This day in 1862 one of the greatest escapes in the Civil War took place

Robert Smalls (1839 – 1915) was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, on April 5th, 1839, in a slave cabin behind his mother’s master’s house on 511 Prince Street. In 1862 he escaped from Charleston harbor aboard a steamer called the Planter with his family and several friends too. The boat had to pass by five Confederate check-points and then surrender its contents to the northern Naval fleet out in the harbor where it was blockading the important southern port.

His escape succeeded and Robert would meet Abraham Lincoln personally a couple weeks later. Lincoln was quite impressed with a black man, also a slave, who had learned how to pilot and navigate the coastal waterways around Charleston. Smalls was eventually handsomely rewarded with bounty-money. Lincoln also allowed Admiral DuPont to offer Smalls the position of Captain of the Planter, though an official commission was not permitted at the time. Nonetheless, Robert Smalls became the first black Captain of a U.S. Naval vessel.

Three months later Smalls would visit Abraham Lincoln in the White House to plead the opportunity for blacks to fight for the Union. Just days afterwards Lincoln approved the raising of the first black troops in the Blue uniform and Robert Smalls was instrumental in helping to start the 1st South Carolina Infantry of U.S. Colored Troops.

Join the Robert Smalls Facebook Group

Smalls would go on to pilot the Planter for the Union cause and take place in several important engagements around Charleston and the Sea Islands. After the Civil War he was elected among a few other blacks as they became the freshman class of blacks to serve as U.S. Congressmen.

Robert Smalls’ story is an amazing one of courage, determination, sacrifice, risk and reward – from slavery to Congressman!

Charleston celebrated the amazing feat on the 150th anniversary with several community engagements. Read these articles:

See my visual guide to Robert Smalls and Beaufort

25+ pages of news coverage of the 150th Anniversary weekend in one PDF here.

A new book has just been published on Robert Smalls titled, Be Free or Die: The amazing story of Robert Smalls’ escape from slavery to Union hero, by Cate Lineberry. Order from Amazon.

Facing death rather than enslavement—a story of one man’s triumphant choice and ultimate rise to national hero

It was a mild May morning in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1862, the second year of the Civil War, when a twenty-three-year-old slave named Robert Smalls did the unthinkable and boldly seized a Confederate steamer. With his wife and two young children hidden on board, Smalls and a small crew ran a gauntlet of heavily armed fortifications in Charleston Harbor and delivered the valuable vessel and the massive guns it carried to nearby Union forces. To be unsuccessful was a death sentence for all. Smalls’ courageous and ingenious act freed him and his family from slavery and immediately made him a Union hero while simultaneously challenging much of the country’s view of what African Americans were willing to do to gain their freedom.

After his escape, Smalls served in numerous naval campaigns off Charleston as a civilian boat pilot and eventually became the first black captain of an Army ship. In a particularly poignant moment Smalls even bought the home that he and his mother had once served in as house slaves.

Be Free or Die is a compelling narrative that illuminates Robert Smalls’ amazing journey from slave to Union hero and ultimately United States Congressman. This captivating tale of a valuable figure in American history gives fascinating insight into the country’s first efforts to help newly freed slaves while also illustrating the many struggles and achievements of African Americans during the Civil War.

How important was Union control over Kentucky and Tennessee during the Civil War?

Kentucky was a border state during the American Civil War and one of the northern-most “Confederate Heartland” states as well.  The Confederate Heartland (i.e., Western Theater) is noted by modern historians as that portion of “the vast region south of the Ohio River and between the Appalchian Mountains on the east and the Mississippi River on the west (McMurry).”

The most northern portion of the Confederate Heartland would most significantly be the states of Kentucky and Tennessee. Whomever controlled that northern portion would be in a great position to also control the entire Confederate heartland.

By early 1862 the Union held firm control over Kentucky and Tennessee.  Nashville capitualted in Feb 1862 without a shot being fired.  What did this result in? By gaining control of the northern heartland Kentucky was not likely to ever secede and the capture and occupation of Nashville – from early 1862 onward – meant that the Confederate states would be deprived of the:

“South’s great horse countrymost of the Volunteer State’s raw materials (notably iron and copper), its significant industrial capacity, its railroads. and its great agricultural production (McMurry, May 2012 issue (Vol 14 #1) of North and South Magazine,  ”From the West . . . Where the War Was Decided.”

Also see: Sister States, Enemy States : The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee. Kent Dollar, ed. Univ of Kentucky Press, 2011.

Robert Smalls escaped aboard the CSS Planter exactly 150 years ago today

Robert Smalls (1839 – 1915) was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, on April 5th, 1839, in a slave cabin behind his mother’s master’s house on 511 Prince Street. In 1862 he escaped from Charleston harbor aboard a steamer called the Planter with his family and several friends too. The boat had to pass by five Confederate check-points and then surrender its contents to the northern Naval fleet out in the harbor where it was blockading the important southern port.

His escape succeeded and Robert would meet Abraham Lincoln personally a couple weeks later. Lincoln was quite impressed with a black man (slave) who had learned how to pilot and navigate the coastal waterways around Charleston. Lincoln rewarded Smalls handsomely with bounty-money and a commission into the Union Navy as a captain of a vessel – the Planter! He was the first black Captain of a U.S. Naval vessel.

