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Early War Campaigning in Kentucky

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

One of my future projects is going to be a book on the "Kentucky Line," or the war in Kentucky from the beginning of the war to the collapse of the line after the fall of Fort Henry. It is an area of the war that has a massive amount of stories and consequential events that have received little attention, and I really want to change that. As I've collected useful primary sources over the last couple years, some of them really stand out, like the one below.


This letter was written by a soldier-correspondent, "Occasional," in the 44th Indiana infantry in January 1862. During that winter, the 44th, like so many regiments in Calhoun, Kentucky, suffered considerably from disease and poor camp conditions. The constant wet and muddy environment made life miserable for these new soldiers. However, there seemed to be a constant stream of visitors, as access to Camp Calhoun was quite easy with the never ending stream of steamboats chugging up the Green River via the Ohio. The 44th participated in several patrols, and many small fortifications were constructed along different points of the Green River. At South Carrollton, several miles up river (south) of Calhoun, the 44th helped construct entrenchments and artillery positions for what was believed to be the deciding battle for Kentucky, which never came. More on that in a future post.


The presence of the Hoosiers in the Kentucky Green River region exposed the divided loyalties that permeated in the state throughout the war. In this letter, you will see several instances of that. I left the spelling and grammar from the write "as is" so as to present a more authentic feel for the source, but these writing mistakes do not hinder a reader's understanding. Take a few minutes to visit an oft forgotten part of the early war!

Men of the 44th Indiana outside Chattanooga in 1864.

South Carrolton, Kentucky

January 17, 1862


Editors of the Republican:

You and your readers will be pleased, no doubt, to learn that the 44th is in the advanced part of the 13th brigade, and that the brigade is moving towards the reported stronghold of the rebels.


The last few days have been full of interest and adventure; and perhaps a rehearsal of them will not be uninteresting to you all.


On last Tuesday, about dark, we received orders to cook what provisions there were in the company, and be ready at daylight the next morning, and be ready at daylight the next morning, to strike tents, march to the wharf, and proceed up the river by boat. All this was very unexpected, because of improvements we had been making in the shape of an unfinished log hospital, &c., but the effect it had upon the men can be imagined only by those who have accompanied volunteer troops in the pursuit of the would-be destroyers of our government. They shouted and cheered, and entered, with a will, into the work of preparation. Several indulged in remarks of regret, not because we were ordered to move forward, but because it compelled them to abandon the improvements they had been making to their tents, by building pens of logs about three feet high, and stretching their tents over them, making a great addition to the room and convenience of them.


The headquarters of Company A were equally unfortunate. We had constructed some pole bed-steds; and although were not so ornamental as might be, yet the necessity of leaving them behind, drew forth numerous expressions of regret.


We were up at 3 o'clock in the morning, and at daylight tents were struck, and everything sent by the teams to the wharf. The weather was very disagreeable, it commenced snowing, raining, and hailing the evening before, and after the tents were down, the men stood exposed to it until 10 a.m., when we received orders to form and march to the landing. There we found waiting, the 31st Indiana, and 25th Kentucky. We all went aboard the flotilla, which consisted of the steamers Mattie Cook and Hattie Gilmore and seven large deck barges, five of which were lashed to the former, and two to the latter steamer. The men were put aboard the first, and the others were loaded with tents, boxes and camp equippage of every description, together with bales of hay, hogsheads, quarters of fresh beef, sides of bacon, sacks of coffee, &c., all piled together in one promiscuous mass, the variety of which equalled the stock of any Yankee peddler.


The decks were covered with snow and ice, and the storm continued unabated, making it extremely disagreeable for the men. Although the order of the previous evening directed us to be in readiness at daybreak, the whole thing was so badly managed that the flotilla did not leave the landing until 1 p.m.; and during all this time, the men were compelled to stand around in the storm, without exercised, and of course they got very cold, yet the men were in fine spirits, and cheered vociferously whenever the American flag was displayed along the river, which was done quite frequently. Where the fault of so long delay rested, I am unable to say, but I am satisfied that it might have been shortened, had there been proper management.


We ascended the river at the rate of about five miles an hour, and just at dark, when about one mile from this place, one company from the Kentucky regiment was landed and thrown out as scouts, and before we reached the landing, they had surrounded the town, to prevent any messengers leaving for any of the rebel camps to inform them of our coming.


