Monday, February 8, 2010

Sherman's Boys ~ The 14th KY in the Civil War

I find it more than appropriate to post this article in honor of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman's birthday today, February 8.

Few generals have gained as much popularity and respect with their men as Sherman did. As his self-confidence grew so did the confidence of the soldiers in their commander and themselves. By the time Sherman embarked on his March to the Sea, his army appeared to be nearly invincible. One of the regiments that served under Sherman was the 14th Kentucky Infantry.

Organization of the regiment began early October 1861, at Louisa, Lawrence County, Kentucky. Only weeks prior, Kentucky had given up its status or neutrality and, by elections, decided to adhere to the Union. Almost immediately Confederate forces under Johnston, Buckner and Zollicoffer crossed into Kentucky and advanced toward Bowling Green, Somerset and Louisville. Excitement ran high across the state and rumors of all sorts were the order of the day.

In this highly charged atmosphere Sherman took over military affairs in Kentucky on October 8, 1861. The very same day he wired General "Bull" Nelson, a fervent Union supporter from Kentucky and a personal friend of Lincoln, to attack the Confederates in Eastern Kentucky. Knowing that the Kentucky troops were utterly unprepared, Sherman did not formally order the attack but left the matter to Nelson's judgment. Sherman was anxious about sufficient supplies for his troops, concerned about military strength of his command and questioned the loyalty of the young Kentuckians.

It is unfortunate that Sherman was not aware of how deep Union sentiment ran with his Kentucky troops. Despite the lack of weapons and uniforms and proper training in even the most basic military operations, federal troops from Kentucky willingly stood to defend and protect their homes, farnilies and the Union - even if it meant death. One officer from Ohio remarked, "To my agreeable surprise I find the Kentucky Union men even more determined to put down this rebellion than our Union men in Ohio. A few evenings since, two Union men belonging to the 14th KY, who were at home sick, on furlough, were dragged from their beds at the hour of midnight and brutally murdered, for no other offense, than having a love for the Union".

Almost exactly one month prior to their muster the 14th KY, together with other troops under command of General Nelson, confronted the Confederates at Ivy Mountain on November 8, 1861 and drove them out of Eastern Kentucky - at least temporarily. From December 1861 until March 1862, the 14th KY participated in the Eastern Kentucky Campaign under James A. Garfield, future president of the United States. About the 14th Ky he noted that it was composed of excellent material but because of its lack of training was hardly more than "a Union loving mob."

In April 1862, the Cumberland Gap Campaign began and the regiment was assigned to the 7th Division, Army of the Ohio, under command or General George W. Morgan. On June 18, the Gap was occupied by Morgans troops and the next two months were spent fortifying this strategic stronghold. In mid-August, the Confederate invasion into Kentucky began and the Gap was completely sunrounded. Cut off from the outside world, Morgans division was facing starvation and capture. After a council of war, Morgan decided on a daring plan to lead his troops from the Gap to the Ohio River on an almost forgotten "Indian Warrior Path", which led through the barren Kentucky mountainside.

Under cover of night, the 7th Division left the Gap and Lt. Colonel Gallup of the 14th KY., with a small party of men, fired the storage buildings, set off mines and exploded the arsenals. The Gap turned into a flaming inferno. After a 16-day march, Morgan's troops reached the Ohio River, half-naked and starved, but in good spirits and free. By now the "mob" of the 14th KY had turned into seasoned veterans, not in small part due to the able leadership of their new Colonel John Cochran, a former officer of the "Lexington Chasseurs".

From 1683 to April 1864, the 14th KY was assigned to duty at home in Eastern Kentucky. By mid-May 1864, the regiment received the call to participate in the Atlanta Campaign under their old commander General Sherman. The 14th KY was assigned to the 2nd Division, XXIII Army Corps. It was a fiery reunion. The day after their arrival in Georgia, one of the supply trains of the XXIII Army Corps, the 14th Ky had been assigned to guard, was attacked by Wheelers cavalry.

Things did not get better - the men had to face the hell at New Hope Church, endure endless rainfalls and knee-deep mud and the constantly whizzing bullets of Confederate sharpshooters which claimed the lives of men every day. The Battle at Foster's Farm on June 2, 1864 was yet another engagement in which the 14th KY performed heroically but sustained tragic losses.

Then came the Battle at Kolb's Farm on June 22, 1864, place of the famous Sherman-Hooker confrontation, which eventually led to Hookers resignation. The XXIII Army Corps was moving toward Marietta on the Powder Springs road - the 14th Ky thrown out as skirmishers - when they encountered a large body of Confederate troops massing in front of them. It was General Wood's Corps. The l4th KY was ordered to proceed forward cautiously and to hold the ground as long as possible in order to give the Union troops enough time to prepare for an attack.

After the first assault, the second regiment of skirmishers, the 123rd NY, fell back and the 14th KY, alone stood the brunt of the next attacks, refusing their left flank and stubbornly holding their ground even after being ordered twice to retire and join the main line. The general Union assault began when the regiment finally retreated.

The following morning Sherman and Hooker were inspecting the grounds where the battle had taken place and viewing the dead, mostly of the 14th KY. Colonel Gallup 14th KY, wrote,"... I lost out of 700 men, 77 killed and wounded, a large loss. The boys are brave. General Hooker, Thomas Mcpherson and Sherman complimented this regiment and says it is the best in the 23 A.C." The same day, a special order was issued by General Hascall, their division commander, complimenting the 14th KY.

It seems that from that day on the regiment was never far from Sherman. On July 18, the 14th KY was seven miles from Rossville on the Cross Keys road where it camped near Sherman's headquarters. Gallup wrote, "I have as yet seen but 2 good houses in Georgia that is in this country, one just beyond at Buck Head. Gen. Sherman has just taken possession of it for headquarters, the people having run away and left their property". Sheman moved toward Atlanta with the XXIII Army Corps and on July 20, Gallup recorded, "Yesterday was a day of much excitement. We were fighting for 3 miles back for every foot of territory that we have got. General Sherman was with our brigade and often exposed himself to fire. One of his staff had his horse killed near the General".

On the day of the Battle of Atlanta, July 22, the 14th KY was positioned directly in front of Sherman's headquarters, occupying the front line, 600-800 yards distant from the enemy's works and 1200 yards from the center of Atlanta. Again, Sherman paid the men a visit. Gallup observed that "General Sherman is along and views with calmness the scene and what we believe to be the doomed city". When General McPherson's body was brought to Sherman's headquarters after being killed in battle, the 14th KY was detailed to guard his body.

On August 26, when Sherman's grand-wheel movement was underway, Gallup noted," General Sherman and his train is now passing where we are constructing our new line of works".

After the end of the Atlanta Campaign the XXIII Army Corps camped at Decatur and then participated in the pursuit of Hood. In November 1864, the 14th KY, was ordered to Johnsonville, Tennessee, where it almost encountered Shermans nemesis "that devil Forrest", missing him only by one day, after his attack on the gunboats and federal depots at Johnsonville.

Only days before the Battle of Franklin, the 14th KY was recalled by the governor of Kentucky. It arrived at Louisa ca. November 21, where it was mustered out on January 31, 1865. The recruits and veterans of the 14th KY were organized as the 14th KY Battalion which was mustered out on September 15, 1865 at Louisville.

There is no doubt the the men were proud of their Uncle Billy. The Atlanta Campaign and their commander made an impact on their lives - it was something they never forgot and also told their children and grandchildren about, some of whom bore Sherman's name.

This article was written by Marlitta H. Perkins and first published in "Cump and Co." in 1998 and re-published in 2001 in the 14th KY Newsletter.

No comments:

Post a Comment