Friday, May 27, 2011

The Story of Captain John Baker Dortch

Captain John Baker Dortch:
50th Tennessee Infantry Regiment
Tennessee Partisan Ranger Company
3rd/7th (Gano’s) Kentucky Cavalry Regiment
2nd( Dortch’s) Kentucky Consolidated Cavalry Battalion.
8th Kentucky Cavalry Regiment

John B. Dortch was born May 11, 1830 in, and was a resident of, Port Royal, near Clarkesville Tennessee. Dortch was a grandson of former Tennessee Governor Willie Blount (1809-1815), and the nephew of Cave Johnson, Postmaster General (1845-1849) during President Polk’s administration.
In 1861, when the War Between the States came to Tennessee, Dortch enlisted in company E, of the 50th Tennessee Infantry Regiment, with the rank of 1st Lieutenant. His company departed for Fort Donelson, Tennessee November 19,1861. He was promoted to Captain in December. Captain Dortch stood about 5foot 9 inches tall, had black eyes, dark hair, and a fair complexion.
On January 19, 1862 his company was ordered to Fort Henry, then counter-marched back about ten days later. When ordered to return to Fort Henry on February 6, Captain Dortch learned it had been captured while in route.
The Battle of Fort Donelson took place February 14-15, 1862. On the 15th, four companies from the 50th were ordered to re-enforce the 2nd Kentucky Infantry Regiment, which had taken severe casualties. The following day the garrison force surrendered. Captain Dortch and approx. fifty-five others from the Regiment escaped on the Wynn’s Ferry Road and made their way out. Captain Dortch told his men to return to their homes near Clarkesville and then report back to him at Nashville Tennessee. The Capital City fell so quickly that only a few men were able to comply with the order.

Captain Dortch filed a special requisition from Decatur, Alabama on March 23, for one pair of pants and shoes, one camp kettle, ten pans and twelve blankets. This was to replace items lost at Fort Donelson.
During the Battle of Shiloh April 6-7, 1862 Captain Dortch served temporarily with the 23rd Tennessee Infantry Regiment along with seven others from his company. On April 15,1862 Captain Dortch resigned his commission as a Captain in the 50th Tennessee Infantry Regiment. He stated that his men had been allowed to join other commands, which resulted in him becoming a supernumerary officer. His intention was to return home and recruit another company.
Tennessee Governor Harris, by special commission in August of 1862, granted Captain Dortch authority to raise a company of Partisan Rangers for twelve months service. Kentucky General A. R. Johnson, in his memoirs, recalled that Captain Dortch brought two companies of cavalry to Camp Coleman—a recruitment center - near Hopkinsville Kentucky in Todd County. On August 25,1862 Captain Dortch was assigned to Company G, 7th Regiment Kentucky Cavalry which was being recruited by the Texan, Colonel R. M. Gano, Morgan’s Kentucky Cavalry Brigade.
Johnson ordered Captains Dortch and Page (company H, Gano’s Regiment) to burn the railroad bridge between Bowling Green and Russellville KY. Volume 16 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion contains a report by Colonel Bruce, 20th Kentucky Infantry, in which he acknowledges elements of the 17th Indiana Infantry and the 8th Kentucky Cavalry skirmished September 30th in that vicinity. There are several casualties listed for Dortch’s and Page’s companies in the Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky, on that date.
On November 5, 1862, Colonel’s John. H. Morgan and Nathan B. Forrest’s Cavalry commands were ordered to co-operate in an attack upon Nashville TN. Failing to attack simultaneously little damage was done by the attacking Confederates. Morgan did manage to burn a portion of the Edgefield railroad depot across the river from Nashville. After relocating to Tyree Springs and Lebanon, Morgan won a decisive victory at Hartsville, Tennessee on December 7, 1862 and afterwards was promoted to Brigadier-General C. S. A..
From December 21 through January 5, 1863 Captain Dortch and his company participated in Morgan’s Christmas Raid of Kentucky. Leaving Alexandria Tennessee on December 23, 1862 the Confederates set out to destroy the railroad from Muldraugh’s Hill, Kentucky to Nashville, Tennessee. Glasgow, Kentucky was entered on Christmas Eve.
Bacon Creek railroad bridge was burned on the 26th. On December 27, the Battle of Elizabethtown resulted in the shelling of the town from the city cemetery. Morgan’s strategy resulted in the capture of the town.
The bridges at Sulphur Fork Trestle and the fort on Muldraugh’s Hill were burned on December 28.
Lt. Colonel J.W. Huffman , Captain Dortch’s commanding officer was undergoing court-martial at Rolling Fork River, near Boston, Kentucky on the 29th, for violating parole terms offered to the Union soldiers of the 71st Indiana & 78th Illinois Infantry Regiments at Muldraugh’s Hill the previous day. Union troopers from the 10th, 12th, 13th Kentucky Cavalry Regiments attacked and wounded Colonel Duke, resulting in the cancellation of the proceedings. Afterwards a successful withdrawal to Tennessee was accomplished by January 5, 1863.
While Morgan was raiding in Kentucky, the Battle of Stones River,(12/31/62-1/02/63)Tennessee took place. Afterwards General Bragg re-organized his troops placing Morgan’s Cavalry under the control of General Wheeler. Subsequent Confederate troop movements resulted in Morgan establishing his headquarters in McMinnville Tennessee. There were numerous scouts and skirmishes during the Spring, along with two pitched battles nearby, Milton (3/20/63), and Snow’s Hill (4/03/63). In June of 1863, Morgan gathered his troops together at Alexandria Tennessee. Another excursion to Kentucky was in the works!
About the 2nd day of July 1863 General Morgan ‘s troopers began crossing the upper Cumberland River near Burkesville, Kentucky. Flooding from recent rains had swollen the river. Lt. H. C. Merritt, of Dortch’s company recalled “only those who were considered well mounted were allowed to go on the raid. It was most strenuous work on both men and horses. Those who were poor swimmers grabbed on to their horses tail, to be pulled across.” Lt. Colonel Huffman placed Captain Dortch in command of the troopers who were to remain behind. These men became the nucleus of Dortch’s 2nd Kentucky Cavalry Battalion.

