Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I Could Not Resist My Country's Call Part 2

The journal of James Paton is one of only a handful of surviving manuscripts written by a member of the Confederate First Kentucky Brigade, known to posterity as the “Orphan Brigade.” Paton and his comrades embraced the Confederate cause as their own and the Confederacy became their adopted country. Therefore, Paton felt “I could not resist my country’s defend her rights.”

James E. Paton was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, in 1837, the son of James and Elizabeth Paton. Working as a clerk in Paris, Kentucky, he joined a group of friends who, in June 1861, went south to join their fellow Kentuckians at Camp Boone near Clarksville, Tennessee, who were enlisting in the Confederate army. On July 7, 1861, Paton and his comrades enlisted in the 2nd Kentucky Infantry. Their company, the Hamilton Guards, became Company G.

His journal, written in Camp Morton, Indiana, while a prisoner of war, covers his service from July, 1861, until his exchange from prison in August, 1862. It is not known if he continued his writing after this period. Original grammar has been left intact. In the first part we learned of the drudgery of training, six months of recuperation from a ligament tear, and then the start of battle at Ft. Donelson where the 2nd repulsed several enemy charges on February 13th, 2006. We pick up with his entry on February 14th. Under the Feb. 14 entry, the Union “Gunboats” were the ironclads Carondelet, Louisville, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Conestoga and Tyler. Under Feb. 16(15) the Union “two regiments” that companies B and G repulsed were the 11th and 31st Illinois Infantry regiments. The “two Batteries” mentioned was really one, McAllister’s Battery D, 1st Illinois Light Artillery. The “four Regts. Charging up the hill” were from Lauman’s and C. F. Smith’s brigades, 2nd and 7th Iowa, 25th Indiana, and 14th Missouri. Transcribed and edited by Sam Flora; original manuscript in the possession of Elizabeth Clay Witt.

Our position commanded a view of the attack. The Gun Boats advanced to within 300 yards of the fort. This was the most magnificent scene I ever beheld. The bursting of shells and the continual roar of the 64 and 130 pounders in the Fort almost deafened us. During this assault everyone of us stood anxious spectators deeply interested in the result.

About dark we (Co. G.) were ordered to our tents, where hungry, cold and thirsty we lay ourselves in the frozen earth to restore exhausted human nature – to dream of loved ones at home and of tomorrow’s Battle, everyone determined that victory should crown our arms, or that hospitable graves should welcome us home. Feby. 16th We were aroused from sweet slumber about 3 o’clock A. M. It was cold, bitter cold with snow on the ground, but we cared not for personal comforts. Our thoughts were of the conflicts of the approaching day. Breakfastless we were soon in the line of Battle, when we took up our march to a point two miles on the left, where we arrived about sunrise. The Ball had already commenced, the Battle was hotly raging and we were stationed on a hill-side as a reserve and here the bombshells bursted around, over and among us, killing and wounding several. It was here Lieut. Hill of Co. F received a mortal wound from a cannon ball. While here many distressing and heart rending scenes were presented. The wounded horribly mangled and carried from the Battlefield uttered hideous death cries, which was enough to make the blood of the stoutest heart curdle in one’s veins, the dead and dying were seen on every side and in our very midst and many things which the poverty of language prevents an adequate description. Scenes that would try the courage of the “Bravest of the Brave”.

Everyone seemed impressed with solemn thoughts, yet upon every countenance was depicted an unmistakable determination to conquer or fall. Genl. Buckner made his appearance and addressed us as follows, “ Fellow Kentuckians, can I trust the old 2nd today,” The answer was, “We will go anywhere you choose to lead us or may wish to send us” He then said, “ I hold you here as a reserve and around you shall rally and unless the fortunes of the day become doubtful, you shall not be called into action. But if it should, I want you to show some of the Old Blood. And I may ask you to go where I would not dare send another regiment and I will go with you.” The fortunes of the day did become doubtful and we were called into action and we did show them some of the “Old Blood” and some of Kentucky’s marksmanship too. For in ten minutes after this the fortunes of the day became desperate, the enemy exerting every nerve and preparing to charge Capt. Graves Battery. Capt. Graves was once the Adjutant and idol of the 2nd Ky. His well known voice was heard to call for the “2nd Ky”, he said “Go to the assistance of Col. Baldwin and save my Battery”. Without even awaiting the command of our Col. We were off at the double quick when all were halted save Cos. B & G, which were rushed madly on, eager to measure bayonets with the enemy. Here I made a very narrow escape, a ball from a six pounder striking and plowing up the earth within 3 feet of me and shells bursting over us almost every minute but miraculously none of us were hurt. On we rushed regardless of every danger until within a short distance of the enemy when we poured upon them volley after volley and the enemy’s bullets falling thick and fast among us. Here several of my comrades fell , four or five in arms length of me when shot. The enemy could not stand our galling fire and threw down their arms and fled in great confusion. Thus we, Cos. B & G saved Graves battery and drove two regiments from their entrenchment killing and wounding a great many. Again we were drawn up in line of battle and a messenger sent for the remaining part of the Regt. to help charge the enemy again in his new position and where he had been reinforced. But we soon saw the remaining part of the Regt. coming in full charge upon the enemy, surmounting every obstacle and impeded by nothing and soon were joined by Cos. B & G. Genl. Buckner asked Col. Hanson if he thought he could make a successful charge. The Col. Replied, “ There is no difficulty in getting my men started, the h—l will be to stop them.” The order was then given to “Fix bayonets, forward double quick march.” On we rushed scattering five Regts. helter, skelter, strewing the ground with their dead and wounded, taking about 200 prisoners and two Batteries. Thus ended the conflict on that part of the field.

