Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I Could Not Resist My Country's Call Part I

   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.” This brigade was composed of Kentuckians who joined the struggle of the Southern states for independence even though their own state had, at the time, taken a stance of neutrality. They saw the was as a struggle between a tyrannical Federal government attempting to destroy the constitutional liberties established by their forefathers and a Confederate government attempting to establish an independent nation based on those same constitutional principals.

   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 call...to 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.

   Under the February 13th entry, the Confederate battery Paton mentions is Capt. Thomas Porter’s Tennessee Light Artillery. The Union battery was Battery D, 1st Missouri Light Artillery. The “several regiments” were the 25th Indiana, 7th Iowa, and 14th Iowa Infantry regiments, of Lauman’s brigade. “Nelson” who was killed was the first 2nd Kentucky soldier killed in the war.

   Under the February 14th entry, the Union “Gunboats” were the ironclads Carondelet, Louisville, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Conestoga and Tyler.

   Transcribed and edited by Sam Flora. Original manuscript in the possession of Elizabeth Clay Witt.
July 1, 1862 With one remark – or rather a request, I will enter upon these annals, which probably may interest some one, or serve for an interesting perusal in years to come. It is to ask your indulgence for the frequent occurrence of the first person singular, which owing to some incidents detailed in this “journal” cannot well be avoided. I can only say if you knock out my I’s what is the use of me?

In the year 1861 about the first of July, I found our once beloved and happy country convulsed from her centre to her most distant limits with all the horrors of a civil war. A number of aggressive measures on the part of the North or “Administrative Power” had long been advancing to that awful crisis, when an appeal to the power of arms was inevitable. I could not resist my country’s call and at once volunteered to give all the aid I could in the cause of freedom from Northern tyranny and despotism and to help drive back the invader and despoiler of Southern homes and institutions and to battle for those inestimable and priceless rights which were fought for and obtained by our forefathers and bequeathed to us.

The first encampment of the Regt. which I joined (2nd Ky Col. R. W. Hanson) was in Tennessee a few miles from the Ky line and about 9 miles from Clarksville, Tenn. Here I commenced studying the art of soldiering. There was nothing serious eloquent or interesting in my introduction to the camp kettle and coffeepot and I soon became acquainted with Mrs. Washtub and her family of Soap Suds. The art of standing guard of rainy nights was soon attained and the mysteries of running the guard lines after “taps” were learned with a progress and promptness that was very satisfactory to the Scholar.

 Our schoolhouse was a broad treeless field where in the hot days of August, our military ingenuity began to develop itself. After attending a term of about two months schooling we received our diplomas and were marched off to practice our professional pursuits. 

The number of sixty from each company were sent to Bowling Green, Ky. The remainder were ordered to Nashville, Tenn. I was with the latter. Two quite unfortunate incidents occurred while at Nashville, the most melancholy of which was the death of one of our fellow soldiers named Frank Clark, than whom there was no braver man in the Regt.. A kind, unoffending, unassuming young man and liked by all who knew him. He was mercilessly shot  by 2nd Brevet Lieut. Skillman, without cause or provocation. I was with him when he died like a Christian forgiving as I had thought it impossible for one to forgive.

The next was a misfortune to myself, the result of which was a six month lameness caused by the rupture of the ligaments in my left foot. For six weeks I was unable to leave my room and for four months unable to perform the duties of a soldier. Consequently the time from the 12th of  Sept. 1861 to the 1st of  Feby. 1862 was spent in Nashville, in the meantime the Regiment performed some very heavy marches and in the most inclement weather. I would not feel satisfied to close this Journal without referring to the kindness and sympathy shown me by the residents of Nashville, among whom were the Rev. Mr. Falls & lady, Dr. J. F. Robinson, Mrs. L. Stone, Mrs. John M. Hill, Mrs. John Bell, Mrs. Ewings and Miss Maggie Shields whose kind attention and consoling words to me, which among strangers and debarred from all communication with friends at home can never be forgotten, but do long as reason remains, they will be remembered with the liveliest gratitude.

