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Western campaign. [from the Richmond Dispatch, Feb. 10, 1895.] movements of the Goochland Light artillery-captain John H. Guy. A Virginian's experience, battle of February 15, 1862, and its many remarkable and exciting Incidents–Surrender of Fort Donelson.

To the Editor of the Dispatch:
On the 26th of December, 1861, in obedience to orders, Captain John H. Guy's Battery, the Goochland Light Artillery, left Dublin Depot, Pulaski county, Va., on the Virginia and Tennessee railroad, for General Albert Sidney Johnston's army, in Kentucky. After much delay we reached Bowling Green, January 6, 1862, and pitched our tents about two miles west of that city. General Floyd's Brigade remained in camp nearly three weeks in daily expectation of an engagement with the enemy. However, no battle came off. It was reported that General Johnston's army, in the vicinity of Bowling Green, exceeded 60,000 men. This report was without foundation, as was demonstrated by subsequent information.

The latter part of January, 1862, General Johnston's command was ordered to other sections of country; the most of his army was sent to Shiloh, Miss.; General Floyd's Brigade to Russellville, Ky. My battery encamped here about ten days. Several of us were temporarily indisposed, probably for one week, and were quartered in an old church. During the time of our indisposition, a number of ladies of this little town called on us, and were very hospitable to us. Among the number I remember the names of Mrs. Caldwell and Mrs. Mason, whose kind attention to us was highly appreciated.

One of my battery—‘JackBrooks—died here of typhoid fever, and another one—Charles Palmore—died at Bowling Green, I think, of congestion of the lungs; Captain Patterson, of the 56th Virginia Regiment, of my brigade, also died in Russellville, Ky.

From Russellville, Ky., General Floyd's Brigade was sent to Fort Donelson, Tennessee. My battery proceeded to Clarksville, Tennessee, [317] from which point we could occasionally hear the reports of heavy artillery in the direction of Donelson, like muttering thunder in the distance. We remained here a day or two, and then marched to Cumberland City, a small boat-landing on the river, from where we were conveyed by a steamer to Fort Donelson, leaving all our baggage behind, which we never saw again. We reached our destination Thursday evening, February 13, 1862.

Annoyed by shells.

Upon our arrival at the wharf, opposite a little village, Dover, situated on a hill, interspersed with small trees and everlooking the river, about six hundred yards east of the fort, the enemy annoyed us considerably at short intervals by shelling our steamer. The quarters were made rather uncomfortable for us. Occasionally a shell would explode before reaching the wharf, in the road, or the main street that leads up into the village, which caused some excitement and solicitude for a brief while. Only a few casualties, however, resulted. The enemy's position from where our steamer was being shelled was probably two miles and a half distant. Fragments of shell flew promiscuously about the steamer, though doing no material damage. While on the steamer I saw a piece of shell strike a pile of wood near the engine, scattering it in various directions. The engineer was knocked down, and escaped with slight injury. I was also struck on my chest with splintered wood, but was not injured.

As soon as practicable we disembarked our cannon, &c., at once proceeded up the street, through the village, and filed to the right of our army, where we remained temporarily. As it was late in the evening, we did not obtain a position for our battery. Just as soon as the shadow of darkness came on we moved a short distance to the left and encamped that night in a ravine.

The weather was very severe. It was raining, snowing, and freezing, accompanied by a sharp wind. With considerable difficulty we succeeded in procuring some fuel to make fires to keep from freezing.

We had no tents, and suffered intensely from exposure and want of adequate rations. We had to make fires to warm ourselves, occasionally, in ravines and places where the enemy could not observe the light from our fires. I understood that a number of soldiers froze to death in the breastworks. This condition confronted us while at Donelson. [318]

About 4 o'clock the next morning the battery was ordered on the left of the army. Owing to the proximity of the enemy this movement had to be executed with caution and as quietly as possible. Although the undertaking was one fraught with difficulty and danger, yet we succeeded in obtaining a position about the dawn of day, and hastily threw up light earthworks, which was very difficult to do in consequence of the frozen condition of the ground. During the day several of General Forest's men, with improved firearms, came near our battery and at once communicated with those fellows, who could be seen in trees, by means of leaden messengers, informing them that the position they occupied was totally at variance with our wishes. They soon took in the situation. Some descended with involuntary celerity, while others retired more hastily than they ascended.

Desperate battle.

On the evening of the 14th of February, 1862, the enemy's gunboats made a desperate and powerful attack on Fort Donelson. The cannonading was terrific and incessant for several hours. Finally they were repulsed, sustaining great damage and loss of life. During the bombardment solid shot from the gunboats often passed over and beyond our troops on the right, falling between the respective armies.

