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Chapter 19:

  • General Johnston's army in winter quarters
  • -- General W. B. Bate Succeeds General Breckinridge in command of division -- opening of the campaign -- Rocky Face Cap -- battle of Resaca -- New Hope Church -- arduous service of the Kentucky brigade -- crossing of the Chattahoochee -- General Hood Succeeds Johnston -- battles around Atlanta -- battle of Jonesboro -- fall of Atlanta -- severe losses of the Kentucky brigade -- it is mounted -- its services in the Sherman campaign and final surrender at Washington, Ga. -- other Kentucky commands -- Duke's and Breckinridge's brigades -- the return of the Kentuckians to their homes -- their Hospitable welcome -- restoration to citizenship -- speedy healing of Breaches.

When General Breckinridge was transferred from Dalton to Southwestern Virginia, he was succeeded in the command of his division by Gen. William B. Bate, of Tennessee, a gallant officer under whom the Kentucky brigade served during the campaign of 1864 with mutual satisfaction. Besides the Kentucky brigade the division comprised Tyler's Tennessee brigade and Finley's Florida brigade. The winter at Dalton passed quietly, the mountainous nature of the country between that place and Chattanooga rendering military movements impracticable. The winter quarters of the troops were comfortable, tents and rude huts built of small logs by the soldiers. The rations, however, were not always good or abundant, and contrasted unfavorably with those of the previous winter in Tennessee. The South was feeling the exhaustion caused by the war. The [193] beef, chiefly from Florida, was of the leanest kind. Forage for the artillery and transportation stock was also difficult to procure. The health of the army, however, was good, its discipline well preserved, and the soldiers enjoyed many amusements in camp life, which experience had suggested.

General Sherman had succeeded Rosecrans in the command of the Federal army. The Confederate advance outpost was Ringgold, and in the latter part of February a demonstration was made against it, and the Kentucky brigade was moved to Rocky Face Gap, but their stay was of short duration, as the Federal forces soon retired. No further demonstrations were made of serious character until the first week in May, when the brigade was again sent to Rocky Face Gap and the long campaign of the ensuing summer may be said to have begun. On the 12th it fell back to Resaca, where on the 14th occurred the severest engagement which had to that time taken place. A large Federal force attacked the division in position, and the brunt of the fight fell upon the Kentucky brigade. After being twice heavily repulsed the attacking force withdrew, but shelled the slight defenses of the brigade with such effect that forty or more of the brigade were killed or wounded. By successive retreats and maneuvers for position, General Johnston fell back beyond Dallas, where, on the 25th, at New Hope Church, another stand was made, and an attack upon Hardee's corps by Hooker's corps was repulsed. On the 27th a part of the brigade was again engaged, and successfully charged the enemy's lines. But the heaviest engagement took place on the 28th, when the brigade made a notable charge, driving the enemy to his second line, in which the loss of both officers and men was heavy.

By continued flanking the enemy compelled General Johnston to continue his retrograde movement until, at Kenesaw Mountain, on the 27th day of June, another severe fight occurred in which the brigade sustained itself [194] with its usual gallantry and with its usual losses.

On the 9th of July General Johnston crossed the Chattahoochee river for the defense of Atlanta, but before there was another engagement he was superseded on the 19th by General Hood, a native of Kentucky, who at once assumed an aggressive policy. On the 22d the enemy was attacked near Decatur, when the Kentucky brigade, under a terrific fire, lost in a few moments nearly one hundred and fifty men, the Federals being driven from their works and nearly one thousand prisoners and several pieces of artillery being captured. On the 5th of August a portion of the brigade was again engaged, and on the next day Gen. S. D. Lee, at this time commanding Hood's corps, to which the brigade temporarily was attached, issued a congratulatory order in which he said: ‘The lieutenant-general commanding takes pleasure in announcing to the officers and men of this corps, the splendid conduct of a portion of Bate's division, particularly Tyler's brigade [the Second and Fourth Kentucky regiments also participated], in sustaining and repulsing on yesterday three assaults of the enemy, in which his loss in killed, wounded and prisoners was from eight hundred to one thousand men, two colors, and three or four hundred small arms, and all of his entrenching tools. Our loss was from fifteen to twenty killed and wounded. Soldiers who fight with the coolness and determination that these men did will always be victorious over any reasonable number.’ Thus the command continued fighting from day to day in the entrenchments around Atlanta, and occasionally making sorties, until on the 29th of August they were sent to Jonesboro, to repel the advance of a heavy cavalry force, and there on the 1st of September, in addition to a number of killed and wounded, sustained the loss of about two hundred captured. Thus closed the long and arduous campaign of nearly four months, during which there had been no rest, since when not marching or fighting, these gallant soldiers [195] had been exposed to the fire of artillery and musketry. The Atlanta campaign was at an end. The city was evacuated, and General Sherman's victorious army added to the destructive forces of the engines of war those of fire, until Atlanta was made the picture of desolation.