Morgan’s Ohio Raid (7/2-7/26/1863) was the longest raid made by cavalry during the war. Although the troopers covered over 700 miles and destroyed millions of dollars worth of property the raid resulted in the
capture of most of Morgan’s command. As a result Gano’s Kentucky Regiment ceased to exist. Those men who escaped capture eventually made their way to Morristown Tennessee. where General A.R. Johnson had been ordered to gather ‘Morgan’s Men” for reassignment.
Captain Dortch and about 300 men were briefly associated with Colonel J. Q. Chenoweth’s 16th Kentucky Partisan Rangers. Eventually enough men were gathered to form two battalions of cavalry. Captain Kilpatrick led the 1st Consolidated Kentucky Cavalry Battalion and Captain Dortch led the 2nd Consolidated Kentucky Cavalry Battalion.
Bennett Young in ‘Confederate Wizards of the Saddle”, wrote that Dortch’s and Kirkpatrick’s Battalions “...were among the best that Kentucky furnished. They were largely young men from the Bluegrass, few of them exceeding twenty-five years in age. They came out of Kentucky in July1862 and October 1862, had now received more than a years seasoning, and were by their military experiences fitted for the hardest and fiercest conflicts. They had left Kentucky well mounted.”
On September 18,1863 Captain Dortch reported to General Forrest’s command for duty and was assigned to General Pegram. Dortch’s men were stationed in the vicinity of Chickamauga and Tunnel Hill GA. After the Battle of Chickamauga (9/19-9/20/63), Dortch’s Battalion paused at Bryd’s Mill to regroup and re-shoe their horses. Afterwards they moved up the Knoxville & Chattanooga railroad towards Charleston, TN. September 28,1863, General Bragg ordered General Forrest to turn over his troopers to General Wheeler.
During General Longstreet’s East Tennessee Campaign Dortch’s Battalion foraged and skirmished at Philadelphia, Loudon , Maryville and Knoxville. When Burnside’s Federal Army cut them off at Knoxville from the main Confederate forces, Dortch’s command made their way back to Confederate lines via Big Bend Mountain and Montvale Springs in Cherokee County North Carolina.
On November 24, 1863 Special Order # 102 placed Dortch’s Battalion in Grigsby’s Kentucky Brigade of General Kelly’s command in Wheeler’s Cavalry. On December 22,1863,Dortch petitioned to be allowed to return to Kentucky, where he hoped to recruit a regiment of mounted rifles. However the petition was denied in January of 1864.