Three months later Smalls would visit Abraham Lincoln in the Whitehouse to plead the opportunity for blacks to fight for the Union. Just days afterwards Lincoln approved the raising of the first black troops in the Blue uniform and Robert Smalls was instrumental in helping to start the 1st South Carolina Infantry of U.S. Colored Troops.

Smalls would go on to pilot the Planter for the Union cause and take pace in several important engagements around Charleston and the Sea Islands. After the Civil War he was elected among a few other blacks as they became the freshman class of blacks to serve as U.S. Congressmen.

Robert Smalls’s story is an amazing one of courage, determination, sacrifice, risk and reward – from slavery to Congressman!

Charleston is celebrating the amazing feat with several community engagements this weekend. Read these articles:

See my visual guide to Robert Smalls and Beaufort

25+ pages of news coverage of the 150th Anniversary weekend in one PDF here.


The Life and Legacy of Robert Smalls of South Carolina’s Sea Islands

This book tells the story of the life of Robert Smalls, an enslaved African American, born in Beaufort, South Carolina, in 1839. During and after the American Civil War, he became a ship’s pilot, a sea captain, and a politician. He freed himself and his family from slavery and was instrumental in the creation of South Carolina’s public school system. He wrote in 1895, “My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.”

This item is proudly printed in the USA. Text by Lu Ann Jones and Robert K. Sutton, published by Eastern National, 48 pages, ISBN: 978-1-59091-117-4.


Just $5.95  Order here

Morgan’s Christmas Raid of 1862

The following article is provided by author and historian Bryan S. Bush. To learn more about Bryan and his books visit his web site,

Bryan S. Bush

After the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky on October 8, 1862, Union General Don Carlos Buell was relieved of command and replaced with William S. Rosecrans.  Rosecrans renamed the Army of the Ohio and changed the name to the Army of the Cumberland. With his new Army, Rosecrans pushed into Southern territory.  In order to keep his army fed and well supplied, he needed to keep the Louisville & Nashville Railroad operating at full capacity.  Rosecrans made sure that the Louisville & Nashville Railroad was heavily defended with stockades at the tunnels and bridges.

Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy”, was a Kentucky native and knew the Louisville & Nashville Railroad well.  He decided that the best place to disrupt Rosecrans supply line was at a pair of one hundred foot high trestles that ran for about five hundred feet.  They were located below Louisville, Kentucky, just north of Elizabethtown, and ran through Muldraugh’s Hill.  After consulting with Confederate General Braxton Bragg, commander of the Army of Tennessee, Bragg gave Morgan permission for his raid.

Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan

On December 22, 1862, Morgan left Alexandria, Tennessee with 3,100 cavalrymen and seven pieces of artillery.  The effective force was divided into two brigades, the first brigade was under the command of Col. Basil Duke of the Second Kentucky Cavalry and the second command was under the command of Col. W. C. P. Breckinridge of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry.  Four pieces of artillery; two twelve pounder howitzers and two six pounder guns of Palmer’s battery were assigned to Col. Duke.  Col. Breckinridge’s brigade had one three inch Parrott Rifle commanded by Captain White and two mountain howitzers under Lt. C. C. Corbett.1

When Morgan’s men left Alexandria, four hundred of his men had no arms and performed duty as horse holders.  There were no sabers among any of the men.  The men in ranks were equipped with one or two Colt army pistols, a few had cavalry carbines, a large number of the troopers carried double barreled shotguns.  Most of the men carried long barreled Enfield, Austrian, or Belgian rifles, which were used mostly by the infantry.  The average of Morgan’s men were between 18 to 35 years old.  Every cavalrymen carried his own ammunition, two extra horseshoes, twelve nails, one blanket in addition to the saddle blanket, and an oil cloth overcoat.2The men carried three days cooked rations.

By December 24, Morgan’s men had traveled ninety miles and was within six miles from Glasgow.  As the men entered the town, they encountered the advance guard of a battalion of the Second Michigan Cavalry, Company C, under Lt. Darrow.  A skirmish broke out between the forces and Morgan lost Captain W. E. Jones of Company A, Ninth Kentucky Cavalry and a private in Breckinridge’s regiment were mortally wounded, and Lt. Samuel O. Peyton, of Duke’s regiment was seriously wounded and about seven of his men taken prisoners.  The Second Michigan Cavalry lost one man killed, one wounded, and sixteen captured.  Not only did Morgan’s men manage to capture sixteen men from the Second Michigan, they also managed to capture a number of Christmas turkeys.

On December 25, Christmas Day, Morgan passed through Glasgow and took Bear Wallow turnpike toward Munfordville, Kentucky.  About ten miles from Green River, Morgan’s scouts reported that a battalion of cavalry was drawn up and awaiting Morgan’s approach.  The battalion of Federal cavalry were two companies each of the Fourth and Fifth Indiana Cavalry, under the command of Col. Isaac Gray.  Fifty of Morgan’s advance guard rode forward and when then approached within two hundred yards from the Federal line, Captain Quirk of Morgan’s scouts, halted the men, dismounted and advanced on foot.  Reaching the top of the rise in the lane with a high fence on either side, the Federals opened fire, which Quirk’s men returned from the fence corners.  The Federals had set an ambush and the or Fifth Indiana or 12th Kentucky Cavalry, depending upon which report you read, rushed up to an adjoining rail fence and began to fire upon Morgan’s men.  Several of Morgan’s men were wounded, including Captain Quirk.  The erupting battle stampeded Morgan’s horses, leaving Quirk’s scouts on foot.  Five members of Morgan’s men were captured.  The rest of the scouts jumped over the fence and ran for a scrub oak thicket, which was located one or two hundred yards across a field.  By this time, the leading regiment of the main column of Morgan’s men arrived, rounded up the stampeded horses, and rescued the scouts.  The scouts and the regiment charged the Federals and after a few minutes the Federals were surrounded and forced to surrender.  Union Col. Edward Hobson, commanding the Munfordville, only reported one killed, two prisoners, and several horses killed, with no loss to the 12th Kentucky Cavalry.

