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A Veteran Visits the Chickamauga Battlefield

Samuel Kennedy Cox enlisted in the 17th Kentucky in the fall of 1861 as a private and ended the war as the captain of Company A. His diary entries give extensive details from Fort Donelson to Buell's advance across northern Alabama. All of 1863 is missing from his diary but it begins again for the Atlanta Campaign. Several of his diary entries are on this site in blog form. Upon his return to Hartford, Kentucky, Cox worked at the local bank and held a few elected offices. Under General Simon Bolivar Buckner's governorship, Cox served as the Paymaster General of State Troops. Governor Brown then appointed him a commissioner in the effort to locate the lines and positions held by Kentucky troops at Chickamauga. Cox made several visits to the battlefield to mark the positions with wooden boards and signs, especially his own regiment, the 17th Kentucky.



Hartford Republican

September 30, 1892


The Battleground There as Viewed by One Who had Seen it Thirty Years ago--Matters of Great Interest to Old Soldiers.


To the Surviving Members of the Seventeenth Kentucky Regiment: I have just returned from the battlefield of Chickamauga, where the twenty-third annual reunion of the Army of the Cumberland was held, and thinking perhaps you would like to know how the field looks twenty-nine years after the fight, I will undertake to tell you the best I can of what I saw and the places that will be no doubt familiar to those who engaged in that terrible battle.


The Government as you probably know, has purchased the land or a great part of the territory covered by the fight and purposes to make it a National Park and it will therefore be kept in good order for all time. I learned from one of the Commissioners, who have the matter in charge that it was first intended to buy or condemn about 12,000 acres, but the owners of the land were so high in their demands that they concluded to only purchase about 5,000 acres which they think will be enough to fully establish the lines of the contending armies.


While the parties in charge have done much towards putting the Park in good shape there is still a vast amount of work yet to be done. They have built several roads and drives along and in the neighborhood of the battle lines, but have many more to build. They are the finest I ever saw. They first grade the road--put on an immense iron roller and make it almost as solid as a rock--and then they gravel it, that is, they cement the top with gravel and roll it again--and where there is any wash they cover the ditches or gutters with limestone rock, of which there is an abundance on the ground. They have taken out the underbrush at the most of the important points and will remove all of it before they get through, the intention being to make the field look as much like it did at the time of the battle as it is possible to do.


I was much bothered and worried while looking over a map of the battle at the hotel at Crawfish Springs, as Wood's division was not put down as I thought it ought to be, being under the impression all the time that we were with him, but after I saw a table with Beatty's brigade in Van Cleave's division I found that we joined Wood after that time.


I found the following record on one of the tables, viz:

"Beatty's First Brigade.

"Dick's Second Brigade.

"Barnes' Third Brigade.

"Beatty's and Dick's brigades were ordered forward from Lee and Gordon's Mill at 1:30 p. m., to support Palmer's division, leaving Barnes' brigade at the mill. Soon after 2 p.m., Beatty's brigade formed at this point, and an advance of 200 yards led to heavy fighting and resulted in the capture of four guns.


"Chickamauga Battlefield Park, 'Scene in Kelly Field.'" 1907 postcard held by Tennessee State Library and Archives.
"Chickamauga Battlefield Park, 'Scene in Kelly Field.'" 1907 postcard held by Tennessee State Library and Archives.

"At 3:30 p.m., Vancleve had been driven across Lafayette road at Brotherton's by Bates' and Clayton's brigades of Stewart's divisions. At this

point he made a stand, but soon after was forced by Clayton attacking in front and Bushrod Johnson on the right. Clayton followed 500 years, &c."


Now you will readily recognize from the above our first fighting. In order to trace our line it was necessary to find the point at which Beatty's brigade first left the Lafayette road.


I was very fortunate in this, as I hired a Mr. Brotherton to drive me to different points on the field and in my talk with him I happened to speak of our regiment capturing a battery directly after leaving the road and killing all the artillery and horses. "Oh, I know that very spot," said he. "I was born and raised right here and have been there often." He said it was a great curiosity for years after to people who came.


The horses were piled up in a great heap, some on top of others, and the spot was marked for years until some Chattanooga firm sent a force out there and gathered up the bones of all animals that could be found and had them ground up into dust and sold as fertilizer. His recollection is that there were 36 horses in that pile. I know we killed all that belonged to the battery and wheeled the guns to the rear. I learn from a table on the road that it is just 350 years to that battery. I did not think it was that far at that time, but we were in a hurry then and had no time to calculate distances. At the battery I nailed a board on a tree with this inscription:

"17th Ky., Vol., Inf'ty. Right here the 17th Ky., and 79th Indiana

captured a battery and killed the artillery horses."


