DE ARAGON, Part 5 – The Kentucky Campaign

by Robert M. Webb on March 31, 2012 · 0 comments

Author’s note: This is the fifth installment in the series on Major Ramon T. de Aragon. After the battle of Shiloh the Confederate Army of the Mississippi withdrew to Tupelo, MS and Braxton Bragg was put in command. He reorganised the army and there were two changes which affected Major de Aragon. First, the regiments of the brigade were given new assignments and the 13th Tennessee was placed in a brigade under Preston Smith. Also in this new brigade was the 9th Texas Infantry. De Aragon was fomally promoted to Assistant Surgeon and placed in that regiment. This was on paper and it is an open question as to when the changes became effective. The following is a chapter from the book: “DE ARAGON – The Chronicle of a Confederate Surgeon“.

This E Book is available free March 30 and 31.

     The ranks of the 13th Tennessee Infantry had thinned significantly during the first year in their country’s service by disease and by casualties suffered at the battles of Belmont and Shiloh, so while they were at Corinth, eight companies of the regiment were reorganized. The men of companies A and D refused to participate in this so they were consolidated into one company. The deficiency thus created was corrected by the addition of Company L, the “Zollicoffer Avengers” of Hardeman County, commanded by Captain C. B. Jones. The entire regiment then reenlisted for the duration of the war. Virtually every man suffered to some degree from the effects of the bad water at Corinth and many were furloughed on sick leave.

     Union General Henry Halleck came to Pittsburg Landing to personally take command of the Federal army there and amassed a force of some 120,000 men and two hundred cannon. Thus having recovered from the heavy blow dealt them at Shiloh, the enemy slowly advanced on Beauregard’s army at Corinth. Private De Aragon’s regiment was engaged daily in skirmishes and small engagements, but suffered very few casualties.

     By mid May, the “Army of the West”, commanded by Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn, had arrived from Arkansas and Beauregard’s army grew to over fifty-one thousand men available for duty with an astounding eighteen thousand on the sick list. With the vast Federal force approaching, Beauregard saw Corinth as undefendable and on May 28-29 he brought his army out right under the Yankee noses. They fell back to Baldwyn, Mississippi on June 7 and on to Tupelo arriving on June 9.

      Beauregard was still suffering from the throat infection that had been plaguing him and without informing anyone, left on sick leave. This gave President Davis the opportunity to make a command change and he promoted his old friend forty-six year old Braxton Bragg to full General in command of the Army of the Mississippi. Bragg, a West Point graduate, had fought in the Florida Indian Wars and the Mexican War, before retiring from the U. S. Army to run a sugar plantation in Louisiana. At the beginning of the war, he volunteered to serve in the Confederate Army and was given command of the forces in Florida and later the coastal defenses of the South.

      About the time the army arrived at Tupelo, Clark’s Division was broken up, and the 13th Tennessee Infantry was placed in Brigadier General Preston Smith’s (4th) Brigade, Cheatham’s Division. On June 11, Private De Aragon was appointed Assistant Surgeon of the 9th Texas Infantry, which also became part of Smith’s Brigade. This position carried the rank of Captain of Cavalry.

     The 9th Texas Infantry was originally commanded by Colonel Samuel B. Maxey in early 1862. After serving briefly west of the Mississippi River, the regiment was transferred to the Army of the Mississippi and participated at the Battle of Shiloh as part of Patton Anderson’s Brigade. On March 4, Maxey was promoted to Brigadier General and William H. Young was elected Colonel of the regiment.

     Young was born in Booneville, Missouri on January 1, 1838. When he was three years old his family moved to Red River County, Texas and later to Grayson County. He attended Washington College in Tennessee, Mckenzie College in Texas, and the University of Virginia. After graduating in July of 1861, he remained at the University of Virginia to study military tactics at an affiliated military academy. On returning to Texas in September, 1861, he recruited an infantry company and his men elected him Captain. They became a part of the 9th Texas Infantry at its formation.

     The makeup of the regiment was as follows:

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     Company ”A”, “The Galveston Guards, Company “A”. Men from Galveston and Paris. (Lamar County)

     Company “B”, “The Galveston Guards, Company B”. Men from Galveston and Red River County.

