The following excerpt from By The Dim And Flaring Lamps contains a letter dated January 21, 1862, written by Sgt. Samuel McIlvaine (my great-great-great-grandfather) of the Indiana 10th Volunteer Infantry to his family. This letter describes the Battle of Logan's Cross Roads, sometimes known as the Battle of Fishing Creek, fought on January 19, 1862. This letter was written on the back, front, and margins of a captured Confederate document.
By The Dim And Flaring Lamps includes not only this letter, but also diary entries for the period February 5 through June 10, 1862, and a letter to Samuel's mother dated September 29, 1862. Samuel's diary and letters includes not only the day-to-day political squabbling within the Indiana 10th, but also such colorful incidents as the murder of General William "Bull" Nelson by Colonel Jefferson Columbus Davis of Indiana, and a description of the gruesome battlefield of Shiloh three weeks after the battle.
Samuel had worked before the war as a schoolteacher, and as might be expected, had a better than average command of the language. Samuel did not survive the war.
Gen. Zollicoffer's Camp
on the Cumberland River
near Sommerset, Pulaski County, Kentucky
January 21, 1862
J. B. Willson
I gladly received your letter of the 3rd January on the 17th ... which informs me your family are just getting over the measles. I trust this will find you and your family well. I am quite well, and have been with slight exceptions since I entered the army.
When we made our hasty advent into Kentucky the right wing of our regiment went immediately down the Louisville and Nashville Railroad to the Rolling Fork Salt River, to where the rebels had burned the bridge a few days before. [We] guarded the [rail]road and men for about a week while repairing the bridge, thence to Bardstown [seat of Nelson County, Kentucky], where joining the other wing of our regiment, we overawed the Disunion element, & kept the peace for over a month, during which time we were busily drilling. We then made our first march south striking the Lebanon Branch Road at New Haven [Nelson County, Kentucky], hardly got camped here until we were ordered to Lebanon, Marion County [Kentucky]. Here we remained until the last December drilling and awaiting the organizing of the Union forces. Whilst here we received the news daily, and quickly got our letters from our friends, but were finally ordered to Columbus, Adair County [probably Columbia, Adair County, Kentucky].
When we start[ed] for that place, we took leave of railroads and telegraph, of daily news, and decreased the facilities for receiving letters from our friends. It was here, Lebanon, we had our coldest weather, freezing the ground two inches deep; here too we had our only snow worth noticing, which melted off in two days. We had a pretty good pike to Columbus and got along finely. Here we stayed but a day or two, and started eastward to Sommerset, Pulaski County, [Kentucky]. On this march we began fully to appreciate the difficulties of marching an army over about the worst and muddiest roads I ever passed over for so long a distance. The distance between Columbia & Sommerset is about 35 miles over a low level swampy clayey soil, covered most[ly] with a kind of scrubby blackjack timber or brush, the balance of the way very broken and hilly. I would [not] give my place, or yours, for 20 miles square of such country. I asked some of the people through here, the price of the land. They said when times were better before the war it sold at one dollar per acre.
Imagine a considerable army [of] several thousand troops, with a train of wagons of a hundred or two hundred drawn by four horses or six mules floundering & plunging through the mud, the wagons often up to the axles, the teams frequently down or stuck fast, prying up wagons, cutting roads around etc. and you will have a slight idea of our march.Samuel's account is not the traditional grousing of the foot soldier; official accounts of this march record that one 40-mile march required eight days because of the mud.
After near a week we camped in a field or open ground about nine or ten miles from Sommerset on the east and about seven or eight miles from [the] Zollicoffer encampment on the Cumberland River. Here we expected to form a junction with the forces under Gen. Schoepf (which have been at Sommerset for some time) and prepare for attacking Zollicoffer, who has also been here for about six weeks, collecting his forces, entrenching, & fortifying. Up to this time we had hardly seen an enemy, who was openly so; but during our first night here, we had an alarm about midnight, but it turned out to be nothing more than the firing of the pickets of each army upon each other, and the regiment which had been called out of our bunks, and formed in line of battle were dismissed to their beds again.Union Brig. Gen. Albin Francisco Schoepf (1822-1886): Born in Hungary, Schoepf was an officer with the Prussian Army until he was exiled to Turkey in 1848. After serving with the Ottoman Army, Schoepf immigrated to the United States, where he worked for the Coast Survey and the Patent Office before the war.
Confederate Brig. Gen. Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (1812-1862): Before the war Zollicoffer had been both a newspaper publisher and editor in Tennessee and Kentucky. From 1844-1849 Zollicoffer was Tennessee State Controller; from 1853-1859 he sat in the House of Representatives for Tennessee.
We had hardly expected that Old "Zollie" as the boys have been in the habit of calling him, would venture out of his position to attack us, but it seems that either through spies or other means, they got the idea that there was but a regiment or two of us with a considerable train of wagons, and they would come up and cut us off and capture the wagons, and so on Sunday morn last the 19th ... at daylight they were upon us some seven or eight thousand strong from the best information we could get. Most of our regiment were yet in bed when the long roll [call to battle] was beat. [Soon] we were up, dressed, seized our guns & cartridge boxes, and were formed in line of battle and marched some 1/2 mile from camp into a dense woods where we met them with a volley from our whole line. They were in an open field at the edge of the woods and returned the fire immediately. Our regiment sustained their fire alone for almost an hour when the 4th Kentucky formed on our left, but before this a retreat was ordered, but from some misunderstanding of the command, or other reason, only the right wing at first fell back and that only partially and in Indian style, loading and firing from behind trees as we went.