On the chance that the Federals might have guessed that Morgan was going to attack the trestles, he decided that Lt. Col. John B. Hutchinson and the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry should attack the Bacon Creek Bridge, while the rest of his regiments would approach Elizabethtown.  The Yankees had constructed a massive stockade within a hundred yards of the Bacon Creek Bridge.  The entire length of the bridge could be covered by rifle fire.  Hutchinson arrived and ordered the Parrott gun, which had been captured at Hartsville, Tennessee, and a mountain howitzer to fire at the stockade, while he sent a detail to fire the bridge.  Several fires were started on the bridge, but the incessant cold rain put out the flames.  Hutchinson himself tried to put lighted brands on the railroad, only to be shot away by the Federal sharp shooters.  Hutchinson severely shelled the stockade, but the stockade held out.  A number of the shells burst within the stockade and some of the shells penetrated the walls and an old barn, which had been left within the earthworks.  The barn was blown apart, with many of the timbers falling on the Federal soldiers within the stockade.3 Morgan arrived and sent a flag of truce and demanded an unconditional surrender.  Captain James, who commanded the stockade, finally decided to surrender.  Ninety three men of the Ninety First Illinois Infantry surrendered.  Hutchinson made sure that the telegraph lines were cut and the poles torn down.  For a few days, Rosecrans Nashville base was cut off from Louisville.  Hutchinson also made sure that the tracks were torn up for several miles.  Col. Basil Duke arrived at Nolin and sent a flag of truce to the commander of the stockade.  The commander agreed to surrender if Col. Duke would show him the number of pieces of artillery.  Col. Duke showed the Union commander his two mountain howitzers, which Col Duke temporarily borrowed, but when Col. Duke pressed him to comply with his part of the agreement, the Union commander hesitated, and said he would return and consult with his officers.  While the Union commander returned to his officers, Col. Duke made sure that he saw the artillery was planted closer to the stockade and his riflemen in position to have a better command of the ground.  The Union officer came back to Col. Duke and surrendered.  Col. Duke took the stockade at Nolin without a fight and captured three officers and 73 privates of the Ninety First Illinois Infantry.  The stockade and bridge were destroyed.

By December 27, Morgan’s advance regiments were within six miles of Elizabethtown.  Morgan had been informed that seven or eight Federal companies were stationed at Elizabethtown.  When he arrived at the town, a message arrived, scrawled in pencil on the back of an envelope, which read:

To the commander of the Confederate forces:
Sir: I demand an unconditional surrender of all your forces.  I have you surrounded, and will compel you to surrender.  I am, sir, your obedient servant, Col. H.S. Smith.

To Morgan’s amusement, he replied that the positions were reversed and Morgan had Smith surrounded and called for Smith’s surrender. Smith wrote back that as an officer in the Union forces he would fight and not surrender.

Morgan ordered Col. Duke to deploy his command to the right and Col. Breckinridge to deploy his command to the left of the town and to throw skirmishers forward to discover the positions of the enemy.  The Yankees had taken possession of several brick houses on the outskirts of town and Morgan soon realized the Yankees decided to make a street fight.  Morgan placed his artillery in position on a hill a little to the left of the road, which completely commanded the town and sent Captain C. C. Corbett, with one mountain howitzer, to attack the town on the right.  According to Basil Duke, the Parrott gun was placed in the pike and Palmer’s four guns “roared out from the hill on the left of the hill six hundred yards from the town, where General Morgan himself was superintending the fire.”4 Captain Palmer’s artillery struck every house occupied by the Union soldiers.  According to Col. Duke, Palmer concentrated his fire upon the building where “the flag floated and the enemy seemed thickest, and moved his six pounders into the very edge of town.”5 While under heavy fire from the houses, Captain Corbett ran his howitzer into town.  Lt. Col. R. G. Stoner, commanding Breckinridge’s regiment, charged into town.  After Morgan shelled the town for about half an hour, the town surrendered, including 652 Union soldiers, including 25 officers.

On December 28, Morgan approached his major objective: the two wooden trestles at Muldraugh’s Hill, each protected by a stockade.  Morgan divided his ranks into two lines.  Morgan sent a truce party to offer the Yankees a chance to surrender peacefully.  The offer was refused and Morgan began a simultaneous artillery barrage on the two stockades.  Col. Duke’s brigade moved against the upper trestles and Col. Breckinridge’s brigade moved against the lower trestle.  After almost three hours of bombardment from the Confederate artillery, the 71st Indiana Infantry ran up white flags and both Union stockades surrendered.  Morgan captured 650 prisoners.  After the surrender of the Union troops, the Rebels burned the two trestles.  After the capture of the Union prisoners, Morgan’s men were equipped with the .577 Enfield rifles.