     Company “C”, “The Galveston Zouaves”, Men from Galveston and Sherman – Grayson County.

     Company “D”, “The Sherman Guards”. Men from Titus County.

     Company “E”, “The Galveston Rifles”. Men from Galveston and Llano – Lamar and Fannin Counties.

     Company “F”, “The Independent Rifles”. Men from Hopkins County.

Company “G”, “The German Citizen Guards, Company “A”.Men from Galveston an Collins and Hopkins Counties.”

     Company “H”, “The German Citizen Guards, Company “B”. Men from Galveston and Fannin County.

     Company “I”, “The German Citizen Guards, Company “C”. Men from Galveston, McKinney, Farmersville – and Collin County.

     Company “K”, “The Island City Rifles”. Men from Galveston and Lamar and Red River Counties.

     While Bragg reorganized his army at Tupelo, Union commander Halleck held his position at Corinth. When he discovered that the Rebels had slipped away, he first thought that they had gone to Grand Junction, Tennessee. When their true whereabouts was determined, Halleck elected not to try and pursue them through the swamps of North Mississippi. On June 10, he divided his massive army sending Sherman to Memphis and McClernand to Jackson, effectively taking possession of all West Tennessee. Buell’s force of forty-four thousand was ordered to East Tennessee. Once there, he planned to capture Chattanooga and drive Confederate Major General Edmund Kirby Smith and his army out of the East Tennessee Valley. Federal commanders Grant and Pope remained in Mississippi.

     Buell slowly made his way across North Alabama, harassed every step of the way by Confederate guerrillas. His army reached Huntsville, Alabama on June 30 after making an average of six miles a day. In early July they made it as far as Stevenson, Alabama, some forty miles from Chattanooga. His supply line, the railroad stretching north through Nashville to Louisville, Kentucky, was constantly crippled by Confederate Cavalry under Colonel John Hunt Morgan, who was ranging north of Nashville into Kentucky, and Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest who created grief for the Federal troops in the area around Murfreesborough.

     Bragg decided to beat Buell to Chattanooga and link up with the army of Kirby Smith, who commanded the Department of East Tennessee. The combined force would then move into Kentucky to draw the Federals out of Tennessee. On July 23, Bragg’s army of thirty-five thousand left Tupelo. The artillery and the supply wagon train went overland while the infantry moved by rail through Meridian, Mississippi, Mobile, Alabama, Montgomery, Alabama, Atlanta, Georgia and on to Chattanooga. Bragg left the armies of Earl Van Dorn and the Missourian Sterling Price to keep the Federals in Mississippi occupied.

     Confederate units began arriving in Chattanooga on July 27. Bragg arrived on July 30 and he met with Kirby Smith to plan the invasion of Kentucky. The objectives of the campaign were the destruction of Buell’s army and to secure Kentucky with its vast resources for the Confederacy. They decided that Smith’s army would move first, supported by two brigades on loan from Bragg. On August 5, Preston Smith’s Brigade was ordered to Knoxville as part of a temporary division made up of his and Brigadier General Patrick Cleburne’s Brigades. Cleburne was placed in command of the division.

Kirby Smith intended to move north and defeat Federal General George Morgan at the Cumberland Gap and then rendezvous with Bragg as planned. The combined army would then gain Buell’s rear at Nashville, cutting off his supply line and defeat his army in the field.

     On August 13 Kirby Smith began to move his army. The 1st Division under Brigadier General Carter Stevenson advanced on the Cumberland Gap. Smith’s column and the 2nd Division commanded by Brigadier General Henry Heth crossed the Cumberland Mountains at points further west. The group Smith led was made up of the 3rd Division under Brigadier General Thomas Churchill and Cleburne’s 4th Division. Smith’s column entered Kentucky through Wilson’s Gap and arrived at Barbourville ahead of Heth. It was impossible to sustain his army in that area, and as Union General Morgan at the Cumberland Gap was well supplied, Smith decided not to try and dislodge him. He instead requested and received permission to bypass Morgan and advance further into the state.