Early Saturday morning, February 15, 1862, General Floyd's Brigade was ordered to assault the enemy on his right line of defence. This order was rather unexpected. Breakfast was being prepared at the time, and there was much confusion in camp. The battle soon began, and the rattle of musketry and boom of cannon continued until about 1 o'clock P. M. The enemy had superior numbers, and was frequently reinforced during the fight. The Confederates were continuously engaged in the battle without relief or reinforcement, yet, under the disadvantages the enemy was driven back probably two miles, sustaining considerable loss, and the Confederates occupied his position. It may be mentioned that General Grant's headquarters tent was captured in this engagement with contents. This was a hard fought battle, every foot of ground being stubbornly contested.

It was the intention of General Floyd to pursue the enemy. A gun from my battery, with my detachment, and other troops, was ordered in pursuit. After proceeding a short distance this order was countermanded, and we returned to our original position. The reason for this was, that in view of information received, the enemy having been heavily reinforced, the undertaking would have been [319] hazardous, probably involving a great sacrifice on our part. It may not be inappropriate to mention an incident which occurred about 10 o'clock that morning.

Buckner rallied them.

During the battle a regiment of Confederate infantry wavered, but General S. B. Buckner soon rallied them. This happened about thirty paces to the left of my battery. The general's remarks on the occasion made an impression on those who heard him, and if I remember correctly, he said, ‘Mississippians, look at those Virginians driving the enemy from our soil. Is it possible that you are going to leave them to do the fighting? No, never; your general will lead you,’ and he gallantly led them into action.

Not many years ago I happened to meet General Buckner at the White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., and mentioned the foregoing to him. He remembered it well. Upon being asked what regiment it was he rallied on the occasion referred to, he replied the 14th Mississippi.

Regained the gun.

Another incident happened that morning which may not be amiss to relate, though rather of a personal character. About 300 yards to the right of my battery, in an open field on a ridge, a section of artillery was actively engaged with the enemy's, when one of the cannoneers was instantly killed and others seriously wounded by a shot from the enemy's guns. The remainder of the detachment retired from their gun to the rear of the ridge, where a regiment of infantry was held in reserve. General Pillow, observing what had transpired, came up hurriedly to a detachment of my battery and inquired of us ‘where we were from.’ He was informed that we were from Virginia. He then said, ‘Will you follow me?’ We replied that were not afraid to follow him anywere. He said, ‘Come on,’ and we followed him in double-quick time across the open field. The bullets flew thick and fast about us. I expected every moment to be either killed or wounded. We, however, in a brief time succeeded in reaching the deserted gun. General Pillow at once directed the cannon himself, and a few shots from us soon disabled the enemy's piece of artillery. This was ‘a consummation devoutly wished for.’

Numbers engaged.

In view of the fact that the enemy had been heavily reinforced [320] that evening, the Confederates, being much exhausted from continuous fighting and want of rest, were compelled to fall back to the position they formerly occupied. Consequently the Federals regained the position they occupied that morning, late in the evening.

According to the report that evening the Federals had upwards of 40,000 men on the field, while the Confederate army did not exceed 13,000 available men. This statement was made in my presence by Generals Floyd and Pillow, on the steamer from Fort Donelson, to Nashville, Tennessee, February 16, 1862.

Hostilities on our left had ceased, with the exception of occasional picket-firing, but late in the evening the enemy made repeated and vigorous assaults upon the right of the Confederate line of works. The fight was a desperate one and continued until darkness caused a cessation of hostilities. The enemy had gained some advantage. The Confederates lost part of their works near the fort.

‘Greek Meets Greek.’

I was informed that evening during the battle, that two Kentucky regiments of infantry (both Second Kentucky), one Confederate and the other Federal, charged bayonets on each other. The conflict was desperate, neither gained any decided advantage over the other, though the loss on both sides was considerable. ‘When Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war.’ Strange as it may seem, it is said that these two regiments were commanded by brothers—Colonels Hanson. I mention the above incident because I think it worthy of remark, as similar instances were not of frequent occurrence during the late war.


That night a council of war was held by Generals Floyd, Pillow, and Buckner. This was, indeed, a critical condition of affairs. Owing to the peculiar situation of our army and the disparity of numbers, the enemy having more than three men to our one, it was deemed prudent to capitulate. Accordingly, General S. B. Buckner was selected to perform that duty, and he surrendered Fort Donelson to General U. S. Grant on the morning of the 16th of February, 1862. About 9,000 Confederates were made prisoners on that memorable occasion. It may be proper to state that early in the morning before the surrender took place a large number of our soldiers were conveyed across the river and landed on the Tennessee side by a steamer and escaped being captured, and those captured were conveyed [321] to Johnson's Island and Camp Douglass, Ill. After remaining in prison nearly one year a large number of them were exchanged. The capture of Fort Donelson was one of General Grant's first important victories.

Not knowing what had transpired during the night, while a comrade and myself were sleeping comfortably on a bank of snow, laying upon nine or ten heavy blankets, and covered by an equal number, which we captured the preceding day on the battle-field, we were quietly aroused at daybreak by our captain, John H. Guy, who said to us that ‘we must get to the wharf at once; if we did not we would be left.’ Neither of us had the remotest conception that a surrender was about to take place.

