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Chapter 7:

The retreat of the Confederate army in the direction of Corinth was successfully covered by General Breckinridge's command, the pursuit not having been prosecuted more than five or six miles. The falling back was leisurely, and it was not until the 11th of April that the Kentucky brigade reached Corinth. In the reorganization of the army which took place here, General Breckinridge's Reserve corps was composed of four brigades, two of which, the first and second, comprised the Kentucky troops. The First brigade, commanded by Brig.-Gen. J. M. Hawes, consisted of the Forty-first Alabama, Fourth Kentucky, Ninth Kentucky, Hale's Alabama regiment, Clifton's Alabama battalion and Byrne's battery, but the latter soon disbanding, Hudson's battery took its place. The Second brigade, commanded by Brig.-Gen. William Preston, consisted of the Third, Sixth and Seventh Kentucky regiments, and [75] Cobb's battery. The Third brigade, comprising two Arkansas, one Mississippi and one Missouri regiment, was given to Brig.-Gen. Ben Hardin Helm. But soon after, General Hawes being assigned to the TransMis-sissippi department, General Helm was placed in command of the First brigade. About the first of June the Confederate army fell back to Tupelo, Miss., and from there the Kentucky troops were transferred to General Van Dorn's department, and on the 30th took their place in the trenches at Vicksburg. The operations against his point at that time were by the fleet, without any land force, and were confined to the bombardment of the place by heavy guns. The most destructive enemy to the Kentucky troops was the climate, from which they suffered greatly.

On the 27th of July, General Breckinridge was sent to make an attack on Baton Rouge, where was a Federal force of three or four thousand, the purpose being to have the Confederate ram Arkansas co-operate in the expedition. His report, to be found in the Rebellion Records, Vol. XV, page 76, states that he left with less than 4,000 men, who in two days were reduced by sickness to 3,400. He went by rail to Tangipahoa, whence Baton Rouge is 55 miles west. On the 4th he arrived at the Comite river, within 10 miles of Baton Rouge, and at 1p. m. on the same night he marched for that point, reaching its vicinity before daylight on the 5th. While waiting for daylight a serious accident occurred. A party of rangers, placed in rear of the artillery, ‘leaked through’ and riding forward encountered the enemy's pickets, causing exchange of shots. Galloping back they produced confusion, which led to rapid firing, during which General Helm was dangerously wounded by the fall of his horse, and his aide, Lieut. A. H. Todd, was killed. Helm was a brother-in-law of Mrs. Lincoln; Lieutenant Todd was her half-brother. Captain Roberts, of the Second Kentucky, was dangerously wounded, and [76] two of Captain Cobb's three guns rendered for the time useless. The enemy thus aroused, awaited attack in two lines. Our troops advanced in single line with strong reserves at intervals. The Second division, General Ruggles, advanced to the attack on the left with impetuosity, cheering and driving the enemy before it. General Preston having been left sick at Vicksburg, Col. A. P. Thompson led the First brigade of the division, and was seriously wounded in the charge. The First division, General Clark, composed of one brigade under Col. Thomas H. Hunt and one under Col. T. B. Smith, Twentieth Tennessee, drove the enemy on the right until after several hours' fighting he had fallen back to a grove just back of the penitentiary. The fight was hot and stubborn, and here the division met the greatest loss. Colonel Hunt was shot down, and at the suggestion of General Clark, Capt. John A. Buckner, General Breckinridge's adjutant-general, was placed in command of the brigade. Shortly afterward General Clark received a wound thought to be mortal, when under some misapprehension the First brigade of his division began to fall back, but rallied, and in a renewed attack the enemy was driven back and disappeared in the town. Maj. J. C. Wickliffe commanded the Ninth regiment, Col. J. W. Caldwell having been injured in the accident of the early morning and obliged to retire. Here the Confederates suffered from the fire of the fleet, but in the end the enemy were completely routed and did not again appear during the day. It was now 10 o'clock, and they had listened in vain for the guns of the ram Arkansas, which, it proved, had disabled her machinery when four miles above Baton Rouge, and, to prevent her falling into the hands of the Federal fleet near by, had been abandoned and set on fire by her officers. General Breckinridge, in view of this failure of co-operation, suspended further attack, and being wholly unmolested, withdrew to his camp at Comite river. His total loss was 467 killed, [77] wounded and missing. From the heat of the weather and scarcity of drinking water the men suffered greatly. General Breckinridge said: ‘The enemy were well clothed and their encampments showed the presence of every comfort and even luxury. Our men had little transportation, indifferent food and no shelter. Half of them had no coats, and hundreds of them were without either shoes or socks. Yet no troops ever behaved with greater gallantry and even reckless audacity. What can make this difference, unless it be the sublime courage inspired by a just cause?’

