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Zollicoffer's oak. [from the New Orleans, La., Picayune, August, 1903.]

Recollections of the battle of Mill Springs and the death of this gallant soldier-efforts to protect his grave.

by Bennett H. Young, Colonel C. S. A.,
Major-General, United Confederate Veterans, Commanding Kentucky Division.)
Early in January, 1862, Major-General George B. Crittenden, who was then in command of the Confederate forces in East Tennessee, advised General Albert Sidney Johnston that he was then on the north side of the Cumberland river, in Pulaski county, Kentucky; that he was threatened by a superior force of the enemy in front; that it was impossible to cross the river, and that he was compelled to make the fight on the ground he then occupied. He had under his orders about 4,000 men, consisting of two brigades, the first [166] commanded by General Felix K. Zollicoffer. This brigade was composed of the 15th Mississippi, Lieutenant-Colonel E. C. Walthall; the 19th Tennessee, Colonel D. H. Cummings; the 20th Tennessee, Colonel Joel A. Battle; the 25th Tennessee, Colonel S. S. Stanton. To it was attached a battery of four guns and two companies of cavalry. The second brigade was commanded by General William H. Carroll, composed of the 17th Tennessee, Lieutenant-Colonel Miller; the 28th Tennessee, Colonel John P. Murray; the 29th Tennessee, Colonel Samuel Powell; the 16th Alabama, Colonel W. B. Wood. It had two guns, a part of McClung's Battery, and two small battalions of cavalry.

The location on the north side of the Cumberland river, in Pulaski county, was made by General Felix K. Zollicoffer, without the approval of Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, then commanding the Department of Tennessee. At this late day it is difficult to understand why General Zollicoffer crossed the Cumberland river, leaving that uncertain stream—unfordable at this point—behind him, with nothing but a sternwheel steamboat and two barges to secure his transportatien in case of defeat, and to cross over to the north side of the river and engage in combat. It is but just to General Zollicoffer and General Crittenden to say that a council of war had been called, and it had been the unanimous opinion of those who took part in it that the wise thing to do was to leave the intrenchments at Beech Grove, almost on the banks of the Cumberland river, and march ten miles towards Somerset and attack the Federal forces then at Logan's Crossroads, nine miles south of Somerset.

Neither the Confederates nor Federals at that time had much practical experience of war. Almost all of the Confederate troops were armed with flintlock muskets; some had ordinary percussion squirrel rifles and a few double-barrel shotguns. The Federal forces were commanded by General George H. Thomas. They consisted of about an equal number of men—4,000—and comprised the 10th Indiana, 1st Kentucky Cavalry (Wolford's), the 4th Kentucky Infantry, 2d Minnesota Infantry, 9th Ohio Infantry, 12th Kentucky Infantry, 1st Federal Tennessee, and 2d Federal Tennessee.

There were a large number of Federal soldiers at Somerset, but the roads were muddy, and Fishing creek, near Somerset, had been greatly swollen by rain, and it was throught at that time by the Confederate commander to be impossible for the reserve forces which, were being hurried forward to support the other Federal troops already at Logan's cross-roads to ford this stream. This battle has [167] been variously called the battle of Logan's cross-roads (Federal), Fishing creek (Confederate), and sometimes the battle of Mill Springs.

Generals Crittenden, Zollicoffer and Carroll had great faith in the courage and bravery of their troops. They did not realize the tremendous difference in the arms of the two contending forces Flintlock rifles, muskets and shotguns could not stand against Enfield or Spencer rifles, but they evidently concluded that if the Federal forces were attacked at daybreak on Sunday morning with vigor and enthusiasm they could rout the Federal army. They probably were possessed with the idea, so prevalent in the early period of the civil conflict, that one Confederate could whip from three to five Federals, and so, in a cold, drizzling rain, at midnight on Saturday, January 18, 1862, these Confederate forces, illy clad, badly armed, left their intrenchments and set out for the march of ten miles along a muddy road, where, with greatest efforts, artillery could be hauled, and through a great portion of which the slush was twelve inches deep. But all these difficulties did not quell the spirit of that superb patriotism and magnificent courage which dominated these Confederate soldiers. With patience, cheerfulness and fortitude they waded, marched and deployed through the long, dreary and exhausting night. In seven hours they made ten miles. The morning was dark, damp and gloomy. A mile in front of the Federal camp the Confederate cavalry advance came in contact with Woolford's cavalry pickets, and the conflict, to end so unfortunately for the Confederates, was on.

