a tremendous fire of artillery and musketry, and were replied to by our sharpshooters. We had one killed and three wounded, while the enemy had six killed. In the Joy fight our loss was ten killed, fifteen wounded, and forty missing--some of the missing men have gone back to their homes, and others join us daily. We lost Lieut. Rust, who fell gallantly in the discharge of his duty. My first belief was that the enemy had lost but one hundred and fifty men; but from subsequent information received from spies, Union men, escaped prisoners who have joined us, and others who have examined their burial ground, I am satisfied the enemy lost over three hundred in killed, with the usual proportion of wounded.

I cannot speak in terms of commendation too high of the gallantry of Capts. May, Thomas, Hawkins and Clay, and Lieut. Van Hook and Sam. Clay — indeed, the officers and men behaved with so much courage and coolness that to discriminate at all would be invidious. If we had had one thousand men more, and a battery of six pieces, we could have whipped and destroyed both columns; but with the small force I had, it was impossible to fight both at once, and to have opposed my whole force to one, would have exposed my rear to the other. Our cartridge-boxes arrived the day after the fight. We had powder and lead, and made our own cartridges and moulded our own bullets. The enemy had six thousand troops near Piketon--one thousand of them advanced ten miles this side of that place. They have not more than one thousand five hundred at Prestonburg; what they have below as reserves I know but little of, for all communication is cut off and the whole country is frightened out of its wits, and but few men will act as. scouts or guides. I am satisfied that this large force was not moved up the Sandy merely for the purpose of dispersing the unorganized, and half-armed, and barefooted squad under my control.

They intended to move upon the Virginia and Tennessee railroad, I think, by way of Tazewell Court House. They fortify their positions, and have a large number of wagons. The Sandy is now navigable for steamboats to a point above Piketon.

We want good rifles, clothes, great coats, knapsacks, haversacks and canteens — indeed, every thing almost, except a willingness to fight. Many of our men are barefooted, and I have seen the blood in their tracks, as they marched from Joy to this place. You know what we want. General: send such articles as we need to Abingdon. There is little subsistence here, and I fear I shall be compelled to fall back to a point where I can subsist until our organization is perfected. We have been so constantly fighting that we have not had time to complete our muster-rolls. I have now over twelve hundred men. If I could make a forward movement, the effect would be good upon the country.

Mr. Thomas has just received from the Governor of Florida, a commission as “aide-decamp,” with the rank of colonel. I cannot insist upon retaining him from such increased rank. Send somebody else. If the enemy should move by way of the Pound, I have not a sufficient force to resist them — no artillery — no intrenching tools, nor axes, spades, nor picks. If they come we will give them a fight, but this will do us no good but to destroy a few of them. I have just learned from a spy that a steamboat arrived at Piketon yesterday with supplies to the enemy. Maj. Howes wants more money; he has bought hogs, horses, wagons, &c., &c.

Your obedient servant,

John S. Williams, Colonel C. S. A. H. W. Chilton, A. A.-General.

Account by a “participant.”

The following description is given by a Union soldier who participated in the battle: [340]

camp “hopeless chase,” Pikesville, Pike County, Ky., Nov. 11, 1861.
I take the first opportunity of writing to you that I have had since I sent my last to you. I have been in an engagement; have heard the cold lead balls fly past my ears; I have seen men struck dead by my side by those same balls; and yet, by the goodness of God, have escaped unhurt.

Let me now give you a full description of the fight. We marched from Salyersville the day after I wrote my last, and after marching one whole day and a half, we arrived at Preston-burg, fording the Big Sandy about a mile from town. We stayed there two days, and then received orders to march to this place. We were to start at twelve M., every thing being got ready, as it was to be a forced march. Norris and myself got our horses ready, brought them into the yard, and hitched them up ready, but near nightfall news came that we would not go till the next day. Oh, how glad we were that we could have a little sleep. We went to bed, leaving every thing ready for the march, as we did not know what might take place, or what might influence Gen. Nelson.

