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Thirty-Ninth Indiana at Upton's Hill

Updated: Mar 14

If John Wilder's command during the Tullahoma and Chickamauga campaigns is known as the Lightning Brigade, then perhaps another mounted infantry unit, the Thirty-Ninth Indiana Volunteer Infantry, should be known as the Lightning Regiment. Its performance at Chickamauga is often overlooked by most who study the battle, yet they did yeoman service in protecting the Federal right flank on September 20th, alongside those very men from Wilder's brigade. However, before the Thirty-Ninth became a regiment of mounted infantry, they were "just" another infantry regiment.

Organized in Indianapolis for a three year term in August, 1861, the men of the Thirty-Ninth came from Bartholomew, Delaware, Hamilton, Howard, Jackson, Jay, Jefferson, Madison, Miami, Shelby, and Tipton Counties. While attached to Thomas Wood's brigade in Alexander McCook's division of the Army of the Ohio, part of the regiment was involved in a skirmish while guarding the Louisville and Nashville Rail Road in mid-October, 1861.

Appearing in the Evening Star on October 15, 1861.

Obviously there are so many inaccurate details in that news snippet it begs clarification. First, the Thirty-Ninth Indiana Infantry was in Kentucky, not western Virginia, and hence were not involved with General Rosecrans' advance. The Green River and Bacon Creek are located in Kentucky, as were the men of the Thirty-Ninth. And was the Confederate force truly 300 men? Forty attackers against 300 defenders?

Ten days later The Tiffin Weekly Tribune would report the skirmish a bit more accurately:

Quite the difference from the previous article. In this case the Confederates are the attacking force. However, the Ohio newspaper still does not quite have the details correct. First, the skirmish took place on October 12th, not "yesterday," which would have been October 24th as the article appeared in the October 25th edition. Also, the location of the skirmish was near Upton Hill, seven miles north of Bacon Creek. So what is the true picture?

From the Rebellion Record: a Diary of American Events: Documents and Narratives, Volume 3 we have the following entry that might provide a bit more accuracy to the Upton's Hill engagement:

Skirmish near Upton's Hill, Ky. October 12, 1861.

Fielder Jones

I am now able to give you a complete account of the skirmish which took place on Saturday between a detachment of the Thirty-ninth Indiana and a squadron of rebel cavalry. The scene of the fight was a log house by the roadside, two miles beyond Upton's, fourteen miles below this camp, and eight miles this side of the rebel camp. A squad of the rebels had come up there to cut off a company which had been recruiting in the neighborhood for Rousseau's brigade, and were to come up here to camp that day. When the Indianians, forty in number, under Captain Herring and Lieutenant-Colonel Jones, reached the place, the rebels were at dinner, the officers in the house and the privates in the bushes beyond. As our men approached, the rebels left the house and their unfinished dinner, and retired behind a hill a short distance below. Captain Herring went forward to see whether they were going to make a stand or continue their flight. Just as he reached the summit of the hill, two men fired at him at a distance of twenty paces. He then returned to his men, and Lieutenant-Colonel Jones ordered forward the detachment to take possession of the house which the rebels had evacuated. This was done, and the firing began, the rebels replying from the cover of the woods which skirted the road. They presently retreated with a loss of five killed and three wounded. None of our party were hurt. The number of rebels engaged was fifty-eight.

Location of Upton's Hill indicated by blue oval

The Thirty-Ninth would go on to see service at Shiloh and Stones River before the regiment became mounted infantry in April 1863. As such it took part in the Tullahoma and Chickamauga campaigns, and was reorganized as the Eighth Indiana Cavalry on October 15th, 1863 and would serve as cavalry until the end of the war. For a large portion of the regiment's service it was part of August Willich's command, known as the "Horn Brigade" and might have also been trained in the advanced firing technique developed by Willich. Perhaps I need to chat with David Powell!

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