Morgan and his men accomplished their mission.  General Morgan reported that: “he had the satisfaction of knowing that the object of the expedition was attained, and the railroad was rendered impassable for at least two months.  These two trestles are the largest and finest on the whole road, being, each of them, some sixty feet in height and from 300 to 350 yards in length.  Neither of them had ever before been destroyed during the war.  Seven hundred prisoners, including 27 officers, were captured, and a large and valuable amount of medical, quartermaster’s and commissary stores were destroyed.”  Morgan’s estimate was conservative, rebuilding the bridges and trestles and restoring service on the L&N would not start until mid March 1863.

Now that Morgan’s mission was accomplished, he had to figure a way to get his men back into Tennessee.  Union Col. Edward Hobson was hot on Morgan’s trail.  To make matters worse, the weather had become extremely hazardous.  Freezing rain, ice and sleet pummeled Morgan’s men.  On December 29, Morgan sent Col. R. S. Cluke’s regiment, with one piece of artillery, to attack and burn the bridge over the Rolling Fork; Col. D. W. Chenault’s regiment of the 11thKentucky Cavalry and one piece of artillery were to burn the stockade at Boston and three companies of Col. Breckinridge’s regiment and one mountain howitzer were to attack New Haven.  Morgan gave his orders and the regiments moved out towards their objectives.  Just Morgan’s rear regiments were crossing the Rolling Fork, a large Union force comprising of five regiments of infantry and cavalry, under Col. John Harlan, came up and began to shell the ford.  Morgan sent Col. Duke, who was in the rear, to send a courier to Col. Cluke, ordering him to rejoin the command and hold back the enemy until the entire command had crossed the ford.  Col. Duke and Breckinridge places seven companies in position, with five in reserve.  The Union force was repulsed several times, until a Union artillery shell severely wounded Col. Duke.  Col. Duke fell unconscious from his horse, blood flowing from the side of his head.  Duke’s men thought that their commander was dead.  Captain Tom Quirk, who had been assisting Duke, ran forward and lifted the apparently lifeless body upon his horse, guided the horse into the stream and carried Col. Duke and himself safely across the river to the opposite bank.  Quirk managed to find a carriage at a farm house and filled the carriage with feather mattresses and blankets.

Meanwhile, Col. Breckinridge took over command and maintained his position until Col. Cluke’s regiment had crossed the river.  Morgan ordered Col. Cluke to fall back.  While the battle was raging at Rolling Fork, Col. Chenault managed to capture and burn the stockade at Boston.  The force sent to burn the stockade at New Haven was not successful.  The Yankees at the Rolling Fork bridge were within hearing range of the Confederates and heard that Col. Duke was dead and Col. Hobson reported to President Lincoln that Col. Duke was dead.

When Morgan and Col. Duke arrived in Bardstown, Col. Duke was taken to Dr. Cox’s two story brick house and up the stairway to the north end room where he was laid on a thick pallet on the floor.  Dr. Thomas Allen, surgeon of the 2nd Kentucky attended Duke.  The wound was on the right side of the head, a piece of skin and bone behind the ear was gone.  As Dr. Allen washed the wound, Col. Duke opened his eyes and said cheerfully: “That was a pretty close call.”

The next morning Morgan rode out of Bardstown, Col. Duke rode in a feather bedded buggy.  By mid afternoon, Morgan’s men were in Springfield.  Morgan approached Lebanon, but the town had become a concentration point for eight thousand Union troops.  To make matters worse, Morgan reports came in stating that ten thousand Federals were between Glasgow and the Cumberland River crossings.  Quietly, Morgan and his men rerouted through Campbellsville, avoiding Lebanon.

While marching around Lebanon, the weather had turned bitterly cold and the freezing rain turned to sleet.  A strong wind made the conditions ever worse and icicles began to form on the horses bridles and halters.  The men’s mustaches and beards even had icicles hanging from them.

On New Years Eve, December 31, 1862, Morgan spent the day at Campbellsville.  The next day, Morgan’s men marched toward Columbia, Tennnessee.  On that same day, Confederate General Braxton Bragg and Union General William Rosecrans were fighting a major battle at Stone’s River, Tennessee.  By January 1, the Battle of Stone’s River had ended with Bragg pulling out of Murfreesboro and heading towards Tullahoma.

On December 5, Morgan’s men rode into Smithville.  During Morgan’s Christmas Raid, he had managed to capture 1,887 Union soldiers and destroyed at least two million dollars worth of Union property, with only two dead and 24 wounded.  Morgan’s command returned well armed and better mounted than when they had left.  Union Major General Horatio Wright, commanding at Cincinnati, was trying to deliver one million rations to Rosecrans army, but Morgan had managed to destroy the railroad preventing any supplies by rail.  Wright tried to send the supplies by river, but the river was too low to transport the badly needed supplies.  Wright was afraid that Rosecrans army would starve.  Because of the damaged to the railroads, Rosecrans was forced to send out forage expeditions to gather food for his men.  His army would not be able to move out from Murfreesboro for six months.

Although Morgan’s raid was a great success, his raid drew his cavalry away from Bragg, when Bragg needed every man on the battlefield to fight General Rosecrans at the Battle of Stone’s River.  Morgan’s men, along with Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s three thousand men, who had been sent to destroy the railroads in the rear of Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s army in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi, might have been just enough men to help turn the tide of battle and turn a indecisive battle for Bragg into a Confederate victory and could have altered the war in the Western Theater.■


Duke, Basil, History of Morgan’s Cavalry, 1867.