Colonel Hugh Reed

After another delay of two or three hours, we landed and marched up a winding wagon road, cut through the bank, which is about 150 feet above the river, and very steep, into the village of South Carrolton, which is 22 miles above Calhoun. The 31st and 25th had landed first, and taken possession of two large tobacco warehouses, but unfortunately, there was no third warehouse for us; to the Col. ordered us to take possession of some empty building, which are numerous in this town. He pointed out to me a large store building, and directed me to get in without bursting open the door, if possible, but to get in at all hazards. I tried the doors, but they firmly resisted my weight when thrown against them; so I procured a plank, and this, when properly mounted on the shoulders of two men, and applied to the door, affected an opening, but we found the floor of the principal room covered with wheat, and upon opening a side door the ghastly visage of a human skeleton, hanging by the neck, stared us in the face. The greater part of the flesh had been removed, but the muscles remained, holding all the bones to their proper position. In a short time the report was current among the troops that we had discovered a Union man hung up in a room.


I reported to the Colonel that we could not occupy the room, without damaging a great quantity of wheat, and he sent us to another building, which we found empty, with the exception of a few barrels and boxes. In a short time the men were stowed around on the floor, enjoying the soft side of it for a bed. A squad of us went to unload our baggage, which took till on o'clock, when we too lay down on the floor, and waited for the arms of morpheus, which soon embraced us. In the morning the sun rose unobscured, showing off the village and surrounding country to the best advantage.


Map detailing the region along the Green River (Library of Congress)..

The village is about the size of your town, and by far the prettiest place I have seen since leaving Indiana, but the effects of secession plainly exhibit themselves in numerous vacant houses and store buildings. I think there is but one store open now.


We are yet quartered in the buildings, and from present indications, I am led to believe that our stay here will be too short to make it profitable to put up the tents. Col. Cruft, commanding the brigade, is very close mouthed, and his plans are known to but a few.


Some think we will soon move forward in the direction of Russellville, a point on the railroad, which connects Bowling Green and Hopkinsville. All three of these places are in the hands of the rebels.


Yesterday the scouts of the enemy were in sight of our pickets. It is reported that there are about 2,000 troops at Greenville, about ten or twelve miles south of this place. To-day, Jackson's cavalry (3rd Kentucky Cavalry), the battery which is connected with this brigade, and to or three regiments of infantry arrived, they having come across by land.


We have taken two prisoners, one of them a rebel Captain. To-day, one of the men of Company C, found a secesh flag, in the building which they occupy. It is the first one I ever saw. It is about nine feet long and three feet wide; has three bars, each one foot wide; the upper and lower are red, the centre white, with a blue ground work in the lower left hand corner, containing fifteen stars.


When we leave here, I think we will go on foot, which the men all say they prefer to marching by steamboat, especially in stormy weather. If we go across to Russellville, as I think we will, the mail communication between there and the "United States," may be somewhat difficult, but I will write you as often as I have an opportunity to send it.


I shall be surprised, if this communication is not somewhat disconnected, as I am on duty as officer of the Guard; and what I have written, has been done in the guard room, with all kinds of noise and confusion about me.


The health of Company A is tolerably good, Capt. Kinney and Lieut. Smith were both sick the day we left Calhoun; the former is now convalescent, the latter is yet quite unwell.


We left Col. Crosswait at Calhoun, he being too unwell to accompany us.


Hoping that by next time I write, I can tell you of the 44th having done some fighting. I will close.


Yours, truly,

OCCASIONAL


P.S.--Address our mail matter to us via Evansville, Ind., and I think it will reach us.


 

To read more about this part of the war, check out one of the more famous events to occur during that winter--Nathan Bedford Forrest's first battle at Sacramento, Kentucky.


You might also be interested in this post, a letter detailing one of the first Indiana forays into Kentucky in 1861--A Short Campaign up the Green River in 1861.

 

Derrick Lindow is an author, historian, teacher, and creator of the WTCW site. His first book, published by Savas Beatie, will be released soon. 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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1 Comment


cmthomasco40
cmthomasco40
Feb 10, 2023

Hello Derrick,


I am eagerly looking forward to your book We Shall Conquer or Die. I have the book Thunder from a Clear Blue Sky on Adam Rankin Johson but am not aware of the full extent of his career in Western KY and into TN. You will be breaking new ground with this book and I am excited to read it


Your planned book on the Kentucky Line - will REALLY be breaking some new ground. I am sure that much can be said on the 1,000 mile front from the Cumberland Gap along the Green River to Bowling Green and ending at Columbus plus the miseries of Camp Beaureguard. It is a line the Confederates defended for clos…

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