Reminiscences of the Rebellion

By "One Who was There
[Written expressly for the Northern Indianian] by Reub Williams

The Zagonyi Guards

But few of our citizens are aware that in the ranks of that gallant band of brothers, the "Zagonyi Guards" there was a representive from Kosciusko County. In fact, but few could know it, as he who represented us in that gallant body was of such a nature as to not wish for laurels until justly won upon the battle field; and when at last they were won, he found his grave ere they had scarcely decked his brow. A mere accident placed us in possession of his history.

A few days since, while riding through the south-western part of our county, I stopped at a little cabin by the wayside for the purpose of giving both self and horse a little rest. Leaving my horse to drink his fill from the brook which rippled near, I took a seat upon a block near the door, first bidding the occupants of this humble home my greeting, and asking their permission to rest myself from the fatigues of my journey, which was readily accorded.

An elderly gentlemen and lady appeared to be the sole occupants of this lonely cabin. They seemed to be of a class of persons in whom one can repose confidence at first sight. Boat seemed to have seen much trouble and sorrow, which had brought with it premature old age, as was attested by their thin white locks and pale care-worn faces.

I glanced about the cottage; it contained about a single room, scantily furnished and that in the plainest manner. A bed, table, and a few cooking utensils completed the list of effects, save a picture, which in its frame of gilt and rosewood shown in so conspicuously from its place on the rough cabin wall, as to at once attract my attention. Stepping up to it for the purpose of getting a nearer view, I was much surprised in seeing the handsome manly features there portrayed. I have seldom seen a finer, intellectual face than that of the young man, the original of the picture.

I should judge him to have been perhaps twenty-two years of age, of something above the medium height. He was clothed in the beautiful uniform worn by that gallant body of troopers, Zagonyi Guards, Maj. Gen. Fremont's chosen escort. Upon his sleeve was attached the chevrons of a corporal, and upon his breast glistened the tri-color, the insignia of his troop.

I gazed upon this picture long and silently. I felt that with it there was connected a history of no ordinary interest. When at length resuming my seat I asked the old gentleman, if not unpleasant, to relate to me the history of the original of the picture. With tears in his eyes he complied. He related to me that I had been gazing upon the features of his lost and only son, who fell a martyr during the late rebellion. The old gentleman had, in the fall of 1858, sold his farm in this county and emigrated to Missouri, locating near Ironton. His family consisted of his wife, son, and daughter; the son, Henry, aged eighteen and Lucy, the daughter, sixteen. They lived happy until the breaking out of the rebellion, at which time the secession proclivities of their neighbors exhibited themselves in nearly every form. He had by hard labor acquired a farm of respectable dimensions, and was increasing his property quite rapidly, and was thus enabled to send his children to a distant school during the year preceding the outbreak of the war. But as the clouds of war began to grow dark and threatening, the schools were abandoned and they returned to their home. In this situation they lived quietly and happily until late in the summer of 1861, when the news of various rebel successes been brought to the ears of the rebel sympathizers in Missouri, they conceived the idea of driving from their homes all those who would not renounce their allegiance to the Old Flag, and accept that of the Confederacy. Various committees were appointed to carry these plans into execution. Men were not wanting for this duty. To thieves and cut-throats it was pleasant, and well did they do their part. The majority of the Union families took the alarm at once and removed with their families to places of safety. The daily accounts of men, women and children being robbed, murdered and otherwise maltreated, was enough to cause the hearts of the few union families to quail from the approaching danger. Our friend received an imperative order to leave the country at once, or his house would be burned and his family turned out of doors. But putting faith in the fact that he had never done alarm to anybody; but, on the contrary, "loved his neighbor as himself," he declined to go, believing they would not put their threats into execution. Thus they remained until on the night of the 2nd of September, 1861, a gang of ruffins, some fifty in number attacked the house demanding admittance in the name of the Confederacy; and when denied admission, set the house on fire. The old gentleman and his son defended themselves long and valiantly against the marauders by firing at them from the windows of their burning mansion. At length a shot from the bandits laid Lucy dead at Henry's feet. At her death their agonies seemed almost insupportable. With a demonic yell Henry sprang from the door and through the ranks of the would-be assassins, opened a passage for himself by using his clubbed musket. The old gentleman being powerless to do more, gave over his resistance. The fiends, after plundering some portions of the burning mansion as the flames had not yet touched, and after binding our aged friend with his wife to a tree, taking with them the horses, mules, &c. from the farm.

The old gentleman was released from his unpleasant situation early next morning by some of his more kindly disposed neighbors. Remaining a few days and learning nothing as to Henry's whereabouts, he started for his old home in this county, determine to end his days in the "Old Hoosier State." After almost incredible toils he succeeded in reaching the cabin in which I had found him.