Wyeth, John, Allen, Morgan’s Christmas Raid, 1862-1863, Robert Lanier, editor, Photographic History of the Civil War: Armies and Leaders New York: Random House Publishing, 1983, 1997.

Brown, Alexander, Dee, Morgan’s Raiders, New York: Konecky & Konecky, 1959.

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. XX Dec. 22, 1862-January 2, 1863-Morgan’s Christmas Raid, No. 9-Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan, Commanding Expedition. No. 5-Report of Col. Edward Hobson, 13th Kentucky Infantry, commanding at Munfordville, including skirmishes at Glasgow, near Green’s Chapel, at Bear Wallow, and at Bacon Creek, Ky.

Gambone, A.M., Morgan’s Christmas Raid, Atlas Editions, MCMXCV.

1Basil Duke, History of Morgan’s Cavalry, 1867.
2Wyeth, John, Allen, Morgan’s Christmas Raid, 1862-1863, Robert Lanier, editor, Photographic History of the Civil War: Armies and Leaders (New York: Random House Publishing, 1983, 1997) 144.
3Basil Duke, History of Morgan’s Cavalry, 1867.

This specific article is under full copyright.  Copyright © 2009, All Rights Reserved.

What happened in late August, 1862 during the Civil War?

August 24 – Confederate raider C.S.S. Alabama, captained by Raphael Semmes, is commissioned for service.

August 25 – Lincoln agrees to allow blacks to serve in the Union army, authorizing South Carolina military governor, General Rufus Saxton, to form five black regiments from the Sea Islands area. The regiments will be led by white officers.

August 28-30 — Confederates win the battle of Second Manassas (Bull Run II) led by Robert E. Lee. After the battle, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton calls for assistance from volunteer nurses. Males and females respond Clara Barton performs sterlingly.

18th Connecticut soldier sees “The Planter”, Robert Smalls ship

This letter is written from Fort McHenry in Baltimore by Private Rufus P. Munyan, Co. D of the 18th Conn. Infantry.  Munyan writes about seeing the Confederate transport ship the “Planter” that slave, Robert Smalls, ran out of Charleston Harbor on the morning of May 13, 1862, escaped with 6 other blacks and delivered the ship to the Federal forces.
That boat that the seven ni**ers captured down to Charleston runs up here some times.  It is in the government servis it is the Planter and it is the handsomest steemer that runs on this river it is one hundred and twenty feet long I should jug and about twenty five feet beam it has three decks and two gang ways on each side of the lower deck it has a high pesure engine and side wheals and to take it all in all it is the prettiest craft that travels these waters and if the ni**ers got what she was worth they can be comortabley without work the rest of thare days for she had over fifty thousand dollars worth of freight on board when captured.
Copyright 2012, The Civil War Gazette

17th Illinois letter regarding Fort Donelson

Fort Donelson, Tenn.
Feb. 22nd 1862
Cousin Gifford,
When I wrote to you last I was in good quarters at Cape Girardeau, Mo. & I thought that we would probably stay there all winter, but two weeks ago today we left for Fort Henry in Tenn. at which place we arrived at on Sunday night after its surrender to Com. Foot.  We remained there one day when we was ordered to move forward on to Fort Donelson some fifteen miles further on the Cumberland River.  On Tuesday night Feb. 11th we left Fort Henry & march only four miles when we encamped for the night.  Wednesday morning 12th at day light we resumed our line of march on to Fort Donelson.
When we had arrived within about four miles of the fort our advance guard had a little skirmish with the enemy and drove them back into their fort.  We then surrounded them on all sides but the river side.  When the gun boats arrived & gaveled that point we layed on our arms all night so as to be ready at any moment.  Thursday 13th we commenced firing on them this morning without cannon with some little effect.  At one o’clock in the afternoon our regiment and the forty ninth, under the brave Col. Morrison made a charge on the enemy breastwork.  He was in front of the line cheering us on when his horse was shot & he fell slight wounded & was carried off of the field.  The firing was most terrific for about one hour on both sides.  We advanced within 25 yards of their breastworks when they throwed whole bags of shot at once at us out of their cannon besides any amount of round shot, grape, canisters & shell.
So finely we had to retire with considerable loss.  We lost out of our regiment some ten killed & about sixty wounded.  I do not know how many the 49th lost but probably about the same.  We probably would of lost more if we had not layed down so that their shots went over our heads one could not see fifteen feet ahead of him for the dense smoke.  The enemy lost a great many as well as we did.  Friday 14th – It rained & snowed all last night so that we had to lean up again a tree to sleep.  Our company was out skirmishing the most of the night.  The enemy pickets was firing all night.  We layed on the ground all day supporting Taylors batteries.  If you want to learn to dodge corn etc. try to dodge them cannon balls & shell.  When a ball or shell would come over you would see every man fall on his face trying to dodge them, but we could not always do it for every now & then a shell would come & knock a man’s head off right side of you.
Saturday morning the 15th at day light we open again on them from our batteries with considerable effect while our mess was cooking a little coffee that morning the first for some time for we was very hungry.  We had nothing to eat for two or three days but two hard crackers a day.  We had just turned it out into our cups & was going to drink it when a shell from one of the enemies guns struck in the top of a large tree that we was standing under& burst throwing sticks & stuff all over us & spilling our coffee.  We was then ordered to fall in immediately & go & support Taylors batteries of light artillery & then come the heavy fighting on our right which lasted nearly all day.  Dud Holmes (Co. F, 8th IL.) was shot through heart the first volley before he had time to discharge his gun he died instantly.  The enemy out flanked us so that we had to fall back about a mile.  We then received reinforcements & moved forward on to them again & drove them into their entrenchments & further to for Col. Cook made a charge on their work & drove them back at the point of the bayonet.  By that time it was night & we had to quit until morning.  We layed on our arms all night so as to be ready in the morning.  Sunday the 16th we was about to open on them again when they hoisted a white flag & surrendered to Genl. Grant about day light.  If there was not a few cheers given then there never was.  We captured some fifteen thousand prisoners all their arms, camp equipage, horses, cannon & etc. We marched into the fort with our band playing Yankee Doodle and Dixey.
The fort was considered one of the strongest positions in the south.  We probably had some forty or fifty thousand troops engaged that of the enemy about thirty thousand.  Our loss is very heavy but I think that the enemy lost more than we did.  I suppose that you have read the particulars of it in the papers before you can get this.  Give my respects to Aunt & all the rest of the family.  What is thereason that you do not write oftener that you do.  You certainly have better convenience that I have.  Give my respects to your female friends.
I remain yours & etc.
Alex W. Hack U.S.A.
Hack was a member of the 17th Illinois Infantry and from Peoria. ILL
He enlisted on 5/25/61
As of 4/27/10 this letter was for sale here.