There are a series of forage requisitions in Captain Dortch’s CSR files that indicate ongoing attrition (6.77%) in his ranks. In November of 1863 he requested forage for 300 horses and 60 mules, while stationed in the vicinity of Dalton Georgia. In December he requisitioned forage for 275 horses while stationed at Tunnel Hill GA. In January of 1864 the order had shrunk to 231 horses and 13 mules. On February 29,1864 Captain Dortch requested an axe and hatchet for himself and his staff, while stationed at Silver Springs Alabama..
In February of 1864 General Adam R. Johnson issued Special Order # 22 which allowed Kilpatrick’s and Dortch’s Battalions to return to south-.western Virginia. General Morgan had recently returned to this theatre after escaping from prison in Ohio in November 1863. However, on 3/12/64, General Wheeler chose to retain Dortch’s Battalion. Captain Dortch forwarded a petition 3/24/64 from his post at Childersburg, Alabama requesting that his command also be allowed to return to General Morgan’s Command. Captain Dortch pointed out that his Battalion consisted of not only the remnants of the 7th Kentucky Cavalry, but also elements of four other distinct Regiments that had formed one of the brigades in Morgan’s command. However permission was denied and in April Dortch’s Battalion was assigned to Humes’ Division, Grigsby’s KY Brigade. In May of 1864 the Battalion was stationed near Dalton, Georgia. A report dated 5/17/64, complained that Dortch’s troopers had abandoned their picket post on the Villanow Rd., near Dug Gap and were now camping with the infantry atop the mountain.
The 2nd Consolidated KY Cavalry Battalion was assigned to General J.S. William’s Brigade in June of 1864. This Brigade was composed of the 1st/3rd Kentucky Cavalry- Colonel Griffith, 2nd/15th Kentucky Cavalry-Major Lewis, 9th Kentucky Cavalry- Colonel Breckinridge , Allison’s Tennessee Squadron- Captain Reese and remnants of Hamilton’s Tennessee Battalion, a.k.a. 4th Tennessee Partisan Rangers- Major Shaw. The two Tennessee units were ordered to be merged 7/31/1864. Previously on July 7th, Captain Dortch had been ordered to proceed to Decatur Georgia and arrest deserters and stragglers from his Battalion.
In August of 1864 Captain Dortch ‘s Battalion followed General Wheeler in his last Middle Tennessee Raid 8/10-10/25./64. For William’s Brigade this meant an unplanned march to Saltville, Virginia after they were cut off from the main body of troopers in September. This occurred when General Williams obtained permission from General Wheeler to take two Brigades and half of the artillery to attack the Union garrison at Strawberry Plains near Knoxville. Federal troops were able to get in between him and Wheeler forcing Williams to leave the military department to which he was assigned. On September 21 Williams’ Brigade joined forces with Generals Duke and Vaughn near Rogersville, Tennessee. General Williams then went to Abingdon, Virginia in an effort to have his troopers re-assigned to the Department of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee. After the Battle of Saltville 10/2/64, General Bragg ordered the arrest of General Williams. By this time Williams’ Brigade was camped at Liberty Hill, Virginia. The troopers were destitute, badly in need of clothing and shoes, and the horses were run down. Williams was to face a court-martial for his separation from Wheeler’s Command. However eventually the charges were dropped and Williams received the thanks of the Confederate Congress for his defense of Saltville. General Williams was restored to his command in February of 1865.
Meanwhile General Felix Robertson (himself under a cloud for his activities at Saltville) took over command and led the wayward troops back to the Army of Tennessee in Georgia. It appears that while in transit the command was ordered to return to Bristol and join General Vaughn’s Brigade. However Robertson chose not to obey the order. Apparently Captain Dortch had remained behind, still hoping for re-assignment.
Special Order # 286, issued 12/2/64 officially transferred Captain Dortch’s command into the Army of Tennessee. By January of 1865

Dortch’s Battalion had shrunk to less than 32 men and it was disbanded, near Abingdon, Virginia. Many from his command had already re-assigned themselves to General Duke’s Brigade.
Captain Dortch apparently joined the 8th Kentucky Cavalry but was unassigned to a company. He took the “Oath of Allegiance” in Nashville Tennessee on May 3, 1865. The Provost Marshal indicated that Captain Dortch had left the Confederate Army on April 23rd.
After the war Dortch returned to Tennessee and farmed at Parson’s Creek, near Port Royal. In 1880 he married Phoebe C. Brown. About 1895 he left to live with his children in Butler County Kentucky. He died at the home of his son, James 3/9/1910. I believe he is buried near Morgantown in the Lebanon Cemetery.
With this article I hope to attempt historical revision and correct an error. The Supplemental Series of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion erroneously record Captain Dortch as being one John Basket Dortch. In fact his true name is John Baker Dortch. This being confirmed by his wife in her Widow’s Indigent Pension request #1287 filed in Kentucky, June 5, 1912.

Stewart Cruickshank

1.Official Records of the War of the Rebellion & Supplemental series
2. Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky (Confederate).
3. Partisan Rangers of the Confederate Army: Johnson
4. Confederate Veteran Magazine
5. Compendium of the Confederate Armies: Sifakis
6.Units of the Confederate States Army: Crute jr.
7.Confederate Veterans Association of Kentucky: reprint
8. A History of Morgan’s Cavalry: Duke
9. Winds of Change, Robertson County in the Civil War: Allen
10. Clarkesville Leaf Chronicle: March 15,1910
11.Confederate Wizards of the Saddle: Young
12.pamphlet;” Ride the Campaign Trail”: Elizabethtown KY. Tourism & Convention Bureau & KY Dept. Tourism
13. Consolidated Service Records ; microfilm:
I wish to thank the Tennessee State Library and Archives, The University of Western Kentucky and most importantly James Pritchard of the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives for their assistance, gathering the various microfilm records made available to me.

Originally printed in the Fall 2007 publication of The Lost Cause

1 comment:

JW Binion said...

Thanks for this. My GGGrandfather, Wm Salmon was a pvt in Dorch's. Good information.
JW Binion, KY Div Chaplain