By this time many of us were hungry, thirsty, fatigued and completely, physically exhausted. Never was victory more complete than the one we had just achieved. In their flight they threw their guns and equipment away. They were splendid arms and the same the enemy boasted of having taken from us after our surrender, but a great number had been sent south by the immortalized Floyd. The scenes that presented themselves on this part of the field were horrible, men and horses lay piled together, some with their heads shot off by cannon balls and others with their limbs torn from them.

We were then ordered back to our position on the right, where we had left that morning. I being completely exhausted and suffering a great deal from lameness, did not get there until some time after the Regt. did. The Regt. was still in line and were being congratulated by our Col. On our success and anticipating sweet repose that night. When we were informed that “there were four Regts. charging up the hill on us, at double quick, and fixed bayonets.” I shall never forget the feelings I then experienced, had I have heard my death warrant read to me I could not have felt worse, not through fear or timidity, but I could plainly see what was to follow. I knew many a brave one in the 2nd Ky. would fall. I was too much exhausted to go to our pits when the companies were ordered to them. Lieut. Spears knowing my condition told me to stay where I was on the reserve.
Our men had scarcely gained the intrenchments when the enemy was upon them. They fired a round or two, fixed bayonets and fought had to hand until ordered to rally behind our next intrenchments, two or three hundred yards to our rear. This was done under a heavy fire of the enemy. In this action we labored under many disadvantages. The enemy was fresh and his numbers greatly superior to ours, our guns out of order and ammunition nearly exhausted. In this struggle, Lieut.Hawes received two severe wounds and fell into the hands of the enemy and here the gallant Spears received a shot in the left arm, but could not be prevailed upon to leave the field altho suffering great pain.

The Regt. gained the intrenchments in the rear with some loss, but nothing to compare with that if the enemy. I started to the rear with the Regt. but finding myself unable to gain them, when about half way took shelter behind a fallen tree. Here my position was one of great danger. The bullets of the enemy and those of friends passing directly over me like swarms of bees and a shell would occasionally burst in close proximity, too close to be healthy or comfortable. The invincible Graves and gallant Porter had reinforced the Regt. with two guns and were pouring death and destruction into the ranks of the enemy. Firing continued until dark, which caused a cessation of hostilities. We lost our blankets and everything save what was about our persons. It was a bitter cold night, we were supperless and having eaten nothing all day were mentally as well as physically exhausted and having been five nights with but little sleep. The frozen ground our only bed and the northern blasts our unwelcome companions and Heaven’s canopy our only covering. All were cold and cheerless. I will not attempt to describe the sufferings of that night but leave it to your own imagination. Sunday, Feby. 17th At about 2 o’clock this morning the Regt. was called into line and informed by Col. Hanson that we were surrounded by at least sixty thousand men. That the fort had surrendered and that the only chance to save ourselves was to cut our way out. To this we were all willing, but Genl. Buckner opposed such a movement and the idea was abandoned.

At early dawn the white flag was seen waving from our breast works. This was an awful blow to the 2nd Ky. Sooner would they have died upon the Battlefield than have been there surrendered. Soon the Federals were seen to file in side of our breastworks and stationed as guards over our men. This was indeed humiliating and the blood of many Brave Kentuckians boiled with rage. We were treated with respect and kindness by the Federal Troops. Squads from each army were seen standing together talking over the Battle scenes. Thus the day passed off. Night came and a strong guard was placed around our camp. We were compelled to sleep in the open field again altho we were within 100 yards of our tents.

It rained nearly all night . My bed was on the side of the hill. When I awoke I found a stream of water running under me. I drew a wet blanket around me, fell to sleep again and slept soundly till morning Feby. 18th, 1862 About 10 o’clock we were ordered to fall into line and were marched to the boat landing in Dover. As we passed by the Headquarters of Gen. Buckner, the gallant Hero came out with hat in hand and as the men passed along he would take their hands, tell them goodbye, bid them be of good cheer, to hope for a better day and that he would be with them again. How our sympathies were aroused for our beloved and idolized General. He was the admiration of the entire Brigade. A man of the noblest impulses and worthy a better fate.

I will here remark that Gen. Buckner could have escaped with Floyd and Pillow if he had have been disposed.

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