"It Looks Warlike" The Battle That Never Came
A few weeks ago, I posted a newspaper communication written by a soldier in the 44th Indiana Infantry while in western Kentucky in January 1862. In that letter, the soldier, known only by his pen name Occasional, described his experiences in vivid detail, even the discovery of a body in an abandoned shop. Before you read the letter below, be sure to check out the first one HERE. As I mentioned in the previous post, this is a part of the war that fascinates me, and one in which I am doing some pretty heavy research for a future project. With that said, what did the men of the 44th Indiana and General Thomas Crittenden's division expect to happen along the Green River? Based on communications by soldiers and officers alike, all seemed to expect a decisive battle to occur in western Kentucky, and "warlike" preparations were made.
South Carrollton, Kentucky
Sunday, January 26, 1862.
To the Editors of the Republican-
I wrote you on the eve of our departure from Henderson, and should have written since, but I believe I only promised to write occasionally, besides your regular correspondent informs me that he has kept you posted down to the time of our arrival at this place. We left our quarters in the village one week since, and are now encamped on a beautiful piece of woodland, half a mile distant.
As we progress southward events of interest become more frequent, 4 days ago, and immediately after we had prepared our quarters for comfort, a rumor became current that we were receiving marching orders, (as we expected) from Gen. Buell, but we were ordered to leave the place by General Buckner. He generously granted us one week to make our exit. It was treated lightly at first, but soon appearances began to indicate that some credence was given to it by our commander. About five hundred axmen were detailed, and commenced felling trees on the Greenville Road leading southward from our camp. This work progressed until yesterday, but until then the real design was not known, even to the regimental commanders.
While on parade yesterday Gen. Crittenden rode into our camp, and announced that he had, what he deemed, reliable information that a force of thirteen thousand men was advancing to give us battle. Then came the order in quick succession necessary to a preparation for defence. Additional forces were set to chopping, and at dark larger fires were lighted, and the work progressed until late at night. Additional pickets were sent out, others were strengthened, until every avenue was strongly guarded. Camp guards were doubled, and to us who knew nothing of the nearness of the enemy, it had the appearance of fight at least.
To-day has been a busy day in camp. At five o'clock we were called out, and every available man was set to work. The work of felling timber was resumed, and now, near night, a line of fallen timber from twenty to forty rods wide, beginning at the river on the east side of the encampment, and extending around them to the river, encircling the entire division, being a distance of at least four miles, may be seen. The timber is thrown as much as possible outward, and presents the appearance, to use the Hoosier term, of an enormous slashing. In addition to these redoubts are being erected, with all possible rapidity, on elevated positions, on which will be mounted cannon, commanding the country for a great distance. Also, embankments are being thrown up at the weakest points. The work is progressing very rapidly, and is conducted by an experienced engineer. What it will amount to, the sequel will show, but it looks warlike.
If he, Buckner, will be generous enough to allow us to finish our preparations for defence, I am confident that we can hold the position against any force he may bring. The almost impassible barrier of timber and brush will effectually check cavalry or artillery, and greatly impede the progress of infantry, while a line of skirmishers thrown out along the entire line on our side and properly managed, could make his victory expensive at least.
The object of an attack at this point, if meditated at all, is of course to prevent a flank movement from Bowling Green, besides if the division was driven from here the entire country would be thrown open to them, either to afford them supplies, or if they found it necessary to retreat from Bowling Green they could do so effectually by this route, and if they found it necessary to evacuate this part of the country, they would of course destroy, an effectually prevent the navigation of the river, which affords the only means of supplying a large force with subsistence here.
I am no military man, but I am of the opinion, that our removal from Calhoun was unwise at the time. It is true we are four hours ride nearer Bowling Green, but at the former place we could have successfully protected the river to this place; but while here a force could menace us, while another, however small, could proceed to Calhoun, destroy the locks, and we would be powerless so far as they were concerned. That done they could fall back, and we would be compelled to leave for want of supplies. But wiser heads than mine direct.
Gen. Crittenden, a fine looking man of 45, plain and unassuming in appearance, kind, courteous and sociable to all, however humble. Of his military ability I know but little. All seem to be confident that he is the man for the place.
The health of the regiment is not flattering. There are a few dangerously ill, but many indisposed from severe colds.
There is general satisfaction with rations excepting pork, which is of a very inferior quality. I visited the General Commissary depot yesterday, and noticed the characters B.C. on the large casks, and suppose from the looks of the contents that it has a reference to a certain period of our history of near nineteen centuries back.
our cavalry is scouring the country for miles around, an will warn us of any approaches in time for us to receive them.
A Lieutenant of this regiment was shot through the head on the evening of the 23d inst., by some prowling country rebel.
The paymaster has at last arrived, but will withhold payment a few days, and will burn his treasury notes if likely to fall into the enemie's hands, which would be no loss to the government.
The weather is fine, and not unlike the last days of April in the north.