26 August 2012
Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:
In the Shadow of Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest:
Private John C. Lilly at Shiloh—Part III
By Ken Robison
For The River Press
August 29, 2012
This continues a monthly series commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and the veterans that settled in Central Montana. In Part I, John C. Lilly, of Shelby County, Ky., joined the Confederate Army, and was assigned to Company A in Colonel N. B. Forrest’s Old Regiment. Part II continued Private Lilly’s wartime experiences as the action in the [then] western border states, Kentucky and Tennessee, went from mild to wild. Forrest’s Old Regiment fought gallantly in the battle leading to the Confederate surrender of Fort Donelson. Col. Forrest refused to surrender and led about 500 men from his regiment and other units in a daring escape. Part III continues Private John Lilly’s account as Forrest’s Cavalry regroup, re-equip, and then charge headlong into the vital battle at Shiloh.
That part south of the Cumberland River is a broken country ridged by hills and deep ravines. [It was] not much of a farming country, [but] there were five old Iron Furnaces. Forrest could not get much information when we got near Charlotte, [but] the report was that there was a Yankee Regiment of Iowa Cavalry. Forrest knew that we were not very well fixed for giving battle. We were all wet from crossing the slue, our guns and ammunition were wet, and everyone was worn out having not slept any for four nights. Col. Forrest halted and had us fire our guns and pistols and clean them for action.
When that was done it was ‘Forward March.’ In the mean time, we did not enter the town [of Charlotte] and struck out for Clarksville. Before we got near Clarksville, we found a lot of baggage and camp outfits that was left by [Colonel John S.] Scott’s Louisiana Cavalry [1st Louisiana Cavalry Regiment] that had been ordered to Fort Donaldson. Finding out that it was surrendered, [Scott’s Cavalry made] a kind of a hasty retreat. Forrest found out that Clarksville was floating the white flag, and as we could see black smoke on the River he concluded to go on to Nashville. We had quite a time to get the horses fed and feed for ourselves so we marched night and day when we got in sight of Nashville.
[Insert map with caption Western Theater of War from September 1861 to April 1862 (Courtesy of Wikipedia)]
The report came to Forrest that Nashville was in the hands of the Yankees. There were no Yankee gunboats there, but Forrest was not certain but what it was full of Yankee Cavalry. I shall never forget the remark of that daring Col. Forrest just before he got to the bridge of the Cumberland River. He formed his little broken up Regiment in line. There were also a few Infantrymen that had followed us a foot. Poor fellows, what a hard time they had. After he had all of us in line he says, ‘I am going in to that town. I don’t care if there is ten thousand Yankees in there and any of you that don’t want to follow me fall out of ranks right here. Forward march.’ I don’t know of anyone falling out.
We marched into Nashville [on February 18th] without any trouble or fight [the town was not in Yankee hands]. Col. Forrest made arrangements for us to camp at the Penitentiary and rations were cooked for us in good style, but it was not necessary for us to eat there. Forrest’s Cavalry was welcome at any family table in the town [because] there was nothing too good for Forrest’s Cavalry. We were the Heroes of the day. But here it seemed to some of the boys that the war was over, and it would have been a good thing if it had been. I found out afterward that it had hardly commenced, and by this [I] believe that the war [really] was over. As we were the favorites of the citizens of Tennessee, our Regiment, or what was left of it, got somewhat scattered having a good time among the good people of Tennessee.
We got back together at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, camped there for a short time, and then marched to Huntsville, Alabama [arriving February 25]. There we were reorganized and the Old Regiment got some recruits. All the scattered boys caught up, and the Old Regiment once more looked natural. From Huntsville we marched to Burnsville, Mississippi. Here we camped without tents as we had lost everything we had at Fort Donaldson. It was raining day and night, and we did not know what was before us. We had no idea that Grant and his Army that we left at Fort Donaldson was in [but] a day’s march of us, and that he was camping at that Old Shiloh Meeting House. But Col. Forrest was always ready if there was any fighting to be done.
