Friday, August 31, 2012

Defeat at Richmond, Kentucky

Nelson's division, which formerly included the Seventeenth Kentucky, is now serving in H.G.Wright's New Department of the Ohio.  While going to the aid of General Cruft, who had led the Seventeenth through the Battle of Fort Donelson,  Nelson suffered a major defeat near Richmond, Kentucky.  As this division included some of the most experienced troops in the new department, Wright is rightfully concerned and sends this telegram to his commander.


Cincinnati, Ohio, August 31, 1862.

Major General H. W. HALLECK, Washington, D. C.:

Nelson has been badly beaten, I fear, in an encounter with the enemy near Richmond, Ky.; his force being, as he says, hopelessly broken and scattered. He is in Lexington, Ky., wounded, and I leave for that place in a couple of hours to see what can be done. He gives me no particulars. My orders were to make the Kentucky river the line of defense, and his orders in pursuance seem to have been disregarded. At any rate his force has been routed.

Major-General, Commanding.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Gathering Storm

With Kentucky in a state of turmoil from the raiding rebel forces, and the newly appointed General H.G. Wright struggling to gain control over his freshly recruited and under-equipped regiments of volunteers from Indiana and Ohio, General Buell decides to fall back to a defensive position around Nashville.  It seems the Seventeenth Kentucky, already encamped outside of Nashville, after months of detached duty, is about to become involved in yet another massive military build-up..


Decherd, August 30, 1862.


For Governor Johnson, Nashville:

I think it but proper and due that I should advise you of our situation in reference to the enemy in Tennessee and of the course I find it necessary to adopt. You are aware that when this army was separated again from the force which operated against Corinth it was expected that it would attack Chattanooga and perhaps advance into East Tennessee. You cannot very well know all the circumstances which rendered that impossible and which now force us upon a defensive campaign.
At first it was necessary to rebuild the bridges over a long line of railroad, and in some cases it has had to be repeated several times. So constant has been the interruption of our communications that it has been with the greatest difficulty the troops could be sustained at all, and even then some 15,000 men were required to occupy positions and guard our communications, which, starting necessarily from Louisville, extended in all over some 400 miles of railroad.

From this cause the force which I can bring to bear so ar in advance of the source of supplies in reduced to 25,000 or 30,000 men. This force is not only very much less than that which is now crossing the mountains under Bragg, but labors under all the difficulty and peril of operating virtually in an enemy's country surrounded doest not amount to less than 50,000 and 60,000, not including the force operating against Kentucky. If it be 40,000, it is still too large under the circumstances to be engaged by 25,000 or 30,000.

By falling back to Nashville my force will increase to 40,000 of the Army of the Ohio proper, and including troops that are coming from Corinth it will be about 50,000.These facts make it plain that I should fall back on Nashville, and I am preparing to do so. I have resisted the reasons which lead to this necessity until it would be criminal to delay any longer.

That we shall triumph in the effort to preserve Tennessee I do not for a moment doubt. It is necessary that this communication shall be strictly confidential, and I request that you will destroy it, to guard against the possibility of discovery.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

The New Department of the Ohio

As reported in a previous post, Halleck is planning a reorganization to provide the state of Kentucky a new district to command the military forces  along and south of the Ohio River.  This was the original assignment for D.C. Buell's Army of the Ohio before it was co-opted for the operations in Tennessee, Mississippi and northern Alabama.  As the threat of invasion grows in Kentucky, Halleck organizes a "New" Department of the Ohio and places newly appointed Major General Horatio G. Wright in charge.  This comes as a surprise to other officers who out-rank Wright by seniority but are now ordered to report to him.


HEADQUARTERS, Louisville, Ky., August 23, 1862-11.10 a. m.
Major-General HALLECK, Commander-in-Chief:  

I arrived here this morning, in obedience to orders from Major-General Buell, to assume command of the troops arriving in Kentucky, to repel the threatened invasion of Kentucky and Tennessee north of the Cumberland River. I was directed to organize these troops into brigades and divisions and enforce discipline and instruction without an hour's delay. Two batteries of artillery are ordered to join me from Nashville, both of which accompanied me to Franklin, Ky., where I left them last night. Generals Manson, Jackson, and Cruft accompany me on this mission. The rebel General Kirby Smith is moving in the direction of Burkesville, on the Cumberland River, with 15,000 good troops. My business was to meet him and drive him back. I find here Major-General Wright, who arrived in this city one hour before, and is announced to command the new Department of the Ohio. Under these circumstances shall I return to my division? I solicit your orders in the premises.  