I remained in Nashville till finding that a battle at Fort Donaldson was inevitable and that the Regiment would be in the engagement, altho lame I determined if possible to share their fate or enjoy their victory and immediately set off to join the Regt. at Russellville, Ky. When I arrived there Lieut. Spears ( who was then commanding Co. G ) at first refused to let me go to Fort Donaldson saying, “We may have to retreat and you cannot stand a march,” but I insisted, and he at length gave his consent that two days afterwards I could join him at Ft. Donaldson.

Feby 12th, 1862 
I arrived at Ft. Donaldson and found about 13,000 soldiers, among them Floyd’s & Buckner’s Brigades – the 2nd Ky in Gen. B’s command – which was placed on the extreme right of the column and intrenched, the boys all lively. The only fears expressed was that there would not be a fight and all eager for the fray we remained in the intrenchments all night. 

Feby 13th

We distinctly heard the enemy’s drums and the music of their bands and we felt that our long cherished hopes of meeting the enemy would soon be realized . Firing commenced on our left about daylight and soon the gunboats opened on the Fort, which responded gallantly. Also Porter’s battery and one of the enemy’s exchanged several shots. The very earth trembled and the air was filled with music. The boom of cannons, the hiss of minnie balls as they passed harmlessly over our heads, the bursting of shell high up in the heavens together with the shouts of the contending hosts, constituted a scene better imagined than described. We were not long permitted to remain as mere spectators but were soon to play our hand at what were their trumps (bullets) and to act our part in the drama. Soon the sharpshooters made their appearance in our front sheltering themselves behind trees, stumps and beyond the reach of our muskets, we being in rifle pits, their fire did us but little damage. In a short time several regiments made their appearance at about 300 yards distant, where they formed and moved toward us, intending to take our pits at the point of the bayonet. We knew then that bloody work alone could save us. We waited cooly  until they were within 100 yards of us and then opened a volley so destructive that no mortal foe could have withstood it, like grass before the newly whetted blade they were mown down. On they came, still attempting to take us but under our heavy and incessant fire they were compelled to seek shelter behind logs until they could fall back and reform under the cover of the hill.

They again charged and were again repulsed. To the best of my belief, three regiments made the charge on our (2nd Ky) pits. We had but 600 men, one half of whom were held in reserve. The main charge of the enemy was directly upon our (Co Gs) pits. During the engagement we were cool and fired with deliberation.

In the afternoon the enemy again charged and were repulsed with great loss. Thus thrice today did the old 2nd Ky repulse an enemy several times their superior in numbers and generally superior arms. Here four of Co. G were pierced with the enemy’s bullets. Here the brave Nelson fell and the unfaltering and daring Purnell received a mortal wound, while fighting for the country they loved and the principles they avowed. Long will they live in the memory of their fellow soldiers. During the day, Gen. Floyd on the left was attacked. The enemy being repulsed with heavy loss and the Gun Boats were driven back having done but little damage. Night came and with it only ceased the carnage of the day, our arms having been successful at every point of attack. Those who slept, lay upon their arms expecting an attack any moment. At about 12 o’clock at night, an alarm was given by two separate volleys of musketry in the direction of the Fort, when we rushed to arms in line of battle, snow falling fast and the winds howling the coldest of the season. It proved a false alarm and we were again permitted to snatch an hours hasty repose of which we were so much in need and which none but a wearied soldier can rightly appreciate.

Feby 14th   Weather – Cold and Snow
With the morn’s earliest dawn we were in line of battle awaiting the enemy, but they did not attack us on the right, heavy firing all day on the left. They threw shells at us but did no damage. The enemy’s sharpshooters kept up an incessant fire all day. The enemy was in sight of us all day but did not attack us. The Gun Boats made a desperate charge on our batteries in the Fort. The cannonading was very heavy on both sides and it appeared that each minute would seal our fate, for nearer and nearer the Gun Boats advanced. But finally they were seen to recede from our destructive fire and were eventually repulsed without damaging us in the least.              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.