The topographical conditions which met the Confederates were bad. On either side of the road were thick forests; the use of artillery was thus rendered impossible. Nobody seemed to know exactly where the Federal forces were, and through the gloom these Confederate soldiers searched for the enemy, and they were not long in finding them. The battle continued from about 7 o'clock until 10 Sunday morning. General Felix K. Zollicoffer was killed early in the engagement. His death did much to demoralize the Confederate forces. Mistaking the enemy for his own troops, he advanced on the 4th Kentucky Infantry; he was shot immediately, fell under a large oak tree, which stands to this day, and is known through that country as Zollicoffer's tree. The owner, a Federal soldier, has preserved it with commendable care and with generous consideration.

The brunt of the battle on the Confederate side was borne by the [168] 15th Mississippi, then commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel E. C. Walthall, and the 20th Tennessee, under Colonel Joel A. Battle. These fought with superb gallantry. At one time these two regiments bore the brunt of the entire conflict and received the attacks of all the Federal forces then engaged. Lieutenant-Colonel Walthall exhibited that splendid courage which subsequently secured for him rapid promotion and unstinted praise on many battlefields. His regiment had a terrific mortality, losing something over 40 per cent. of the men engaged. The 15th Mississippi suffered a loss of 54 killed ontright, 153 wounded and 29 missing.

The 20th Tennessee also acted superbly and had 33 killed, 59 wounded, and 13 missing. The 19th and 25th Tennessee had each 10 killed; the 17th Tennessee, 11; the 28th Tennessee, 3; the 29th Tennessee, 5, and the 16th Alabama, 9, all with a propotionate number of wounded. The Federals had 39 killed on the field and something over 200 wounded. By 10:30 all the Confederate forces were withdrawn and fell back ten miles to the fortifications on the bank of the river. During the night, with the aid of a small sternwheel steamer and two barges, all the troops were transported across the Cumberland river, but the artillery, cavalry horses, ammunition and arms were left, and were captured by the Federal forces on the following day. The dead and wounded were left in the hands of the enemy. Owing to the dampness and rain the flintlock guns were fired with great difficulty, and this disheartened in the very opening of the action the Confederate troops. At one time during the battle the 20th Tennessee retired in perfect order to pick their flints to get their guns to fire at all. All did the best they could under the circumstances. They were subjected to almost insurmountable difficulties even for veterans; for raw and untried troops they acquitted themselves most creditably, but the army suffered a humiliating and complete defeat. On other fields these regiments won imperishable glory. The 15th Mississippi at Baton Rouge, Chickamagua, Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, in the Atlanta campaign, at Franklin and Nashville, carved out magnificent records. Its commander, General Walthall, who afterwards became Colonel of the 29th Mississippi, was made a brigadier-general in 1862, a major-general in 1865, was with Joseph E. Johnston at the final surrender in 1865, and was a member of the United States Senate at the time of his death in 1898.

The 20th Tennessee at Missionary Ridge, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, won glorious immortality, while the 19th, 25th, 28th and [169] 29th Tennessee at Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Ringgold, Jonesboro, Franklin, Nashville, in the Atlanta campaign wrested from fate superb renown. The 16th Alabama at Shiloh, Chickamauga, Ringgold, Jonesboro, Franklin, wrote in letters of blood a story of unsurpassed patriotic courage.

The bodies of the Confederate soldiers, numbering in the neighborhood of 200, including the wounded which died, were placed in rows on the top of the ground, near Zollicoffer's oak, around them log pens were built and then covered over with earth, and so far as now known, the name of not a single hero who thus died is recorded. Into those log pens their bodies were piled and their bloody blankets were spread over their pale faces, and thus they have rested in unhonored, unmarked graves for more than forty years.