We got to the battleground [at Shiloh] Saturday night [April 5th], and there met a rain, but it cleared up nice and bright. Col. Forrest’s Cavalry was detached to [Major] General John C. Breckenridge’s Command. Sunday morning was a most beautiful morning after all the raining for five days before had made everything green. At daylight a few shots were exchanged and before we knew it was volley after volley. In a short time Col. Forrest at the head of his Regiment double quicked to Hamburg
on the Tennessee River to guard the rear of Breckenridge to prevent the Yankees from landing troops. In the rain we had no trouble with the exception of the gunboats shelling us and through all of it Forrest was primed. He could tell by the firing that that our men were driving the Yankee Army before them, and he wanted to be in it.
We were thrown out as pickets all along the ridge and the river. It was not long when we were called in, and Forrest at the head of his column marched double quick for the battlefield. He got there just in time again to make a grand charge. This was made by Col. Forrest leading the charge across an old field over which there had been a great contest, but it was won then. Col. Forrest lost two horses that day.
[Brigadier General Benjamin M. Printiss had saved Grant’s army that first day at Shiloh. Printiss’ Division dug into a sunken road at the center of the “Hornet’s Nest” and held off the Confederates for six critical hours. Forrest was in on the capture of Printiss and 2,000 of his men, but the Confederate advance had been delayed at the Hornet’s Nest. Lilly continues:] When Genl Printiss surrendered, firing had slacked off to almost as if everyone had left the field. Everything was quiet when all at once General Breckenridge moved his whole line forward on towards Pittsburg Landing, and Col. Forrest with his Old Regiment in line [formed] behind Breckenridge. When this column of Infantry and Artillery and Cavalry marched forward in line of battle. It was a grand sight to look at.
It seemed that nothing could stand in front of that victorious line of men but as that was the last stand of Grant’s defeated Army that day, they made a noble stand. They waited until our lines got in short range and the grandest sight of all was that the sun was about setting, and it looked red when a person looked right into it. Then at once the guns of the Yankees belched out fire, shot, and shells that were terrific. Our Infantry fell to the ground and our Batteries opened [up]. That was one of the grandest artillery duels by the setting of the sun that most every one will ever see.
As the Yankee artillery fire stopped the forward movement of our Infantry, they turned their fire on Forrest and his Cavalry that was rather a little too much for the Cavalry to stand. Where Infantry can lay down, Forrest would not move [so] horses and men were shot down till Genl Breckenridge ordered him to fall back out of the range of the Artillery of the enemy’s guns. Col. Forrest fell back a distance out of range when the Artillery duel was going until well after dark. Then after dark Forrest moved in front of our Infantry and Artillery right close up to the Yankee guns. Here we were standing out as a chain picket for the night.
Everything was quiet, but reader have you ever been on a battlefield? If you have not you can not imagine the feeling that every one will have that stands within two hundred yards of an enemy. Now and then you hear the sound of a wounded man crying for water or calling on God or cursing and swearing, and then you hear some owl that has escaped the fire of the day.
The night after the first day’s fighting at Shiloh was a terrible night after the sun was down and everything was dark. Big black clouds began to race in the west, and it was not long when it began to rain and thunder and lightning was terrific. The Yankee gunboats kept up a cannonading from their big guns throwing shells in every direction with but a little harm to us. It sounded and looked more dangerous than it was. Here we were in two hundred yards of the Yankee lines and shells [exploding] all around us, and thunder and lightning and heavy rain came down on us. It made a man feel kind of funny, but as we thought that all of our Infantry and Artillery was right close behind us, where we left them after when we marched in front of them, it kept us in good spirits.
[So sure of victory were Confederate forces at the end of that first day of fighting at Shiloh, that Confederate commander Gen. Beauregard sent a telegram to President Jefferson Davis announcing, “A COMPLETE VICTORY.” Meanwhile General Grant’s nerves of steel were reflected in a story told by Union Brig. Gen. William T. Sherman: At the end of that first day Sherman found Grant under a tree, sheltering himself from the heavy rain. Grant was smoking one of his cigars while reflecting on his heavy losses and planning tactics for the next day. Sherman remarked, “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant glanced up. “Yes,” he replied, puffing on his cigar. “Yes. Lick ‘em tomorrow, though.”]
