Steve's Place

Boys of Battery A

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To Bacon Creek

By the 13th of December, most of the men of Battalion A had moved down to Bacon Creek joining other troops where several bridges were being rebuilt again. All together about 600 soldiers made up this new camp, surrounded by about fifteen hundred rebels. There were several bridge projects in the area — one at Bacon Creek, and the other crossing the Green River near Munfordville. The men camped first at Bacon Creek and helped build pontoon brides, and then moved toward a camp outside Munfordville — a town whose courthouse had been flying the rebel flag two hours before their arrival. The Green River was the wider of the two — about 300 feet and had a steep bank on the other side. Here, with Union forces on one side of the river, and rebels on the other, a bridge 120 feet above the water needing replacement. Pickets snuck in and out of camps on the other side, sometimes taking pot shots across the river. Little damage was caused aside from buckshot in the hand of one of the Union Captains.

[Figure 16: Munfordville was later the location of the Battle of Munfordville Sept 1862]

The goal in the area was to put in a floating bridge as quickly as possible across the Bacon and allow cavalry troops to get across while continuing to work on the tall railway bridge over the Green. It took nearly two months to complete these projects. Daily trains brought timber for the bridge from Louisville. At one point the main camp at the Green River was pulled back from the river itself and posted atop a rise. From here the troops had a commanding view of the rail bridge in order to guard the crossing. Scouts could see down the tracks for several miles, keeping their eyes out against rebels aiming to make trouble. Soldiers half anticipated twenty thousand men to charge them, though that never happened. Rebel cavalry in small groups to twenty-five did circulate the hills on the other side. There were minor losses to their side, with pickets returning to camp with a number of horses.

Over the next few months, many more men would be brought down to the Green River. A house was put up for the General’s headquarters, and large storage sheds were constructed. Toward the middle of January an estimated forty thousand soldiers were within a two miles square — and another camp of about the same size was a short eight miles away.

Just after Christmas guards spotted rebel cavalry crossing the bridge. Troops flew into action and shells were sent toward the bridge. Ten Union soldiers were killed in the skirmish, with another thirty or forty injured. Union forces weren’t sure what damage had been done to the other side, but estimated having got no less than twenty, and maybe as many as one hundred. The scene was ghastly for observers. Talking with citizens living on the other side, a number of horses had been seen running down the pike with their riders on their backs fastened to their saddles — perfectly dead.

Following such skirmishes, soldiers were usually sent out on patrol, hunting up the dead and injured. It was Civil War practice to not molest the other side at such tasks, though rebel forces were often described as negligent in caring for their dead. A few days after the incident described above, a Union colonel went over to woods on the other side and in a field found four Texas Rangers lying, mostly eaten by hogs. In a week or so, following a battle where 120 rebels were thought killed, a Union general rode over the battle ground when a Confederate General rode up with a flag of truce to look about for more dead bodies. The two men knew one another from before the war and so, shook hands, and drank together. Flags of truce were also sometimes used in order to negotiate prisoner exchanges.

Amid all this dreariness, there were yet honorific occasions at camp. At one such event there were grand speeches when the owner of a Louisville Hotel arrived with a flag for Battalion A with letters of gold, stars of silver, and fringe all around it. A private who had been allowed to take leave to return to Ravenna for a short period returned with between fifty and seventy-five letters for soldiers, and a package of mittens for the squad that had more than a pair for each of the men — though not a man of them needed them.

The men kept up great volumes of correspondence home about general conditions in camp. Writing poetry was something that many of the boys tried their hand at in those days, though results were rarely remarkable.

Sometimes news from home didn’t quite make sense. Letters from home would provide names of new recruits from the townships around Ravenna that people knew, and yet, surprisingly, these volunteers didn’t seem to join their camp. Even with the bad weather, health for most of them was keeping up, though several corpses of men who had died of typhoid headed home.

Local citizens from town sometimes made it into camp, often selling things. Just after New Years, an old farmer with his slave showed up to sell apples off the back of a cart, though the soldiers thought that his price of ten cents a dozen was pretty outrageous — so they gathered around his wagon, pulled out the lynch pins and let the cart wander down the hill to a pond of water. When the men took knives to a couple of apple sacks that fell off the cart, the old man hauled out a knife and drew blood from the arm of one of them. At that, the men took care of every bag, scattering apples a good distance, leaving the old slave holder and his slave fuming.

Some of the soldiers didn’t think much of the people they met in this area. Most of the local men, though shaved, wore long hair and rarely talked with one another, seeming to prefer standing around and looking on. These folks in their described lassitude seemed to the northerners little above their slaves in energy — described by one diarist to be stimulated only by tobacco and whiskey. In riding through town there seemed to be fewer horses than the men expected, and smaller ones, like Indian ponies. There seemed to be few buggies — people rode horseback and often two on a horse — something rarely seen in Ohio. Men wore hardly anything but Kentucky jeans — sometimes blue, sometimes tan. There seemed to be few schoolhouses, aside from several unpainted shacks where teachers were never observed.

[Figure 17: A camp along the way]

A hundred thousand men

By the end of January, forces in the area camps had reached nearly a hundred thousand men, rail lines were open and bridges repaired, storage buildings built and stocked. Locals seemed to understand that the South might be a losing cause — more and more rebels were coming into camp to surrender. One day there would be four or five crossing the lines. On another day when the camp thought it was being attacked, it was just citizens running for the bridge — men, boys, women, children, and slaves described as being “without number”. Pickets out on duty would run across groups ready to give up, including many slaves seeking protection. False rumors were about; both in camp and in town, rebels were said to have already sent commissioners to Washington in order to settle the war.

Guard duty could be boring. The weather was cold and wet though there’d be the odd warm day with severe thunder and lightening at night. The men hadn’t been paid for four months.

[Figure 18: Campgrounds]

Evenings were spent as usual — together in groups around campfires. Men passed newspapers around until they were worn out, played checkers, and some read testaments in their spare time. Most evenings there were men writing by campfire, pushing their pencils to fill sheets they could barely afford. They ate whatever mess could be arranged — three times a day except for Sundays, when they did two.

Around January 5 of the New Year, it rained hard and solidly for thirty-six hours, the river rising seventeen feet — washing out one of the bridges that had been built. Timbers were salvaged; parts of the pontoon bridge seemed still in tact. Men were set to repairs.

In a few days there were great quantities of drift wood coming down the river — whole trees as much as four feet across, several of which knocked out pontoons, requiring even more repair.

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