Memories of War Times

Personal Reminiscences of Happenings That Took Place From 1861 to the Grand Review

by Reub Williams

Sleep, soldiers! Still in honored rest
Your truth and valor wearing--
The bravest are the tenderest,
The loving are the daring.
---Bayard Taylor

Gen. Lew Wallace had been in command in Central Kentucky, but owing to a change made at about this time, Gen. Wallace had been given a command with headquarters at Cincinnati, and Gen. Nelson -- a loyal Kentucky officer--had been placed in command of the troops in the field. Under him, the next in command was Brigadier General Mahlon D. Manson, of Indiana, and under the latter were the troops that had been assembled at Richmond, Ky., to retard and delay the advance march of the Confederate General Kirby Smith, who as related in my last sketch was then invading Kentucky through Cumberland and Pound Gaps with a force of about 30,000 men, the most of them having seen more than a year's service, and a large number of his troops having fought at Pea Ridge in Missouri, and consequently were "seasoned" soldiers so far as a year's active service and more could accomplish such a result.

To oppose him, General Manson had at Richmond less than 5,000 men, all of them fresh from the fields, workshops and counters of Ohio and Indiana, and very generally quite young men, one and all with no experience whatever as soldiers, and hundreds of whom had never fired either a revolver or gun in all their lives, and it was this small body of troops that were to meet Gen. Kirby Smith's veterans in the heart of Kentucky. It should also be born in mind that it was in the last few days of August, 1862, the weather exceedingly hot and in a region in which, except in rainy weather and flood times, was so scarce of water that every farm-house was provided with cisterns to catch and hold the water that was drained into them from rains and every small shower in a time of scarcity, when even the deeply sunk wells had given out; so that at this time there was scarcely sufficient water for drinking and cooking purposes of that small army, let along for the livestock-the horses and mules.

Those who are perusing these sketches will remember that it has already been stated that on reaching Lexington, the capital of Kentucky, I found quite a number of men belonging to the Twelfth regiment of which I was then Lieutenant Colonel, who on learning that it was my intention to join the regiment on the next day were very solicitous to accompany me so that they could again be with their respective companies and the comrades with whom they were acquainted and with whom they had enlisted. After gaining permission from General Cruft, the commander of all the troops in and about Lexington, I gave my consent, rather proud of the spirit that animated these young men to meet the enemy, for it was well known that a battle was imminent ere many days and all of them were perhaps only all too anxious to meet the enemy, when the lack of preparation to do so is considered. There were probably seventy-five men all told--some from other regiments as well as my own, but just as anxious to rejoin their commands, who were taken along also. Several of us were mounted, but the infantry soldier, trudging along on foot, carrying his rations, gun, etc., for the first time, he having reached Lexington, from which we started, but cars, had a long and weary day before him.

Richmond was fully twenty-five miles distance from the State capital and due east; consequently the shades of night were falling at the close of a long August day when we reached our destination. The enlisted men soon found their respective companies and I reported to regimental headquarters only to learn that Colonel Link, the commanding officer of the Twelfth, having had some experience in the Mexican war, and a year's service in the Army of the Potomac, in the War for the Union, had been assigned to command a brigade in the battle that was expected on the morrow, which compelled me to take command of a full regiment. The responsibility almost appalled me. I had had considerable experience as the Captain of a company, and I doubt if any of the volunteer forces had studied the tactics more assiduously than I had done up to that time, but this education was all for company movements, but on the night of reaching Richmond I found I was to take command of ten companies -- ten companies, too, that had not as yet seen scarcely a full day's drill, and had never stood up in line of battle, even on dress parade! The responsibility was so great that I did not sleep much that night, after the meager repast of coffee, crackers and bacon, to be aroused at 4:30 the next morning with an order to be ready to march at 5:30. It should be remembered, too, that I had never before seen more than three or four of the companies of the regiment, as I had gone home from Indianapolis just as soon as the organization of the regiment had been completed, and that evening was the first time I had seen them since.