The United States government has established a national cemetery within a half mile of the battlefield. It was first called the Logan's Cross Roads Cemetery, but has since had its named changed to the Mill Spring National Cemetery. It was established in 1862. There have been 708 interments—350 known and 365 unknown Federals are resting amid its avenues. Two acres are in the cemetery proper; one and a half acres constitute a little park by its side. These dead have received all the oversight and attention that a generous and grateful nation could bestow upon its soldier dead. It is now in charge of——Fonda, a New York veteran, who keeps it with scrupulous care. Half a mile away, in a forest full of underbrush, without mark or slab, the dust of the Confederate heroes reposes.

These Confederates, who with nothing but flintlock muskets on that Sunday morning charged through the slush and rain, deserve none the less glory than the men who died at Shiloh, triumphed at Chickamauga, or went down in death as they clambered up the heights of Gettysburg or along the hillsides of the Potomac at Antietam, or amid the awful carnage at Franklin or the incessant hostilities of the Atlanta campaign. None who loved them have come to shed a tear at the common bier of these heroes of the South who on Kentucky soil made the supreme sacrifice for Southern independence.

Early in March, 1903, I received a letter from Miss Ellanetta Harrison, daughter of G. P. Harrison, a native Virginian, but who enlisted in Company K, 1st Tennessee Cavalry. Born a Virginian, an only son, his father did everything possible to keep him out of the army. Little more than a child, three times he ran away and entered the service. His father took him home and put two substitutes [170] in his place, but his courage and patriotism could not be repressed, and after the third enlistment he was allowed to remain, and he saw the end in April, 1865, at Greensboro.

Miss Harrison stated that she had just completed a book, ‘The Stage of Life,’ the profits from the publication of which she desired to devote to the building of a monument over these Southern soldiers. The sentiment was so beautiful and the tribute so generous that on behalf of the Kentucky Division of the United Confederate Veterans I appointed Miss Harrison the Division Maid of Honor at the New Orleans reunion. This book, ‘The Stage of Life,’ was to be printed by Robert Clarke & Co., and almost the day of its going to press a great fire occurred in Cincinnati, which swept away the superb establishment of that corporation. It was thought that all of the plates of Miss Harrison's book had been destroyed, but by a strange coincidence they were preserved, and it has been stated that they were the only plates of any book which were not destroyed by the great Clarke Company fire. The book was gotten out and has met a marvelous sale, more than 40,000 copies having already been sold, and Miss Harrison has arranged to place to our joint account in the Louisville Trust Company, as trustee, $2,000 for the purpose of inclosing the ground were General Zollicoffer fell and these Confederate dead are buried and building a monument over their graves.

Mr. H. G. Trimble, of Somerset, a Federal soldier, who was in the battle, kindly donated sufficient ground for a small park; this includes the splendid oak tree under which General Zollicoffer fell, now called by the people of the neighborhood ‘Zollicoffer's Oak.’ Two of the trenches in which the Confederate dead were buried will be inclosed within this park. There are some forty men buried on other parts of the battle-field, whose remains it is proposed to disinter and place in the same trench where rest the ashes of their comrades.

Thousands of Confederates will recognize and appreciate the generous gift of Captain Trimble and his wife to the trustees of the necessary ground on which to build a monument at this place.

Captain Trimble came from a Virginia family who were revolutionary heroes, and who settled in Pulaski county after the close of the war. He himself enlisted in Company C, Third Kentucky United States Infantry, on the 7th of August, 1861. He saw service at Perryville, Stone River, Chickamauga, Rockface Ridge, Resaca, Kenesaw Mountain, Missionary Ridge; he lost his arm on May 13, [171] 1863, in the Atlanta campaign. He had only the rank of sergeant, but at the time was in command of his company.

