Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pegram's Kentucky Expedition & the Battle of Dutton's Hill

By Stewart Cruickshank

The Battle of Dutton’s Hill, on March 30th, was the culmination of Confederate General John Pegram’s expedition into Kentucky in 1863. The 9-day foray into the Commonwealth was for the purpose of gathering beef- cattle to feed the Army of Tennessee.

Pegram led approximately 1,550 cavalry supported by a three - piece battery of artillery across the Cumberland River at Stigall’s Ferry on March 22. The Confederate column consisted of the 1st Louisiana, 1st Georgia, 1st and 2nd Tennessee Regiments, 16th Battalion Tennessee Cavalry, (less two companies left behind in Tennessee), 1st Florida Cavalry (3 mounted companies), and Huwald’s Tennessee Battery of mule- drawn mountain howitzers. By making an orderly march through Somerset, the populace was led to believe that Pegram was leading the forefront of a Confederate invasion of central Kentucky. Rumors flew as to the actual strength of Pegram’s command. Union authorities were already nervous about Confederate activities.

On March 21, Colonel R. S. Cluke with approximately 750 troopers had captured Mt. Sterling. Three hundred or so Union troopers of the 14th Kentucky Cavalry were taken prisoner and paroled. After burning about $500, 000 in military property, Colonel Cluke withdrew towards Owensville in Rowan County, with 450-500 horses and mules, on March 25. When comfortable with his progress Cluke dispatched Major T. Steele’s Kentucky Battalion of Cavalry to support General Pegram. Steele’s Battalion, consisted of companies C & I of Gano’s 3rd/7th Cavalry and company A, Morgan’s, 2nd Cavalry.

Also in March General Humphrey Marshall with approximately 1,500 men had made several advances upon Louisa.

Federal forces feared that the three Confederate forces might merge together. However Marshall was seething that Pegram, a Virginian, was leading an expedition instead of himself. Therefore his co-operation was half-hearted at best.

After passing through Somerset, Pegram split his command, half the men taking the Waynesburg road and the other half, the Crab Orchard road as they advanced towards Stanford. Union troops hastily withdrew towards Danville, and Hickman’s Bridge near Camp Nelson. On March 24, at 2:00 p.m., the 1st Louisiana with two companies from the 2nd Tennessee led the attack into the town. Supported by the 1st Georgia, Confederate troops fought the 18th and 22nd Michigan Infantry, 1st Kentucky Cavalry, and 1st Indiana Battery of Artillery. During the bitter street fighting some citizens of the town fired from the windows of their homes at the charging Confederates. Albert G. Green and George W. Herhline of the 1st Louisiana were killed in action. Among the 60 Yankee P.O.W.’s was Lt. Colonel Silas Adams of the 1st Kentucky Cavalry. Pegram captured a dispatch from Major Runkle advising that his command was between Lancaster and Camp Nelson. Hoping to get between the Federals, Pegram dispatched some of his command to the Dix River Bridge near Camp Dick Robinson. Exhausted from riding 61 miles in 28 hours the Confederate maneuver failed. The consolidated service records of the 16th Tennessee Battalion reveal a large number of men were captured during the attempt.

After consolidating his command Pegram, posted the 1st Louisiana on the Frankfort & Lebanon roads to hold Danville while the rest of his force began gathering cattle in Garrard, Boyle, and Lincoln Counties.

The 1st Georgia returned to Danville on the 27th. Steele’s Battalion reached Pegram on the 28th of March.

By now Union authorities had come to realize that the number of Confederates that they were facing was much smaller than they had previously believed. A counter-attack was made by the 9th Kentucky Cavalry upon Danville on the 26th. They captured 15 Confederates and killed one, briefly recapturing the town.

On March 28th, after burning two of three bridges across the Dix River, Pegram ordered a withdrawal towards Lancaster. Private J .E. Miller of the 16th Tennessee Battalion drowned while crossing the river. Colonel Ashby of the 2nd Tennessee Cavalry reported from Crab Orchard that he was being pressed by Union troops on the 29th. The captured cattle had been driven to Buck’s Creek about ten miles north of Somerset by this date.

In pursuit of the Confederate troopers were approximately 1,250 men under the command of General Q. A. Gillmore. They included the 1st Kentucky Cavalry, a squadron of the 44th Ohio Mounted Infantry, 45th Ohio Mounted Infantry, and four mountain howitzers from Law’s artillery. He was re-enforced by Colonel Garrard’s 7th Ohio Cavalry and a section of four Rodman guns from Wilder’s Indiana Battery of Light Artillery.