The Battle of Davis Bridge (TN) – October 5th 1862

In the early morning hours of october 3rd, under the leadership of confederate Major General earl Van dorn and Major General Stirling price, approximately 22,000 men marched to corinth with the intention of overtaking the federally-occupied town and thus gaining control of the Mobile & ohio and Memphis & charleston railroads. This was a prelude to their ultimate goal, an invasion of Tennessee. in route to corinth coming north from ripley, MS, Van dorn had planned to cross the 60-foot wide hatchie river at davis bridge. Union brigadier General William rosecrans, commander at corinth, had ordered davis bridge to be burned on the night of September 30th, but cavalrymen assigned with the task succeeded in burning only the floor planking. Van dorn, staying at the davis house on the night of the 2nd , and having learned of the bridge’s condition, ordered his men to immediately start work on repairing the bridge. They worked through the night and were able to complete the task by 4:00 a.m. the following morning. The division took to the road immediately with its destination, chewella, Tennessee, just north of corinth.

Davis Bridge

Staying behind at davis bridge, Van dorn ordered the bridge defended by cavalry under colonel Wirt adams, and the 1st Texas legion under the command of colonel e. r. hawkins, with two artillery batteries in order to keep open a route back to ripley in case a retreat was necessary.

Two days of savage fighting ensued in what would be known as the second battle of Corinth. There were significant casualties on both sides. federal dead and wounded numbered nearly 2,500. confederate losses were similar with 2,470 dead or wounded and an additional 1,763 missing. The confederate force was compelled to withdraw, and by noon on the 4th, they were headed in retreat northwest along the road back towards chewalla and davis bridge. General Grant at the time in Jackson, Tennessee, gave General Stephen a. hurlbut in bolivar, orders he received on the 4th at 3:00 a.m. “to head for davis bridge and to destroy the bridge and contest their crossing of the hatchie river.” hurlbut immediately set out with 5,000 men in a forced march of some 23 miles. The advancing force encountered a body of 60 to 70 Confederate Cavalry outside Middleton, Tennessee, and opened fire. The cavalry unit scattered in the woods. On the State line road, hurlbut confronted Southern pickets and pushed them back into the woods as well. a brisk skirmish left four dead and another two wounded. from there the Union force advanced rapidly to the small village of Metamora, situated on the river above davis’ bridge, where the advance guard came upon a heavy cavalry driving them into a corn field of the left. They had encountered confederate troops under the command of Wirt adams whom Van dorn had left behind in route to corinth to guard the bridge as a precaution in case of retreat. later that day, adam’s men drove the federals off of Metamora ridge back towards Muddy creek. That night the Union forces under hurlbut camped there, three miles west of davis bridge.

Also on the night of october 4th, Union Major General edward o.c. ord, commanding a detachment of the army of West Tennessee, camped near Pocahontas five miles away from Hurlbut. At 7:30 a.m. the next morning, his force encountered hurlbut’s 4th brigade. as he was senior to hurlbut, ord took command of the now combined Union forces. before dawn on the 5th, Van dorn learned from couriers that Wirt adams had clashed with federal cavalry six miles west of davis bridge the day before. Van dorn had not counted on this and assigned his strongest division, lovell’s, to rear- guard duty and placed his most depleted command, brigadier General Maury’s, in the lead. “Maury, you are in for it again today,” said Van dorn. “push forward as rapidly as you can and occupy the heights beyond the river before the enemy can get them.” he directed lt. colonel edwin hawkins, whose first Texas legion guarded the supply train two miles east of davis bridge, to join Wirt adams on the hatchie river. Together they were to delay any federal crossing until the main body came up. Van dorn counted on them to hold off the federal troops until the confederates could cross the hatchie river at crumm’s Mill.
The army marched at sunrise. Van dorn and his staff rode with the vanguard.