     When Buell learned of Kirby Smith’s movement he dispatched Union Major General William “Bull” Nelson to Louisville to organize a group of new recruits to meet the threat. Nelson arrived there on August 23, but a Brigadier General Jeremiah T. Boyle had already taken the men on to Lexington and Nelson had to catch up with them there.

     A cavalry screen under the command of Confederate Colonel John Scott moved ahead of Kirby Smith’s force as the Rebels moved north toward Lexington. On August 24, at a place called Big Hill, they ran into Federal cavalry headed for the Cumberland Gap and drove them back toward the town of Richmond, Kentucky some sixteen miles north. Cleburne’s and Churchill’s divisions reached London, Kentucky and moved over Big Hill on August 28.

     Waiting at Richmond were “Bull” Nelson’s two brigades under the command of Brigadier Generals Mahlon Manson and Charles Cruft. On August 29 Manson moved his brigade five miles south to the town of Rogersville, Kentucky and early on August 30 moved one more mile to Mount Zion Church.

     Kirby Smith decided to give battle and at 4:00 a. m. on August 30 Cleburne’s Division formed in line of battle five miles south of Rogersville with the 2nd Brigade under Colonel Ben J. Hill in advance and the 1st Brigade under Preston Smith five hundred yards behind. At 7:30 a. m. Hill’s Brigade had passed through Rogersville and as Smith’s Brigade was emerging, the enemy opened fire with their artillery.

     For over an hour artillery fire and skirmishing ensued as the opposing armies advanced toward each other. Finally Cleburne ordered Preston Smith to move his artillery forward and to the right of Hill’s Brigade and to move an infantry regiment to the right of the artillery and deploy it in the woods near an adjacent cornfield. For this duty, Smith chose his own 154th Senior Tennessee Infantry. The rest of the brigade advanced to the front and right of its original position to be in easier supporting distance.

     Preston Smith received a report that the enemy was moving forward with the design of flanking the Confederate front line on the right. Smith again moved the brigade forward and to the right until his front line was unmasked. The Federals, with three regiments, had succeeded in entering the woods and cornfield on the right of the 154th and would soon be in its rear. Smith ordered a “change of front forward on the left regiment” thus bringing his two right regiments down on the rear of the enemy, taking them completely by surprise. Kirby Smith had by now come up with Churchill’s Division who moved to the left to gain the enemy flank on that side. Although the Federal force was also increased by the arrival of Cruft’s Brigade, their entire line crumbled from the Confederate onslaught.

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     During the fighting, Cleburne was wounded in the mouth and Preston Smith took command of the division. Colonel Vaughan of the 13th Tennessee Infantry assumed command of the brigade. The Rebels then drove the Federals back through Rogersville to White’s farm, where they reformed. Again the Southerners attacked driving the enemy back into the town of Richmond. There Nelson formed the Federal line on the south edge of town with the end anchored in the Richmond Cemetery.

     After a brief rest the Confederates advanced on Richmond, formed lines of battle and charged the Federal line which broke almost immediately. In total panic the Yankees ran north out of town on the Lexington Pike. Kirby Smith had anticipated this and waiting along the pike was Scott’s Cavalry. They killed a number of the fleeing enemy and captured thirty-five hundred, including Manson. Nelson himself was wounded but escaped in the growing darkness.

     Nelson lost over 75% of his force. His casualties totaled five thousand three hundred and fifty -three out of about sixty-five hundred men along with all the armaments and supplies belonging to his army. Kirby Smith lost four hundred seventy-five out of seven thousand. Rarely was the Confederacy to achieve such an overwhelming victory. The activities of Assistant Surgeon De Aragon during this battle are not known as the 9th Texas is not listed among those engaged. This regiment had suffered a large number of casualties during the battle of Shiloh so their numbers were fairly small. Possibly they had been given some type of rear guard assignment, which would have made unnecessary any report by Colonel Young concerning this battle.