 Halleck responds:

WAR DEPARTMENT,Washington, August 23, 1862.
Major-General NELSON, Louisville, Ky.: 

You and the officers under your command will remain in the new Department of the Ohio, and render all possible assistance to General Wright in driving the enemy from Kentucky. 


General Wright spends the better part of his first day sending telegrams to establish his new authority and moving his headquarters from Louisville to Cincinnati.

Meanwhile, Buell is gathering his forces to meet Bragg's break-out from Chattanooga, although he still can't predict where the rebels are heading.  In the process of abandoning the long-cherrished railroads to the south he orders the trains to run toward Nashville, collecting detached garrisons along the way.  It is likely that the Seventeenth has already been transported to the capital by this time.


HEADQUARTERS, Decherd, August 23, 1862.
General NEGLEY, Columbia:

General Rousseau is ordered to take up all bridge guards between Huntsville and Columbia by cars. As soon as he gets to Columbia you must march with all the force there for Nashville and pick up all the troops on the line.


Apparently, there aren't enough cars for everybody.

HEADQUARTERS, Decherd, August 23, 1862.
General NEGLEY, Columbia:

As soon as General Rousseau takes up the troops south of you and passes Columbia you will march your whole force to Nashville. Take everything that can be taken or sent and destroy the rest.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Changing Times

The following letter, delivered under a flag of truce on this day in 1862, provides a fascinating insight to General Buell's reputation as an officer and a gentleman and the respect he is given by the southern aristocracy.  As the outcry for total war grows in the distant north,  Buell has earned a reputation among the Confederate generals as a man of honor.  Perhaps his position, exposed and far away from his base of supply in Louisville, has made him appreciate the wisdom of conciliatory practices as he hopes to avoid the wrath of the secessionist population that surrounds him.  In any event, this letter serves as an official interrogarotry as to whether the rules are changing or are to be thrown out altogether, and surely gave Buell a cause for concern.


Major General D. C. BUELL,
Commanding United States Forces, &c.:


I have to bring to your notice the following: I have evidence which convinces me that a few days after Captain Brewster, of our service, had surprised and taken some men of your forces, a detachment of United States forces, under a Colonel Stewart, of Indiana Volunteers, captured a Georgian of Brigadier-General Forrest's command, and subsequently shot him while a prisoner because the detachment meantime had been fired into.

Three days subsequent to this act another detachment of the same regiment, possibly under another commander, captured another private of Forrest's command, who had been left sick at the house of one Brown, near Hill's Creek, Warren County, Tennessee. This man was also taken out and shot, according to the confession of the commanding officer.

I am also obliged to believe that a man by the name of Gougue, a member of Confederate States First Regiment Kentucky Cavalry, was taken prisoner and afterward put to death at or near the house of one Israel Hill, in the same county.

For these atrocious acts no measures of a retaliatory character have been ordered by the commander of the Confederate forces in this quarter, he being assured from your past conduct that if you are duly informed of the facts you will take prompt and efficacious measures to trace up and summarily punish those responsible for acts so contrary to all obligations of humanity, and he feels it needless to point out to you the inevitable consequences that must ensue from a repetition of such sanguinary violations of the rules of war.

It becomes my duty to ask your attention to another matter.An order of yours, Numbers 41, dated "In Camp near Huntsville, Ala., August 8, 1862," which has appeared in our newspapers, prescribes a course for the officers of your command which I respectfully submit to be in direct conflict with the third paragraph under article IV of the cartel arranged on the 22nd of July between Major General J. A. Dix, U. S. Army, and Major General D. H. Hill, C. S. Army, in behalf of their respective Governments, and by virtue of which all prisoners, of whatever arm of service, are to be exchanged or paroled in ten days from the time of their capture if it be practicable, &c.