Within a few days General Breckinridge sent a small force and occupied Port Hudson above Baton Rouge, which became afterward a fortified place second only to Vicksburg. The effect of the climate on his troops was fearful, not in the number of deaths, but in disabling them for duty. A report of Surg. J. W. Thompson, of the First brigade, in which were the Third, Sixth and Seventh Kentucky, shows that on arriving at Vicksburg, June 30th, there were 1,822 men on duty; on leaving Vicksburg July 27th, 1,252; on duty after the battle of Baton Rouge, 584.

It was just one week after the battle that the writer of this history visited the camp. He found General Breckinridge encamped on the Comite river, a small stream with low banks and flat, wooded lands adjacent, with every malarial indication. The wan, enfeebled aspect of his men was pitiable to look upon, and he was chafing under the orders which held them inactive in such a pestilential locality. The writer had come from General Bragg, then at Chattanooga preparing to move into Kentucky, and brought with him the following letter:

My dear General: Having but time for a note for Mr. Johnston I must leave him to explain what he knows or suspects of the future. My army has promised [78] to make me military governor of Ohio in 90 days (Sew ard's time for crushing the rebellion), and as they cannot do that without passing your home, I have thought you would like to have an escort to visit your family.

Seriously, I should be much better satisfied were you with me on the impending campaign. Your influence in Kentucky would be equal to an extra division to my army; but you can readily see my embarrassment. Your division cannot be brought here now. To separate you from it might be injurious and even unpleasant to you, and not satisfactory to General Van Dorn. If you desire it, and General Van Dorn will consent, you shall come at once. A command is ready for you, and I shall hope to see your eyes beam again at the command ‘Forward’ as they did at Shiloh, in the midst of our greatest success. General Lovell is disengaged and might replace you, or I would cheerfully give General Van Dorn any one I could spare. It would also please me to see General Preston along, but I fear to make too great a draft on your command.

If agreeable to yourself and General Van Dom you have no time to lose. We only await our train and the capture of the forces at Cumberland Gap, both of which we hope to hear from very soon.

Our prospects were never more encouraging.

Most respectfully and truly yours,

General Breckinridge was eager to go into Kentucky, but said that even if Van Dorn would give his consent he would not voluntarily leave his men in the condition they were, and so advised General Bragg, urging that he be permitted to take with him his Kentucky command. The writer bore his answer, urged it upon General Van Dorn in person at his headquarters at Jackson, Miss., and upon the President at Richmond by letter. A few days later the Kentucky senators and representatives in the Confederate Congress addressed President Davis as follows:

Richmond, Va., August 18, 1862.
Hon. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States:
Sir: Having such information as satisfies us that the [79] Western army is now moving in two columns in the direction of Kentucky, one column under the command of General Bragg from Chattanooga, and the other under the immediate command of Maj.-Gen. E. Kirby Smith, and entertaining no doubt that General Smith will be able in a short time to reach the very heart of the more wealthy and populous portion of our State, and believing from information derived from sources entitled to credit that a large majority of the people of the State sympathize with the South and that a large proportion of the young men will at once join our army, we regard it as of the very highest importance that as many of the officers in the service of the government as are from the State of Kentucky and who have heretofore held position in and had the confidence of the people of the State, should be in Kentucky when the army reaches there. We do not regard this as so important looking merely to military results, but we desire to present it to your consideration in its political aspects. We have now in Kentucky a civil government opposed to us; elections have recently been held in which the voice of the people was suppressed by the order of the military governor of the State; soldiers were placed around the ballot-boxes; the people were not permitted to vote without taking odious oaths prescribed by the military authorities unknown to and in derogation of the Constitution; candidates who were the favorites of the majority of the people, who would have been elected, were peremptorily ordered to at once withdraw from the canvass under penalty of being immediately sent to a military prison, and the officers of the election were directed not to place the names of candidates on the poll-books unless they were known to be loyal to the Federal government, of which loyalty there was no standard except the caprice, the passion or the interest of the officers themselves.

