Sunday, November 20, 2011

I Survived The Wildcat Stampede

This entry comes from The Rebellion Record:  A Diary of American Events edited by Frank Moore, Third Volume, 1862.

Details are given by an unnamed correspondent in Kentucky of an event dubbed by the Confederates as the Wildcat Stampede.  It was a rushed and forced march by Union forces.   The retreat was ordered by General Sherman, and the logistics executed by Generals Carter and Schoepf, when Sherman erroneously became convinced that certain Union forces would be cut off by the Confederates.  One account of this situation can be found at The Civil War Daily Gazette blog.  

November 14, 1861 was an epic day for the marchers:
A heavy storm of rain roused the bivouackers from sleep. Their blankets and clothing were saturated with water. The morning was most dismal. Wildcat Heights, crowned with a heavy coronal of mist, frowned in dreary and discouraging altitude before us. The roads were already worked into a tough muck, the pathway on the edges where the troops walked, were slimy and slippery. Beyond was Rockcastle River, swift and reported unfordable. But the word was en avant. The lads partook of their cold rations and hot coffee, and took up the toilsome march. Every step was laborious to the sturdy, agonizing to the feeble. Knapsacks almost too heavy under fairest auspices, were now doubly burthensome, and the pack-horse load was increased by the aggravating weight of water which soaked blankets and heavy army overcoats, and the nasty slime which splashed and plastered each man's breeches as high as his knees in front and rear, and filled his shoes until they overflowed with slush.

During the first mile we passed one baggage wagon, capsized in a creek. Its load of commissary stores and baggage was lost. The desolate teamster and jaded horses, bedaubed with mud, gazed at it dismally and hopelessly as we moved forward. Farther up the hill a half-dozen wagons were stuck, and the poor animals could not move them. A few hundred yards further, barrels of bread were tossed out of wagons and left to destruction in the forests. A stranger to the facts, passing now, would have said, Here is a terrified army fleeing from a pursuing enemy.

Going up the mountain, we pass Tennesseeans; some are still pushing on desperately. Yonder is one prone on a bed of wet forest leaves; his head is bolstered on a rotten stump. Exhaustion is graphically pictured on his livid complexion and in his silent form. He is unconscious while he sleeps the sleep of distress, that the driving rain is beating mercilessly upon him. My comrade startles me—"Is he dead?" Oh, no; he's only an exhausted soldier! Ho wears no shoulder straps, with a silver star on each. But it is yet early in the day; surely it is not time for soldiers to yield to fatigue. They have marched only one night, and have slept the whole of one or two hours on the damp, frosted soil.

At last the ascent is accomplished by a few. We look back with a sigh of relief, and turn away again with emotions of regret and disgust at the sorrowful and weary file of men, still toiling through the mire, and gazing wistfully to the top.  But here is a picture.  On the top of a rock on the crest of the hill, there sits a Toledo lad, writing a letter.  He protects the precious page from the rain with his hat, and the big drops patter on his bare head. He looks careworn and wayworn; but his eye is bright, his hand steady. From head to foot, he is incased in a thick plastering of clay, and moisture drips from his sleeves. He replies to my comrade, "No, colonel, I've not given out; I'm a little tired though. I'll make it, colonel; I'll never give up."

Why in the name of humanity does not the commander send back messengers to halt this column? Is there imminent danger ahead? Cannot these failing men be halted a day for rest? At least let messengers be despatched from head-quarters to inspire them to march, march, to resist the foe. Any thing to renew their spirit. But look at these wagon loads of sick soldiers. See them shivering in saturated blankets, seated in pools of water which drip from their clothing as it pours from the clouds. Hear their unceasing, discordant, and harrowing chorus of coughing. Here are candidates for the grave. But the order is stern—" Bring all your sick." "Oh," said one of the surgeons to me, "that was the cruelest order officer ever gave. I protested in vain. I urged that it would kill my patients. But come they must. I shall lose perhaps thirty or forty of my regiment, and it will plant consumption in the lungs of two hundred more.. . . ."
Brigadier General Albin F. Schoepf, one of the officers commanding the "Wildcat Stampede" from Wikipedia

No comments:

Post a Comment