He was for twenty-four years clerk of the County Court of Pulaski county, and is now postmaster at Somerset. He was educated in the public schools and afterwards graduated in law at Stratford Law School.

His father gave the ground for the National Cemetery in whom the Federal dead are buried at Logan's Cross-Roads, now called Mill Spring National Cemetery.

Captain Trimble has given renewed evidence of the broad and liberal views of his family in donating this ground for a Conlederate monument and cemetery. It is the spirit of such men as H. G. Trimble that makes the American republic the greatest nation in the world.

Within 300 feet of this oak lives Mr. William L. Burton, a Confederate sympathizer, who on the day of the conflict was 11 years of age, and came with his father to look at the sad, weird happenings of the struggle. He saw General Zollicoffer's body, with his head resting on a root of the oak tree under which he met death. Around him were other bodies clad in gray. He and his father helped to bury these strangers. Mr. Burton has a little girl 10 years old named Dorothea Burton. For two years past on Decoration Day this child has woven a wreath of wild flowers and hung it on Zollicoffer's oak and scattered blossoms over the trenches where sleep the Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama heroes who on that fateful Sunday morning in January, 1862, went down to death.

This little girl had seen the crowds go to the well-kept Federal Cemetery, half a mile away. She could hear the inspiring strains of martial music and the responsive shouts to the words of eloquent orators who recounted the brave deeds of those who wore the blue, and somehow it came into her pure and tender heart that the General who died under the oak, and his men who were killed on the mountain side near by, and who were hidden in the unkept trenches, ought to have somebody remember them, and, with no guide or inspiration other than her own loving, womanly impulse, with her brown, bare feet and sun-tinted hands, she searched the forest for its most brilliant-hued flowers and came and laid the beautiful offering on the tombs of these almost forgotten heroes.

On the 21st of July, 1903, in company with Dr.Sanders and Mrs. E. L. Sanders, of Louisville, and Miss Ellanetta Harrison, of Somerset, I visited the battlefield to advise and help in the inclosure of a park [172] and the erection of a suitable monument to these dead, who for more than forty years seem to have been lost to Confederate recognition.

As we sat on a log under Zoilicoffer's tree by little Dorothea Burton, she asked me if I knew or loved any of those men who were killed and buried there. I replied that I did not know them, but they were my comrades, and I loved them, and as I described how brave and noble they were, and how their homes were made desolate and their mothers and sisters mourned for them when they knew they would never come home any more, and how thousands of people would love her for putting the wreath on the oak and flowers in the trenches, her bosom heaved with sorrow and tears streamed down her sunburned cheeks. I kissed the little mountain girl for the sake of mothers, sisters, fathers and comrades who would appreciate the noble, tender, Christ-like spirit which filled the soul of this mountain child, and found utterance in this loving tribute to unknown dead.

It is now proposed to inclose an acre of ground around Zollicoffer's oak and two of the trenches; to build about it a substantial stone wall, and under the oak to erect a simple and tasteful monument to the memory of the men of Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama, who there, on January 19, 1862, gave their lives for the cause of Southern independence.

Through Miss Ellanetta Harrison's superb gift, and some other contributions, this has been made possible, and the work will be undertaken at once.

No contributions are asked for, but if any friends of these dead heroes in Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama desire to send any money to make the monument more imposing, it will be received and used for that purpose.

To Miss Ellanetta Harrison, of Somerset, author of The Stage of Life, belongs the major part of the credit for this effort to commemorate the sacrifices of these brave and gallant men.

When the leaves of the trees on the mountain sides of the battlefield fall, or, at least, when the violets come, in the spring, there will be a monument to tell who died at Fishing creek. We will never know who they were, but what they were the whole world knows. The name of Ellanetta Harrison ought to live always with hallowed memories amongst the survivors of the Confederate army of Tennessee and their descendants, and the tender, sweet, loving tribute of little Dorothea Burton, of Nancy Postoffice, Pulaski county, Ky., to the neglected Confederate heroes, should give her an abiding place in the hearts of all who loved the South and its glorious cause, and make the whole world nobler, better, kinder.

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