After a breakfast consisting of the same bill-of-fare as the previous supper, the bugle sounded and we took up the line of march to the eastward. Colonel Metcalf's Kentucky cavalry had developed the fact that the Confederate Army was advancing in heavy force on several roads and here we were with an unorganized, undisciplined force, of less than 5,000 men -- less than 4,000 on the fighting line, no doubt, after the details for the various purposes had been made, but especially in guarding the many forks of roads. I should judge that we had moved eastward for five or six miles when a halt was ordered for some cause and I had received directions from Colonel Link, my own Colonel, but then commanding the brigade, to place the Twelfth in line facing the east and along a rail fence. I at once perceived that there was a cornfield somewhat to my right but also in front, and as it was the last day of August the corn stood up at its full height. The thought passed through my head that the Confederates might utilize this cornfield, which was a large one, to cover the flanking movement, but about that time, the rebels in our front, principally cavalry, opened up with four or five shots from what "our side" afterwards came to call a "jack-ass battery." These kind of guns were taken to pieces and carried on several mules, proper panniers having been arranged for the purpose. The gun itself, I believe, was carried between two mules; the wheels on another and the ammunition on still another. They were used considerably by the Confederates during the early part of the war. The first shot struck the fence behind which my command was stationed and several men were more or less hurt by the flying rails, which had been knocked in every direction. The third shot struck the pummel of my saddle, cut the bridle reins out of my fingers and so bruised the withers of my horse that the blood slowly oozed from the wound. As he was a very spirited animal I had all I could do to remain on his back while I was trying to quiet him.

It was plain to Colonel Link and myself the only field officers on that immediate ground, that the Confederate army was even then engaged in making a wide flanking movement, the objective point being Richmond and its supplies; but there seemed to be no head to the army and we remained there for some time awaiting orders. To tell the truth I never saw General Manson on the field and it was the next day after we were about all taken prisoners that I came across him in the hands of the Confederate cavalry having been taken prisoner long before I was. The reader will remember the cornfield already alluded to. I was a very large one, and I had ridden to a point after the mishap to my horse, where I could look through the long rows of corn from whence I could see a body of men moving to our right. I hastened to Colonel Link and told him what I had seen. He replied by saying it must be some of our own men, but while I could not contradict him, I insisted on him going to a point where we could take a look through the rows of corn. He did so, but as neither of us were in possession of field-glasses, we could not make out whether they were our own men or the enemy.* Both of us went back and Colonel Link decided to have us fall back into a skirt of timber and there await orders and events. Where we stopped was immediately behind the cornfield spoken of and during all this time the rebels were using the standing corn as a cover and on its south side was a good wide road. After they had turned the corner of the cornfield, they crept along this road until within easy gun shot reach, when they poured into us a most fatal volley, to be followed by others as fast as they could reload and fire, into the Twelfth, where it had sought partial cover in the timber. Of course the men of the Twelfth returned the fire, and after awhile held the enemy sufficiently in check so that they could begin the retrograde movement back to Richmond, orders for which had been received some time before the attempt was made to fall back.

Just as the movement to the rear began, I was interviewed for a brief moment by John McCulloch, at that time the noted correspondent of the Cincinnati Commercial and in his article on the battle, published four or five days, perhaps a full week after it occurred, he stated that at the time he was writing, the Twelfth Indiana was the only Federal regiment on the field that had preserved its organization, and it was wholly intact, and unexcited when he came up with it. He might not have said this had he known that at the time he saw it , it had been assembled to begin the retrograde movement towards Richmond. The day was a fearful one and all in all I hark back to what is called the battle of Richmond, Ky., as one of the severest in which myself and regiment were engaged during the war. They had gone out in the early morning with a breakfast insufficient to stay the appetite of a single one of the men in the command, and throughout the entire day --a blistering hot one-- neither man nor beast had even a sup of water. The suffering of the men must have been great. All of them were new to the service, none of them accustomed to marching or to carrying the impediments with which a soldier --usually new ones--are loaded down, and it was too, an all-day fight, for after the first contact with the enemy after a six miles march from the time the retrograde movement began there was not a moment in which there was not a skirmish or a more pretentious struggle in progress all over the field; fought, in many instances by small detachments and at other times involving a whole regiment and more. During all this time the Confederate General was continuing his flanking movement, and being so very much superior in numbers he had sufficient troops to throw the most of his cavalry between Richmond and Lexington, which he did to a great extent.