This plainly makes it the duty of the capturing party to parole, and assuredly the execution of your order must nullify that requirement and in a short while lead to consequences of a dread character, which it is thought you can scarcely desire shall characterize the war on this border.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,Major-General, Commanding.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ticket to Nashville

The Seventeenth Kentucky Volunteers have been stationed at Columbia for about two weeks, but plans are initiated on this date to move them to Nashville.  Recall that, after three months in Nelson's Division, they were detached for guard duty at Pulaski and officially assigned to McCook.  While General McCook remained at Battle Creek to guard against a rebel advance from Chattanooga  Nelson has been pursuing Confederate cavalry in the area surrounding Nashville, leaving Major Sidell in charge of the capital's defense.  Nelson returned to Nashville on the evening of August 19th and was not satisfied with Sidell's defenses. 

Buell's response is to send one more fighting regiment (the Seventeenth) to Nashville, but he is more concerned with the increasing threat of Bragg's growing army in Chattanooga than the annoying raids of Forrest's Cavalry.  At least the foot-weary infantrymen will have the use of the railroad on this trip.  There will be no forced march carrying full packs  in 100 degree heat kicking up a cloud of dust that permeates everything.  They will not have to breathe dust, eat dust or wipe the dust from their eyes with their dust-covered hands.  Their bodies would not be encrusted with dried mud, as the sweat ran down their dust-covered faces and necks and shoulders in brown riverlets only to be baked dry by the hot southern sun.  On the contrary, this should be a pleasant ride amongst the rolling green hills and valleys of northern middle Tennessee-  terrain very similar to their homes along the Green River.


HEADQUARTERS, Huntsville, August 20, 1862.
Major SIDELL, Nashville:

Send a train to Columbia to take Seventeenth Kentucky to Nashville and retain it there, and send one of the regiments now there to protect repairs on railroad. The road must be opened, and rapidly as possible. See Mr. Anderson about it, and push it through without further orders in case telegraph is cut between us. All the supplies, forage, beef cattle, &c., which can be got about Nashville must be secured. With the Seventeenth Kentucky you will have eight regiments at Nashville, which will be enough to hold it and open the road to Kentucky. Send to Decherd and Murfreesborough all the supplies you can.



HEADQUARTERS, Huntsville, August 20, 1862.
General NEGLEY, Columbia:

Send the Seventeenth Kentucky to Nashville by rail as soon as practicable.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

On to Columbia

Little can be found about the actons of the Seventeenth Kentucky Infantry during this time period.  Rembering that they had been put on alert at Reynolds' Station on August 3rd, they were likely moved to Columbia shortly thereafter.  As previously stated, Columbia was considered to be of greater strategic importance than Nashville due to it's location near the geographic center of the state.  Buell had to be reminded more than once by Governor Johnson to keep a strong contingent at the state capitol because of it's political significance, but to secure the supply lines for the planned attack on Chattanooga, Columbia was the key.

This period map depicts the town of Columbia, Tennesse and it's vicinity clearly indicating the all-important railroads and turnpikes which allowed for rapid deployment of troops and supplies to the neighboring cities and towns.  The bridge over the Duck River, a 1,000 foot span had been rebuilt  twice since February and was a critical point of defense for the Army of the Ohio.  The February  project was the primary cause of Buell's late arrival at the Battle of Shiloh, so he fully understood it's importance.

Although the Official Record has many messages describing suspected and actual enemy activity in the surrounding area, there is precious little information about what was happening in Columbia during the month of August in 1862.  At least this one congratulatory communication from Buell to General Negley, in command, has survived and indicates that there was a recent encounter of some sort in which a number of persons were captured.


Huntsville, August 11, 1862.

General NEGLEY,Columbia:

General Buell congratulates you on your success in the affair with the guerrillas. It is gratifying and valuable.  Call upon your prisoners to show evidence of belonging to the Confederate service.


Apparently captured out of uniform, these men were claiming to be Confederate soldiers to avoid the harsh treatment given captured spies or rogue warriors who would likely be hanged by the authority of a hastily assembled military tribunal.