At 7:30 a.m., Hurlbut met up with Major General Edward O.C. Ord and 3,000 men. Ord being the senior officer took command. The confederates under hawkins, established a defensive position to the west of the bridge at 8:30 a.m. on october 5th. his line was established approximately 150 yards west of the davis house, at a small tributary of the hatchie river called burr’s branch. The confederates deployed the 3rd Mississippi, the 42nd alabama, and the 15th and 23rd arkansas infantry regiments of brigadier General John c. Moore’s brigade, north of the 1st Texas. four 12-pound howitzers belonging to captain William e. dawson’s Saint louis battery supported this line. Maury had approximately 1,000 infantrymen west of davis bridge. discovering the confederate defensive position, ord and hurlbut began deploying their command on a ridge 300 yards to the west of the confederate’s position, at the intersection of State line road and ripley pocahontas road. The four James rifles of Battery L, 2nd Illinois Light Artillery, set up at the road junction. Four guns of the 7th Ohio Battery established their positions south of the illinois gunners. The 15th and 14th illinois formed to the north of the road junction, while the 25th, 46th, and 53rd indiana, the 12th Michigan, and the 68th ohio formed to the south.

The federal artillery occupied superior firing positions with more guns, and private lucius barber of the 15th illinois infantry described the ensuing artillery action:

…planted their artillery on the crest of the hill and its hoarse notes replied to the rebel thunder. For fifteen minutes a furious cannonading was kept up. With rapid precision and deadly aim, our well trained battery men poured in their death-dealing charges upon the enemy. Gradually their fire slackened as one after another of their guns were dismounted and most of their horses slain.

When Ord’s advance began, probably the 14th Illinois Infantry succeeded in outflanking the Confederate right (north) flank. The results were inevitable. barber, with one of the regiments, remembered:

…the second brigade was ordered forward, marching in echelon, with the 14th Illinois in advance. We swept across the field toward the river. This was a thrilling military sight… With colors flying, with well-dressed ranks and measured tread our gallant lines moved on… Our firm, undaunted bearing struck terror toe the hearts of the enemy. After a few irregular volleys they broke and ran. We poured in our fire at short range and with fierce yell rushed forward to the charge.

Outnumbered, outflanked, and with their artillery knocked out of the fight, the Confederate line broke. The Confederate defenders fled to the east, where they poured back across the bridge in a tidal wave. Seeing the initial defense crushed, confederate commanders established a new defensive line on a ridge east of the hatchie river. This was an admirable defensive position, and it was well occupied by the survivors of hawkin’s and Moore’s command, brigadier General c. W. phifer’s Texas and arkansas brigade, brigadier General William S. cabell’s arkansas brigade, and at least four batteries of artillery.

General ord, thrilled at this relatively easy victory, became caught up in the excitement of the moment and ordered Generals Veatch and lauman to cross the bridge and pursue the confederates. however, the high bluff of the east bank gave the confederates a distinct advantage and made the federals open targets. Generals Veatch, lauman, and hurlbut argued with Ord, but his decision remained firm. As a result, the 53rd Indiana and the 14th and 15th Illinois regiments absorbed heavy Confederate fire as they crossed Davis Bridge. Many would be caught in a western bend of the river, and the confederate defensive position swept this ground with a deadly fire. Other regiments followed, and rather than recall troops, ord headed across the bridge himself in hopes of rallying the men. as he crossed, ord was severely wounded in his leg by a canister ball, and hurlbut resumed command.

A dispatch from ord sent to Grant from a hospital near pocahontas, indicated. “We took two batteries and have them, and at the river captured between 200 and 300 prisoners, among whom are (several) field officers and an aide-de-camp to General Van Dorn.” He went on to say, “On account of the fact that we had frequently to attack across the open fields and up hills, while the enemy were under dense cover, we have lost quite a number of officers and men, and have several hundred wounded, probably a greater number than the enemy. General Veatch was very badly contused by a spent ball striking him in the side. The troops in their charge over the miserable bridge at davis’ creek and up the steep beyond, exposed to a murderous fire of shell and grape and canister, with three of their batteries playing upon them at canister-range, however, proved that wherever their officers dare to lead them the men will go.

“General hurlbut has reported to me that he has gathered about 900 arms already, thrown away by the enemy in their retreat and expects to collect a large number tomorrow. “

Although ord’s initial thrust across the hatchie had been contained, Van dorn and General Sterling price were in a challenging situation, with their retreat route blocked, and their army exhausted and bloodied after two days of heavy fighting at Corinth and the morning’s struggle at davis bridge. fortunately for the confederate cause, the federal pursuit from corinth had been dilatory, and had not even commenced until dawn on october 5th. further confusion would result seven miles outside of corinth when the pursuing Union columns converged unexpectedly upon a single avenue of advance. as a result, the confederate rear was temporarily secure.

However, despite the federal order of battle, a crossing at davis bridge was no longer viable, so scouts were dispatched to locate another crossing location. one was found at crumb’s Mill, six miles south on boneyard road at the hatchie river. Van dorn accordingly dispatched his wagons and artillery south on the boneyard road, while continuing the holding action at davis bridge.