Probably an hour before sundown the most of the Federal army had fallen back to, and had assembled along the eastern side of the town of Richmond, where it was determined that a last stand should be made. Sometime in the afternoon General Nelson and staff appeared upon the scene having heard of the fight that was in progress through couriers sent him to Nicholasville, where he had his headquarters --a village perhaps twenty miles distant. He rode along the lines in the endeavor to encourage the men, but after the final disposition late in the evening, I saw him no more. After the line had been formed for the last stand, Jacob Merriman, the young man whom I have already stated was in my employ to care for my horse, came up to me and asked me if he should bring it up to me. I should have stated that in the first volley the regiment received in the edge of the timber my horse sustained a second injury, a musket-ball having struck him low down in the belly, cutting a small piece out of my trousers and boring a hole through the saddle-girth. It must have hurt him seriously for in his plunge he threw me straight up in the air so that when I came down there was no horse to light upon and he had run away. Merriman had found him, however, and after tying him to a fence he came forward to the battle line, I having been on foot from the time I was thrown, and asked me if I wanted to use him. As the skirmishers were just then beginning to occupy the attention of one another, I told him to stay with the horse until the contest that then seemed to be commencing was over, and then hut me up and I may as well dispose of the hose incident right her. Merriman had evidently obeyed his instructions, but neither the young man nor the horse were ever seen alive afterward. The young man's remains were never found, although an extended search was made the next day. The body of the hose with his entire rump torn away with either a sold shot or shell from a rebel battery was found on the Lexington pike, about a mile west of Richmond. It was presumed that Merriman had gotten that far with him and may have been killed with the same shot that so terribly mangled the horse; but this is only a surmise, as Jacob Merriman's body was never seen afterwards. I had owned the horse just about a week and as I rode through Lexington after taking the animal from the cars a Kentuckian bantered me only two days before the battle to take $300 for him. I didn't do it, but Uncle Sam after the war allowed me just half that sum -- $150 for the loss.

Following the departure of Merriman with my horse to the rear, the Confederate forces moved forward upon the thin and weak line the Federals had formed, extending partly through the Richmond cemetery and south of that among some forest trees. It was evident from the start that the Confederates had determined to take the town at any hazard, for their army moved forward three lines deep and in some cases four. They ran right over our skirmishers. The Federals held their line for some time--a long time, indeed when the great preponderance in the number of the rebel forces is considered. Over in the cemetery there seemed to be a weak spot in our lines and it was retreating slowly before the heavy onset of the enemy. To remedy this and to check the retrograde movement of the men --a portion of his brigade -- Colonel William H. Link dashed over to the wavering point and in so doing received a musket-ball in his hip that shattered the thigh bone, from the effects of which he died in about ten days afterward. A monument to his memory stands in the beautiful Lindenwood cemetery at Fort Wayne, where he lived previous to the war, and from which place he enlisted just as soon as the President called for troops. He was a brave and gallant soldier; had served in the Mexican war, but as Colonel of the Twelfth Indiana Infantry, his death came so quickly after the regiment was organized that there were many men and even some officers who scarcely knew him when they saw him, his career as the head of the regiment was so exceedingly brief. That he would have risen in rank as an officer cannot be doubted, for he had already been selected for his military knowledge alone, to command the brigade to which his regiment belonged.

For myself I can most truthfully say that the battle of Richmond was the most trying one of the many that it was afterward my lot to pass through. Except in what became Company F, and a few men who had served in the Twelfth during its year's enlistment, I, also, was totally unknown; nor did I know on sight some of the captains of companies of my own regiment during that battle; and having never before even attempted to maneuver a battalion it is not to be wondered at that I felt the responsibility deeply, but my own incompetence, as well, to handle ten companies instead of the one which had been the previous limit of my command. I can only say that vigilant and rigorous study of the tactics by night, and the drill which we had inaugurated while prisoners in Richmond under the competent direction of Colonel DeVilliers, as has already been related, was of great service to me when responsibilities had been undertaken. The next sketch will detail matters covering our return to Indianapolis as prisoners under parole and life in Camp Morton until the regiment was exchanged, as well as some of the trying difficulties encountered while "footing it" back to Cincinnati from the Richmond battlefield.

*It is hardly necessary to say that I lost no time in providing myself with a field glass after the experience at that cornfield and on re-entering active service, a field glass, and a good one, too, was never absent from my belt until after the Grand Review.

Warsaw Daily Times March 28, 1903

Back to YesterYear in Print