Thomas M. Coombs Diary, Apr - Jul 1863


Thomas M. Coombs Diary

Apr - Jul 1863

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Apr. 3 Left for Liberty with Cols. Duke, & Smith; Capts. Bedford, Wilson, & Dickerson A.D.C. Arrived at Snow Hill and found our whole Division hotly engaged with a large force of the enemy. Was forced to retire to Smith's. Here I found my Co. We now engaged in a series of marches and counter marches and skirmishes with the enemy at Lebanon, Stone River, Cumberland R., Rome and Carthage, N. Middleton, Sligo, and Caney Fork, Chestnut Mound until -
May 1 Ordered by Col. Duke to transport all our sick to the hospital at Sparta and take the dismounted and inserviceable to Convalescent Camp, all of which I did.
4 Went from Sparta with Ab Jordan & Will Black to see Cousin Tom Jordan, who was at Mr. Wallace's, having been wounded at Snow Hill.
10 Battle of Greasy Creek fought. Woolford's Cav. & 20th Mich. Inftr. Won the fight and drove them over the Cumberland. Our loss 14 killed 15 wounded. Ed Jordan was killed and Ab and I buried him in J.W. Coffies' garden.
11 To Monticello, Ky. From this until 1st July I was actively engaged Comdg. scouting parties & making reconnoitres in the enemy's lines, towards Columbia, Edmonton & Glasgow, having occasional skirmishes and losing some men.
Jul. 2 Crossed Cumberland at & near Burksville with 2500 men and 4 pcs. artillery. Skirmish with Hobson on Marrow Bone.
3 Fight at Columbia, Ky., with Capt. Carter of Woolford's Cav.
4 Fight at Green River bridge was repulsed with the loss of two of our bravest field officers, Col. Chenault and Maj. Brent.
5 Fought at Lebanon, Ky., Captrd. Col. Hanson Regt.
6 Arrived at Springfield, Ky.
7 Demonstration at Louisville.
8 Fight with Gun Boats at Brandensburg, Ky. Captrd. two steamers and crossed the Ohio River.
9 Fight at Corydon, Ind.
From the 9th until the 19th through Indiana and Ohio was almost a continual skirmish day & night with Soldiers, Home Guards, & Citizens. We marched very hard and fast, breaking down our horses and procuring fresh ones. On the night of the 18th of July we reached the Ohio River at Buffington Bar and found a wide, deep and unfordable river, rapidly rising. We could not cross in the Stygian Darkness by which we were surrounded, and sinking down upon its shores, exhausted nature found repose in sleep.
19 The first streak of morning light aroused us from our weary slumbers and mounting our tired and starving horses we prepared to meet the enemy, who in overwhelming numbers were rapidly closing around us, and several Gun Boats had ascended the river immediately in our front. We fought until our ammunition was expended and then retreated up the river, losing three or four hundred men; among them Cols. Duke, Smith & Morgan. I now had the command of our right & moving 9 m. up the river we again attempted to cross. Col. Johnson with about 300 men succeeded, but Genl. Morgan with the main body of the Comd. was nearly all night and making a wide detour on the
20th of July at 4 P.M. we arrived at Cheshire, O., on the river some 50 or 60 miles below Buffington. For several hours previous to arriving at Cheshire the 5th Ky. under my Comd. & the 6th Comd. by R.D. Logan were actively engaged with Woolford's and Judah's Cavalry that hotly pressed our rear. Ammunition being entirely exhausted, and one-half the command having lost their guns during the rapid retreat of the preceding day and night, and the river being impassable, we were forced to surrender. We held a Council of War on a high hill about 4 mi. below Cheshire and sent a flag of truce to Col. Coleman, of Cluke's Regt. Was our senior officer left, & the terms of surrender was agreed about sunset. Gen'l. Morgan with about 600 men was cut off from the main column and made his way out into the interior of Ohio, but was captured with the remainder of our force, near the Pennsylvania State line, July 26th, 1863.
21 Rec'd a parole of honor and the liberty of the town of Chesire. Put up at the hotel with Cols. Coleman, Tucker, Max McCreary & the other field officers of our Comd.
23 Left Cheshire on the Steamer Golden Era.
24 Arrived at Cincinnati. Steamer anchored out on the river during the night.
25 Will Hawkins brought me some clothes. Left the boat and marched to the 9th St. City Prison Circuit. Here we found Cols. Smith, Duke, Morgan & a great number of our field and line officers.
27 Left on train for Sandusky.
28 Arrived at Johnson's Island. Staid 4 days. No. 1 Prison.

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Liberty Return.

Basil Wilson Duke (1838-1916) at this time led the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry, which is usually known by his name. In the Great Raid, he led one of the two brigades. Promoted to Brig Gen, he later commanded the remnants of the Confederate Cavalry in southwestern Virginia. His History of Morgan's Cavalry (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press , ed. Cecil Fletcher Holland, 1960 [1867]) is a colorful, firsthand account. A much shorter account of the raid by Duke and others was published in The Century Magazine of January 1891 under the title, "A Romance of Morgan's Rough Riders," and reprinted in Don D. John, The Great Indiana-Ohio Raid (Privately Printed, Louisville: Book Nook Press, 1955). Return.

Harry Bedford commanded Co. C of the 5th Cavalry. Return.

Wilson not identified. Return.

Duke mentions a Sgt Lawrence Dickerson of the 1st Brigade Adjutant's staff, who served as an Acting Assistant Adjutant for Col Cluke. History, 364. Return.

Snows Hill Return.

Tom and the brass arrived to find the roads clogged with stragglers and Col Gano in an untenable position, beset by two Union brigades. See Duke, History, 382-387. Reports of the engagement are in Official Records, Series 1, 23 (1): 207-214. Return.

For "Smith's" read Smithville, which is about six miles east of Snows Hill. Return.

Lebanon, TN, the county seat of Wilson County, is midway between Nashville and Carthage.

Most of the places Tom mentions through June can be found in Official Atlas, Plate 30, 2. Return.

Stones River flows northwest to join the Cumberland. A major battle between Bragg and Rosecrans over the previous New Year (31 Dec-2 Jan) along that stream just north of Murfreesboro. Return.

The Cumberland River, which loops down into Tennessee past Nashville before turning north again, was a natural barrier. Return.

Rome, TN, ten miles west of Carthage. Return.

Carthage, TN, on the north bank of the Cumberland, opposite the mouth of the Caney Fork. Return.

New Middleton, ten miles south of Carthage. Return.

Sligo Ferry (now under the waters of Center Hill Lake) on the Caney Fork about ten miles east of Smithville on the road to Sparta. Return.

The Caney Fork, another branch of the Cumberland, drains the area east of Stones River. The Union Army of the Cumberland dominated the route running southeast from Nashville through Murfreesboro towards Chattanooga, while the Confederates seem to have had free rein to the east of that axis. Return.

Chestnut Mound, 12 miles southeast of Carthage. Return.

Sparta, TN, seat of White County in the foothills of the Cumberland Plateau, about thirty miles east of McMinnville. Both towns are on tributaries of the Caney Fork. Return.

Absalom and E. L. Jordan were in Co. H of the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry. Return.

William B. Black served in Companies H & F of Tom's 5th Kentucky Cavalry. Return.

Tom Jordan not identified. I know of no kinship to Tom, so the term "cousin" likey refers to Ab and Ed Jordan. Return.

Mr Wallace not identified. Return.

Greasy Creek enters the Cumberland from the north, opposite Horseshoe Bottom, which lies on the south bank in western Wayne County, Kentucky. The battle site now lies beneath the waters of Lake Cumberland. See Official Atlas, Plate 9, 2; Duke, History, 391-394. Return.

Elements of a Union brigade, commanded by Col Richard T. Jacob of the 9th Kentucky Cavalry (Union), included the 20th Michigan Infantry under Lt Col W. Huntington Smith, and the 12th Kentucky Cavalry. However, Jacob makes no mention of Wolford's regiment. Official Records, Series 1, 23 (1): 301.

Basil Duke recalled,

Not more than eight or nine hundred men on each side were engaged and the fight was soon over; but it was quite hot while it lasted, and the percentage of killed, both Federal and Confederate, was large for a skirmish. The fight opened by an attack on our line, in which the combatants came to close quarters. We repulsed our assailants, and charged in turn across a wide meadow enclosed on all sides by woodlands.
Reminiscences, 246.

John W. Coffey and his family were listed in Wayne County in the 1860 census, along with a dozen other families of that name, most of whom seem to have been kin, but the location of his farm is not known. Return.

Monticello Return.

Duke observed,

Several scouting expeditions were undertaken, during this period, against the enemy on the north side of the river, the most successful of which were under command of Captain [William J.] Davis and Captain Thomas Franks, of the Second Kentucky. Each of these officers, with two companies, penetrated far into the enemy's lines, and attacking and routing the forces they met, with small loss to themselves, brought off prisoners, horses, and captured property of various kinds. These expeditions were not only of essential use in annoying the enemy, but were absolutely necessary to the maintenance of a proper spirit and energy among our men.
History, 395.

Columbia Return.

Edmonton Return.

Glasgow Return.

Burkesville The town north of the Cumberland witnessed the beginning of what became known as Morgan's Great Raid. Return.

Edward Henry Hobson (1825-1901, Brig Gen, USV), a former banker, had a force of only 300 men to oppose Morgan. Ramage, 163. Return.

Marrow Bone, a creek which flows east to join the Cumberland. A town shares the name. Return.

Columbia Return.

Capt Jesse M. Carter, who had commanded Co J of Col Frank Wolford's 1st Kentucky Cavalry since 10 Dec 1861, was killed in the engagement. Kentucky AG, 234. Return.

Green River was one of the few occasions when Morgan attacked an entrenched opponent. See Ramage, 163-164. Duke described the 5th Kentucky's part in the assault:

Colonel Smith led his men at a double-quick to the abattis, where they were stopped as the others had been, and suffered severely. The rush through a hundred yards of undergrowth, succeeded by a jam and crowding of a regiment into the narrow neck, and confronted by the tangled mass of prostrate timber and the guns of the hidden foe was more than the men could stand. They would give way, rally in the thick woods, try it again, but unsuccessfully.
Duke, History, 422.

David W. Chenault commanded the 11th Kentucky Cavalry. Confederate Military History, 205. Return.

Thomas Y. Brent was a Major in Tom's regiment, the 5th, whom Duke characterized as "recklessly brave, and possessed a natural military aptitude." Return.

Lebanon in Marion County, where hilss give way to the rolling Bluegrass. Return.

Col Charles S. Hanson's 20th Kentucky Infantry (Union) had surrendered after a bitter fight. Morgan's men were incensed over the death of Tom Morgan, their leader's youngest brother. Ramage, 164-165. Return.

The prisoners taken at Lebanon were released on parole at Springfield, about eight miles north. Return.

To keep his opponents guessing as to his objectives, Morgan sent out parties in all directions. Tom's demonstration on the outskirts of Louisville, which was weakly defended, brought consternation to the citizens. Not all of the detachments were able to rejoin the main body. Duke, "Romance," 14-15. Return.

Brandenburg a few miles west of modern Fort Knox, once again a sleepy riverside town.Return.

The steamboats were the Alice Dean from Cincinnati and the John T. McCombs from Pittsburgh. Lytle, 6, 16. A Federal gunboat, the small, 146-ton Springfield, ran out of ammunition and could do little to oppose the raiders. Ramage, 168. Originally known as the W. A. Healy until requisitioned by the government, the Springfield returned to peaceful commerce as the Jennie D. Lytle, 223. Duke identifies the second gunboat as the Elk. "Romance." 15. Return.

Corydon was about a dozen miles north of their crossing point. Return.

Tom went into more detail in the first part of his letter to his wife, Lou. See below. For an hour-by-hour account see Horvitz, passim. Return.

Buffington Bar Traces of the action remained into the late twentieth century. The site is now threatened with development. Return.

The gunboats were under the command of LCDR Leroy Fitch, USN. Return.

Col Adam Rankin Johnson (1834-1922), of the 10th Regiment, commanded one brigade of the raiding force. He was later promoted to Brig Gen. Johnson was blinded in 1864 and retired to Texas. Confederate Military History, 11: 409-411. He later recounted his wartime experiences in The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army: Memoirs of Adam Rankin Johnson (Hartford, KY: McDowell Publications, 1979 [1904]), a volume which also includes material by men in his command, including L. D. Hockersmith's "Morgan's Escape." See below. Return.

Cheshire, a dozen miles below Portsmouth. Return.

Robert D. Logan (1829-1896) and his two elder brothers, Alison (1826- ) and M.D. (1821-1898) were all captured on the Ohio raid. Following the war they returned to farming in Boyle County. None ever married. Confederate Military History, 11: 439. Return.

In March of 1864 Col Frank Wolford (1817-1895), commander of the (Union) First Kentucky Cavalry, was relieved of command, dismissed from the army and briefly arrested for giving an intemperate speech in Lexington, opposing the conscription of slaves and criticizing President Lincoln. He was arrested twice more in 1864 while serving as commander of Kentucky State troops under Governor Thomas Bramlette. After the war Wolford returned to the state legislature and later served in Congress. See Harrison, Civil War, 91. Official Records, Series 3, 2: and 2:3. Return.

Henry Moses Judah (1821-1866, USMA '43) at this time commanding 3rd Division, XXIII Corps. His force had traveled by train and steamboat, the troops and their mounts fit and refreshed, showing once again the Union's superiority in logistics. Ramage, 176. Return.

Leroy S. Cluke (1822-1864), of Clark County, had raised a regiment known as "the War Dogs" from the central Bluegrass in 1862, along with Cicero Coleman and R.S. Bullock. He was sent to Johnson's Island, where he died on New Year's Day, 1864. Confederate Military History, 11: 323-324. Return.

Cicero Coleman (1838?- ) was second in command of the 8th Kentucky Cavalry. Confederate Military History, 11: 328-329. Return.

Lt Col Joseph T. Tucker (1833- ) had been too ill to assume command of the 11th at Green River, so Return.

James Bennett McCreary (1838- ), then a major, had taken charge for a time. Apparently he was known to his comrades as "Mac," which Tom recorded as "Max." McCreary later served as Governor of Kentucky, 1875-1879, and a longtime member of Congress. Confederate Military History, 11: 447-450. Tucker returned to Winchester and his law practice. Perrin, History, Edition 8-B, 997. Return.

The Golden Era was a wooden-hulled sternwheeler of 208 tons built at California, Pennsylvania in 1862, and home ported in Cincinnati. An earlier Golden Era had operated on the upper Ohio. Lytle, 86. Return.

Likely W. M. Hawkins, proprietor of the Drovers Inn in Covington. See above, 16 Jan 1863. Return.

Train to Sandusky xxx Return.

The prison camp on Johnson's Island in Lake Erie was reserved mostly for Confederate officers, separated from their men who were confined at Camp Chase or other facilities. The bitter northern winters took their toll on the Southerners. A report to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton in December 1863 conveys a positive picture greatly at odds with inmates' recollections. Official Records, Series 2, 6: 661. Return.

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Transcription and editorial matter copyright © 2000, Neil Allen Bristow. All rights reserved.

This page updated 14 June 2001.