Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

We are many in one while there glitters a star
In the blue of the heavens above
And tyrants shall quail 'mid their dungeons afar,
When they gaze on that motto of love.
It shall gleam o'er the sea, 'mid the bolts of the storm--
Over tempest and battle and wreck --
And flame when our guns with their thunder grew warm
'Neath the blood on the slippery deck.
---George W. Cutter

Following the battle of Richmond, Ky., briefly and haltingly described in my last "war-time sketch," it is plain to be seen that the way for the Confederate army to march upon Cincinnati, was widely open, so far as any intervening Federal troops were concerned. During all of the battle described, it should be born in mind that there were about 8,000 troops at Lexington, the capital of the State, westward from Richmond about twenty-five miles with the Kentucky river about midway between the towns. It is always easier to see what should have been done after it is too late, rather than to grasp such a proposition at the moment. It is also easy to see now that instead of marching eastward from Richmond from six to ten miles to meet the oncoming Confederate army that outnumbered his own forces five to one, that Gen. Manson should have fallen back to the Kentucky river and made that the Federal line of defense rather than to move his small force that much farther away from help of any kind in an offensive operation.

I cannot state the fact from a personal knowledge, but I heard it from a number of sources and from officers who vouched for its truth that Gen. Manson made the remark that he had been placed in command of a body of soldiers; that they were there well towards the heart of Kentucky, and if they were not there to fight, what was the object in placing them there? "So," he remarked, "I resolved to fight!" The General thus early in the war may have been lauded for his determination to fight, but it is often the duty--the bounded duty--of a commanding officer to do anything else than fight, and it is very plain to understand now, at least that he should not have fought his brand new raw and undisciplined troops at Richmond, but while he was moving out several miles to meet Gen. Kirby Smith's veterans, the time consumed in doing so should have been a march towards the river referred to, a retrograde movement, in fact.

At Lexington, as has been stated, there were about 8,000 Union troops; the Kentucky river, a deeply sunken stream, about half way between the two towns. I refer to the Kentucky as a deeply "sunken" river, and so it was. It was said by the citizens of that region that there were only three fords practicable for crossing artillery and wagons in a length of sixty miles of the stream, and one of these fords was on the main route from Lexington to Richmond. The stream flowed through walls of solid rock, ranging from twenty-five to sixty feet in height, making it in fact, an easily defended stream at its few crossings. The forces at Richmond should have retrograded to the west bank of that stream and with the aid of the Lexington troops that could easily have come to their assistance, the combined forces should have been able to have held the line of the Kentucky river for a week or ten days at the very least. By that time further assistance could have reached them, as a railroad ran from Lexington to Cincinnati and one also to Louisville, and thus the States of Ohio and Indiana could have rushed reenforcements to them, the one State using the Cincinnati route and the other the route to Louisville. This however, was not done, as General Manson seemed to think that a soldier's only duty was to fight, forgetting, seemingly, that it is the commander's duty as well, to designate the best time and the best place to do so.

All this time the two armies farther west in the State--the one under General Don Carlos Buell, who was in command of the Union forces, with General Braxton Bragg holding a like position in the Confederate army, were moving on Louisville and it is said and is repeated by the soldiers to this day that the two armies headed northward were sometimes so close that the glint of their bayonets could sometimes be seen, their drums heard, and that at night the watch-fires of either were easily discernible. Similar disasters to that of Richmond occurred at other points and the veterans of today can easily remember that the Federal forces at Mumfordsville, Ky., consisting of about 6,000 men were captured at that place by a large force under the command of Gen. John Morgan, of the Confederate army, if I remember correctly and taken all in all the last half of 1862, looked ominous to many people in the North, and the fear was sometimes expressed that the Union cause might fall, and so it might, only that there is a God who rules the destiny of all mankind; the world and all that has been placed therein!