It was well enough that we did so, for at four o'clock in the morning there came a rap at our door! “Who comes there,” shouted Major McCook. Col. Harris and Adjutant Vandegrift immediately got up and opened the door. “You must all be ready to march in twenty minutes.” So up we all sprang, and then began the hurrying. I kept cool, and soon had every thing ready. In less than half an hour the whole brigade, over two thousand strong, was ready to move — the Kentucky regiment in the advance. Then came the “Bully Second,” and the remainder of the force brought up the rear. We took three days rations, expecting to be back in that time.

On we marched, and after having passed four or five miles of our distance, Gen. Nelson sent orders to throw out our “flankers,” and now came the Second's turn. Out went two of our companies, and they scoured the woods and mountains, climbing, creeping, jumping, and leaping through the underbrush; over logs, stems of trees, over rocks and over rills, more like squirrels than men; now you could see them through the foliage, as they half walled, half crept, half ran. After two hours duty the skirmishers were withdrawn, and on we went as brisk as larks on our march. We made a short halt about eight o'clock A. M., to give the men breakfast; after which we took up our marching again. As we were marching through some open woods our scouts caught sight of some thirty or forty cavalry. They fired and it was returned by us. Just then our cannon came up and opened on them. After three or four rounds, just as we were getting their range, they dispersed. After examining their position, we found that no harm had been done on either side. Now the battle.

Still on we m reached, (this was about two P. M.,) the Kentucky regiment being in the advance, the Second next to them — and now to the details. We were marching along a road cut into the solid rock — on one side a steep bank, seventy-five feet high, and on the other side a perpendicular rock from twenty to forty-five feet high, above which the hill ran up about nine hundred or one thousand feet, very steep. The rebels were posted on a kind of embankment, and had strengthened it by piling rocks in the front. They were about seventy-five or eighty yards from the road, and when the Kentucky regiments came in a good view, they let fly a volley, killing four and wounding eleven--they were thrown into confusion, when our men, the Second, came up, and now commenced the fight in earnest; our men firing up at them and they firing down at us; their balls rattled about our men's ears thick and fast. Now our artillery came up and opened fire; they threw a few shells into the woods and on the first ridge, but we did not yet know just where they were, and we shot over them. At this period of the fight a company of rebels, who had succeeded in getting on the other side, got position in a cornfield, and commenced dropping their balls about us, in rather too close a proximity for our well-being; now our men turned in in right good earnest. Col. Harris coming up, sent five companies up the hill. Up, up they went, firing and loading as they climbed. The rebels soon gave out, and retired to the first ridge, but they were soon compelled to flee from that also, and retired further up, to the second ridge, and as our men reached them, they fled in hopeless confusion. The rebels, having their position in a cornfield, were treated respectfully with a few shells and a couple of volleys or so of bullets, when they also fled, leaving the field in our complete possession. Our brigade loss is thirteen killed and mortally wounded, and about thirty-five wounded slightly and otherwise. You will perceive it was quite a battle, (although the loss was not so very great,) and we all think so. We have found fifteen of the rebels killed, and some twenty-five wounded; so as far as we know, the loss is about equal in numbers. We do not know for certain what their loss was; I only speak from what we do know. Our loss was not from their bravery, but from the wonderfully strong natural position; and the surprise is that our loss was not greater, especially when we examine the plan of the ground. On equal ground, where would they have been? Annihilated! As it is, we call it a great victory. All hail to the glorious Stars and Stripes! Long may they wave and be the ensign to lead us on to victory, and peace, and happiness.

And now for my share in the battle. I was riding along somewhat carelessly, when crack! crack!! crack!!! went their rifles, and down fell our men. Crack! crack!! crack!!! they came. Off I jumped from my horse, when along came the major, and gave me his horse to hold; but I soon hitched them both to a tree [341] down by the river, and sprang again up the bank, when whiz! went a bullet past my face, about three inches from it, and made me draw my head back in a hurry, I can assure you. I looked up the hill, but could see no one for the smoke, which are plenty, so I levelled in the direction of the enemy and fired — loaded again and fired. I got my rifle in readiness again. Ah! that ball was pretty close. Here comes another — buzz, buzz--(you can hear their whiz for fully a hundred yards as they come)--get out of the way. But where is it to go to? Whew! that was close. But, great God! it has gone through a man's shoulder within a few yards of me! He falls! some of his comrades pick him up.