[Private Lilly continue his account:] When daylight came, we found ourselves very much mistaken. When we began to look around there was not a man in sight. Our whole Army had fallen back. How far we did not know. Our picket closed up and were formed in line of battle. Col. Forrest ordered us to fire off our guns as they were all wet. Before we got thru with these, the Yankees were advancing in double quick time. They threw out a half skirmish line and the balance of the Yankees marched in a column while we gave them the best we had, but would never stop them from coming right for us.
Forrest would fall back a short distance and form in line and wait for them to come close enough. Then [he] would give them a volley and fall back again a hundred yards and do the same thing over till at last to our surprise when we fell in line we were right in front of our Infantry skirmish line. This surprised the Yankees who commenced to form in line of battle. Forrest and his men were holding them in check when the Yankees were putting a Battery in position and opened up on us when Forrest fell back.
This time we fell back of our Infantry lines where we went into camp long enough to feed our horses and ourselves, dry ourselves as much as we could, and clean our guns. But before we got off our horses in camp the battle was raging where we had left. The Infantry and Artillery got together in good shape.
[During the evening of the first day’s fighting, General Don Carlos Buell’s 15,000-man Army arrived and were shuttled across the Tennessee River by steamboat to Pittsburg Landing. Col. Forrest tried during the night to warn his commanders that Union forces were being greatly reinforced, but his warnings were ignored. Monday morning April 7 began, and Private Lilly reported the turn of the tide of battle in favor of General Grant’s Union forces.]
[Insert “Map of Shiloh Battleground on The Second Day April 7th Courtesy of Wikipedia)]
[Private Lilly summarized the disastrous second day:] That was Monday [April 7] the second day of Shiloh that was the hardest day of fighting as ever was done on any battlefield in history. It was hard for the Confederates to give up the ground that was won the day before but the Yankees were determined to take back what they had lost the day before.
With 25,000 fresh [Union] troops [Buell’s 15,000 and earlier arriving soldiers from Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace’s Division] they were partly successful as the Confederates were slowly driven back. When before night came [on that second day] the Battle of Shiloh had ended. Forrest was always in the thickest of the fight. Monday night Forrest and his Regiment were rested but at daylight Tuesday morning Forrest and his men were in front of the Yankees again [in a battle called Fallen Timbers]. In a charge that morning, Col. Forrest was badly wounded, but he rode to the rear. His horse was killed also. [Forrest took a rifle ball in his left side just above the hip bone. It lodged on the left side of his back near the spine.]
Col. Forrest was taken to Memphis, but his old regiment stayed on the field doing picket duty. Every now and [then] we made a little dash on the Yankee picket, and they would do the same on us. As it would happen the Yankee Cavalry in front of us on picket [duty] was the First Kentucky that we had defeated at Sacramento, Ky. Our Captain was sent in with a Flag of Truce by General John C. Breckenridge. He took ten men of his Company, [and] I was one of them.
While our Captain was going to the Yankee Headquarters we were having a great chat with the boys of the First Kentucky. Some of our boys were school mates of some of them. While we were chatting with the boys, waiting for our Captain to return, the boys of the Yankee Cavalry all at once jumped for their horses ready for a fight.
Before we knew what it meant we saw a separate Confederate Cavalry within a hundred yards of us and the Yankee pickets. But immediately we saw a white flag and the excitement was all over. These [men] were from the famous John H. Morgan, also with a flag of truce for General Grant’s Headquarters. John Morgan had nothing but a squadron of about 150 men.
In the meantime our Captain got back, and we returned to Breckenridge’s Head Quarters which was then at Pinnock, Miss., only five miles from the Shiloh battlefield. We were doing picket duty here for a long time. Major Kelly [David C. Kelley] being in command of our Regiment. From here we fell back to Corinth, Miss. When one day we were surprised when Col. Forrest arrived in Camp. Although he was looking a little pale, we were glad to see him back to take command of the Old Regiment. Col. Forrest was considered somewhat ruff with his men, but there never was a better officer to provide for his men. In camp or on a march we always had plenty of grub and horse feed. He would make the Quartermaster hustle.