Supposing Henry was killed while attempting to break through the ranks on that eventful night; they were much surprised at receiving a letter from him dated St. Louis Oct. 10th '61 enclosing his photograph and bidding them a long farewell, stating that he had the enlisted in Maj. Gen. Fremont's escort, the "Zagonyi Guards" and that he should never leave the war path until his sister's death was avenged a hundredfold or he laid low in a soldier grave. Nothing more was heard of him for months when a letter reached one of his comrades telling of his glorious death in the gallant charge at Springfield, Mo. made by the "Guards." He died while gallantly wielding the sabre at the head of the command. No better epitaph can be furnished then in Mr. Greeley's description of the charge. [Greeley, Horace The American Conflict: A History of the Great Rebellion in the United States of America 1860-1865 Volume 1 page 591-592]

The two commands combined numbered hardly 300 sabers, when, on reaching the outskirts of Springfield, they found 1200 infantry and 400 category well posted on the crown of a hill, prepared for and awaiting them. Zagonyi did not quail. To his officers he said: "Follow me, and do like me!" To his soldiers-"Comrades, the hour of danger has come: your first battle is before you. The enemy is 2000 strong, and you are 300. If any of you would turn back, you can do so now."

Not a man stepped from the ranks. He then added: "I will lead you. Let the watchword be,'The Union and Fremont!' Draw sabers! By the right flank-quick trot-march!" With a ringing shout, the thin battalion dashed eagerly forward.

A miry brook, a stout rail fence, a narrow lane, with sharpshooters judiciously posted behind fences and trees-such were the obstacles to be overcome before getting at the enemy. A fence must be taken down, the lane traversed, the sharpshooters defied, before a blow could be struck. All was the work of a moment; but when that moment had passed, seventy of their number were stretched dead or writhing on the ground. Maj. Dorsheimer, an aid to Fremont, who came up soon after, thus describes the end of the fight:

"The remnant of the Guard Farmingdale are now in the field under the hill; and, from the shape of the ground, the Rebel fire sweeps with the roar of a whirlwind over their heads. A line of fire upon the summit marks the position of the rebel infantry; while nearer, and on the top of a lower eminence to the right, stand their horses. Up to this time, no guardsman has struck a blow, but bluecoats and bay horses lie thick along the bloody lane. Their time has come. Lieut. Maythenyi, with 30 men, is ordered to attack the cavalry. With sabers flashing over their heads, the little band of heroes spring towards their tremendous foe. Right upon the center they charge. The dense mass opens, the bluecoats force their way in, and the whole Rebel squadron scatter in disgraceful flight through the cornfields in the rear. The boys followed them, sabering the fugitives. Days afterward, the enemy's horses lay thick among the uncut corn.

"Zagonyi holds his main body until Maythenyi disappears in the cloud of Rebel cavalry; then his voice rises through the air. "In open order-charge!' The line opens out to give play to their sword arm. Steeds respond to the ardor of their riders; and, quick as thought, with thrilling cheers, the noble hearts rush into the leaden torrent which pours down the incline. With unabated fire, the gallant fellows press through. The fierce onset is not even checked. The foe do not wait for them-they waver, break, and fly. The Guardsmen spur into the midst of the rout, and their fast-falling swords work a terrible revenge. Some of the boldest of the Southrons retreat into the woods, and continue a murderous fire from behind trees and thickets. Seven guard horses fall upon a space not more than 20 feet square. As his steed sinks under him, one of the officers is caught around the shoulders by a grapevine and hangs dangling in the air until he is cut down by his friends. The Rebel foot are flying in furious haste from the field. Some take refuge in the fair ground; some hurry into the cornfields; but the greater part run along the edge of the wood, swarm over the fence into the road, and hasten to the village; the Guardsmen follow. Zagonyi leads them. Over the loudest roar of battle rings his clarion voice. 'Come on, Old Kentuck! I'm with you!' and the flash of his sword blade tells his men where to go. As he approaches a barn, a man steps from behind the door and lowers his rifle; but, before it has reached a level, Zagonyi's sabor point descends upon his head, and his life-blood leaps to the very top of the huge barn-door.

"The conflict now rages through the village-in the public square, and along the "streets'. Up and down, the Guards ride in squads of three or four, and wherever they see a group of the enemy, charge upon and scatter them."

Zagonyi wisely evacuated the town at night-fall, knowing that by night he was at the mercy of the Rebels if they should muster courage to return and attack him. Of his 300 men, 84 were dead or wounded.

But few have suffered more from the effects of the rebellion than our aged friend. Though deprived of wealth and substance and bereft of a son and daughter, he complains not of his lot, but calmly awaits the hour when he shall be called to join his martyred children.

The Northern Indianian Thursday April 19, 1866

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