On March 30, General Pegram chose a defensive position on Dutton’s Hill near the intersection of the Crab Orchard & Stanford roads, in an effort to protect his cattle, which were then crossing the Cumberland River a mere six-miles away. Pegram placed Colonel Scott of the 1st Louisiana in charge of the mounted troops. The 16th Tennessee Battalion was deployed on the Stanford Road. The 1st Louisiana and the 1st Tennessee were placed at the intersection. Dismounting the balance of his men, except for the three companies from the 1st Florida which were crossing the cattle, to the position on Dutton’s Hill.

The 1st Georgia was placed on the right. Steele’s Battalion held the center, and the 2nd Tennessee was placed upon the left. Huwald’s Battery was placed in advantageous positions.

General Gillmore began his attack at 12:30 p. m., with an artillery barrage, which was damaging to the Confederate defenses. Meanwhile he placed the 1st Kentucky dismounted in the woods to the right. The 7th Ohio and the four Rodman guns were placed in the center. Dismounting, the 44th & 45th Ohio took a position on the left. Believing his mountain howitzers to be useless, Gillmore, placed them in reserve.

General Pegram’s and Colonel Scott’s after action reports differ as to how events unfolded during the three-hour battle to hold the hill. Colonel Scott took the 1st Louisiana and 1st Tennessee and attempted to flank the position of the 1st Kentucky Cavalry, so that they could get to the rear of the Union artillery. Pegram claims he held out for an hour awaiting Scott’s attack, which he felt should have taken only 10 minutes to have begun. Colonel Scott stated that an aide to General Pegram, Lt. J. F. Ranson, had countermanded the order and had halted the bulk of his command without his knowledge. As a result Scott charged the Union position with 30 troopers managing to capture just three horses. Furious, Scott retired and confronted Lt. Ranson, chastising him for delivering the order to halt to Lt. Colonel Nixon instead of himself, and cursing General Pegram in the process. In the meantime General Pegram reversed himself and ordered the flanking attack once again.

Observing the Confederate maneuvering, General Gillmore took steps to prevent its success. As Colonel Scott withdrew his troopers for a second attempt, Gillmore ordered the 44th and 45th Ohio Infantry and the 7th Ohio Cavalry to storm the hill, which they captured after a desperate defense of a thicket by three companies of the 2nd Tennessee. Captain Footman of the 1st Florida Cavalry had sent a detachment to support Pegram but they arrived too late to be of assistance. Gillmore quickly sent the 7th Ohio to support the 1st Kentucky by flanking Scott’s position, while parts of the 44th and 45th Ohio Infantry marched to the support as well.

After regrouping his command of approximately 330 men, Colonel Scott split them into three groups. Lt. Colonel Nixon with 6 companies and Captain Mathews with 4 companies of the 1st Louisiana charged the union troops at a right angle upon the Crab Orchard road. Captain Mathews of company A, and the members of his company, were known to wear rattlesnake tails on their hats. Meanwhile Colonel Carter’s 1st Tennessee cavalry proceeded a few hundred yards and then charged pell-mell down the Crab Orchard road. Due to the terrain the 1st Louisiana was forced to fight dismounted. With the element of surprise gone the attack failed. For the first time in its history the 1st Louisiana was forced to give up ground it held.

During the next two hours the 1st Louisiana and 1st Tennessee retired fighting from various positions in an effort to delay the Union advance while Pegram took a new position on Sugar Hill approximately 2 and 1/2 miles south of Somerset. During the combat the 1st Tennessee lost its colors which had recently been presented to them by the daughter of General Marshall. The 1st Louisiana reported losses of 75 men. The 1st Tennessee reported losses of 37 men. After some half-hearted skirmishing, about 5:30 p.m., Pegram was allowed to withdraw under the cover of night. The Confederates crossed the Cumberland River at Stigall’s and Newell’s ferries with 537 of the 750 cattle that they had collected. General Pegram additionally claimed to have captured and paroled 178 Union soldiers. His losses were approximately 200 killed, wounded or missing. The Confederate prisoners were sent to Forts McHenry and Monroe. From there they were forwarded to City Point, Virginia, for exchange.

After the Battle of Dutton’s Hill, General Pegram ordered the arrest of Colonel Scott, court-martialing him for cursing a superior officer. Although found guilty, Colonel Scott received a light reprimand from General S. B. Buckner before being returned to command a brigade of cavalry.

