The Fresh unit comes across their first battlefield casualty.
When within a few miles of our destination, Col. Battle ordered a halt for a fcv moments saying:— "We must rest a little." We dropped down on the upper side of the road under the shade of some trees. A low ledge of rocks cropped out under a sugar tree, and Brothers sat down on the ledge and leaned back on his knapsack, determined not to sleep, saying : — "twould be too bad to be roused up in a moment." This was about eight oclock in the morning. The next thing he was conscious of was the rear guard of our wagon train passing by at five oclock in the afternoon. He had slept not changing his position for about nine hours. He bestirred himself quickly and with all dilligence pursued his line of march, expecting to be court-martialed for sleeping in the face ofthe enemy. But when he reached camp he found all as sound asleep as he had been, and when they awoke, by making cautious inquiry, he learned he had not been missed. We remained here at Cumberland Ford (Camp Buncker), for some time, drilling, doing guard work, fortifying and picketing the surrounding mountains. We had a false alarm here that excited us very much, and after it was over and we were back in camp, the boys commenced to tell ludicrous yarns on each other which resulted in a number of fisticuffs.
Gen. Felix K. Zollicoffer being in command, sent a detachment to Barboursville, Ky. under command of Col. Battle. Several hundred of the enemy were reported stationed there. He had little trouble in dispersing them, killing—an old sow— and losing one man, Lieut. Powell of the 19th Tennessee. We were doing outpost duty now, and made other similar expeditions into the enemy's country; one to Goose Creek Salt Works. We got the salt, but had no fight.
While stationed here we had quite a number of boys to join us from home as recruits, and our small company was now quite a large one, and had more men for duty than ever before or afterwards. Zollicoffer made the campaign from here against Wild Cat. We passad through Barboursville and London, and after passing London, our advance guard commenced firing, our regiment double-quicked to the right, formed and moved forward, but in the timber we made some little confusion in our line, which caused Col. Battle to scold at us. He said we were "excited." This proved to be a false alarm. Next morning we continued to move along cautiously and after a while our skirmishers struck the enemy's pickets and fired into them, killing one man and driving the rest. It was here we saw our first victim of the batte field, and of all who saw him and are yet living, I suppose not one has forgotten him. He was dressed in citizen's clothes, apparently about twenty-five or twenty-eight years old. He was laid out beside the road, and the boys all showed a disposition to take the other side.
The next morning we moved forward early and were soon within hearing distance of the firing. Company B, under Capt. Wm. Clark was placed on the mountain top and opened up with a heavy volley. Col. Battle now changed his front to meet the expected danger, placing his line near and parallel with the road. The skirmishing continued in our front for a while, but while we were under the skirmish fire and heard many bullets, none of our regiment saw a Yankee, with the exception of Company B, except the dead one the day before ; nor did we lose a man.
Some of the regiments met with some casualities, the nth Tennessee Regiment having some losses. We dropped back to our encampment of the previous night, gave up the job as a failure and made our way, undisturbed, back to our position at Cumberland Ford.
A laughable incident occured just before the Yankee picket was killed. The country abounded iu summer grapes, which were very palatable. The vines extended from the ground very high before reaching the limbs, and every man that could get hold of the vine would do so, and by a united pull would bring down the grapes. Now just before the picket was killed we were marching through a lane; a cedar tree grew in the fence corner with low limbs, and they were loaded with grapes, but the suspense of the battle was on us, and yet we wondered that no one had plucked a grape. Just as Company E was passing, Segt. Mark Sanders, who could always be depended on to break the record, darted in, saying that was his opportunity, and in he went and out he came instanter, with a swarm of hornets around his head. He darted in and out the files swapping his hornets off, causing quite a disturbance in the ranks. We all now understood why the grapes had been unmolested.
We remained at Cumberland Ford only a short time, when we came south through Cumberland Gap, turning westward along the south side of the mountains, passed through Wartburg, Montgomery and other small places to Jimtown in Fentress Co., Tennessee. We remained here only one night, but it was a memorable one. Some of the boys had met with the opportunity of getting their canteens filled with "Pine Top" — a liquid beverage peculiar to that section that was never known to contribute to the discipline of the Military; they made night hideous, some of their utterances are historical with Company B yet. Wild Cat Wild Cat. Some of the best boys (W. B. Sanders and myself, for instance) got forty-eight hours extra duty for their jubilee. I did not mind the extra duty at all, but the lecture that Col. Battle gave me was the worst whipping I ever had.
We continued our march through Monticello, Ky., when one of Company E stole an old neero's hound pup. The negro followed us up, found his pup, but the soldier refused to give it up, claiming that "he found it." The negro appealed to Col. Battle, who restored the pup and had the soldier put under guard. The soldier, who was full of "Pine Top," crawled under the back of the tent and escaped to his mess. He was quite wrathy, and said " that he stole a hound pup and that Col. Battle had treated him worse than a dog." We continued our march until we reached Mill Springs, Ky., where we camped on the south side of Cumberland River until flat boats could be built, on which we crossed.
One morning we were formed early, thirty men were to be picked from each company to cross the river, as we supposed, to do some desperate fighting; we had not time to get breakfast, but marched to the river, crossed over, and were put to work on the road. Imagine our disgust, — the idea was foreign to us, — picked men to work the road, when we considered ourselves the flower of our company and regiment. However, we soon found the Yankees were not near, and then a spectator would have thought we were "picked" to " play off" which we did all the day long. We left camp without breakfast; no dinner came, and the growling grew louder; night came on and no supper,, and we were getting desperate — being picked men.
