Walking the "Duke Trail"
Updated: Jul 3, 2021
The Duke Trail? Never heard of it!
One of the things I find interesting to do is follow army movements to and from a battle location. I've walked the Dry Canteen Trail at Perryville, and driven other various routes at places like Buffington Island. One of the original preservation plans at Chickamauga was to denote and mark the various routes, which would have added dozens of miles of park roads the the national military park. I have even driven some of the paths leading to that insignificant battle in a small college town in south-central Pennsylvania.
I decided, after several months of talking about it, to walk Confederate colonel Basil Duke's approach route from Brooksville to Augusta. My wife had a volunteer gig in the latter location, so I took this opportunity to have her drop me off in Brooksville and do the 9.5 mile walk, following as I could the Confederate movements that ended in the battle that took place on the hot afternoon of September 27th, 1862.
Now admittedly, while I used to be an avid hiker and backpacker, the miles on my feet have been far reduced in the last few years (as evidenced by my girth), but the promise of a constant breeze and prepared with plenty of water and proper gear I thought I could tackle the route. I might have been overly optimistic.
For gear I wore my orange and blue Mizuno running shoes, a pair of Features running socks, a pair of running shorts, a wicking orange shirt, a running hat, and my orange Granite Gear Habanero pack which has seen hundreds of miles of use. At least with that amount of orange there should be no excuse of not being seen while walking along the roads to Augusta. I packed a banana, some Beltiva bites, two liters of water, and a small bottle of Gatorade G2. That should be plenty to tackle the 9.5 miles.
The walk started fine, down along old Kentucky Highway 19 out of Brooksville. The breeze was excellent in Brooksville (which sits on tops of a ridge), but when I left town and started my descent into a valley, the cooling effects of the breeze was lost. But I was feeling good and enjoyed the serene and quiet road that I was on, while listening to the old rock band Shooting Star, mixed with the solo efforts of the lead singer of Kansas, on my mp3 player. Along this part of my walk was a small stream from which I spooked a cow and her calves, who obviously being smarter than I, had been wallowing in the cooling waters. A little farther along I spotted a heron in the same stream, and a deer bounded down the road before disappearing into a patch of woods.
Passing an old home (and wondering if it was there when Duke's men passed by), I came to my first challenge, walking along modern Kentucky 19 for a short distance. This road can be frequently traveled and I was hoping to have enough berm to avoid any approaching cars. I was fortunate, not a single southbound car was seen in the short distance along the modern road before I ducked off to follow an old alignment.
This alignment lasted only a spell, but offered a bit of shade and another deer sighting before popping back out to the modern roadway. And then the climb started. It was only an elevation change of 200 feet over a mile, but no shade could be found along the way and the heat was becoming relentless, baking off the blacktop. The breeze was nowhere to be found in the lower elevations, but as I steadily climbed to my break destination I felt the wind pick up a bit more and more. But I was personally dragging.
The St. Paul Lutheran Church, unbeknownst to the parishioners I am certain, would provide me with an excellent respite. They have a picnic shelter, which also happens to have shade trees about, and being now on top of a ridge once again, an excellent cross breeze helped revive me after the never ending climb in the heat. I spent a good twenty minutes cooling down, partaking of my snacks, and drinking my G2. Relaxing there with my shoes and socks off my warm feet, it would have been quite easy to have taken a nap and skip the rest of the walk, but I had five more miles to share with Duke and his horsemen.
Feeling refreshed, I set off once again, always pushing northward towards the Ohio River and that little town that saw some terrible fighting in 1862. Duke had come to the heights above town about 1:00 p.m. on September 27th, and commenced to shell the two Federal gunboats that were there to help protect the town. Duke was there for two reasons: one, to break up the formation of a new Federal regiment, and two, to cross at a ford about one mile below town and threaten Cincinnati. If he could cross the Ohio, he might help force Union forces operating in northern Kentucky to fall back to protect the Queen City, Cincinnati being the seventh largest city in the United States. Alas, this was not to be.