Private barber described the ensuing conflict east of the river:

We now had a very difficult and dangerous task to accomplish. On one narrow bridge, in face of a terrible fire of grape and canister with which the rebels were raking it, our troops were to cross and form on the other side…. At this point the river makes an abrupt bend and the regiments were ordered to cross and form on each side of the road, but the bend in the river prevented them forming on the right. The enemy’s shots were mowing down our men with fearful rapidity… The grape shot and canister were tearing up the ground in front and around us, making a general havoc amongst us… At or near the bridge, one hundred and fifty of our boys lay weltering in our blood… The rebels…poured in withering volleys… The bullets pelted against the log like hailstones.

Hurlbut crossed artillery, and began to extend his line to the north, where the federal soldiers had more freedom of movement. eventually the federal artillery began to restore the situation at approximately the same time as most of van dorn’s army had continued its marchpast the holding action to cross at crumm’s Mill. The confederate defensive line accordingly withdrew to the next ridge east approximately 3:30 p.m.. hurlbut’s men cautiously continued the advance, but both they and the confederates were low on ammunition, and had been continuously engaged for five hours. The fighting settled down to a desultory artillery duel and after dark the Confederate rear guard withdrew to continue the retreat. General ord had deployed approximately 8,000 men and suffered 560 casualties, or approximately 7%. The number of Confederates engaged is uncertain. Confederate figures are incomplete and included with casualties at Corinth; this number includes large numbers of stragglers or deserters from the retreat. federal sources note that they buried 32 confederates west of the hatchie river, where the heaviest confederate casualties occurred. General hurlbut also reported capturing 420 prisoners and four bronze 12-pound howitzers, all on the western bank of the river. The 28th illinois infantry reported capturing a Confederate battery of six guns, caissons and one flag.


25th Indiana soldier is hunted down by Rebel bloodhounds in Holly Springs, MS


25th Indiana Infantry soldier (John Nilson) writes about a soldier being hunted by bloodhounds and torn to pieces near Holly Springs, MS.
Great content related to guerilla warfare in the summer of 1862.

Autograph letter signed (ALS), 4pp., 8vo.,

La-Grange, Tenn.


Nilson writes with a keen eye that while on a blackberry expedition he heard some shooting nearby. His group returned to camp since they didn’t have their guns with them. He did not want to repeat an incident that took place at Holly Springs (MS), when one of the 25th Indiana soldiers from Co. F had fallen behind and was “hunted down by bloodhounds and tore to pieces.” In retaliation, the Hoosier-Yankees burnt the plantation rails and destroyed two large fields (cotton, corn),leaving for memphis to guard the train, etc.

Very Fine condition
(free shipping & insurance)

Union soldiers are hunted by Rebel bloodhounds in the Southwest, Harper’s Weekly 11/21/63

Other content notes about this letter, i.e., what else Nilson mentions?

  • Richmond news  . . .  30,000 Rebels killed
  • “Our freedom is not far distant”
  • Other men named Murphy, Sheerer and Wright
  • Very descriptive account of the blackberry expedition
  • “our Army (presence) . . .  is very disagreeable to the people . . .”
  • poignant account of the bloodhounds killing a Co F soldier at Holly Springs
  • “will be in Memphis soon”

Research notes on John Nilson and the 25th Indiana:

John Nilson was from Medora, Indiana, and was promoted to 1st Lt on 8/18/64 and to Captain on 1/1/65.  At the time of this letter he was with the District and Army of West Tennessee.

The 25th Indiana saw action at:

  • Ft. Donelson – losing 16 killed and 80 wounded. It was part of the force which stormed and captured the outer works the next day and occupied the fort after its surrender.
  • Shiloh – The 25th  left for Pittsburg landing on Mar. 5, reaching there on the 18th and in the battle of Shiloh, lost 27 killed and 122 wounded.
  • Siege of Corinth – The regiment was in the siege of Corinth and on June 10 occupied Grand Junction.
  • Memphis – The 25th moved for Memphis July 17 and remained there until Sept. 6, engaged in scouting and hunting guerrillas.
  • Bolivar – It then occupied Bolivar until Oct. 4, when it moved with Hurlbut’s division to cut off Price and Van Dorn, meeting their forces at Hatchie River and engaging in a short but fierce battle, in which the regiment lost 3 killed and 76 wounded.
  • Davis Mill – It then moved to northern Mississippi, and six companies under Col. Morgan were stationed at Davis’ Mill on Wolf River where they were attacked by Van Dorn with a large force of mounted infantry.  They fought so fiercely that the enemy was compelled to leave the field, after losing 23 killed, many wounded and some prisoners.  The remaining four companies were distributed along the line of railroad from Grand Junction to Holly Springs.
  • Atlanta Campaign – It joined the 4th division, 16th corps, before Atlanta, and was actively engaged in the siege from Aug. 8 to ,26. It was in the engagement at Jonesboro joined in pursuit of Hood’s army, attacked and routed the enemy at Snake Creek Gap . . .
  • Savannah – It returned and accompanied the army to Savannah, and participated in the investment of that city.  It remained in that vicinity until Jan. 4, 1865, when it moved with the 11th corps to Beaufort, S. C. going from there to Pocotaligo.

Key words this letter pertains to:

25th Indiana Infantry | John Nilson Co. G | Van Dorn | Shiloh | Corinth | Guerilla warfare | Ft Donelson | Holly Springs, MS | Marshall County, MS | Northern Mississippi

Holly Springs, MS


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