     On September 2, Kirby Smith entered Lexington, Kentucky and set up headquarters for his army, which he named the “Army of Kentucky.” He split his force to give protection to the entire Bluegrass area. Preston Smith’s Brigade stayed near Paris, Kentucky. Five other brigades were sent toward Cincinnati, Ohio creating a panic among the citizens in that city.

     On August 27, Bragg left Chattanooga with the rest of his army. They crossed Walden’s Ridge (Signal Mountain) and moved up the Sequatchie valley arriving at Pikeville, Tennessee on September 1. This move forced Buell to fall back to Murfreesborough. Governor Isham Harris urged Bragg to retake Nashville but Bragg declined, not wishing to attack an entrenched enemy.

     On September 15, Bragg ordered Leonidas Polk, commanding the right wing of the army, to cross the Cumberland River at Carthage, Tennessee. Major General William Hardee and the left wing crossed at Gainsboro. This gave Buell cause to abandon Nashville and move north into Kentucky. His troops became demoralized by a lack of supplies and the fact that they were the ones that were now having to fall back. The remains of the defeated Federal “Army of Kentucky” had moved from Richmond to Louisville.

Bragg moved into Kentucky and the bulk of his army arrived at Glasgow on September 14. He had successfully manipulated his army between Buell and Kirby Smith. That day he issued a proclamation to the people of Kentucky:

 “Kentuckians, we have come not as conquerors or as despoilers but to restore to you the liberties of which you have been deprived by a cruel and relentless foe. We have come with joyous hopes. Let us not depart in sorrow as we shall if we find you wedded in your choice to your present lot. If you prefer Federal rule, show it by your frowns, and we shall return whence we came.”

     Bragg wrote Kirby Smith on September 15 and instructed him to prepare for the junction of their armies and to return Cleburne’s and Preston Smith’s Brigades to their commands. He then continued his advance and on September 17 Federal Colonel J. T. Wilder surrendered his force of three thousand five hundred and forty-six at Munfordville. Buell and his army came up from the south and with the intention of attacking the Southern army, came into line of battle at a point between Cave City and Horse Well but advanced no further. Kirby Smith urged an attack on Louisville and on September 20 Bragg moved to Bardstown still intending to link up with Smith. With this move, Buell advanced into Munfordville, but then moved off to Louisville to resupply his army.

     Bragg wanted to develop as much of a presence in Kentucky as possible, giving the citizens the opportunity to come forward and rally to him. Many locals were sympathetic to the Southern cause, but few came forward to enlist. Native Kentuckians Major General Simon Bolivar Buckner and Preston Smith gave speeches, but without appreciable results.

     On October 1 Buell’s army of sixty thousand, now well supplied and reinforced, moved out of Louisville to go up against Bragg at Bardstown. Three corps of three divisions each, under the command of Federal Major Generals Alexander McCook, T. L. Crittenden, and Charles Gilbert, left by three different roads. Two additional divisions, those of Brigadier Generals Joshua Sill and Ebenezer Dumont were sent by a fourth route toward Frankfort as a diversion.

     At this time, Bragg was unaware of any significant movement by the Federals. On October 3 he left Leonidas Polk in command of the army and with several of his officers went to the Kentucky state capitol of Frankfort where Kirby Smith had his army. They gathered there to form a Confederate state government and install Richard C. Hawes as Provisional Governor. During the inaugural ceremony on October 4 artillery fire was heard in the distance. This was the advance force of Sill’s Division coming from the direction of Shelbyville, Kentucky. The ruse worked and Bragg assumed that Frankfort was the main target of an attack by Buell and decided to concentrate his army at Harrodsburg. That day Preston Smith’s Brigade was ordered to Harrodsburg by way of Versailles, but instead stayed west of the Kentucky River and went directly south to Lawrenceburg and on to Harrodsburg arriving there on October 6.

     The two wings of the army had come under pressure by the three main Federal columns and fell back from Bardstown through Springfield and Perryville. With his trailing division under Major General Simon Bolivar Buckner at Perryville, Hardee was ordered by Polk to halt in order to “force the enemy to reveal his strength”. Anderson’s Division was already well on its way to Harrodsburg, but was ordered back to Perryville and deployed south of town.