Now a horseman comes past in a hurry. He is right opposite me — when whiz, crack! a ball strikes his horse in the foreshoulder. Off tumbles the man; down falls the horse, stiffened out and dead. If the bullet had gone through the animal, it would doubtless have struck me.

Here come a dozen or more. How they whiz as they go past! “Load and fire!” “Load and fire!” is the order — and load and fire it is. My attention was especially drawn to a very fine-looking man, who stood close to me, and he truly acted like a hero — loading and firing just as if he was on parade, when whiz! whiz!! comes a bullet. My God! how close. It almost stunned me! When I looked toward my soldier, I saw his comrades lifting him up. He was shot through the breast, he died in less than half an hour. Oh! the horrors of war. Vengeance on the heads of those who initiate it.

I directed my attention up the hill; a little puff of smoke was dying away: “Boys,” say I to the squad of his fellows, “you see that smoke, aim for it, a rebel's in its rear,” I raised my Enfield, and glanced through its sights, when I for a moment caught sight of a man through the bushes and smoke there. Crack went our guns, and all was over.

(We crossed to the place afterward, and found the man's body; he had four out of twelve musket balls, and one Enfield rifle ball — mine, as mine was the only rifle ball fired. They all went through him; either of which would have killed him — mine through his breast. Thank God, I had done my duty for the poor fellow who fell beside me.)

Now the firing grew weak, so I went up the road and found Henry, and we, with John How, second lieutenant of Company A, with some forty skirmishers, took a little reconnoissance up the creek, (Ivy Creek.) We caught sight of six or seven rebels running up a hill; we levelled our pieces, but they got behind the trees and out of sight, and although we fired, we were not certain we killed, although we must have hit somebody, as we found blood. As I ran along to get a shot, I picked up a revolver and a double-barrelled shot gun. The revolver will do me service, as I was lacking one. We now returned to the battle-field, and I counted eight corpses in one hundred and fifty yards, and twelve wounded, all of the Kentucky regiment. The loss of the Second was two killed and thirteen wounded; and so it was, as I said before, a considerable battle.

I find that the rebels had only one hundred and fifty men well armed with Minie rifles, the remainder with squirrel rifles, shot-guns, &c. We know that they lost sixteen killed and twenty-eight wounded. Their number killed, we know, too, was much larger than ours, which is owing to our superior weapons that shatter terribly with their balls. Our entire loss in the brigade was nine killed, five mortally wounded, and thirty-four not seriously. Allowance must be made for our not making a greater destruction of the rebels, to the position of their ground, which gave a decided advantage in a battle of this kind.

If they had had effective weapons, the loss would have been terrible on the part of the Kentucky regiment, and also pretty considerable in ours. If our positions had been changed, we could have wiped them out of existence.

We marched, after the battle, about three miles, and encamped. The next morning we started early, in the midst of a terrible rain, which continued all day. It was one of the heaviest falls of rain I ever saw, and I had a most disagreeable ride; and to add to the discomfort, the secesh had cut down some thirty trees across the road, and we had to move them before we could proceed. It delayed us a long time. We came across two barrels of apple brandy, which Major McCook stove in for fear they were poisoned, (we are almost certain they were, as the rebels had been inquiring for arsenic along the road; so we had a pretty sure thing on them.) When we encamped at night, we were all wet through to the skin. I was completely saturated; but, for all that, slept well, and do not feel any inconvenience from it; indeed, I feel in very good health, saving a little cold.

