Sunday, December 22, 2013

Pegram’s Expedition into Kentucky, March 22-April 1, 1863

Report of Brig. Gen. John Pegram, C.S. Army, commanding expedition.


Near Stigall’s Ferry, Ky., April 1, 1863.

SIR: I have the honor to make the following report of the expedition of my brigade into this State for the purpose of obtaining beef-cattle for the Confederate Army:

On Sunday, the 22d ultimo, I commenced crossing my command at this ferry, and early on Monday morning had the whole force, numbering about 1,550 cavalry and (G.A.) Huwald’s battery of three pieces, on the north bank of the river. I immediately commenced a forced march over a very muddy road, and, moving nearly the whole night, reached and attacked Danville about 2 o’clock on the next day. The enemy, though numbering five regiments of infantry, one of cavalry, and seven pieces of artillery, after a slight resistance, retired from before the town, and commenced retreating by the road toward Camp Dick Robinson. We attacked their rear by charging them in the streets of Danville. The First Louisiana (Lieutenant-Colonel (James O.) Nixon commanding) led the column. On entering the suburbs of the town, it was met by a heavy fire from an infantry ambuscade in a thicket not more than 50 yards distant. The regiment stood this fire for several minutes with the most admirable compoisure, and then, the infantry retiring, charged on into the town, followed by two companies of the Second Tennessee, led by their gallant colonel ((H.M.) Ashby), and by the First Georgia (Colonel (J.J.) Morrison). The street fight was brisk for some twenty minutes; rendered more so from the fact that some of the citizens fired at us from the windows. Just as the enemy left the town, I was handed an intercepted dispatch from Colonel (Benjamin P.) Runkle (Federal) to General (S.P.) Carter (Federal), saying he would arrive in Lancaster that night, and would try to join him on the main Lexington road running by Camp Dick Robinson. Ordering Colonel Nixon to follow up the rear of the enemy closely, I at once sent to recall the remainder of the command, and started for one of the fords over Dick’s River, with the view of throwing my command between Carter and Runkle near Camp Dick Robinson, but 61 miles and a sharp fight in twenty-eight hours had already proven too much for the horses, and I found it impossible to reach the desired point in time. Besides a few stores, we captured in Danville about 60 prisoners, among them being Lieutenant-Colonel (Silas) Adams, of (Frank) Wolford’s cavalry.

Learning from the citizens that the enemy regarded my force as the advance of a heavy infantry column, and having in view the clearing the three counties – Lincoln, Boyle, and Garrard – for some days, I pushed my command, with the exception of the First Louisiana Regiment (left at Danville to watch the Lebanon and Frankfort roads), up to within 2 miles of the Gibralter, at the Kentucky River bridge, whcih was occupied by the enemy with a force composed of the three arms, and greatly superior to my own in numbers. I played this game of bluff, occasionally skirmishing with the enemy, until the cattle had been collected, and then, burning the two bridges over Dick’s River (now much swollen by recent rains), I commenced falling back slowly by the Stanford and Somerset road.

On the morning of the 29th, I received a dispatch from Colonel Ashby, who had been sent by way of Crab Orchard, that the enemy was pressing him in heavy force. I immediately hurried the command on to Somerset, within 2 miles of which, on the morning of the 30th, I selected a strong position to resist the enemy. This step was imperative, both because the cattle were scarcely half crossed over the Cumberland River, and because, that the river being only 6 miles in my rear, the safety of my command somewhat depended upon giving the enemy a good check.