While General Hallack was advancing slowly on to Corinth from the Shiloh battlefield Beauregard was sending his troops to reinforce General Lee in Virginia. When Hallack got to Corinth were was nothing there but Forrest with his Regiment of Cavalry. General Sterling Price had moved out to Farmington on the Mobile and Ohio Rail Road. Price offered battle to General Pope. We had quite a set too, but General Price fell back to Tupelo, Miss. When Forrest with his men had quite a hard fight at Guntown, the Yankees fell back to Corinth, and we camped at Tupelo.
Here we were reorganized and sworn in for twelve months or [duration of] the war. Myself and a lot of our Company were under age but we stuck to it. But two of our boys went out on that account but substituted and were transferred back to our Company. [In the Civil War, substitutes could be paid to serve in the Army.] Our Col. [David C. Kelley] left us, detached to General Price’s Command and [Col.] Forrest went with [Gen. Braxton] Bragg to Kentucky. We were then again under General [Earl] Van Dorn and when Price and Van Dorn fought the battle of Iuka and also the [Second] battle of Corinth [Oct. 3-4, 1862], our Regiment done some hard fighting.
We were also on that grand move of Van Dorn’s on to Holly Springs [Dec. 20, 1862] which was one of the grandest moves made during the war. We then belonged [to] General Frank Armstrong Brigade. That winter we done duty in Mississippi. In the spring [of 1863] we were marching back in to Middle Tennessee when we met our old Col. Forrest, but now he was a General and a good one, commanding two Brigades.
Our first fight we got in to here was at Thompson’s Station, not far from Franklin, Tennessee. Here we again victorious and captured a whole Brigade of Infantry [under Col. John Coburn]. Right here we camped in the garden spot of Middle Tennessee. General Van Dorn in command of all the Cavalry [with] Head Quarters at Spring Hill, but as misfortune would have it General Van Dorn was shot and killed by Dr. [Bodie] Peters [May 7, 1863 for carrying on an affair with Peters’ wife]. General Van Dorn was the best cavalry commander in either Army. He would have proven it if he had lived.
From here we fell back to Tullahoma, of course we were skirmishing and fighting all the time. From here we crossed the Cumberland Mountain and got to Chattanooga where we were camping and scouting in to East Tennessee until the Battle of Chickamauga [19-20 September, 1863]. Here Forrest formed his Cavalry on our right, dismounted, and we fought as Infantry. A Yankee Battery in front of us was making us lots of trouble but dust of the roads and the powder smoke of that battle was so thick that it was impossible to see over twenty feet a head of you, but it seemed that the Battery had it in for us all day. Of course our line was so thin that there was not much fighting, but some heavy skirmishing. Late in the evening Forrest concluded to teach that Battery, and he took the lead and we charged the Battery. The Yankee retreated to the rear but left two pieces of cannon.
As we were not able to hold our ground we were falling back to our first position. But that Battery did not fire any more on us, and later before dark we were relieved by General Longstreet, who was very much surprised to find Cavalry in line of battle as Infantry. That night we were moved a little further on the right of Longstreet’s Corps. The next morning Rosecrans had left not a Yankee in sight. General Forrest was right after them but they had too much head start and the main Yankee Army was already in the town of Chattanooga. We captured a good many stragglers until all at once we were in to an ambushed Infantry and Battery which opened up on us with grape and canister.
General Forrest dismounted part of his men and charged the rear guard of Rosencrans, but while our men were charging on foot the Yankees retreated. Forrest with the mounted men charged after them. By that time the Yankee Cavalry faced Forrest. In the meantime the balance of our Cavalry that was dismounted came up and the Yankee Cavalry retreated. General Forrest with five men charged right into the edge of the town and brought out a lot of Yankee prisoners with some officers. Right there General Forrest wanted permission to charge the town but General Bragg would not let him. Still he made another dash from under the point of the Lookout Mountains. The Yankees opened up with a Battery that they had captured in Tennessee which was too much for us.