     On October 7, Major General Hardee began receiving reports from Colonel Joe Wheeler’s cavalry about the true size of the Union force converging on Perryville. He requested reinforcements. Bragg sent Polk with Cheatham’s Division but kept the rest of the army where it was at Versailles some twenty miles away. Although Buell thought that the entire Rebel army was in his front at Perryville, with Cheatham’s men there were only sixteen thousand Confederates facing sixty thousand Federals. That put thirty-six thousand Confederates and twelve thousand Federals at Versailles.

     Brigadier General Liddell’s Brigade of Buckner’s Division was deployed in a position west of the town of Perryville. The 7th Arkansas Infantry moved one mile further west of Liddell’s main line at Bottom Hill to a ridge east of Doctor’s Creek called Peters Hill, in order to have easier access to a water supply and deprive the Federals access to it.

     Cleburne arrived during the night of October 7 and his brigade was placed on the right of Brigadier General Wood’s Brigade behind the Harrodsburg Road. When the men of Cheatham’s Division appeared at midnight, Hardee sent them across the Chaplin River and placed them in line on the western edge of the town. Captain De Aragon’s brigade arrived on the morning of October 8 and was placed in Buckner’s second line on Cleburne’s left and behind Wood’s Brigade.

     The troops under Buckner’s control now consisted of his four brigades under Brigadier Generals John Liddell, Bushrod Johnson, S. A. M. Wood, and Pat Cleburne, two of Anderson’s brigades under Tom Jones and John Brown and the brigade of Preston Smith. Hardee himself took personal command of the last three brigades. This line extended south to the Mackville Road.

     Late in the evening of October 7, Buell sent out Brigadier General Speed Fry with an advance force in the vicinity of Doctor’s Creek to determine the exact position of the Confederate line. They passed the 7th Arkansas unnoticed in the dark and came upon Liddell’s main line. The Federals, having found what they had come for returned to their lines. Fry reported to his corps commander Major General Charles Champion Gilbert who in turn reported to Buell. Buell then ordered Brigadier General Phillip Sheridan to send Colonel Dan McCook’s Brigade forward to take Peters Hill and secure Doctor’s Creek.

     At 3 a. m. on October 8 McCook’s 52nd Ohio Infantry and 85th Illinois Infantry moved up the hill into the waiting guns of the 7th Arkansas Infantry which was under the able command of Lieutenant Colonel Peter Snyder. The men of Arkansas valiantly held their ground until superior numbers caused Snyder to pull his men back to Liddell’s main line. The Federals continued to probe the Confederate line until more of their troops arrived.

     Bragg’s orders to Polk were to attack on the morning of October 8. Polk was hesitant and after meeting with Hardee and several of the other officers he decided to assume a more defensive pose until more was known about the enemy’s position and strength. Bragg arrived from Harrodsburg at 9:45 a. m. and after conferring with Polk, Hardee, Buckner, and Cheatham set out on a reconnaissance of his own. He decided to attack with his right and ordered Polk to move Cheatham north to extend the Confederate line in that direction. Two brigades of Anderson’s Division were the only infantry on the left.

     By 11:00 a. m. the Confederate forces began to move and they were able to get into position without being detected because of the rolling hills that made up the terrain of the area. At 12:30 p. m. Bragg’s artillery opened fire on the division of Brigadier General Lovell Rosseau on the Union left. The infantry attack was supposed to immediately follow, but Polk received word from Colonel John A. Wharton’s cavalry that another Federal corps was coming down the Mackville road with the obvious intent of extending Buell’s left. Polk stopped the infantry advance until better information was acquired. At 1:30 p. m. Bragg arrived at Polk’s position and on learning the situation ordered Cheatham’s Division even further north to counteract the threat.

     Buell, at his headquarters to the rear, was unaware of the movements of Bragg’s army and heard none of the artillery fire because a peculiarity of the terrain prevented sound from traveling. He instructed his officers that the battle had been called off for the day. Meanwhile Rosseau had moved troops forward on his left to meet Cheatham’s men. Cheatham had by this time ordered three regiments of Major General Daniel Donelson’s Brigade forward effectively beginning the battle. His other troops were then sent forward and Hardee began sending his forces to the attack at the center of the line.