We were marched aboard the steamer “Dr. Kane”, all ignorant of our destiny, guarded by a Co. of the 20th Ohio – Capt Updegrass – who did all in his power to make us comfortable. This however was policy on his part, for if we had been so disposed we could easily have taken the Boat and would have done it, had not Col. Hanson and other commissioned officers of the 2nd Ky opposed it. Nothing of importance transpired on our passage. The Boat landed at Paducah, Ky., Cairo, Ill. and just before day on the morning of the 22nd Feby. We landed at the wharf in St. Louis, Mo. At the break of day the roar of cannon and the music of a dozen bands greeted our ears – Not in honor of our arrival. But in celebrating the birthday of the one who set an example in bursting the bonds of tyranny – Geo. Washington.

From almost every window and every house waved the once honored and beloved, but now forever desecrated and dishonored Stars and Stripes. I conversed with gentlemen on the wharf in St. Louis who expressed the warmest Southern sentiments and assured us that the majority in that city were with us in our views.

We remained on board the Boat at the wharf in St. Louis until the following morning – Saturday – when we were taken to the Ill. Side and landed at Illinoistown, a small town opposite St. Louis, where we took the cars and on Sunday evening arrived at Indianapolis, Ind. Via Terre Haute. That night we remained in a large Depot where we obtained repose which we so much needed, having been six days traveling and having had but very little sleep during the time. 

On the morning of the 24th Feby., we were marched to “Camp Morton”(that Hell on earth) about one mile from the city. There never was a more broken down and dejected set of men than we both physically and mentally. Here for the first time since leaving home I felt the hand of disease laid upon me , which lasted for about ten days, at the end of which time I was so reduced that when I looked into a glass, I often wondered if “this was Geems”. The weather was the gloomiest I ever saw. But spring, after wading through two months of almost incessant rain and mud, made her appearance and with it came recruiting health.

About this time the darkest cloud that ever overhung a new-born Nation, was plainly visible hovering over the South. Nashville had surrendered to the Federals, York Town evacuated and New Orleans surrendered. News from every source was of the most discouraging kind to the Confederates, but we never for a moment lost the confidence we had placed in our Generals and army and would find great consolation in the old adage that “The darkest hour is just before the break of day.” 

Altho under a heavy guard and under the strictest orders, the brave spirit of the 2nd Ky was never known to droop. We claimed the right of expression of opinion and exercised it freely. Every conceivable idea of making an escape was adopted and in many cases executed. Numbers ran the guard lines of nights and were almost invariably fired at, they would frequently, after being fired upon tantalize the guard about their bad markmanship. Several escaped by obtaining Federal uniforms and passing the guard in the day time. Those caught trying to escape were always sent to jail and kept in close confinement. The guard was constantly on the alert for a chance to shoot into our camp, which they did a number of times. A prisoner was seen looking through a crack in the fence and without a word the guard fired , the ball striking in a few inches of his head. Another time a prisoner was shot in the head for the same offense. Another time at night some one of the prisoners, without thinking of the consequence, threw a bone over the fence. The guard reported that the rebels were stoning them. They were ordered to fire into the camp which they did, wounding three men who were lying in their beds asleep, one of whom died. For a while not a night passed that minnie balls were not heard whistling through our camp. At this time I did not consider my life my own, but entirely at the disposal of the guard. (The 60th Ind. Regt., mostly Dutch.)

Being goaded almost to desperation and maddened by the many wrongs that we have received here at their hands, we will if ever released fight them with a desperation heretofore unknown to a civilized world.

Time passes. The pleasant days of spring are gone and the warm days of July are 
upon us. Yes, today is the 4th, the Federal National birthday. Is just one year ago today 
since I left home. Since I left those I loved to enlist in the cause of the glorious South. As 
I sit and think over the past year, sad thoughts intrude themselves upon me. How many 
family circles have been broken! How many firesides, that just one year ago today were 
cheerful and gay, now present a scene of sadness and mourning! And how many friends
have gone to “That bourne from which no traveler returns.”