The brigade, what was left of it, was sent to Griffin, Ga., to be mounted in accordance with a long cherished wish. It was, however, but the skeleton of that robust body, small indeed, compared to its original roll before the ravages of Murfreesboro, Jackson and Chickamauga had depleted it, which had left its winter-quarters at Dalton in May. The history of the war shows no such record as that which attests the devotion of the Kentucky brigade. When the Georgia campaign began, it numbered eleven hundred men for duty, the remnant of that force which at Murfreesboro with its full complement of officers and artillery numbered five thousand. Now it mustered less than three hundred, the actual number of guns being two hundred and seventy-eight. Capt. Ed. Porter Thompson, in his history of the Kentucky brigade, page 262, says: ‘The loss during the campaign from Dalton to Jonesboro, it will be observed, had been eight hundred and forty-two non-commissioned officers and privates killed, wounded and prisoners, while the loss of officers was proportionately great. Only two hundred had been captured. One hundred and eighty rank and file had been killed, and at various times five hundred and thirty wounded, some of whom, however, had recovered and were now present. General Hardee reported the loss of the brigade to be greater than that of any other in the corps. For months there had scarcely been a day in which some were not killed or wounded, sometimes from forty to one hundred and fifty in a single day.’

With the fall of Atlanta, besides the change in the service of the Kentucky brigade from infantry to cavalry, came also a new assignment in the line of service. It had [196] up to this time always been attached to the army of the West, known first as the army of the Mississippi and then as the army of Tennessee. But now when General Hood with his army advanced north to attempt the capture of Nashville and to meet his Waterloo at Franklin, leaving Sherman to prosecute his ‘march to the sea,’ the brigade was detached from the army with which it had so long served, and left as part of the forlorn hope to impede Sherman's progress. The effect of the new order mounting the brigade was inspiriting to the men, as they had long desired the change, and it meant to them a relief from the drudgery of marching and the gratification of an inborn partiality of the Kentuckian for the horse. To the absentees of the brigade, the sick and wounded, and the men on detailed service, it acted as a healing balm for the first two, and brought applications from the last for return to active duty. So that when the brigade was mounted in October, with recruits from this source, and exchanged prisoners, it numbered about nine hundred men. They were mounted on such horses as could be procured, generally too poor for dashing cavalry, but available for transferring their riders from point to point and enabling them to do efficient duty as mounted infantry. There was practically no army with which to oppose the march of General Sherman except a weak corps of cavalry commanded by Gen. Joseph Wheeler, which served chiefly to hold in check the cavalry of the enemy and to protect the country from marauding expeditions.

The brigade was placed in the division of Gen. Alfred Iverson, of Georgia, and served there to the close of the war, the division a part of the time being commanded by Gen. Pierce M. B. Young. The details of its operations were not of sufficient moment to follow minutely. It began its service on the picket line near Atlanta, and from the middle of November, when Sherman took up his march, its movements were retrograde for a month until Sherman captured Savannah. Then, when he turned [197] northward, they followed over the ground made famous in the revolution by the cavalry of Sumter and Marion, but the conditions were not favorable for brilliant operations. In addition to the Kentucky brigade under General Lewis, Williams' brigade of cavalry, commanded by Col. W. C. P. Breckinridge, served as part of General Wheeler's corps, being attached to the division of Gen. G. G. Dibrell. It comprised the First (Third) Kentucky cavalry, Lieut.-Col. Jacob W. Griffith; Second Kentucky (Woodward's), Maj. Thomas W. Lewis; and Ninth Kentucky cavalry, Colonel Breckinridge. In the Rebellion Records, Vol. XLVII, page 860, appears an order from General Hardee's headquarters, January x, 1865, consolidating this brigade with General Lewis', but it was never carried into effect.

