- Reorganization of the army at Corinth -- Kentucky commands General Breckinridge sent to Vicksburg -- in the trenches there -- battle of Baton Rouge -- loss of ram Arkansas -- failure of expedition in consequence -- General Breckinridge Defeats Federal force -- loss in killed and wounded -- Camp at Comite river -- depletion of command by sickness -- General Breckinridge invited by General Bragg to command a division in pending Kentucky campaign -- Declines to leave his troops in their extremity -- efforts to have him sent with them -- order finally issued -- Obstructions Interposed -- fatal delay -- he marches from Knoxville for Kentucky -- Bragg's retreat from Kentucky Compels his return.
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  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  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,  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:
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:
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:
To which General Breckinridge replied:
 General Bragg left Chattanooga for Kentucky on the 28th of August. The day before he started, he wrote as follows:
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  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.