The officers reported the Yanks coming and tried to make us build breast-works, but we declined to work. Lieut. Albert Roberts did his best, the boys would dropdown and go to sleep and declined to be waked up. Roberts and some other officer drew their swords and charged down the line; the boys hopped over the trenches and went to sleep on the other side. About this time Henry Ware came to W. E. Brothers and W. W. Batey and informed them that he had bought a bee stand, and that it was back a couple of hundred yards and was already open. The trio went back together, and not having eaten anything in thirty hours, eat honey as long as they wanted it, and then went a quarter of a mile to a spring and drank all the water they wanted, — and then they needed a doctor.
Next morning about two oclock our long-looked-for breakfast arrived,—the one we should have had the morning before. After despaching the breakfast, we scattered around outside of general view and slept till daylight; our minds fully made up against volunteering as "picked" men again.
After the army crossed the river we went into camp near by, and built works, and drilled and stood guard, etc. Every few days, a detachment would go out with wagons towards Somerset for forage; occasionally the cavalry would report a little fight with the enemy's cavalry. In the meantime we built winter quarters, but never occupied them. It was a severe winter, mostly rainy weather.
On the 18th of January, 1862, we marched out of camp in the direction of Fishing Creek, on a dark night and a very muddy road. About daylight we formed our line of battle, our regiment and the 15th Mississippi forming the front line, the latter on the right and to the right of the road. As we advanced in this manner and when our regiment was about middle of a stalk field the 15th Mississippi was brought under a heavy fire, which they immediately returned and then charged. Col. Battle moved us by the right flank and then moved close up to the left of the 15th Mississippi, and we were in the battle under a terrific fire. We found the enemy in our front in an open field. We opened on them from a low ridge covered with scattering timber and under-growtb; the enemy retired under our fire from the field to a heavy woods. Both regiments (15th Mississippi and 20th Tennessee) now charged; we went to within perhaps twenty or thirty feet of the fence bordering the wood, some of our men reached the fence and the slaughter was simply terrible. Col. Battle, seeing it was useless, ordered us to retire, the 15th Mississippi retiring with us.
When we had re-crossed the field over which we had charged, the enemy was already in our rear on the road, having come around our flank. We marched past them on a parellel road concealed by underbrush, regaining the road near where we first formed our line in the morning. There was little order or discipline from there back to camp.
Many of our regiment and company failing to reach the road, kept down Fishing Creek to its mouth, and then down the Cumberland River to camp. So close was the pursuit that many of our number passed inside of our works under the enemy's artillery fire. This was our first regular battle, and our company and regiment had suffered dreadfully; it was reported afterwards that in killed, wounded, and captured we had lost forty per cent of the number engaged.
Of the casualities of Company E, Shelton Crosthwaite and Tom Griggs were killed. Capt. Gooch, J. P. Sanders, and R. J. Neal were severely wounded. S. W. Stanfield was wonnded and made prisoner. Our loss was much heavier but the lapse of forty years has so dimmed the memory of the surviving members as to render them incapable of recalling more. Capt. Gooch was borne from the field to camp by W. T. Ridley and others. R. J. Neal was picked up by Frank C. Manier of Company E (who is now blind) ,and Jim Polk Edwards of Company E after having been rendered helpless by the loss of blood and carried out to the road, when Lieut. Mark S. Cockrell had him placed on a caisson and hauled to camp. Sanders fell into the hands of the enemy.
When we first received the enemy's fire they were overshooting the Mississippi Regiment, and it was here Maj. Duffy lost his horse, "Old Roan," the bullet passing through his saddle bags and through the horse; in passing, the ball cut to pieces a pair of new socks some good lady had sent him from home, rendering them useless. When his horse fell he took off the saddle bags and trudged along with them with the rest of us; he was buttoning his over coat while the bullets were rattling amongst the corn-stalks, and together with the roar of guns and artillery some of the boys seemed a little nervous. The Major said, "Boys 'tis pretty rough but that is what we are here for." After reaching camp, the Major proceeded to examine the contents of his saddle-bags, and on finding his socks demolished, he said, "he didn't mind losing his horse so much,
but hated like the d 1 to lose his new socks."
The supposition has always been, that had the day been fair, or had we been armed with precussion guns, the result of that battle would have been far different. It rained nearly all the time and our "Flint Locks" would not fire. Our men lost much time in drawing loads from their guns, the powder having gotten wet in the rain. Many of them never fired a dozen shots. But to their credit, let it be said, — no set of men ever showed more courage on a battle field than the 20th showed at Fishing Cresk; and the Yankees never forgot the lesson we taught them that day.
That night we abandoned our camp and crossed the river on the steam boat, Noble Ellis, all getting safely across by daylight, the boat was burned and we commenced our dismal retreat. Our wagons, ambulances, and artillery were all abandoned. It was in the month of January, and raining nearly all the time. Without rations or shelter, we were forced to march to Gainsboro, Tenn., before we could hope for relief. We often afterwards met with disasters and privations, but never with anything equal to the retreat from Mill Springs to Gainsboro. Here we were met by steam boats from Nashville that brought us the much needed relief, and after having rested for a while we continued our retreat, passing through Lebanon and joining Gen.'Albert Sydney Johnson's Army at Murfreesboro.