The woods were so dense that we could only occasionally see an enemy. When our men began to fall back, for which [they] could not see any good reason, I began to think the tale was about told. I felt much vexed and chagrined, to think our men were running, for as I was some distance in advance of most of them I did not hear the order to retreat, and you may be sure this feeling was not lessened when the rebels thinking they had routed us raised a yell of delight. The ordering of a retreat was perhaps, as I afterwards learned, well, as they were flanking us on the right. But they soon had reason to know that they were sadly mistaken, the falling back of our men on the right drew them to the left where the Kentucky 4th was forming, and the Ohio 9th, and Minnesota 2nd coming to our relief about the same time. They were soon taught that they were under a very great error, when they thought they had whipped us.
Col. [Speed S.] Fry of the 4th Kentucky met [Zollicoffer] face to face, knew him and shot him through the breast. Several of their colonels and captains were killed or taken prisoners, and it is thought, but of this I am not certain, that Gen. Crittenden is our prisoner. They were completely routed leaving their generals dead on the field, as well as many others of their officers and many more [who] were officers were taken. Their loss in killed and wounded must have been from 400 to 500, probably more. As we pursued them immediately I had no chance to learn much about it. I think, though, on the part of the field I was on I must have seen in killed, wounded, and prisoners, as many as 50.Col. (later Brig. Gen.) Speed S. Fry (1817-92): Fry served in the Mexican War; worked as lawyer and judge afterwards, and organized the 4th Kentucky Infantry in late 1861.
Samuel's account of this incident is nowhere near as peculiar as history records it to be. Gen. Zollicoffer met Fry while Fry was reconnoitering near the front. Because Zollicoffer's white raincoat hid his uniform, Fry at first believed the stranger who claimed Fry's men were firing at each other. Another Confederate rode up and shot Fry's horse, at which point Fry and several Union soldiers shot Zollicoffer. By one account Gen. Zollicoffer was attempting get the upper hand by persuading Fry to cease fire; other accounts indicate that Zollicoffer was nearsighted and honestly thought that Fry's men were Confederate soldiers.
The Confederate attack was not well coordinated, and Gen. Thomas' troops had been reinforced just before the battle by three regiments and a battery from Gen. Schoepf without the Confederates being aware of it. Zollicoffer's Tennessee regiments were also disadvantaged by flintlock muskets that would not fire in the rain.
The Battle of Fishing Creek was a serious reversal for the Confederacy. Many of Crittenden's troops deserted because of the battle, including two entire regiments.
Confederate Gen. George B. Crittenden (1812-1880) commanded Zollicoffer's and W. H. Carroll's brigades at the Battle of Mill Spring. He was not taken prisoner in this battle. Gen. Crittenden was a senior officer of the Regular Army who resigned in 1861 to join the Confederacy.
Gen. Crittenden was from one of those Kentucky families split apart by the war. His father, John J. Crittenden, had worked to keep Kentucky in the Union. George's younger brother, Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Crittenden, commanded a division in the Union Army under Gen. Don Carlos Buell. Gen. Crittenden had a drinking problem, twice resigning from the U. S. Army to avoid court-martial for drunkeness on duty, and being dismissed after that for the same reason. Gen. Bragg (Crittenden's superior) ordered Crittenden removed from his command for drunkeness and incompetence on March 31st.
I had the pleasure or honor, (or whatever you choose to call it) [of] leading three of them up to where they could be guarded, two Mississippians, and one from Tennessee. From one of them I took a loaded Colt's revolver.
I learn from some of our men who came in from the battlefield this eve, eleven men of our regiment were killed and 50 wounded; of our company but one man was wounded & he slightly; the whole loss on our side was 35 killed and 127 wounded.Union losses in this battle were actually 39 killed, 207 wounded.
As we followed them up to their camp, we had hardly started when it became evident they had made a perfect stampede, wagon loads of blankets, haversacks filled with provisions, were left strewn along the road for miles. As we had started without breakfast, we made a hearty meal from theirs.
We approached their camp near sundown; our [artillerymen] fired their guns and threw a few shells into their camp. They replied by two or three shot; as dark came on we ceased firing [and] lay on our arms until morning.Infantrymen rested on their rifles or muskets if the ground was wet and there was no opportunity to pitch tents.
It was suspicioned during the night that they were retreating across the river; as soon as it became light this was confirmed. We could see them crossing with a small steamboat, some swimming their horses. The guns were fixed on the boat and soon it was in flames. We started for their camp about a mile [away], found but one living man in it. All of their cannon, fourteen in number, about 300 wagons and over 1000 horses & mules fell into our hands. In their shanties (evidently prepared for wintering) we are now snugly ensconced [settled], where we found everything ready to our hands for living.
S. McIlvaineSamuel was correct about the number of horses and mules, and close about the number of artillery pieces; 12 guns and caissons were captured, along with 150 wagons.
It is hardly necessary for me to say that this letter is written on a rebel document and with rebel ink found in their camp. Even the envelope is rebel. We left everything of this kind at our camp. They have, however, come in this evening. I would write further of the particulars but our [postmaster] goes out in a few minutes with our letters. I hope soon to hear from you again. I have not seen Dr. Thompson since leaving Lebanon as he was in the Hospital Dept. but learn he was about to get a discharge from the service. Write direct to Company D, 10th Indiana Regiment, Kentucky.