Getting away.

We arose from our quiet place of repose and packed our knapsacks. Upon looking around we failed to see any of our troops. The works had been abandoned. The condition of affairs was not comprehended by us. We, however, proceeded to the wharf, as directed, which was nearly two miles distant. The strange situation of our troops was discussed. Upon our arrival at the wharf we found assembled a large number of our soldiers, many of whom were much excited. I then saw a steamer of considerable dimensions landing some of our troops on the Tennessee side. I was ignorant of the cause of the peculiar proceedings going on at that time. I did not understand them; but very soon I fully comprehended the true condition of affairs and gravity of the situation, especially when I saw various kinds of provisions and munitions of war being thrown into the river, and I determined not to be captured, if there was any possible means of escape. The steamer General Anderson was just returning for another load of soldiers, and my only hope of escape was on the steamer. I anxiously awaited its return, but, instead of coming near me, as I expected, it stopped about 100 yards above where I was standing. Several thousand soldiers had now congregated at the wharf, and the possibility of my escape seemed very improbable. To force my way through this immense body of men was impossible. This was a predicament, indeed, delay was dangerous. I at once resolved, if possible, to get on board of that steamer. The only chance was for me to wade the surging Cumberland river for same distance. Whether justifiable or not, I had a horrid conception of being captured and subjected to the horrors of a prison pen. I proceeded to make my way in the [322] direction of the steamer, keeping as near as possible to the bank of the river, though up to my waist in mud and water, and coming in contact with melting snow and ice the most of the time. After no little perseverance I succeeded in accomplishing my object, though before reaching the steamer I was nearly over my shoulders in the water, very cold, and much exhausted. On board of the steamer there happened to be a barrel of whiskey, which had been bayoneted by soldiers. I needed a stimulant, and at once procured some in a tin cup and drank it, then took a position by the engine and warmed and dried myself as thoroughly as possible.

The members of my battery also came off on this steamer, one of whom, Private Perkins, was pulled out of the water into the steamer by a colored man.

The commotion among our soldiers at this time was very great, many of them were frantic with excitement, and attempted to get on board of the steamer, though failed to accomplish their object.


General Floyd stood on the deck of the steamer with his sabre drawn, exclaiming, ‘Come on, my brave Virginia boys.’ The steamer was soon filled to its utmost capacity. Just as the steamer moved from the landing General Floyd received information that the enemy's gunboats were in sight, coming up the river. The engineer of the steamer was ordered to put on full head of steam and proceed up the river as speedily as possible. Thus Generals Floyd and Pillow made their escape from Fort Donelson and reached Nashville the next morning.

The most of the 56th Virginia Infantry came off on this steamer. Lieutenant Thomas, of Company F, later captain, now Sergeant of the Police Court, Richmond, Va., is one of the survivors of the old 56th Virginia Regiment.

General Forrest, with his cavalry, succeeded in cutting their way out, and arrived at Nashville in a day or two. A member of my battery, W. M. Sharp, came off with his command.

There was much interest and some excitement manifested by the people of Nashville in consequence of the fall of Fort Donelson. Hopes were entertained by many of the citizens that their city would be defended and not evacuated, and it was reported for several days that the Confederates would fortify Nashville, and not fall back further; but this idea, if ever contemplated, was abandoned.


Back to Virginia.

After remaining in this city nearly one week, orders were received for General Floyd and remainder of his command to proceed to Virginia. The troops soon boarded the cars, and were conveyed to Murfreesboroa. Near Murfreesboroa, on the macadamized road, we (four of my battery) were fortunate enough to find two of our company's baggage-wagons. The baggage had been destroyed at Dover, Tenn. One of these wagons was loaded with coffee, and the other with some provisions brought from Nashville, which were subsequently turned over to the commissary at Norristown, Tenn. We were pleased to meet four members of our battery, who were left in charge of these wagons. During our travel through Tennessee, the people were very hospitable to us. We marched from there to Chattanooga, and encamped about one week at the base of Lookout Mountain. We then took the cars to Knoxville, and remained here a week, and then marched across the Cumberland mountains to Morristown, Tenn., thence by rail to Virginia, and arrived in Abingdon, Va., the latter part of March, 1862.

Upon our arrival in Abingdon we were much surprised on being informed that General Floyd had been relieved of his command by President Davis, and Colonel Stuart, of the Fifty-sixth Virginia Regiment, was commandant of the post.

The command of General Floyd was soon ordered to the Army of Northern Virginia. Subsequently General Floyd commanded State troops in Southwest Virginia.

My company having been captured at Fort Donelson, and not having any command to report to, I was tendered a position by the medical director of my brigade in his department, which I accepted, and held for some time. Finally, my company was exchanged, and I rejoined it at Chaffin's Bluff, about ten miles below Richmond, Va.

Thomas J. Riddell, M. D., Private in Goochland Artillery, Floyd's Brigade, late C. S. A., Richmond, Va.

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