Union Home Guard, under command of Dr. Joshua Taylor Bradford, were defending the town, mostly on the second floors of the various brick buildings in the heart of Augusta. While the gunboats left, knowing they could not survive a hit from Duke's artillery, the Home Guard put up a tough fight; Duke thought that once the gunboats left that the town would be easy pickings. But the Home Guard used the buildings and their height advantage well, knocking off several of Duke's officers. In some buildings a white flag might go up in one window, while in the next window a guardsman might still be popping off his rifle. This caused an infuriated Duke to bring one of his guns into town and shell the buildings at point blank range. More and more white flags were seen, along with several buildings being set aflame, and the fighting ceased after ninety minutes. However, Duke's artillery ammunition was now dangerously low, and instead of crossing the Ohio, he would gather his wounded and killed, along with 150 prisoners, and head back to Brooksville.
While the next few miles were flat, the heat was becoming a real issue. I poured some water on my hat to help cool my head, but that would only last a few seconds until the cooling effect wore off. Traffic since leaving the shelter had also increased - locals making the Augusta to Brooksville milk run in less than twelve parsecs I guess. Some drivers would move over, others not so much, even though I was certain to use the berm anytime a vehicle came along (mostly SUVs and pick-up trucks, the latter being a Kentucky staple and most likely the official state vehicle). I passed the Coburn-Baker Cemetery, a place the Civil War Augusta group had recently cleaned, and thought about crashing there in the shade until my wife was finished with her volunteer time, but looking at the metal ID tag on my cheap substitute for a FitBit, the tag that says "everything is hard before it is easy," I pressed on. Finally I reached the large downhill that would lead into Augusta, but my feet were suffering. I could feel two blisters, even though I had proper shoes and socks to prevent such an issue. And the heat! It was 90+ degrees on a humid day with no shade and a diminishing breeze as I worked downhill. A new plan formulated. I would hobble to the Baker-Bird Winery and sit there a spell, and let my wife pick me up when she is done with her shift at four. A great plan to be certain, and while I would not be completing the route, I would still have over eight miles in, and could cool off in the stone winery. Excellent idea!
I walked down the slope to the winery, to ironically be carded by a fourteen year old before being allowed to go in. Too funny. I walked to the bar for a bottle of water and a tasting of the Vidal Blanc. I am not a wine drinker, but I could not visit the winery without trying something, and I had sampled their Vidal blanc before and knew I could tolerate that selection. After a taste I decided to buy a bottle and have a few more sips, while contacting my wife. The cunning plan was taking shape!
Well, only to a point. The winery sits down in what one might term a small "holler" and the three foot thick stone walls would not allow a phone signal. I walked outside, no service. Back inside I sat at my table and felt the sweat pouring of of me. I felt bad for the staff who would have to burn the chair I was using. Knowing that I could not reach my wife via phone, I knew I would have to bite the minie bullet and finish this blasted walk, feet and heat be damned. So, packing the newly purchased bottle of wine in my pack, getting my music going once again, I made my way back up to the highway and headed into town.
Now it is a known fact that Augusta needs trees. Oh, along the river and the stately old homes that grace Riverside Drive there is plenty of shade, but I was not along the river. There are some shade trees along Fourth and Elizabeth Streets, so I hobbled along the sidewalks trying to take advantage of the shade as I could. Then taking Third Street (which is not a street, but the railroad) to Main Street, I finally made it to the Art Guild where my wife was sitting, in the air conditioning. What a day! I had started my walk a little after eleven, and if I had not taken thirty minutes at the winery, would have been completed by 2:30. But it was now 3:00, and the sweat was once again doing its best Niagara impression. I had a change of clothes, but dared not put those on until I cooled off, my plan after changing to head to the pub next door for a well deserved beer. Alas, not to be. I simply could not cool off, and finally after an hour went ahead and changed...only to find the pub had once again closed early, a seemingly bad habit as I, and some others milling about the locked door, wanted to spend out money there (alas, too many businesses in town are treated like hobbies).
After a meal (sans beer) at the General Store, my wife and I made the air conditioned return to Cincinnati. Lesson learned. If I ever repeat that walk, pick a cooler time of year, or an overcast day! At least I can say I traveled with Mr. Duke and his 450 men for a few hours. I used my feet, while they were on horseback...wait, what? I could have done this on a horse?