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Riding with Scott's Louisiana Cavalry

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

Ever since we announced our Battle of Richmond tour last year, I have tried to find as many primary sources related to the battle that I can possibly find. So far, newspapers have been a good source for those sources. Not surprisingly, with the battles happening in the east at the exact same time, the newspapers tend to be filled with news from that theater, with little given to the great Confederate victory in Kentucky. However, every now and then, one can discover some good little nuggets and stories. "Orleans," a rider with Scott's Louisiana cavalry, provided readers in Mobile with a good summary of the Confederate cavalry action before, during, and after the Battle of Richmond in the Kentucky Campaign. It doesn't cover the entire campaign, and stops after the Battle of Munfordville, but it gives us a nice glimpse into a little discussed outfit.

Next year, we will again have our Richmond tour, so be on the lookout for any updates coming out for that. We plan on expanding and improving the tour for 2022, and doing something to benefit the Battle of Richmond Association.

Map showing locations associated with Scott's actions leading up to the Battle of Richmond.

Mobile Register and Advertiser

October 18, 1862

"Letter From Kentucky"

Camp Cleburne, near Shelbyville, Kentucky

October 1, 1862

Messers. Editors: The line of communication with the South being now opened through Cumberland Gap, I presume our friends in your latitude have not so completely forgotten us as not to desire some items of our movements since our entrance into this State. All the newspapers in Louisiana being under Federal ban, we have in truth no other medium of communicating with our friends than through the Journals of Mobile, whose columns, by the bye, have ever been generously open to us.

During the month of August, Gen. Kirby Smith organized a cavalry brigade consisting of the 1st Louisiana Regiment, Lieut. Col. Nixon; 1st Georgia, Col. Morrison; and 3rd Tennessee, Colonel Starns, under the command of the celebrated Col. Scott, whose gallant deeds and skillful maneuvers have made his name "familiar as household words" all over the South. The Louisiana and Georgia regiments were encamped at Kingston, Tenn., and on the evening 18th August moved for Kentucky in concert with Gen. Smith from Knoxville. Temporarily attached to the Louisiana regiment was the "Buckner Guards," Capt. Garrett, a Kentucky company, formerly the body guard of the hero of Fort Donelson--a remarkably fine body of men. Riding day and night we toiled over the rugged Cumberland mountains, passing through Montgomery and Jamestown, Tenn., Monticello and Somerset, Ky., reaching London, Ky., on the morning of the 17th (I think this must be a typo on the paper's part), making an unprecedented march in the history of the war, of 165 miles in seventy hours.

Colonel John Scott

At London we found a considerable force of Federal infantry, and after a brief resistance, carried the town, killing and wounding many, capturing 120 prisoners, together with a large quantity of arms and numerous wagon trains laden with army stores of every description, designed for the support of the Federal Morgan at Cumberland Gap. Our loss was two killed--Lieut. Cailleteau, Company G, and Private Boyle, Company F, 1st Louisiana Regiment. Thus was the first fight made on Kentucky soil by the "Kirby Smith Brigade," so called by Col. Scott in honor of our noble leader. The next few days were actively employed in gathering up stock, wagons, etc, that had been abandoned on the different roads by the panic-stricken enemy. On the evening of the 22d, learning that Col. Metcalf, with his cavalry regiment and one of infantry, were in position on the Richmond road, Scott moved up his command, consisting then of about 800 men, and found Metcalf strongly posted on Big Hill, about seventeen miles from Richmond. He opened at once with our little mountain howitzer battery, under Lieutenant Holmes, and our riflemen dismounted and deployed as sharpshooters. The firing was very hot on both sides for half an hour, when Scott finding the enemy every advantage of position and numbers, ordered a charge. Never was a line of battle formed more quickly or with a more perfect alignment, and as the bugle sounded a loud blast, there arose a wild shout from the lips of our boys, and on they went at the full speed down the steep declivities, through brush and rocks, Georgians, Louisianians and Kentuckians each vieing with the other who should be the first "in at the death." The bold Metcalf found the tide irresistible, and turning his horse's head joined in the flight of his panic stricken crew.

Colonel Leonidas Metcalf, 7th Kentucky Cavalry (US). Image via Find a Grave.

The rout continued for nine miles, when night closed upon our operations. The result of this fight was the breaking up of all chances to ambuscade Gen. Smith's army, then en route in our rear, and the opening of a clear road to the bluegrass region. The enemy left on the field twenty-three killed and sixty-five wounded, and lost a large number of prisoners, horses, guns, pistols and equipments of every kind. Metcalf's regiment was scattered to the four winds, and has never been since reorganized. That troublesome outlaw, whose crimes and oppressions and blood stained career in the service of Lincoln have consigned him to eternal infamy, suddenly became disgusted, reported his regiment to Bull Nelson as "a bunch of cowards," and handed in his resignation. A few days after we were joined by Col. Starns' 3rd Tennessee Regiment, and again taking the advance, made a reconnaissance and discovered the enemy in force and strongly entrenched a few miles from Richmond. They opened on us with a rifle battery, the shells from which burst with a most uncomfortable accuracy all around us for a full half hour. We were then slowly returned to the position occupied by Gen. Cleburne, who was in command of the advance division of our army.