Monday, August 6, 2012

New District for Kentucky?

Earlier this week General Halleck had sent a dispatch to Buell suggesting that a separate District be created, responsible for the areas along the Ohio River and southward to Tennessee. This is precisely the territory originally intended for the Army of the Ohio, before Halleck ordered it south into Tennessee last February.

When asked which of his generals Buell would recommend to head the new district, he replied that no officer could be spared from his operations in Tennessee and suggested that W.T. Sherman was best deserving of such a promotion.  In the following exchange, Buell first hears directly that his performance since the Siege of Corinth has not been winning any friends in Washington.  This criticism is expecially ironic since it is coming from General Henry Halleck, the engineer of the advance on Corinth which required more than a month to cover 22 miles.


August 6, 1862.
Major-General BUELL, Huntsville, Ala.:

General Sherman cannot be spared to command the proposed district. Can you not designate some one from your command? There is great dissatisfaction here at the slow movement of your army toward Chattanooga. It is feared that the enemy will have time to concentrate his entire army against you.


Buell responds  and begins laying out fresh defenses- this time of his career, not the railroads.  He suggests that General Jeremiah Boyle, who is currently commanding Buell's troops in Kentucky, be given command of the new district.

August 6, 1862-12.30 p.m.
Major-General HALLECK,Commander-in-Chief:

I would rather leave General Boyle in command of the proposed district for the present than to take another officer from any active force, and for the present I think he would do, though it would be desirable, if possible, to have an officer of more military knowledge and experience. He is zealous and active and not without ability.

It is difficult to satisfy impatience, and when it proceeds from anxiety, as I know it does in this case, I am not disposed to complain of it. My advance has not been rapid, under the circumstances. I know I have not been idle nor indifferent. Our lines of communication have been constantly beset by a vastly superior cavalry force. They have been twice seriously broken in that way just as they were finished. The army could not be sustained in its present position, much less advanced, until they were made secure. We have therefore found it necessary to fortify every bridge over more than 300 miles of road. This cold [sic] only be done with safety by distributing a large force along the road until the works were complete. They will be done this week, and I am already concentrating the troops again. The Nashville and Decatur road is finished and the first train came through yesterday. Both roads are now open.

As to any effect our rate of movement will have on the force we ar [sic] to meet it amounts to nothing. The enemy will meet us with what force he can spare for the object, and his facilities enable him always to move more rapidly than we possibly can. If I could have reached Chattanooga in two weeks I should probably have met the same force as now. I will telegraph you further to-morrow.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Regiment in Readiness at Reynolds'

Although technically assigned to the command of Gen. Alexander McCook who is  still guarding against Confederate advances on Chattanooga, the Seventeenth remains at Reynolds' Station.  Having earned a reputation as a regiment that is good to have around in a fight, they remain intact while others are broken into squads and sent out as guards on the supply trains.

On this day in 1862, they are put on alert and prepare to move out at a moment's notice.  This means that their camp is dismantled and loaded onto wagons, knapsacks packed and ready.  They will soon be on the march again, but the direction and  distance  are anyone's guess.  This is now a familiar feeling for these seasoned volunteers who left their home camp at Calhoun, Kentucky nearly six months ago.


August 3, 1862.
General NEGLEY,

Columbia: Colonel Starkweather has been notified to hold his regiment in readiness at all times to move for service, and to keep on hand full complement of ammunition and three days' cooked rations. Warn the rest of your command in like manner, including Twenty-first Ohio and Seventeenth Kentucky.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Panic in Columbia

While the Seventeenth Kentucky remains at Reynolds' Station, just south of Columbia, Tennessee, the Confederate offensive continues.  It is clear that they intend to so occupy the northern invaders as to prevent them from carrying out any offensive missions- a tactic that seems to be working marvelously.