After this we were marched into East Tennessee where Gen. Forrest found Gen Burnside’s Army that was marching from Knoxville threatening Gen Bragg’s rear. General Forrest was doing some hard fighting to hold Burnside in check. In the meantime the Battle of Lookout Mountain and Mission Ridge was fought and lost by Gen. Bragg and put Gen. Forrest in between the Armies so that he had to make his way out. But there was no rest in Forrest. He swung around into North Alabama, crossed the Tennessee River and made a raid thru Middle Tennessee where he was making lots of trouble for Grant’s Army, got a few recruits and some fresh horses, and destroyed the Rail Roads and supplies of the enginemen. We came back very near over the same route that we went, crossed the Tennessee River at the same place above Florence, Alabama and moved into winter quarters to rest our horses near Rome, Georgia.
It was but a short time when Gen. Sherman moved on to Tunnel and Dolton, Georgia. When Forrest took position in Sherman’s Front and fought in front of Sherman all spring until the Battle of Atlanta on July the 22nd 1864. When Gen. Stoneman was getting in the rear of Gen. Hood and intended to get to Macon, Georgia to destroy the Confederate Arsenal at that place.
[Lilly’s diary has two pages missing. It concludes by lauding his hero Nathan Bedford Forrest, and writing:] There never was a man in that war as a General that done any more daring deeds and hard fighting then General N. B. Forrest of the Confederate Army. By John C. Lilly Co A—Forrest Old Regiment.
To be continued with Confederate Private John C. Lilly’s adventures after the war in Montana Territory.
1. Map of Western Theater of War from September 1861 to April 1862 (Courtesy of Wikipedia).
2. Map of Shiloh Battleground on The Second Day April 7th Courtesy of Wikipedia)
03 August 2012
Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:
In the Shadow of Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest:
Private John C. Lilly’s War Gets Nasty—Part II
By Ken Robison
For The River Press
August 1, 2012
This continues a monthly series commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and the veterans that settled in Central Montana. In Part I, John C. Lilly, of Shelby County, Ky., joined the Confederate Army, and was assigned to Company A in Colonel N. B. Forrest’s Old Regiment. Part II continues Private Lilly’s wartime experiences as the action in the [then] western border states of Kentucky and Tennessee went from mild to wild.
Private John C. Lilly spent Christmas 1861 in Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s winter camp at Hopkinsville, Ky. in relative comfort. The reconnaissance, light skirmishes and limited action of the Regiment as they protected the Confederate base and capital at Bowing Green, would soon to change dramatically.
Sometime after the Civil War, Private Lilly wrote about his wartime experiences. [Portions of his narrative are presented with his creative spelling and expressions “normalized” by this author.] Lilly continues, “After a few days in Camp the news came to Forrest that the First Kentucky Cavalry (Union) were South of Green River in the neighborhood of Greenville under the command of Major More. Col. Forrest, always ready for a fight, ordered three days rations and to be ready to move early on the next morning. This time [Col. Forrest] took, for the first time, his whole Regiment with the exception of a few [men] to do Camp duty and what was on the sick list.
“The next morning we started on the road to Greenville. . . . we got to Greenville and camped at a big hay ranch or farm. It was bad weather in [late] December with a cold drizzling rain all day and night. A scouting party was sent out that night. They came back and reported the Yankees were close and Captain [C. E. or Ned] Meriwether with an independent squad was ‘working them’ as we called [it] now in the west.
“Forrest ordered to sound the bugle for Boots and Saddle. In 10 minutes we were on the road towards Sacramento, Ky. When we got to a crossroad [one mile south of the town], an old farmer and his daughter who were coming from Sacramento told Forrest that the Yankees were but five miles ahead of us. Forrest . . . sent his orderly back to the other Captains of Co B and Co C, [for these companies] to come up in good order a little behind our Co [A]. Forrest then gave the command to our Company by fours double quick march and him in the lead on a fine thoroughbred Sorrel, and he went charging down a lane into our first battle.