General Smith in command of the Confederate right-wing of the army that then seemed to be intending to invade the North, remained at Richmond several days and from that point issued a flaming proclamation printed in large posters, the main point of which was the urging of Kentuckians to join his forces, and assist the South in gaining her independence, and to some extent he was successful in enlisting a good many soldiers. My parole, it will be remembered by those who are perusing these sketches gave me the liberty of the town limits and in addition I had secured a pass to prevent me from being arrested by his patrol guards and in speaking of this reminds me that Company F of my own regiment, previous to the battle of Richmond, and under the command of Captain Samuel Boughter, a conductor on the Big Four railroad for many years past, had been the Federal provost guard of the town, and as a consequence Captain Boughter and his men had become quite well acquainted with the citizens of Richmond, and after all of us were captured I staid (sic) at the same boarding house that he occupied previous to the day of the battle. The lady who kept us boarders had a husband who was then a Confederate prisoner in Camp Chase, at Columbus, Ohio, and womanlike, she treated us very kindly in the hope--a very far-fetched one, however--that we might some time be able to do a favor to him! As a consequence, Captain Boughter and myself were much together during our three days' stay at Richmond.

For two or three months previous to this time there had been considerable friction between the officers and soldiers of two or three Indiana regiments and General Nelson, and they had written to Governor Morton upon the subject. General Nelson was a graduate of the naval academy of Annapolis, and had served on board of some of Uncle Sam's war vessels in the "ante-bellum" days --days when flogging in the navy was a common punishment, and hence, he was a domineering, overbearing, and almost brutal officer in the army; but he was a loyal Kentuckian, as brave as a lion, and as the government at Washington was cultivating the Union sentiment in that State to a great extent at that time, his competency and qualifications secured him a General's commission, but he was hardly the man to command free-born Americans in such a war, in a personal way. I should have stated in my sketch of last week that when I left Indianapolis I had been given by Governor Morton a number of letters to carry to officers then in the field. One of them was a long letter to Colonel William H. Link, of my own regiment; two to General Manson himself, and among them all was my own commission as Lieutenant Colonel of the Twelfth. Reaching the command as it was about to engage in a contest with the enemy and ending as it did, I, of course, had no opportunity to deliver any of them. All of these letters and documents were in the side pocket of my coat, and as I lay there on the ground after I had fallen into the hands of the enemy that first night of my captivity, the thought entered my mind --"what if I am searched in the morning?" --this was often done during the war by both sides-- "they may," I reasoned, "contain matters intended only for private ears," and right there I concluded to get rid of them, and so with my penknife, while lying on my back supposed to be asleep by the guard, I dug a deep hole right under me, deposited all the papers in my pocket into it and again covered them up and pressed the ground all about them as hard as I was able to do. As it was dark, I could not distinguish my commission as Lieutenant Colonel from the rest and hence it was buried with the rest, and I have often wondered since if those documents have ever been found, as they might readily have been plowed up since in the years that have elapsed since that weary August night in 1862. This incident properly should have been embraced in the sketch of last week, and was so intended, but was overlooked.

The days of the prisoners remaining in Richmond were growing wearisome. I made frequent visits to the hospital and to Colonel Link, who was mortally wounded, and was lying at a farmhouse just out of town, and kept as busy as I well could, but in the stirring up of Southern patriotism by General Smith's Confederate recruiting officers, it was easy to perceive a growing hatred toward us Federal officers, especially coming from the new recruits. Consequently a number of us got together, after the regular parole had been furnished to one and all, and determined to set forth on our journey to Cincinnati and as the railroad between Lexington and Cincinnati was so badly injured in many places, that no trains were possible, the long journey had to be made on foot. Accordingly a number of us had provided a hone-horse buggy, and its owner as a driver to take General Manson out of the country in that way, he being seriously wounded, the reader will recollect; along with Colonel Reuben Keis, of Boone county, this state, Colonel Armstrong, of the Ninety-fifth Ohio regiment, Major Sol D. Kempton, of my own regiment, and perhaps three or four more, at least when we started, and a short time before dark we left Richmond, almost sure that to remain another day might get us prisoners into trouble with the "fire-eating" rebel element, and what is more, we determined not to go by the route taken by the great body of prisoners after they were paroled, feeling certain that the passage of so many men, all living off the country through which they passed would not only leave it bare of food, but also cause no little friction between the returning prisoners and the people living along the route.