The next morning the attack was made, and the battle of Richmond fought. Our brigade moved on the left, and by five o'clock in the evening secured a strong position on the Lexington pike, three miles in the rear of Richmond. There we bagged 4,800 prisoners--among them, Gen. Manson, nine pieces of artillery, and a perfect world of guns, pistols, horses, wagons, etc. Gen. Kirby Smith exclaimed, when the report was made, that "his cavalry had surpassed anything he had ever known."

A few days later found us on the a triumphant march through the far-famed "Blue Grass region." The first city on our route was the ancient town of Versailles, where the enthusiasm surpassed anything we had yet experienced. The ladies waved and cheered, showered bouquets--while the men seemed mad with frenzy, at being once more free. Thence rapidly on to Frankfort, where we arrived just as the Federal cavalry were evacuating. The city was surrendered to us, and what must have been the feelings of the so-called Union army as they beheld the vaunted stars and stripes slowly descend from the dome of the Capitol, and its place quickly taken by the battle flag of the Louisiana Cavalry, presented to the regiment by the ladies of New Orleans!

A few days' delightful intermingling with the people of Kentucky's noble Capital and we were off again through Hardinsville, Taylorsville, Bloomfield and Springfield to Lebanon. There a short halt and orders to burn the railroad bridge at Munfordville on Bragg's line, which we rescued in due time, and making a reconnaissance, discovered the enemy entrenched in two forts with guns of the heaviest calibre, and infantry numbering several thousand. But Scott, [illegible], determined to give them a brush anyhow; so he ordered his artillery to open and drop a few shells into the small fort, the cavalry to run in the pickets, and then gradually and quietly retire one regiment after another and leave the enemy in a profound mess as to his intentions. In a few moments we were joined by General Chalmers, from Bragg's army, with a few hundred infantry, but our united forces were found sufficient to carry the place, and it remained for the gallant Buckner to capture it, which he did a day or two later, taking besides 4,800 prisoners, arms, &c.

Chalmers's Mississippians charged left to right toward the Federal works at Munfordville.

I would here bear evidence to the unprecedented daring displayed by Chalmers and the noble Mississippians under his command, many of them being killed within a few feet of the breastworks.

Another march without incident back to Lebanon, thence to Bardstown, where we hauled down Lincoln's colors and lifted our own Stars and Bars, from there to Frankfort and then to Shelbyville. Here are encamped Gen. Cleburne's division of Arkansas and Tennessee boys, and our brigade is doing picket duty by regiments between here and Louisville. Skirmishing has been going on daily, and night before last Col. Scott determined to put an end to it, so he made a charge, shelled them out of their camp, and ran them pell mell into Louisville. Our force went within two miles of the town, and I opine the rushing of the Federal cavalry into the entrenchments and the reports of our rifles and howitzers caused many to lose their sleep that night. In every respect this was one of the most brilliant exploits of the war.

I dwell with pride and pleasure, pardonable in the extreme, on what has been accomplished by our brigade in the Kentucky campaign, more particularly because the cavalry has been generally regarded as the most inefficient arm of the service. That this has been so generally, unfortunately too true, resulting simply from the fact that but few men have developed sufficient especially to handle a large body of mounted men. But that Col. John Scott is peculiarly gifted in that respect none will deny who are in that respect none will deny who are is the least cognizant of the details of our army operations. Quick of comprehension, subtle of design, and rapid of combination, he has but to glace at a map to be thoroughly conversant with all geographical bearings. Prudent and cautious; before entering a fight, he displays in action the chivalrous abandon of a Mars, and having the entire control over his men, and the prestige of victory over on his brow, he is their idol. If Col. Scott orders a fight "we are sure of victory," say they, "for he never was beaten." When the history of the war is written and the mists of romance and sentiment faded before the clear sunlight, of facts, the name of John Scott, the unpretending, modest gentleman, the skillful officer and brave soldier, will go down to posterity, embalmed in the encomium pronounced upon him by the lamented Sidney Johnston. "He is the best cavalry officer I know of in the Confederate army."

In thus sketching the career of the "Kirby Smith Brigade" I have compelled to overlook all instances of individual gallantry. My space will not permit me to say more than that Nixon is ever cool and imperturbable amid the roar of artillery and showers of balls; Morrison rides as gayly in the charge as a Knight of old, while Starns perpetuates all we know of Tennessee fighting stock, and in the embodiment of the stern patriot and doughty warrior.

I can only add that our hardships in the state have been soothed by the smiles of beautiful women who throng our camp by hundreds and cheered by the sight of thousands of brave men who were flocking to the standard of the noble Buckner.

A little while more and Kentucky will be free.



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 2023. 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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