An inspection report of Maj. J. G. Devereux to Gen. Samuel Cooper, Richmond, dated February 10, 1865, gives the following account of the brigade: ‘The brigade commanded by Brig.-Gen. Joseph H. Lewis is composed of the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Ninth Kentucky regiments of infantry, which were mounted both men and officers by command of General Hood, on public animals, mostly horses, but many of them mules, which have been receipted for by the acting quartermaster. The brigade lacks about 200 horses to complete its mounting. The men who need these horses are acting as infantry. The horse equipments are generally in good order and were mostly issued from government workshops. A detail of the men is making up the deficiency by constructing excellent saddles. It is gratifying to report that there are but few absentees without leave from this brigade.’

Such was the condition of the brigade in the closing scenes of the war, and the picture applies as well to that of the other Kentucky troops. The end was near, and came at Washington, Ga., where, on the 6th of May, General Johnston having surrendered on the 26th of April, they received their paroles together with Breckinridge's [198] brigade, and the remnant of General Morgan's command brought from Southwestern Virginia by General Duke, as heretofore detailed.

The Third, Seventh and Eighth Kentucky regiments, which at one time or another were associated with those of Lewis' brigade, received their paroles in the West. As has been stated, they were mounted quite a year before the Orphan brigade, and served with Forrest. One of their most notable fights was that at Paducah, March 25th, 1864, in which after a severe conflict, General Forrest was compelled to retire with serious loss. Here in sight of his home the gallant Col. A. P. Thompson, of the Third Kentucky, met his death, in the full tide of battle.

And thus the curtain fell upon the great drama which for four years held the eyes of the world, filled the soil of the South with the graves of her sons and of their opponents, and wrapped the whole country in woe and the South in desolation. To the Kentucky soldier the end brought sorrow equal to that of the more Southern States, since their hopes and affections had been as warmly enlisted in the cause for which they fought as those of any other State. At first it seemed that they would be denied even the privilege of returning home, as, although the right was granted in their paroles, the attorney-general at Washington, who was a Kentuckian, rendered an opinion that Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri not being within the Southern Confederacy, soldiers from those States had forfeited their homes and would not be permitted to return. After several weeks, however, this decision was rescinded, and gradually the weary and footsore found their way back to the paternal roof. The welcome which there awaited them went far to repay them for all the trials through which they had gone and to encourage them to gird their loins for a new struggle in the more peaceful pursuit of a livelihood.

The condition was changed from that which prevailed at the time of the Federal occupation, and during the war [199] its scourge and the oppression of the satraps who had successfully exercised a despotic sway, had changed the whole current of political feeling. Men who had been prominent in handing over the State to Federal domination and had favored the hanging of so-called secessionists, had been sent to Northern prisons for protesting against the oppression of Burnside, Burbridge and Palmer, while Garrett Davis, who had succeeded Breckinridge in the Senate as a reward for his services in shackling the State, was as severe against the administration at Washington as his predecessor had been four years before, and was as roundly denounced as an arch-rebel. In fact the State was as ready for revolt under the leadership of those once most loyal as it had ever been under the State rights domination.

So that instead of coming home to be disciplined the Southern soldier was received with open arms as a hero by those from whom he least expected such welcome, and the parable of the prodigal son was exemplified. The fatted calf was killed and the veal was made his portion.

At the first election which followed in August, 1865, with soldiers at the polls and the returned Confederates disfranchised, the radical party was defeated, and two years later, upon a platform reaffirming the Kentucky resolutions, John L. Helm, an old-time whig, the nominee of the Democratic party, defeated his radical opponent for governor by a majority of over fifty-six thousand votes. Among the foremost to give welcome was the Federal soldier, who, having discharged his duty on the field of battle, was as generous to his late foe but now friend, as he had been brave. The next legislature repealed all disfranchising laws, and in time the ex-Confederates were rehabilitated and formed the conservative element in the anti-radical party. These facts in history must not be lost sight of, and should stand to the glory of Kentucky as much as the record of the military valor of her sons. Divided on the issues of the war, and with her sons con- [200] fronting each other in the two armies, it is a matter of lasting congratulation that her internal wounds healed by the first intention and left no scars. There having been in the constitution of the State a clause which prohibited the giving or loaning its credit to any corporation or individual, no bonds could be issued as was done in many of the Southern States in the period of reconstruction, and hence there was nothing to attract the hordes of carpet-baggers and vultures who fattened on the plunder of less fortunate States, and Kentucky was left to adjust her own internal affairs without outside interference. In this way she escaped the terrors of reconstruction which befell the States farther South, and preserved her autonomy undisturbed, having peace within her borders, and enjoying a measure of prosperity in pleasant contrast with the misfortunes and hardships which befell the victims of the greed and vengeance of their oppressors. [201]

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