Winchester was the first county seat lying due north, and we had been informed that the road was a good one, and as it was far pleasanter in those hot days to march at night and lay by in the daytime for rest and recuperation. After the decision to go straight north had been arrived at, the whole party set forth, and we had reached a bridge across a stream of considerable size and around the end of the bridge towards us we could see eight or ten men on horseback. The growing ill-will of the people at Richmond had put us on our guard and we, therefore approached this body of men quite carefully, as in our unarmed condition--though for myself I had put two fairly good-sized stones in each of my pockets--we would be ill prepared for a recontre. However, we went forward just as if no suspicions were entertained by any one of us, but just as was anticipated, the party was inclined to be insolent. One of the men asked us whether we had been paroled or not, and in response to the reply he ripped out an oath that "the North could never subdue the South, and so far as he was concerned his sympathy was entirely with the South and against the "invaders." Another one used the expression, "If I ever fight it will be on the sunny side." Looking back on the incident after all these years, I am satisfied that but for circumspect conduct on our part, there would have been trouble right there, for as we entered the bridge I saw a Colt revolver sticking out of the pockets of two of them.

Having safely shaken our unwelcome interlopers, we thought best to push forward as fast as possible and get as far away from the battlefield as could be done by an all-night march. Our speed was regulated by General Manson's buggy, but just about sunrise we entered the town of Winchester, twenty-five miles from Richmond. We stopped at a hotel with the inevitable saloon the next door from the office. The latter contained, it may be noted, a dozen of comparatively young men, ranging from perhaps twenty-five to forty years of age, and all of them in a rather happy mood. Of course, they could see that we were Federal soldiers from our dress, and every one of them was exceedingly anxious for the news. They knew that a battle had been fought; but as there was no telegraphic communication with Richmond, the particulars they possessed had be filtered through to them by word of mouth and they were sufficiently intelligent to know that much of it was unreliable. When I left Richmond, I had only a dollar and a quarter, while Major Kempton, my special comrade, had forty-five cents! The party treated us very genteelly and were all in a joke-cracking, happy humor, so that when one of them stepped up to me and remarked: "Stranger, if you will step up to that gentleman and call him General Humphreys, I'll pay for the drinks and for a breakfast for yourself and friend" "I have no objection," said I, thinking of my own depleted finances. I asked him which one and when he pointed him out for the second time I stepped up to him and says I, "Why General Humphreys, how d'ye do?" The entire crowd broke off in such a loud roar of laughter that I was not only astonished, but somewhat abashed as well, for I expected nothing else than for the man I had called General Humphreys to resent my freedom of speech. I never learned the point to the jest, but that there was something hidden behind it all, I felt sure, of course, and many times have I thought since then that I would right to the postmaster or someone at Winchester, and try to find out the "nub" to the joke, for that it had an important meaning, I felt sure at the time, and I am equally confident now, that from the boisterous manner in which my salutation was received, that there was something deep behind it all.

At any rate I had won two very excellent breakfasts of fried chicken, corn fritters and coffee by complying with the request. We remained there during almost the entire day intenting to do our traveling in the cool of the coming night. During the day I found there was considerable Union or rather anti-war sentiment in that part of Kentucky; for when a citizen could approach me in a quiet way with no eaves-dropper near, quite a good many had no hesitancy in telling me his real sentiments. Of course, the noisy and the hurrah sort of fellows were loud in their professions of loyalty to the outraged South. Whatever Union sentiment there was in the place was of the quiet order, perhaps none the less genuine on that account, for thousands of loyal Kentuckians, fought gallantly for the Union of the States up till the surrender of Generals Lee and Johnson. The usual space allotted to each of these sketches being filled I have only to say that the incidents of the remainder of the journey from Richmond, Ky., to Cincinnati, Ohio, will be recounted in the next "war-time sketch."

Warsaw Daily Times April 11, 1903

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