“I must state here an incident in regard to myself. I was on a Chesnut mare as fine a little Kentucky animal as ever was under the saddle. She was a present to me from Olivia Harris, the daughter of Henry Harris of Shelby County, Ky. This little mare got it in her head that no other horse should beat her, and there were but a very few that could do it. So the little mare struck [out] and passed my company and passed the Col. right straight for Yankee Cavalry.
“Right at the end of the lane was a big stand of timber land. When I [was] very near to the end of the lane, the Col. saw that I was going right into the Yankees. He called to me to pull her into the fence corner, which I did just in time. When the Sorrel came to a halt near the rear guard of the Federal Cavalry, Col. Forrest jumped off his horse while I tried to get my mare quiet. He says, ‘Give me your gun,’ which I handed over. He fired into the enemy, gave back my gun, and was mounting at the same time.
“The Yankees fired at the same time but the balls went over our heads . . . [As] we dashed forward into the edge of the timber, to our surprise they were formed in a splendid line of battle. Before we could form a line, they give us a volley and kept it up. [This] being our first engagement to face the enemy in such close quarters, they had the advantage on us in position with the exception that the ground [was] so situated that they fired too high. Under this fire we tried to form in line [but it] was almost impossible. Col. Forrest and our Lieutenant Ward had their horses shot. Being a foot, [they ordered] us not to run. If the Yankees had made a charge that moment they would have demoralized us right there.
“Captain Meriwether had got to the front with a few men and one of his men and himself were killed and two wounded laying in the road. By this time Captain May of Company B had formed in our right when they drew our fire. So we got in line and fighting was pretty severe for five minutes when Captain Gughle with Company C came up the lane in good order by fours. When Forrest ran back and got Capt Meriwether’s horse, [he] says to Capt Gughle, ‘Capt, charge them!’ When Capt Gughle gave the command to his Texas Rangers, ‘Charge them boys,’ they then gave the Rebel yell which went thru the woods echoing [so loud] that you could scarcely hear the sound of the rifles. When the sound of that yell from the Texas Rangers reached the ears of the Yankee Cavalry, that was too much for them, and our battle was won. That splendid line of battle in Blue was broken and retreating in bad order thru the little town of Sacramento, Ky.
“Right here in the streets of this little town there was a hand to hand duel with sabers which perhaps is not on record or in the history as the Yankees . . . but those were Kentucky Yankees and as brave of men as ever faced a gun or used a pistol or drove a saber which was shown.
“Right in that little engagement at the outskirts of this little Kentucky town met Col.. Forrest in the lead of his command victorious and Captain Backer in the rear of his Command defeated. With sabers drawn, they both went at it, as foes would meet. As Captain Backer was better fighting with a sword, as Forrest found out in a few minutes or seconds, I might say I think that and believe, Col. Forrest would have ready left that field of life. But in such conflict where it is in such close quarters it was a pistol ball that ended that saber duel between Col. Forrest and Captain Backer, when the brave Capt tumbled off his horse a dead man. The supposition is that the shot that killed Capt Backer was fired from a man of our Company, his name I will not mention.
“Here the battle was ended in a glorious victory for Forrest and his Old Regiment. I have forgotten now the number of prisoners we took. I think that the Yankees lost in that fight between forty or fifty killed, wounded, and prisoners. Our lost, I believe, was three killed and five wounded and a few horses killed. The reader will imagine here that there never was a prouder Regiment in the Confederate Army than Forrest’s Old Regiment of Cavalry, and the old Col. himself, after that fight, thought that he could lick the whole Yankee army.
“That same day we marched back with our prisoners to Greenville. The next day we started back for Hopkinsville to our winter’s quarters going through that little town called Cloverport [Ky., on the Ohio River] which I shall never forget, though I have never been or seen it since. The ladies of that place gave us the finest picnic in the winter that I have ever been to before or since. I never saw as much fine eatables in my life, and we were supplied with socks, mittens, gloves, blankets, most everything forced on to you, whether you wanted it or not. God Bless the people of Cloverport, Ky. is my wish today. In fact in the beginning of the war the people of the South could never do too much for a Confederate soldier and especially the women.