I was informed while down there that it was Carne's Confederate battery.


Mr. Brotherton then pointed out the position of our battery across the road where we made the stand and from which we were driven away by Bushrod Johnson's men coming down the flank. That position is about 40 yards from the Lafayette road and on a considerable rise in the ground.


I could never have found this place without help, as the field has undergone a great change. Here I put up another board to mark the place--being the second position held the first day.


The position of the regiment the morning of the second day I found while down there three years ago, but not having any boards or marking material, I did not designate it. But this trip I went prepared and we are now in line. This position, too, is on a road running parallel with Lafayette road not more than a quarter of a mile from it, and not exceeding three quarters of a mile from where we went into the fight the first day. I have wondered many times since the battle how Barnes' brigade got out, as we left them, you remember, at Lee & Gordon's mill, and the enemy having driven us across the Lafayette road and having possession, one would suppose the boys were lost, but I found this trip that MCook's division was at the springs when the battle opened, and they came across to the mill and that Barnes fell in with them and followed the route that we had taken until they came to what is called the Vineyard place, where the enemy attacked and where there was some desperate fighting down, the road being right between the lines.


Judging from the distance between the Lafayette road and the one we were on the morning of the second day, I take it that Bragg's men fell back from their advanced position on the first day and that McCook, coming down the road from the mill, was the cause of it, but of this I am only guessing. The place of battle on the morning of the second day is very familiar. The field where one of our batteries was located has been in cultivation ever since and looks to me just as it did then. Having been flanked by a column coming down that road, you will remember we were forced back to the top of a hill. This is now the celebrated Snodgrass Hill, which was considered "key" to the whole battle line.


I followed the route of the troops from that road to the top of the hill and here I found the exact place and there I put up a board marking the last spot held by the grand old Seventeenth Kentucky in that memorable battle. This hill is just the same, the number and bushes reminding one of the 20th of September, 1863, although the underbrush is of a new growth, but the commissioners have cut out and trimmed it up until it looks just as it did then. I could hardly find a place for my board, as the Ohio regiments had taken up nearly all the space, but I squeezed in and put up our sign right at the front, which position we certainly held the whole of that long and bloody day. The Confederates have put up some boards to our right about 200 yards, showing the positions held by them at the close of the fight, and from these one can see that we were in a terribly close place. Nothing but darkness saved us, as they were almost in our rear. They captured the 21st Ohio and the 89th Indiana just at dark, which left our right flank exposed, and they could have easily driven us from the hill.


There is one important fact about that fight that I did not know until three years ago and that is that Gen. Thomas' troops fought behind breastworks during the whole of the second day, his soldiers throwing up works during the night. But with us it was different; we had no barricades or breastworks at any time. No wonder that Thomas was called the "Rock of Chickamauga."


There were many places I would like to have gone, but my whole time was taken up in trying to place our regiment in proper line. The boards I have put up are only temporary, and we, the survivors, ought by means to mark the spots in a more substantial manner.


I regretted very much that some others did not go with me and assist in tracing the various lines, although I think they are correct. I would advise all who can to go down there at some future time and if they can throw any light on the subject, do do so. The commissioners are very anxious to have all the lines correctly established and therefore invite all who took part in the battle to assist them.


Two for Company "C" were there; C.A. Brashear and M.B. Brown, of Christian County, but I did not know it until after they had gone home. I may have seen them, but failed to recognize them; was very sorry indeed that I did not meet them. As I stood on Snodgrass Hill and looked down the slope towards Chattanooga I went back in my imagination to the scene on same ground the day of the fight when the whole hillside was literally covered with the dead and dying. It was a grand but terrible sight and those who saw it will never forget it. I thought of many dear friends in the Seventeenth Kentucky whose life blood ebbed away on that slope and my very soul was saddened. Let us hope that we may never witness the like again.

The only familiar spots about Chattanooga are Lookout Mountain, Mission Ridge and Orchard Knob. Fort Wood has been cleared and houses built over and around it. "Hell's Half Acre" is occupied by a lumber yard.


S.K. Cox

Hartford, KY., Sept. 19, '92.


 

Derrick Lindow is an author, historian, teacher, and creator of the WTCW site. His first book, published by Savas Beatie, will be released in Spring 2024. Go HERE to read more posts by Derrick and HERE to visit his personal page. Follow Derrick on different social media platforms (Instagram and Twitter) to get more Western Theater and Kentucky Civil War Content.

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