Monday, September 28, 2009

Confederate Images: Lt. Alfred Surber

By Don Shelton

Alfred Surber was born in Pulaski County, Kentucky in 1834, the son of Adam and Mary Hubble Surber who had moved to Kentucky a few years before from Smyth County, Virginia. When the fledgling Confederacy called for men, Alfred and his brother Andrew answered by enlisting in T. H. Shank's company of cavalry. On early rolls sometimes referred to as Co. E, but ultimately Capt. Shanks was assigned Co. B of the 6th Kentucky Cavalry under Col. Grigsby.

When the company was organized at Stanford on September 10th, 1862, Alfred was made 2nd lieutenant. The 6th Kentucky participated in actions in and around Perryville a few weeks later, and in numerous skirmishes associated with Bragg's withdrawal from Kentucky. The 6th Kentucky then participated in the Battle of Murfreesboro, but at that point Alfred wasn't there.

Lt. Surber had been removed from his office sometime after the retreat to Tennessee by a general order from the War Department which consolidated Buford's Brigade. After losing his commission Alfred returned to Kentucky - presumably to recruit men to form a new company. However, he was captured on December 20th in Danville and imprisoned in Lexington. On December 27th he was transferred to the prison in Louisville, but only stayed there two days as he was exchanged and sent to Vicksburg.

Alfred rejoined the 6th Kentucky sometime after that, and regained his commission as 2nd Lieutenant. In March of 1863 the 6th Kentucky was assigned to Brig. General John Hunt Morgan. On March 20th the 6th fought under Morgan at Milton, Tennessee where Col. Grigsby was wounded and Lt. Col. Napier was wounded and permanently disabled from service.

The 6th also participated in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend near Monticello, KY on May 10th. For several weeks after that the brigade was on the line along the Cumberland River, but by the end of June it was obvious to the men that Morgan was planning something big; prior to the Great Indian/Ohio Raid Morgan's command had been split into two brigades, with th 6th Kentucky being placed in the 1st Brigade under Gen. Basil Duke. The long string of engagement on that amazing military action beginning on July 2nd is too great to mention, but included Green River Bridge at Tebb's Bend, Lebanon and Corydon. At Versailles, Indiana the 6th Kentucky was dispatched to burn bridges. The 6th also appropriated $5,000 from the public funds of the city for the Confederate Cause.

Near the end of the Raid the men were beyond exhaustion. On July 18th Morgan skirmished with the 23rd Ohio Infantry at Pomeroy, Ohio. It was a continual fight along a road in a ravine surrounded by hills which the enemy occupied. The 6th Kentucky took the lead, dismounted and dislodged the enemy. Morgan's command then reached Chester at 1 o'clock where they halted for a costly hour-and-a-half. The delay kept them from arriving at Buffington Ford - where they could escape into western Virginia - until after dark.

Heavy rains had the river higher than normal, and a night crossing could have proved disastrous. Morgan decided to wait until dawn to attack the ford, with the 5th and 6th Kentucky chosen to lead. In the morning the works were found abandoned, so the 5th and 6th were ordered to move down the Pomeroy Road and cover the crossing for the rest of Morgan's command. There they dispersed an enemy advance guard, capturing many. Shortly, though, the main body of the enemy arrived in superior force. It was now becoming apparent that the 5th and 6th Kentucky would have to sacrifice themselves in order to buy time for the others to cross the ford. The enemy charged and both regiments were pushed back, the Parrot guns were lost and ammunition began running low. With the Federal gunboats, Morgan's men were shelled from three directions. The left flank was turned and the 6th Kentucky was almost surrounded. They fought their way out under Major Bullitt - Col. Grigsby having been separated from the regiment. Under Bullitt the 6th formed the rear guard and kept their pursuers at bay "with empty guns". Then the enemy charged again and 700 Confederates were captured, including Gen. Duke, Maj. Bullitt and Lt. Alfred Surber. This began Lt. Surber's long tour of Northern accommodations. He was listed in the Cincinnati papers as among the officers captured at Buffington Island. He was held at a "depot near Sandusky Ohio", which must certainly have been Johnson's Island, until August 4th when he was sent to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by order of Gen. Burnside. On January 1, 1864 he is shown on a roll of prisoners held at the Penitentiary in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. On March 20th, he was transferred to Point Lookout, Maryland, and then on June 23rd he was transferred to Fort Delaware. Finally on March 7, 1865 - more than a year-and-a-half after his capture - Lt. Surber was paroled and left Fort Delaware for City Point, Virginia for exchange. Many of Morgan's men were exchanged at City Point during late February and March, 1865. Some of them got back to their command before the war ended. Most were placed in a parole camp called Ft. Lee near Richmond and some were still there when the war ended. It is difficult to know Lt. Surber's exact location when the end came.

After the war Alfred returned to Pulaski County, where he married Mary Stigall. They had at least tree children, Alice born in 1872, George born in 1874 and John born in 1876.

Picture caption: Picture of Lt. Surber taken while he was a prisoner of war. This picture was in the collection at the museum at the Hunt-Morgan House in Lexington, labeled "Lt. Turber? 6 KY" until a descendant noticed it and identified it as Alfred Surber.

Originally published in the Summer 2004 The Lost Cause

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