“When we got back to our winter quarters the first news was that there was a gunboat going up the Cumberland River. General Clark had some Infantry camping at the Hopkinsville Fairgrounds with a few pieces of artillery. Now I will give the reader a plan of Col. Forrest’s scheme. Col. Forrest wanted to capture that gunboat with his Cavalry. His idea was to capture that boat and then go down the river under the U.S. flag and destroy the whole Yankee fleet at Paducah, Ky. and at Cairo, Illinois which I believe he would have done if we could have got away with the Yankee gunboat.”
Private Lilly provides a detailed account of this bizarre attempt by Forrest’s Cavalry to capture a Yankee steamboat. Although ultimately their trap did not succeed, it did result in the death of a dozen of the steamboat’s crewmen and damage to the gunboat. Lilly concludes the story, “one of our cannon shots had bored a hole thru the boat. So that ended the charge of Cavalry charging a gunboat on the Cumberland River where we [did] not lose a man.”
Lilly’s narrative continues, “We landed again with triumph in our camp. The people of the surrounding country and of Hopkinsville would visit our Camp and thought that Col. Forrest and his Cavalry were the heroes of the Southern Confederacy. Then we had a good time in camp [with] plenty of good rations and fat and slick horses [with only] a little camp duties and drilling to do. [We] got passes to go out in the Country and see the girls who thought more of Forrest’s Cavalry than they would of themselves. Who would not be a soldier under such circumstances but as God knows we saw some hard times afterwards.”
Subsequent events would have a profound impact on the outcome of the Civil War. Two legends emerged from the action in Tennessee in early 1862. The North would finally find a “fighting” general in Ulysses S. Grant, while the South would find a legend in the daring and determination of Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest. In the first use of rivers for major operations during the Civil War, Fort Henry was attacked by Union naval gunboats and surrendered after most of its guns were disabled. Then, Confederate troops were trapped at Fort Donelson, mainly because of indecisiveness by rebel commanders. Several thousand Confederates did escape, including Forrest’s Old Regiment through decisive action on the part of Col. Forrest. The loss of Forts Henry and Donelson was a stunning defeat for the Confederacy. Gen. Grant had seized the initiative, forced the Confederates out of Kentucky, broken their defense line in northern Tennessee, and permanently changed the strategic situation in the West. And Private Lilly and his Forrest’s Old Regiment were knee deep in the action.
Private John Lilly continues his narrative, “From now on our hard times begin. Five days of the month of February  have passed, and rumor in camp is that [BGen.] Grant is marching on to Fort Henry. Another day and orders were given to cook up three days rations. The next day we were marching to Fort Donaldson over the same road that we came over five months before to go into our winter quarters. Before we crossed the old Cumberland River we could hear the cannon booming at Fort Henry fourteen miles distance. We were taken across on a steamboat the next morning, one company at the time. When our Company got across, Col. Forrest started immediately out on the Fort Henry road. About six miles out we met the Yankees and fighting commenced. We skirmished all day and fell back at night when our whole Regiment was across the River.
“We camped that night in a kind of a ravine but worked all night building breastworks for the Infantry. All the next morning the Yankees advanced [so] that the Infantry got to skirmish with them. Then the gunboats came up and attacked our batteries on the River and the Infantry [attacked] by land. But the Yankee Fleet got the worst of it, and five of their boats were sunk and others disabled so that they were poled off. The gunboats made it pretty warm for us but with very little harm to us. We were not there to charge gunboats.” The battle for Fort Donelson had begun.
“Then the next morning we were completely surrounded by Grant’s army and fighting commenced in earnest with Forrest and his Cavalry on our extreme left. By noon the enemy were driving [us] from the field. About noon a Regiment of [our] Infantry took a battery from the Seventh Iowa. As it happened then the Confederate Regiment gave out of ammunition and could not hold the Battery. As the Battery was right at the head of a deep ravine and as the Seventh Iowa was in the Ravine and was about to retake the guns, Col. Forrest led one of the grandest Cavalry charges on the Seventh Iowa Infantry. The charge was made by placing two companies . . . to charge up to that ravine and fire, one company to wheel to the right, and the other to the left in the ravine . . . and load while the other platoon would charge right here.