Leaving the Sixteenth Tennessee Battalion to watch the road toward Stanford, I placed the First Louisiana and First Tennessee Regiments, under Colonel (J.S.) Scott, at the junction of the Stanford and Crab Orchard roads. I then placed the First Georgia (dismounted) on the right of the selected position, Major (Theophilus) Steele’s battalion (of General John H. Morgan’s command) in the center, and the Second Tennessee on the left. (G.A.) Huwald’s pieces were placed on commanding points. The action commenced by an artillery fight, in which, though ours had 40 feet command over that of the enemy, theirs got the best of it. This was due both of the inferiority of our ammunition and to the want to practice of our cannoneers, most of whom were for the first time under fire; yet all of my men stood the heavy fire of artillery and small-arms with unflinching courage. Seeing very soon that the enemy was turning all of his force against that position, I ordered up Colonel Scott with his command. On arriving upon the field, he suggested I should allow him to move around the enemy’s right flank and to charge his rear. I told him to do so, but to act promptly, as everythbing depended upon his quickness. After he left, I held the position for more than an hour. His movements should have occupied ten minutes, and yet he never obeyed the orders given him. The enemy, forming his two infantry regiments in line of battle (his infantry was mounted, and of course dismounted for this formation), charged up the hill under cover of some undergrowth. My men stood until the enemy were within 30 yards, and then gave way from right to left. All efforts of myself and of the gallant officers assisting me failed to rally the men at that point.

Our loss was small in killed and wounded, but rather heavy in prisoners, owing to my being obliged to detach parts of three companies of the Second Tennessee to occupy a thicket to the left, which a regiment of the enemy was trying to get possession of.

All officers who came under my notice behaved with great gallantry, most conspicuous of whom were Colonels (J.J.) Morrison and (H.M.) Ashby, Lieutenant-Colonel (A.R.) Harper, and Captain (W.M.) Footman. The last-mentioned brave man was commanding a detachment of the First Florida Cavalry, which came up just in time to make the most gallant efforts to resist the advance of the enemy, and which lost very heavily. Captain Footman had his horse killed under him. He has, during this expedition, rendered the most efficient service, being constantly in front when we were advancing, and in the rear on the retreat.

Before reaching the town (1 mile distant), the command was put in order, and marched through the streets in perfect order at a walk, with the exception of a few stragglers. I placed the command in the next good position for defense, 2-1/2 miles from Somerset, where I awaited the advance of the enemy for three hours – until night. They advanced cautiously, threw a few shells, skirmished lightly, and then retired. At nightfall I withdrew my command, excepting a rear guard. As there was but one ferry-boat at Stigall’s Ferry, I ordered Colonel Morrison with his regiment 3 miles below to Newell’s Ferry.

By sunrise the next day the battery, Second Tennessee, and Sixteenth Battalion had all crossed, excepting some 20 horses. Colonel Morrison also lost about the same number of his horses in crossing. The enemy appeared about 8 o’clock, but in no great force.

 The entire lost of my brigade in killed, wounded, and missing during the expedition will be slightly over 200 men, being greatest in the First Louisiana. The enemy is reported to have buried 80 of his men, but this is mere rumor. His loss, however, must have been heavy, as shown by his want of readiness in following us up. During the expedition we took and paroled 178 prisoners from the enemy.

As regards the object of the expedition (the beef-cattle), the agents found many less in the counties we entered than had been represented. This was because large numbers had recently been driven out by the agents of the United States Government. We started with about 750, and crossed over the river 537.

In the difficult matter of crossing the command, I wish especially to bring to your notice Lieut. Tucker Randolph, acting on my staff. By his personal efforts during the whole night he rendered such service as commanded the admiration of all who saw him. During the action of the morning, this officer and Lieutenants (J.F.) Ransom and (George) Yoe, and Volunteer Aides D. Henley Smith and D.C. Freeman, jr., were always in the thickest of the fight, bearing orders with promptness and coolness, and doing all they could to encourage the men.

For Colonel Scott’s operations, I refer you to the accompanying report. Touching this curious document, I have only to say that I cannot but admire the ingenuity with which Colonel Scott has attempted to account for disobedience of orders and dilatoriness of action, which, it is my sincere belief, lost us this fight.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Brigadier-General, Provisional Army Confederate States.

Capt. J.G. MARTIN,

Asst. Adjt. Gen., Dept. of East Tennessee, Knoxville

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