When we arrived here, we found that the detachment that had started the afternoon before us, had had a little skirmish, killing six and wounding two of the rebels, without any loss whatever on our side. We expect to follow them in a day or two, when our baggage comes from Prestonburg; and if we overtake them, I assure you we shall give them fire and death.

Col. Harris is every inch a gentleman and a soldier, and much liked by all his comrades. I am sure, from what I have seen, he is qualified, and would make an excellent brigadier-general.

Hoping time will shortly bring continued and greater victories, I close.


--Cincinnati Times.

Another account.

The correspondent of the Cincinnati Gazette, writing from Piketon, says:

On Tuesday evening, the 5th Nov., after a long march from Licking Station, our regiments — the [342] Thirty-third, the Twenty-first, and Fifty-ninth Ohio--and a light battalion, composed of six picked companies from all the regiments of the brigade, and under command of Major Hart, arrived at the ferry nearly opposite Prestonburg. The Second Ohio preceded us one day, and was in occupancy of the town, of all of which you have, no doubt, been informed in detail.

On the following evening the Thirty-third, under Colonel Sill, and Major Hurt's light battalion, were ordered to prepare two days rations and be ready to move across the river during the night. Accordingly, the morning of the 7th found us in a line of march through Prestonburg, and, as we suspected, toward Piketon, distant by direct route twenty-five miles. A section of artillery, consisting of two rifled six-pounders, under command of Colonel Roher Vacher, accompanied us; also, one hundred and fifty mounted men, under Colonel Metcalf. We soon ascertained that our course was deviating from the direct route up Sandy River, and was leading us up John's Creek, which route led us a distance of forty miles around, and entered the town of Piketon nearly opposite from the river route. The object was to attack the enemy in the rear, whilst General Nelson, with the Second, Twenty-first, and Fifty-ninth Ohio, with Colonel Marshal's fragment of a regiment, who started the day following, would attack them in front.

The march was truly a severe one, as the order of General Nelson's intimates. The rations, which were intended for two days, did not, on an average, last one day. We took no train but one wagon and our ambulances, accordingly our men were without tents or means of shelter. The road was very narrow, and in many places precipitous. Often it was difficult to find sufficient room for our cannon, and more than once the expediency of not only unlimbering, but of making artificial carriage-ways was calculated, so narrow was the road on the mountain side.

On our first day's march the men were compelled to ford the creek, which is about twenty-five yards wide. The water came up to their waists. At night we bivouacked on a mountain side. It was very cold, and we deemed it advisable to have as few camp fires as possible, from the fact that the hills were full of rebel scouts. They had fired on our cavalry advance from a hill during the day, which was returned vigorously, and with the effect of killing one, wounding another, and of killing one horse. In this skirmish we received no injury whatever. But in the evening, near our camping-ground, one of the cavalry was fired upon from an ambush, and wounded by an oblique shot through the neck.

The second day we marched all day, with nothing to eat, unless it may have been a very few who economized to a better advantage than their fellows. At night, we received rations of meat, but had neither salt nor bread — meat alone. We bivouacked again in a narrow meadow spot, and our men had disposed themselves as comfortably as possible for the night, when the long roll was beat, and notwithstanding it was the first time this sound had ever been heard by most of them, yet in less than ten minutes we were in line of battle. It was at this time that Colonel Sill, who had command of this part of the expedition, displayed to his men and the officers present the talent he possessed to command, and convinced his own regiment still more of their good fortune in having such a commander over them. A company, variously estimated at two hundred to three hundred, moved down the creek to surprise us, when our pickets fired upon them and gave the alarm. This fire wounded their captain in the chest, and they immediately retreated. But, anticipating their continued advance, our line of battle was formed. Our infantry was arranged along the hill-side, so as to completely command the left of the enemy as they would advance. The cannon were placed in position on the right of the infantry, in such a manner as to pour a deadly fire into the narrow pass beyond. For an hour our men stood silent upon the hill-side, and the camp-fires slumbered in the little meadow spot. Once more they were formed into line of battle before morning.