“That brave Capt May of Company B fell before the charge was made and several of our brave boys beside him. The Seventh Iowa gave us a terrible fire while we were forming in line, and it stood time in hand for the move what was coming if they could keep us from forming in line. Reinforcement was coming for them, and they would have retaken their battery, but Forrest with actually tears in his eyes led the charge and the Seventh Iowa was very nearly all slaughtered in that famous Death Hollow.
“When the roll was called of the Seventh Iowa after that charge of Forrest’s Cavalry into that Hollow of Death there were not many to answer to their names, and so it was the same with Forrest’s Cavalry. If the Reader has never been in a battle he has no idea what it is to form a regiment of Cavalry especially under heavy fire, especially in timber and brush as it was at that battleground but we were victorious for a short time.
“As the Yankees retreated we marched down that same ravine, and [I] must say that it was almost impossible for our horses not to step on a dead man. It was but [a] short ravine yet it was horrible to look at the brave men in the different shapes and positions where they were laying.
“As we were following up the retreating Army which was but a short distance, when General Grant massed a heavy battery on a hay hill and turned loose on us all at once before we knew what was going on. We were wheeled right about by fours to get out of range of that heavy artillery fire. Shells and solid shot was whistling over our heads that were ranging a little too high but close enough that the boys would dodge when Col. Forrest made the remark, ‘don’t dodge, Boys.’ When he had hardly said the word, a shell came so close to his said that he could not help from dodging. When he looked around with a smile and said, ‘Boys dodge them of you can,’ which the boys never forgot all thru the war.
“We were then marched back inside our camp and thought that Grant was retreating. Firing had ceased with the exception on our left near the river bottom where General Buckner with his Infantry was doing some hard fighting, and the Motor Boats would throw a few shells into our camp when the night closed the battle. If the reader has read the history of the battle of Fort Donaldson, he must know that the object of attacking the Yankee’s right wing and going out of our breast works was to open the road to Nashville and for our Army to retire. Such was the plan of Generals Pillow, Floyd & Buckner, and Col. Forrest to cover the retreat of the Infantry, but that was not carried out and was without a doubt a mistake of General Pillow’s as he was Commander in Chief.
“That Saturday night [15th] everything was quiet but it snowed about three or four inches about twelve o’clock at night. No bugle was sounded but every man was called from under his blanket of snow to be quiet and get ready to march. The generals had agreed for Genl Buckner to surrender the troops but Col. Forrest had no notion to surrender. In one hour from the time that we were notified, we were in line when Forrest spoke, ‘Boy’s the Confederate Forces have surrendered and the white flag is now floating over Fort Donaldson. After our hard fighting yesterday and the brave men that we left on the field, I have concluded not to surrender. We may have a hard time to get out, but any of you that want to follow me, Forward March.’
“And the Col. moved on, but I don’t think that there was over five hundred of the Old Regiment that followed. Some were killed. Some wounded. Some had their horses killed or wounded. Col. Forrest followed close up the River without any trouble until we came to a large slough which was full from the backwater of the old Cumberland River and partly frozen. We were fired into by a Michigan Regiment of Cavalry, but they could not stop Forrest and his men. Forrest and the advance guard [rode] right into the backwaters, and the balance followed. Some had [to] swim their horses and some could even ford them. The charge on the Michigan Cavalry took them by surprise as it was not daylight yet, and in a short time we were behind the Yankee Army. I am not able to tell whether we lost any of our men or not as we did not know who followed in our retreat, and as far as the Yankee Cavalry we did not lose any time to get out after we got thru the Yankee lines. We could hear the bugles and the drums in our ears. So far Col. Forrest had escaped from Fort Donaldson but what was before him he did not know.”
To Be Continued Photo:
(1) Private Lilly's Legendary Cavalry Commander Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest. [Courtesy of Wikipedia]