This is a dry old 4th with the prisoners. The Federals around camp (of whom there 
are about 1200) are exceedingly jubilant and all the artillery in the surrounding country 
are belching forth their thundering notes. Fears are entertained in camp that the battle so
long impending before Richmond has finally been fought and that the Federal arms were
victorious. Painful thoughts to us!

July 5th

Not a yell is heard from the Federals. A melancholy silence pervades their camp. The guard with a down cast look walks slowly and silently upon his “beat”. Soon the Cincinnati papers arrive in camp. The mysterious silence is soon explained. Long details of a great battle before Richmond are found in the papers. Defeat of the Federals acknowledged and McClelland retreating. It was our time to exult. As long accounts of the battle and McClelland’s inglorious defeat were read, prolonged cheers of the Rebels filled the air. The Rebel Camp throughout the day was a scene of tumultuous uproar. From all we can learn of the battle, we are led to believe that the federal lion has been bearded in his den. That the “Grand Army of the Potomac” had been put to flight and that the Confederates had won a most brilliant and glorious victory.

The prisoners had placed such confidence in the success of our arms at Richmond, that they for days past had been saving candles with which to illuminate the camp when the announcement was made and as soon as night came thousands of lights were seen scattered promiscuously over the camp – a more beautiful sight never met my eye and until “taps” loud cheers for our army and Confederacy filled the air.

July 14th

If I had ever wanted to commit some startling act or create great alarm & excitement, I should have selected just such a night as last night was. The heavens were a vast sheet and one continual blaze of lightning and the almost incessant peals of heaven’s artillery presented altogether a scene of almost inexpressible terror. At about ten o’clock when the thunder pealed the loudest and the lightning flashed most vivid, a number of at least fifty musket shots in quick succession were heard on the guard lines. A number of prisoners had attempted to escape and had been betrayed by someone in camp, a trap had been set for them, into which they unfortunately ran, altho finding themselves foiled they rushed past the guard. One was brought down by a musket shot, the rest pursued one was killed and another severely wounded. Several however made good their escape. I suppose there were not less than 50 who made the attempt to escape.

I will here remark that there are traitors and spies in camp who watch the movements of the prisoners and keep the Federal officers posted. They will meet with but little mercy at the hands of the prisoners if they are found out.

July 24th

This morning about 9 o’clock two more prisoners were shot. In fact shooting inoffensive prisoners has become almost an every day occurrence. Without the slightest provocation they are fired upon, insulted in almost every conceivable way and treated with all the inhumanity that a savage would scorn to resort to. Clothing sent to prisoners stolen and scarcely enough rations issued to sustain life tell me you admirers of Christian virtues , you lovers of justice and humanity, if any tortures are too great to be inflicted upon such tyrants! Tis useless to tell me that we will not reap a tenfold vengence. That the day is now fast approaching when we will breath upon them the sweet spirit of revenge.

A telegram in this mornings paper announces that “arrangements have been effected for the immediate exchange of prisoners. Our almost stifled hopes and drooping spirits are again cheered and we look forward with many anticipations when we will bid a farewell to Northern polluted atmosphere and when we shall again arrive in the consecrated land of Dixie.

August 4th

The rumors, probabilities of an exchange are now reduced to a certainty. Gladly we hail the happy day!

I willingly go again to mingle in the bloody scenes of the battlefield and I now say to the Indianaians  Beware of the 2nd Ky. They know how to resent the many wrongs they have received from you and they will do it.

The oath of allegiance is again offered. But I am happy to say that there are very few here who will resort to such depths of degradation & cowardice as to accept the offer.

Friends in Kentucky, adue for a while, I willingly go again to lend a helping hand for Southern rights, Southern independence, Southern Liberty. Should I fall bleeding upon the altar of my adopted country, I do so knowing that I fall in defense of southern homes, of honor and of all that is just & right, battling against a merciless and invading foe. But I hope soon to hail the happy day when National troubles will have ended when the “Confederate States of America” will be a victorious Nation & the brightest star among all the great Nations of the earth and when honest men can live in Kentucky free from the clanking chains of Northern despotism.

James E. Paton
Indianapolis, Ind.
August 4th 1862

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