     As the attack on the Federal left developed, Wheeler’s cavalry on the Lebanon Road at the other end of the line discovered the presence there of Crittenden’s Corps. Bragg received a  message from Wheeler at 3:00 p. m. stating he had an unknown enemy force in his front. With this piece of rather vague information Bragg ordered Preston Smith to move his brigade to Perryville and report to Brigadier General Anderson who commanded the Confederate left. Anderson was not aware of the presence of Crittenden’s Corps and was in the process of planning an attack against what he thought was a small Federal force on Peter’s Hill, due west of Perryville. When Smith reported to Anderson, he was told to place his brigade in position just south of Perryville and watch both the Mitchelsburg and Lebanon Roads for any enemy forces that might try to turn Bragg’s left. Anderson, apparently not concerned with Wheeler’s report of an entire Federal corps to his left, ordered Colonel Samuel Powell to proceed with the attack. What Anderson thought to be a small enemy force in his front was Brigadier Phillip Sheridan’s 11th Division of Gilbert’s Corps. Powell’s men charged the enemy and it was only through a series of errors on the part of the Federal commanders that he was able to retrieve his brigade without its being completely annihilated by the their vastly superior numbers.

     The troops on Bragg’s right had successfully driven back McCook’s Corps, but they had no reserves left to follow through with their victory. First Cleburne’s attack began to falter and Bragg requested reinforcements from Polk. Buell had finally received word at 4:00 p. m. that the Federal 1st Corps was being driven from the field and began sending fresh troops to McCook’s aid. Cheatham’s three brigades had gallantly driven the Yankee troops before them for three hours, but were used up and by 5:30 p. m. had begun to fall back. At 5:00 p. m. Bragg sent word for Preston Smith to bring his brigade back through Perryville and move in support of the Confederate center under Hardee. By the time they arrived darkness had fallen and it was too late for them engage the enemy. Powell had by this time fallen back through Perryville and two Yankee regiments entered the town. At 7:00 p. m. Bragg ordered Liddell’s people to cease fire, effectively ending the battle.

     By midnight, Captain De Aragon’s brigade was bivouacked at the intersection of the Harrodsburg and Chaplin River Roads near the Crawford house where Bragg had his headquarters. Hospitals were set up in every available house and barn as both armies began to look after their wounded. In Harrodsburg, Confederate surgeons operating in the Graham Springs Hotel soon created a pile of amputated limbs that reached the second floor gallery of the ballroom.

The principal Confederate officers met with Bragg at his headquarters to assess the situation that faced them. They had achieved a victory by nearly destroying the Union 1st Corps but at a cost of 30% of their men – men that could not be replaced. Bragg was in a distressed state having finally come to grips with the fact that Buell’s entire Army of the Ohio was in his front. He gave the order to fall back to Harrodsburg and ordered Kirby Smith to bring his troops there also so they could finally concentrate their forces. Preston Smith’s Brigade covered the retreat to Harrodsburg.

     On reaching Harrodsburg on October 9, Bragg found that Kirby Smith’s troops would not be able to arrive that day. Buell’s troops were in pursuit so Bragg pushed on toward his supply line on Dick’s River arriving at Bryantville on October 11. Word came that Earl Van Dorn’s army had been defeated in an attempt to dislodge the Federals from Corinth, Mississippi and that expected reinforcements under Major General Breckinridge were not forthcoming. With only four days’ supplies and without the expected rising up of the Kentucky people to his banner, Bragg made the decision to leave Kentucky and take his army back to Tennessee. Preston Smith’s Brigade, now reunited with Cheatham’s Division left Kentucky by way of Crab Orchard, Barbourville, and then through the Cumberland Gap and on to Knoxville, Tennessee.

     Although Captain De Aragon’s brigade was present at several places on the battlefield at Perryville, it was never directly engaged in the fighting. The men were, however, very much in harm’s way. The 9th Texas Infantry lost one man and other regiments in the brigade recorded similar losses.


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