By daylight the next morning we were on the march again. The rain began to fall in torrents, and continued until afternoon. The mountain streams ran swiftly, and the mountain sides grew deep in mud. Through all this our men marched for thirteen miles. Speaking literally, they marched for miles in water knee-deep and over, and through mud over shoe-top, and all upon no subsistence but meat without salt. It was a terrible march, and nothing but the prospect of a fight could have sustained the energies of the troops.

In spite of the great number of strategetical points that we passed unmolested, we did give the enemy some credit for courage and military capacity, and, accordingly, moved with far greater caution than we need to have done as we neared the town. At one point, just as we passed by a long, narrow, and winding road, over the last mountain that brought us down to near the ford opposite the village, we thought that we would surely encounter a force. Two pickets only were met, who fled and gave the alarm, but not too soon to prevent us from firing a volley across the river, and exploding a shell or two in their midst.

As they fled beyond the hills a few shell more were sent after them, with serious effect. Four bodies, it is said, were found in one spot. It is impossible to say how many were killed and wounded. I was told by a respectable citizen that blood was found scattered for some distance along the road which they fled. One fell into our hands, mortally wounded.

I have it from good authority that the officers are sworn not to disclose their losses in battle. [343] and I am sure they take every precaution to conceal the bodies of their killed.

We immediately took possession of the town — I should think, in time of peace, a pleasant little village, picturesquely situated — and secured some very important papers of the General commanding. But for one more day our men had meat rations only to subsist upon. Thus you have a meagre account of one of the most laborious marches of the war.

In the mean time, the forces under General Nelson had advanced up the river, and encountered an ambuscade of about seven or eight hundred of the enemy, who, suspecting our forces to be weakened by the division into two columns, hoped to destroy one and rush to the rear of the other. But, as your despatches will show, they were defeated and dispersed, and only about the same number was left at this point to be likewise dispersed by the forces under Colonel Sill.

Thus is Eastern Kentucky ridden of her oppressors, who claim to be her only protection. They have completely exhausted the country, and our only supplies must come from above.

I will add that we passed a great deal of magnificent mountain scenery — high cliffs and toppling crags. In many places, one would think that he viewed the ruins of some mighty castle on the mountain tops, as the rocks would rise in walls and spires high above the particolored forest.

A. J. P.

The Louisville Journal published the following details, compiled from the reports of General Nelson and Colonel Sill:

On the 7th November General Nelson despatched Colonel Sill with his own regiment, the Ohio Thirty-third, and the light battalion under Major Hart, Kentucky Volunteers, composed of a flank company from each of the regiments, the Second, Thirty-third, and Fifty-ninth O. V. U. S. A., and two Kentucky companies, together with one hundred and forty-two mounted men, under command of Colonel Metcalf, Kentucky Volunteers, made up of men mounted from the wagon teams, and thirty-six gentlemen volunteers, under Colonel Apperson, and a section of artillery, to march by the way of John's Creek and pass to the left of Pikeville, where the rebels had taken position — a distance of forty miles--and turn or cut them off. Colonel Sill marched at eleven A. M. on the 7th. At five A. M. of the 8th General Nelson moved forward with the Second regiment O. V. U. S. A., Colonel Harris; Twenty-first regiment O. V. U. S. A., Colonel Norton; Fifty-ninth regiment O. V. U. S. A., Colonel Fyffe; the battalion of Kentucky Volunteers under Colonel Charles A. Marshall, and two sections of artillery, Captain Konkle, and took the State road direct to Pikeville, twenty-eight miles. Some eight miles from Prestonburg they met a picket of about forty cavalry and fired on them, but, having no cavalry, they escaped easily. At one P. M. the column had advanced along the narrow defile of the mountain that ends at Ivy Creek. The mountain is the highest along the river, very precipitous, and thickly covered with timber and undergrowth, and the road, which is but seven feet wide, is cut along the side of it, about twenty-five feet above the river, which is close under the road. The ridge descends in a rapid curve and very sharp to the creek, or rather gorge, where it makes a complete elbow. Behind this ridge, and all along the mountain side, the enemy, seven hundred strong, lay in ambush, and did not fire until the head of Colonel Marshall's battalion, himself leading, was up to the elbow. The skirmish was very sharp. The mountain side was blue with puffs of smoke, and not an enemy to be seen. The first discharge killed four and wounded thirteen of Marshall's men. General Nelson ordered the Kentuckians to charge. Colonel Harris, whose regiment was immediately behind the General, led his men up the mountain side most gallantly and deployed them along the face of it. Colonel Norton, whose regiment had just reached the defile, anticipating an order from the General, led his men up the northern ridge of the mountain, deployed them along the creek, and went at the rebels. Two pieces of artillery were got in position in the road and opened upon them. Owing to the steepness of the mountain all this required time. On the opposite side of the river, which at that point is narrow, deep, and swift, there were also rebels who annoyed our men. In an hour and twenty minutes the rebels were dispersed and fled, leaving a number of killed and wounded on the ground and six prisoners unhurt. As General Nelson marched immediately in pursuit, the rebel loss was not ascertained accurately, but thirty were found dead on the field. Among the wounded prisoners was H. M. Rust, late State Senator from Greenup County. Our loss in killed was six, and twenty-four wounded. If General Nelson had had with him any cavalry, he feels confident he would have taken or slain the whole of them. As it was, the enemy retreated, cutting down trees across the narrow road and burning or cutting all the bridges, which are numerous. General Nelson bivouacked four miles beyond the Ivy Creek. It rained and the men had to wade through mud and in a heavy rain all the day of the 9th, the march being heavy and slow on account of the felled trees obstructing the road, and the necessary repairing of bridges. At night the army again bivouacked in the November rain, and the next morning they reached Pikeville, where Colonel Sill had arrived the previous night. Captain Berryhill of the Second Ohio was wounded severely at Ivy Creek, while leading the column up the mountain side.

During these operations the command of Col. Sill executed Gen. Nelson's orders and occupied Pikeville by a circuitous route on the 9th, at four P. M. Col. Metcalf's mounted men in advance exchanged shots with a reconnoitring [344] party which had just crossed the river, but immediately retreated. Metcalf and Hart's forces were then thrown out, deployed as skirmishers on the hill-side, flanking the road which debouches at the ford. They found the enemy's camp deserted and the main street of the village occupied by mounted men, who were making off by the Shelby road. A few rounds of shell were sent after them, and Metcalf's men took possession of the town, fording the river on horseback. The rest of the force crossed on a raft bridge. The enemy were occupied all the previous day in evacuating the place. Gen. Williams was there when the skirmishers opened fire, but he retreated, and Col. Sill subsequently occupied his Headquarters. The only casualty was one man killed. On the route, Col. Sill twice encountered a party of mounted men; the first fire killed a horse and wounded two of the rebels. On the night of the 8th a party of ten, sent out by Col. Metcalf, encountered Capt. Shawhan's rebel cavalry, about one hundred and fifty strong, and it was reported that Capt. S. was wounded. His party fell back in great haste. The troops in Pikeville were not well off for provisions; all they could get was beef, but there is a mill in the vicinity, which they intended to set in motion and supply themselves with corn-meal. It was impossible to obtain any accurate account of the number of the dispersed rebels, but they were most effectually cleared out. Among the effects of Colonel Williams left behind at Pikeville, in his hasty retreat, was a letter from the Confederate Secretary of War, J. P. Benjamin, dated October 28th, introducing Mr. Lewis, a special agent for the Confederate Government, who would make a communication to Colonel W. “about young Clay,” in relation to which Colonel W. was to use his discretion. The Secretary was anxiously awaiting Williams' muster rolls, and stated that he had sent to him on the 27th a company of artillery with its battery, and would send him a regiment of armed Virginians to Prestonburg in a few days. From all we can glean, “Cerro Gordo” will not for the present have occasion for their use, as his men must be completely demoralized by the bad thrashing and worse fright which they received.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: