First Kentucky Cavalry

The First Kentucky Cavalry

In the summer of 1861 the Civil War had fairly begun. The battle of the Bull Run was fought July 21st. In that summer the idea prevailed, with some, that although the country was aflame, and although Confederate companies had been organized in Kentucky and had gone south with flying colors, and although the state of Tennessee was full of Confederate troops, all along the state line, it was in some way wrong for the Union men of Kentucky Camp Dick Robinsonto enter into any military organization. Kentucky had voted overwhelmingly against secession. It had refused to join the Southern movement as emphatically as South Carolina chose to secede. As it adhered to the Union when other states seceded, her Union citizens saw fit, under all the circumstances, to organize troops. As early as July 1st, 1861, Confederate soldiers from Knoxville, Tennessee, had occupied Cumberland Gap and Wheeler's Gap. The citizens of the eastern and central parts of Kentucky were under great excitement, and felt the urgent necessity of preparations for defense. Naturally, therefore, the movement occurred which led to the establishment of Camp Dick Robinson, in Garrard County, Kentucky, and the formation there of four Kentucky regiments, one battery and two regiments of East Tennessee Unionists.

The history of the first Kentucky Cavalry has been well written by Sergeant E. Tarrant, a member of that regiment. From that volume, and from the official records of the war, the account here following is made up:

Tarrant says: "Lieut. William Nelson, of the navy, himself a Kentuckian, had been commissioned brigadier general, and had been given authority to organize troops for the national defense in Kentucky. He arrived at Lancaster, in Garrard County, July 15, 1861. He immediately made the following appointments: W. J. Landrum, Col., and Frank Wolford, Lt. Col., of the ----- Cavalry Regiment; S. S. Fry and Honorable T. T. Garrard, colonels of infantry regiments."

Landrum and Wolford commenced to recruit at once, in Garrard, Casey and adjoining counties. Their men were to go into Camp Dick Robinson immediately after the August election. Col. Wolford was aided in recruiting by his younger brother, F. M. Wolford, John W. Letcher, George W. Sweeney, Francis M. Helveti, Silas Adams, J. W. Jenkins, William Rains, George W. Drye, S. H. Coppage, John A. Brents, J. A. Morrison, J. P. Miller, William A. Coffey and others, who became officers in the regiment. The men were enlisted from the counties of Casey, Marion, Madison, Garrard, Wayne, Washington, Cumberland, Pulaski. The names of the officers and men appear in the roster following this account [not included on this website].

The first movement of the regiment was in August, when several companies went, under command of Lt. Col. John W. Letcher, to Lexington, to protect the passage of arms through that place. They guarded the wagons to Nicholasville, and on to Camp Dick Robinson. Other duty of similar character was also performed.

Camp Wildcat

In September, General George H. Thomas took command of the forces organized at the camp, and it was soon learned that Confederate General Zollicoffer was in Kentucky. The first battle fought by Wolford's men was at Camp Wildcat, on Rockcastle Hills, Oct. 21st. The Federals were commanded by Col. Garrard, of the 7th Kentucky Infantry, and he had sent Wolford's cavalry forward to reconnoiter. Zollicoffer appeared with a force of 7,000, drove back the cavalry and attacked Garrard in his camp. General Schoepff, who was under Gen. Thomas, hastened to Garrard's relief, and the battle resulted disastrously to the Confederates. The conduct of Wolford's regiment was highly praised by General Schoepff and others.

After this date, to wit, on Oct. 28, 1861, the First Kentucky Cavalry was mustered into the United States service by Gen. Thomas. From that time it served with the utmost activity throughout the war. Nov. 2nd, it went on a reconnaissance to Burksville. In the summer, it was at Somerset, from whence it operated by detachments in every direction. Nov. 30th, it was placed in the 11th Brigade, commanded by Gen. J. T. Boyle. December 10th, five companies were sent to Prestonsburg, Kentucky, by way of Danville, Lexington and Mount Sterling. They united with Garfield's force in that part of Kentucky, and Garfield reported constant fighting against the Confederates under Gen. Humphrey Marshall. December 14th, Col. Wolford reported that Major Helveti was wounded and captured at Logan's Cross Roads. Jan. 21, 1862, General Thomas reports the First as in front, toward Logan's Cross Roads. Jan. 19th, it participated in the battle of Mill Springs, where the Confederates, under Gen.'s Crittenden and Zollicoffer, were signally defeated. In this battle, Wolford's cavalry encountered the enemy first and fought dismounted. Wolford reported three killed, eight mortally wounded and eleven others wounded. General Crittenden reported a loss of 125 killed and 309 wounded. After the battle of Mill Springs the First was on hard duty in Kentucky all winter. In April, 1862, it moved to the vicinity of Nashville, and was used for various expeditions in that section. At that time it was assigned to Dumont's division of Buell's army. May 5th, in a fight at Lebanon, Tennessee, in which the Federals successfully defended the place against an attack by Morgan and others, Col. Wolford was severely wounded.Death of General Felix Zollicoffer

May 24, 1862, General Mitchell reports the First Kentucky Cavalry at Shelbyville, Tennessee, "men and horses absolutely worn out," yet a few days later portions of the regiment are reported doing duty as usual.

In June, it was at Columbia, Mount Pleasant, Lawrenceburg, and Pulaski, returning by way of Columbia to Murfreesboro. June 14th, it went on an expedition to Sequatchie Valley, in the command of General Dumont, returning to Columbia. In August, the regiment moved to Murfreesboro, and then to Nashville; thence northward with Buell's army on its march to Kentucky, passing through Munfordville, Elizabethtown, and Hodgenville. At New Haven it took part in the capture of the Georgia regiment of Col. Crawford. When Buell left Louisville, Oct. 1st, to move against Bragg, the First Cavalry moved from Elizabethtown and joined Buell's forces at Bardstown. It took part in the battle of Perryville, Oct. 8. Then joined in the pursuit of Bragg, passing through Danville and Crab Orchard to London. From London it returned and moved to Nashville. There various changes were made among the officers. Among others, Capt. Silas Adams was made Lt. Col. At this time Buell was superseded by Rosecrans, and the First Cavalry was sent into Kentucky to protect the country against the efforts of the Confederate cavalry to destroy railroads. Jan. 16, 1863, General Rosecrans reports the First Cavalry, with other troops, operating against John Morgan. During the spring and summer it was in Kentucky, being under Gen. Q. A. Gilmore. In March, it aided in resisting the raid of Confederate General Pegram into the state, and, on the 30th, fought a severe battle at Dutton's Hill, near Crab Orchard. In this campaign Col. Adams was captured but he escaped.

August, 1863, the Army of the Ohio was organized with Gen. Burnside as commander. In this organization was the cavalry brigade, consisting of the First Kentucky Cavalry, 11th Kentucky Cavalry (Major Graham); Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry (Col. Crittenden), and a light battery. Col. Wolford commanded the brigade and Col. Adams the First Cavalry. Toward the latter part of August, 1863, the East Tennessee expedition, under Gen. Burnside, started, and the First Cavalry accompanied Hascall's division, moving to Kingston, Tennessee, by way of Somerset and Montgomery. The East Tennessee campaign, with all its incidents, can not be here detailed; it is enough to say that the First Cavalry was constantly active, moving from place to place, fighting at Kingston, Philadelphia, Maryville, and many other places. Nov. 3rd Burnside's cavalry was put under Gen. James M. Shackleford, and Wolford commanded a division. In the siege of Knoxville the cavalry was placed on the south side of the river, and the men, being dismounted and placed in defenses on the hills, successfully resisted all assaults. The battle at Fort Sanders was followed by a furious charge on the south side, which also failed. The loss of the First Cavalry during the siege was 13 men. The siege being over, the cavalry followed Longstreet up the Tennessee Valley, and at Beans Station a severe and bloody fight occurred, in which Col. Wolford and his men bore a most conspicuous part. The First Cavalry remained in East Tennessee until February, 1864, when it was sent to Mount Sterling, Kentucky, where in refitted and reorganized for the great campaign in Georgia, under General Sherman. In March, 1864, the citizens of Kentucky presented Col. Wolford a fine sword; this was at Lexington. In that month he severed his connection with his regiment, and from that time it was commanded by Col. Silas Adams.Lt.-Col. Silas Adams

In April, 1864, the regiment moved to join Sherman's army in Georgia; passing through Danville and Point Burnside, it reached Kingston, Tennessee, May 7th. Leaving there on the ninth, it reached Varnell's Station the 11th. It was then in the cavalry command of the 23rd Army Corps, under Gen. Stoneman. The hard and exciting service of the Atlanta campaign began at once. The First Cavalry engaged in many encounters, in which it suffered losses before Atlanta was reached, but these can not to be detailed here. The most notable event was the Stoneman raid to Macon, Georgia, in which Stoneman was captured, but the First Cavalry fared better. It should be stated here that the 11th Kentucky Cavalry, Major W. O. Boyle, was with Col. Adams and to the First Cavalry. The official report states that "great credit is due to Col. Adams for the energy and management displayed by him and bringing his command out as safely as he has," his loss in killed, wounded and captured being only 20. Another report to General Sherman, dated August 4, 1864, says: "Col. Adams, commanding brigade of Stoneman's cavalry, is here about 900 strong. He thinks that the balance of the command are prisoners, including Gen. Stoneman. He cut the railroad south of Macon. The command was overwhelmed by the rebels between Monticello and Clinton." It would be interesting to narrate, in detail, the events of this raid, but space forbids. Col. Adams refused to surrender, and determined to cut his way out. Stoneman told him his command would be cut to pieces. Adams said: "I will take the responsibility." He did so, and fought his way through the enemy's lines and returned, as we have seen. At this time, among the killed was Capt. Francis M. Wolford, and Lieut. Murphy wounded. General Sherman says of this raid: "one brigade, Col. Adams', came in almost intact."

After this the regiment returned to Kentucky, and September 16, 1864, was in camp at Mount Sterling. It was then incorporated with General Burbridge's command, organized for the expedition to Saltville, Virginia. After this campaign, in which the First Cavalry was as active and useful as it ever was, fighting and marching and sustaining losses, it returned to Mount Sterling, Kentucky. On the 31st of December, 1864, after nearly 3 1/2 years of continuous hard service, and having performed its full duty to state and country, it was mustered out of the service at Camp Nelson, Kentucky.

Note: Col. Wolford was a remarkable man and a decided character. Many anecdotes are told about him. In Tarrant's history of the regiment, it is stated that a Georgia captain, who was captured at Mill Springs, said to Wolford: "Col., this is a dreadful business." "Yes, it is," replied the Col. "All we want is to be let alone," said the captain. "It looks that way," responded Wolford, "when you have come all the way from Georgia to shoot my men, many of whom are in hearing of their homes."Colonel Frank Wolford

Tarrant also relates that as the soldiers had a habit of taking all the chickens that crowed for Jeff Davis, the people complained of it. Wolford said: "The thieves must certainly belong to some other regiment, for I have ordered my men not to steal, and they always mind me, so it must be some other men than mine."

The present writer was on Gen. Shackleford's staff in the East Tennessee campaign, fall of 1863. At that time Negro enlistments had begun, and many Kentucky officers disliked it. Among them was Wolford. In the siege of Knoxville, provisions became scarce and Cols. Wolford and Pennebaker often appeared at Gen. Shackleford's mess to get something to eat. One day Wolford, with a grim smile, said to Col. Pennebaker, "Charley, I don't like nigger soldiers, and neither do you, but if Lincoln should send a lot of 'um down here, and run off old Longstreet, I wouldn't care a ----, would you?"

In the battle of Beans Station, Shackleford observed Wolford's men withdrawing from their position. He told the writer to ride like fury to Wolford, and tell him he must hold that place. Upon receiving the order, Wolford spurred his horse along the line of brigade, shouting his orders; 'bout faced his men, and he led the way back, riding in front of his command waving his hat, and urging the men forward. It was a splendid act of gallantry, and instantaneous execution of an order. A fierce fight ensued, but Wolford regained his position.

It was commonly remarked that Wolford's men scattered all over the country and that some of them could be found anywhere at any time, but that when wanted at any one place they all turned up in some marvelous way, like Robin Hood's men, at the call of their leader. Alluding to this well-known reputation of the regiment, Gen. Whitaker once said to Col. Wolford: "Colonel, I understand some of your men were with the Army of the Potomac on the last movement on Richmond."

"I reckon not," said Wolford. "If my men had been there they would have taken the place."

It is related that after the battle of Shiloh, although Wolford's regiment was on duty in the upper parts of Tennessee, east of Nashville, two of its men were observed riding composedly along the lines, and their appearance caused great shouting and cheering among the Kentucky soldiers who had already learned the peculiarities of the First Cavalry.


From Dyer's Compendium:

1st Regiment Cavalry

Organized at Liberty, Burkeville and Monticello, Ky., October, 1861, and mustered in October 28, 1861. Attached to Thomas' Command, Camp Dick Robinson, Ky., to December, 1861. 1st Division, Army of the Ohio, to March, 1862. (5 Cos. attached to Garfield's 18th Brigade, Army Ohio. December, 1861, to March, 1862.) Unattached, Army Ohio, to September, 1862. 1st Brigade, Cavalry Division, Army Ohio, to November, 1862. Post Gallatin, Tenn., Dept. of the Cumberland, to April, 1863. District of Central Kentucky, Dept. Ohio, to June, 1863. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 23rd Army Corps, Army Ohio, to August, 1863. Independent Cavalry Brigade, 23rd Army Corps, to November, 1863. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, Cavalry Corps, Army Ohio, to May, 1864. Independent Brigade, Cavalry Division, 23rd Army Corps, to August, 1864. 4th Brigade, 1st Division, District of Kentucky, Dept. of Ohio, to December, 1864. Camp Nelson, Military District of Kentucky, to September, 1865.

SERVICE--Near Rockcastle Hills October 18, 1861. Camp Wild Cat October 21. Fishing Creek December 8. (5 Cos. sent to Prestonburg, Ky., December 10 and Join Garfield. Garfield's operations against Humphrey Marshall December 23, 1861, to January 20, 1862. Middle Creek, near Prestonburg, January 10, 1862.) Near Logan's Cross Roads, Mill Springs, on Fishing Creek, January 19-20, 1862. Near Cumberland Gap February 14 (Detachment). Big Creek Gap and Jacksboro March 14 (Detachment). Reconnaissance to Cumberland Gap March 21-23 (1st Battalion). Moved to Nashville, Tenn., April. Purdy and Lebanon May 5. Duty at Shelbyville, Columbia, Mt. Pleasant, Lawrenceburg, Pulaski and Murfreesboro, Tenn., until August. March to Louisville, Ky., in pursuit of Bragg August 21-September 26. Capture of 3rd Georgia Cavalry at New Haven September 29. Pursuit of Bragg into Kentucky October 1-22. Near Perryville October 6-7. Battle of Perryville October 8. Danville October 11. Near Mountain Gap October 14 and 16. March to Nashville, Tenn., October 22-November 7. Ordered to Kentucky November. Operations against Morgan December, 1862, to January, 1863. Operations against Pegram March 22-April 1. Danville March 24. Dutton's Hill, near Somerset, March 30. Expedition to Monticello and operations in Southeast Kentucky April 25-May 12. Howe's Ford, Weaver's Store, April 28. Monticello May 1. Neal Springs May. Near Mill Springs May 29. Monticello and Rocky Gap June 9. Saunders' raid in East Tennessee June 14-24. Lenoir June 19. Knoxville June 19-20. Strawberry Plains and Rogers' Gap June 20. Powder Springs Gap June 21. Columbia and Creelsborough June 29. Pursuit of Morgan July 2-26. Marrowbone, Burkesville, July 2. Columbia July 3. Martin's Creek July 10. Buffington's Island. Ohio, July 19. Near Lisbon July 26. Operation against Scott in Eastern Kentucky. Lancaster and Paint Lick Bridge July 31. Lancaster August 1. Smith's Shoals, Cumberland River, August 1. Burnside's campaign in East Tennessee August 16-October 17. Calhoun and Charleston September 25. Near Philadelphia September 27 and October 15. Philadelphia October 20. Motley's Ford, Little Tennessee River, November 4. Knoxville Campaign November 4-December 23. Marysville November 14. Little River November 14-15. Stock Creek November 15. Near Knoxville November 16. Siege of Knoxville November 17-December 5. Pursuit of Longstreet December 5-23. About Bean Station December 9-13. Operations about Dandridge January 16-17, 1864. Bend of Chucky River, near Dandridge, January 16. Dandridge January 17. Flat and Muddy Creek January 26. Seviersville January 26. Near Fair Garden January 27. Moved to Mt. Sterling, Ky., February 17-26, and duty there reorganizing until April. March to Tunnel Hill, Ga., May 1-12. Atlanta Campaign May to September. Demonstrations on Dalton May 9-13. Operations on line of Pumpkin Vine Creek and battles about Dallas, New Hope Church and Allatoona Hills May 25-June 5. Operations about Marietta and against Kenesaw Mountain June 10-July 2. Lost Mountain June 10 and 15-17. Assault on Kenesaw June 27. Operations on line of Nickajack Creek July 2-5. Campbellton July 4. On line of the Chattahoochie River July 5-17. About Atlanta July 22-27. Stoneman's raid to Macon July 27-August 6. Macon and Clinton July 30. Sunshine Church July 30-31. Ordered to Mt. Sterling, Ky., September. Duty at Camp Nelson, Ky., and at other points in Kentucky until December. Mustered out December 31, 1864. Veterans and recruits consolidated to a Battalion of 3 Companies and on duty at various points in Kentucky, operating against guerrillas and quieting country, until September, 1865. Mustered out September 20, 1865.

Regiment lost during service 5 Officers and 56 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 1 Officer and 282 Enlisted men by disease. Total 344.

Copyright 2000-2009, Robert M. Baker, Timothy Downey, and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Kentucky Division.


Additional Resources:

Wolford's 1st Kentucky Cavalry Rosters

1st Kentucky Veteran Cavalry Rosters

Sergeant Eastham Tarrant, Wild Riders of the First Kentucky Cavalry, reprinted 1997 by Genesis Publishing Co., West Jefferson, Ohio. Originally published in 1894.


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