COLUMBIA, August 2, 1862.
Colonel J. B. FRY:

 Last night a guerrilla force, near 300, encamped 7 miles south of this; burned a quantity of cotton on the pike; are now carrying off every Union man. Early this morning I sent all the cavalry - one small company - toward Mount Pleasant after Anderson's party, near this, but was not aware of so large a force being in the vicinity. I have serious apprehension for the safety of my men. People are running here every hour for assistance. Without cavalry or more than three companies of infantry and only rifled cannon, I am unable to follow or chastise the enemy. The influence of this raid upon the public mind is very serious. A general uprising has taken place,and I fear the destruction of the railroad. Bridges are weak. Nothing shall be omitted on our part to hold them safe. 

JAS. S. NEGLEY,General.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Words from the Governor

In the following letter,  occupied Tennessee's Military Governor Andrew Johnson suggests that Buell take certain actions to relieve his shortages of supplies and labor.  The basic philosophy is to make his political enemies among the upper class provide the supplies and the escaped slaves, or "contraband",  that are seeking refuge among the Union Army's ranks provide the labor.  This is another indication that the proponents of "total war" are beginning to shout down the traditionalists like General Buell who argue that every outrage committed against the citizens only stiffens their resistance to the occupation.  As for the escaped slaves, they would now have to pay for their freedom with forced labor, emancipation being some months away.

Although the letter itself is issued from a major (Governor Johnson's Assistant Adjutant General) to a colonel (General Buell's Chief of Staff), the message is clearly intended to be from the governor to the general.  The sense of urgency is primarily due to the fact that John Hunt Morgan has recently completed his first raid from Tennessee into Kentucky and back again. The governor certainly has a right to be worried about what this bold Confederate general intends to do with the army and supplies he has amassed in his travels.  For a summary of this raid in Morgan's own words, go to


Nashville, August 1, 1862.

Colonel J. B. FRY,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Chief of Staff:

I beg leave to report to the commanding general the substance of a conversation held at this office with Governor Andrew Johnson yesterday. The conversation was protracted, and on the part of the Governor deeply earnest, and the main points were supported by considerable detail. The Governor is so informed as to have adopted the conviction that an attempt will be made very soon by the rebels to repossess themselves of this State, and that they consider the possession of the capital a necessary incident. He believes that if they should succeed the moral and physical consequence would be disastrous to our cause, and that therefore means to the contrary should be applied which would defeat their designs beyond a peradventure. He is satisfied that the enemy has numerous secret adherents who in a crisis would give them aid, particularly should there be prospect of their success without great sacrifices; but that many of these are not ready for considerable sacrifices, and would be deterred if they were sure these sacrifices would follow.

Hence the Governor argues in reference to saving the city that an evidence of determination to hold on our part at any cost would deter them, and to corroborate this quotes a fact, that when the city was lately threatened members of a secret committee went out to restrain their friends, assuring them that the city would be destroyed by us should they get possession.

The Governor therefore believes that if the enemy is convinced we mean to hold it he would hesitate to attack, uncertain as he would be of adherents within, and suggest the construction of works of defense in the shape of redoubts and other earthworks. The labor he advises to be taken from those who render it necessary, and that contrabands, of which he has now control of a good many, be used in that way habitually.

The Governor says that recent observation has changed his ideas in regard to treating rebels with lenity. At one time he advised it, but now believes that they must be made to feel the burden of their own deeds and to bear everything which the necessities of the situation require should be imposed on them.

This I believe is the substance of all that was said, but, as I observed before, there was much elaboration of detail and evidence of earnest conviction.

I am, colonel, respectfully,
your obedient servant,
Major, Fifteenth U. S. Infantry,
Act. Asst. Adjt. General

P. S.- General Mason writes Governor Johnson by letter received to-day and sent to me that there is no doubt of the organization of guerrilla bands near Clarksville, and that the wealthier part of the population is disloyal and humbler classes the reverse; that it would be difficult to raise a cavalry regiment there, but there are sufficient horses belonging to the secessionists to mount as many men as needful.

He wants Governor Johnson's order to "possess and occupy" the horses. General Mason says he has but 250 men near Clarksville, on the opposite side of the river. He says further that he is advised by Colonel Bruce that he has sent 400 men to Russellville.

I am, respectfully,
Major, Fifteenth U. S. Infantry,
Actg. Asst. Adjt. General