You will at once perceive that should we get military possession of the State one of the first things to be done will be to overthrow this usurpation, and to give to the people of the State an opportunity of establishing such a government as they may desire and of electing such officers to execute the powers of government as they may prefer. It then becomes important that the citizens of Kentucky who have the confidence of the great body of the people, and who have been intimately associated with [80] them both in private life and in the conduct of public affairs, should return to the State to aid and co-operate with the people in their efforts to overthrow the despotism that now oppresses them and re-establish constitutional free government in the State. We are fully convinced that their presence among their old friends and fellow citizens at this time would be attended with the happiest results both to the people of the State and to the Confederacy; and we would therefore most respectfully suggest and recommend that as many of the officers and soldiers from Kentucky in the service as can be spared for the purpose with a due regard to other exigencies and interests, should be temporarily withdrawn from other duty and attached to the army entering that State.

We would therefore respectfully suggest that Major-General Breckinridge, with his division generals, Buckner and Marshall, be sent to Kentucky.

We have the honor to be very respectfully,

Your obedient servants,

President Davis, on receipt of this letter, renewed his order already given directing that General Breckinridge should accompany the movement. A few days later General Hardee sent him the following dispatch:

Come here if possible. I have a splendid division for you to lead into Kentucky, to which will be attached all the men General Van Dorn can spare to bring with you.

W. J. Hardee, Major-General.

To which General Breckinridge replied:

Reserve the division for me. I will leave here in a few days with a small force of Kentuckians and Tennesseeans.


General Bragg left Chattanooga for Kentucky on the 28th of August. The day before he started, he wrote as follows:

My Dear General: We leave for your beloved home tomorrow. Would that you were with us. Your division is ready for you as soon as you join, but you must hurry up to overtake us. Buell is anxious apparently to get to Cincinnati before us, but we envy him the honor. General Jones (Samuel) had orders to organize, arm and equip all stragglers, recovered sick, and those absent from leave and have them ready to join you. The quartermaster department has orders to be ready to send you on. Move with 100 rounds of ammunition and twenty-five days rations. We go by way of Sparta and Burkesville into the heart of Kentucky.

Yours most truly,

The above and much more correspondence on the subject will be found in the Rebellion Records, Vol. XVI, Part II. All of it indicates Bragg's earnest desire to have General Breckinridge with him, and the equally ardent wish of the latter to respond. But it was not to be. General Van Dorn had in view a campaign against Gen-eral Rosecrans which later culminated in disaster at Iuka and Corinth, and did not wish to give up General Breck-inridge. He was detained in Mississippi until President Davis, being apprised of the situation, gave peremptory orders which secured his release. Even then he was hampered with the duty of collecting at Knoxville all the recently exchanged prisoners, furloughed men and convalescents, so that he did not get to Knoxville until October 3d, as shown by a dispatch of that date saying, ‘I have just arrived here with 2,500 men, all that General Van Dorn would let me have. About 2,000 exchanged prisoners will arrive in a day or two.’ Had he been permitted at the start to take with him his old skel-eton regiments and push forward, effecting a junction [82] with Bragg in central Kentucky, he would have recruited them to a maximum, and might have given or left for us a different history of that period. As it was, vexatious delays still further detained him, and it was not until October 14th that he was able to leave Knoxville. When he had reached within twenty-eight miles of Cumberland Gap on the 17th, he received an order from General Bragg written at Barboursville, Ky., October 14th, directing him to return to Knoxville. His further operations will appear in a later chapter. [83]

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