Lt. Colonel Nixon filed six charges against General Pegram, which seem to have never been adjudicated by Confederate authorities.

1. Pegram took 8 days March 15-23, to travel 130 miles from Clinton TN to Somerset KY, thus allowing Union scouts to learn of his expedition.

2. Nixon claimed that the 1st Louisiana and two companies of the 2nd Tennessee were unsupported in their initial charge through Danville on March 24.

3. Pegram destroyed only two of three bridges on the Dix River thus allowing the enemy to detect and respond to his withdrawal on 3/28.

4. That Pegram had taken 50 hours to withdraw 43 miles from Danville to Somerset, allowing the Federal pursuit to gain strength.

5. Pegram had given battle on Dutton’s Hill with less than 700 men without scouting the strength of his attacker.

6. Pegram was weak, indecisive, a vacillator with no skill or judgement.

General Pegram was later relieved of his command in the Army of Tennessee and returned to Virginia to command infantry.

Today the battlefield of Dutton’s Hill is on private property. It is located about a mile from the intersection of highways 39 and 80. A historical marker is at the entrance to four homes, which are at the forefront of the hill. Behind the tree line and the homes is a hidden gem of Kentucky history!

A once beautiful monument was erected circa the 1870’s by private fundraising. Mysteriously it is not listed in Confederate Veteran Magazine, which recorded most efforts of that time. It was placed on the National Register in 1997. The 6’ 2” marble obelisk marks a mass grave of Confederate casualties from the campaign, their names lost to history for 143 years. The inscription on the memorial has been damaged by acid rain and farming. Much of it is illegible today. Thanks to research by Edna Macon of the Mollie Morehead chapter of the U.D.C. the inscription is now known and it can be restored if funds can be made available.

Here off-duty until the last reveille, rest the Southern soldiers,

Few in number, who were slain in this and adjoining counties

During the war of secession. They fell among strangers, unknown,

Unfriended, yet not unhonored, for strangers hands have gathered

Their ashes here and placed this shaft above them, that constancy,

Valor, sacrifice of self, though displayed in fruitless enterprise,

May not be unremembered.

Confederate casualty reports of the Battle of Dutton’s Hill vary wildly, as to killed, wounded, or missing. General Pegram reported a rumor of 80 dead. One Union regiment reported 57 confederates killed, another only 10.

After many hours of scrolling through microfilmed records for Tennessee troops available at The Tennessee State Library & Archives, and a few printed sources and the Internet, I have compiled a partial list of the dead that I believe are buried on the Battlefield.

1st Louisiana Cavalry

Peter E. McKenna- Company A

Ovide Deville- Company B

George W. Miles-Company C- mortally wounded died 4/23/63

James Palmer- Company E- mortally wounded died 4/21/63

J. J. Thompson- Company F

1st Tennessee Cavalry

Sgt. R. Frow- Company G

2nd Tennessee Cavalry

A. Bogart- Company A

Alex Meek-Company D

James Johnson-Company D

George Beets- Company H

L. R. Bowling- Company H

James Graham- Company K –mortally wounded died 4/9/63

16th Tennessee Cavalry Battalion

John Moore-Company C-mortally wounded died 4/9/63

J. H. Montgomery- Company B- left behind severely wounded

Steele’s Kentucky Battalion

Thomas McMillan- Company A 2nd Cavalry

Marcus Lisle- Company A 2nd Cavalry

Lest we forget! After 143 years they deserve recognition for their sacrifice!

Missing from this last muster are the men from the 1st Georgia Cavalry, 1st Florida Cavalry, and others in Steele’s Battalion of Kentucky Cavalry. I did not have access to the Consolidated Service Records for these commands. I found no killed from Huwald’s Tennessee Battery.

Can you add to this roster? Please contact the author via this magazine if you can add to it.

Thank you,

Stewart Cruickshank


Roger Pelletier said...

Very nice article. I am in command of 1st Tennessee Cavalry Regiment Co.A. Based in "Old Rhea" County and located 6 miles from the original enlistment site of Rhea Springs. Our men would have been happy to know you remembered them.

Lt. Roger Pelletier

Dan Dutton said...

My family owned and lived on Dutton Hill from 1810 until the 1990s. This is an interesting and well written blog, but having seen the monument regularly for nearly 57 years I can state with certainty that it was never damaged by our farming practices, and there has been no farming on the land since it left our care.