The Official Records pertaining to the Battle of Mill Springs, KY, January 19, 1862
Including: Letters, Photographs and other significant documents
Compiled by COL Jerry McFarland, William Neikirk, David Gilbert and The Mill Springs Battlefield Association
You will have to pay the postage on this for I am out of money and stamps.
Jan. 29, 1862
Dear Friends at home,
.....A rainy day and feeling I could do little better, as we have nothing to read induces me to keep on writing, tho I assure you the melancholy reflection that you will not see it (the letter) in 15 or 20 days is rather cooling to my sanguine feelings. Our camp is in a very pleasant place. It overlooks the banks of the Cumberland river which at this place are almost as high as the bluffs at Red Wing (MN). The face of the country is very undulating, in places very hilly and the creeks and rivers are sunk between rocky bluffs like the Zombro below Montevideo. We are in the garden of KY, the famous blue grass region, but in point of soil is as far below min. as can be. The climate is charming, rains every other day and mud (blue clay) 6 inches deep on the level except where it is so rocky that there is no soil. Whole fields are fenced with the quartz rocks picked up on the surface and when that is done a Minnesotian in plowing would use many words not found in the creed. The foundation is limestone rock and one familiar feature is the numerous caves, which abound in all directions. Just back of our camp is a large sinkhole perhaps 40 rods across. In the centre is a hole down which all water rushes out of sight. On the side next (to) our tents grows an immense sycamore under the very roots of which, is the mouth of a very large cave from which we get our water. You would walk down some steps worn by constant use in the mud and rock. Then some 50 or 60 feet down a very steep inclination you hear the ripple of falling water and groping round by the faint light struggling thru the mouth of the cavern, you find a beautiful trough worn out of the solid rock and built up in front by the deposit of stone by the overflowing water about as high as the breast so you can dip a pail full of water clear as crystal. Then the passage is uphill for a while. The bottom is very uneven and numerous stalactites hanging from the roof, in many places 25 feet high. Water drips thru the seams in many places and is heard running below the feet. Frightful chasms open before you and then you must crawl upon hands and knees thru the mud holding your candle in one hand and keeping a holt (sic) of the points of rock and stalactites of which I secured a few very beautiful specimens. But I don't believe in going so far underground to see a large hole and have been in it but once. Creeks run out from the side hill and after a short distance again disappear in the side hill to come out somewhere else in the same manner. A creek of this kind disappears in the side hill about 40 rods from camp to come out again on the bank of the river and is used to run a mill. An overshot wheel 30 feet over does the work. I saw today the first sensible man with whom I have conversed since I came to KY and he was born in New Hampshire and had lived here but 6 years. He is a true union man of course. He says he heard our guns on Sunday the 19th and mounted his horse to see the fun but Fishing Creek was so high he could not cross and he waited upon the high cliff to see if he could hear any news. While waiting he saw some 300 or 400 fleeing rebels come down the bluff on the other side and disappear down the creek. (They passed us thru the night by crawling among the alders along the bank). He says they were swearing dreadfully, said the Yankees could fire a musket 50 times without putting on a cap and that there were at least 40,000 of us and had the black flag up. They saw the regimental flag a deep blue with the Min coat of arms on one side and an eagle on the other. They appeared very much frightened. We asked why there were no apples in the country. All laziness said he, no better fruit country in the world, but the people have no energy. He owns a steam mill which he has rendered to the department only to be kept and returned in good repair. The Michigan mechanics and engineers are now running it. Some surmise that we will go down the Cumberland river on coal and flat boats about 10 miles above us. Steam boats come up some 20 miles above us. We burnt one Zolly was using as a ferry, by a shell I think. That was what saved the artillery horses and wagons tho they were at work all night. a prisoner says some 200 were drowned in trying to swim the river. Any quantity of clothes were found on the bank just as they were cast off, boots, pants, coats, and drawers. A story is now going round like this, A prisoner says as the Min. 2nd came into action he heard (that) the colonel gave this order (") Attention - all creatures (?) By kingdoms, right half wheel march, (") They tho't its no use to stand such an army and broke. Capt Foate is going home to Min to recruit his health and the regiment. Also Capt Markham and 8 other non commissioned officers and privates are to go home on the same business, 3 or 4 of our men have been discharged for disability from our Co. and several more should be. Some 70 men are wanted to fill up the regiment. Our 2nd Lieut. is getting well.
.....Sunday morning Feb 2nd Camp Cumberland is still our abode, tho as far as we know, we may be ordered on tomorrow. Schoepf's brigade is now crossing the river. We shall probably be the last to march as we were the lead in the past expedition. I rec'd the Sentinel of the 16th and you may believe it was a treat for all of us, tho I assure you if all its news are as far out of the way as that in regard to us, it knows just nothing at all. General Thomas has not been at Danville. I suppose that the press are furnished with just such news on purpose to lead the rebels astray. The St. Paul papers gave the most distorted acc't of the fight. If you rec'd my letter written in Zolly's camp you may depend upon my story for I was on the ground saw the whole performance and made the most diligent inquiries of soldiers of almost every regiment and wrote what I knew so. The Capt. has left this morning for Min. I do not hope (expect) to see him again. He has a very bad cough, some say consumption. He is respected by most of the company tho the Lieut. has been our officer and is a man to liking every man to time. We heard very heavy cannonading a few days ago in the direction of Zolly's camp, have since heard they were trying to raise the drowned rebels and that they raised 500 or so many had their hands cut off. It seems they tried to hold on to the boat when it crossed but were cut loose by their hard hearted comrades. I don't believe you could scare the 2nd in that style. The greatest admiration and affection is felt for the old Colonel. Some scapegrace has been writing to the St. Paul papers, trying to hurt the Col's reputation, but he had better keep shady, as we are in good fighting humor just now. Some of our smart boys have taken the matter up and given the writer a few sly hits in a communication to the St. Paul press. Am sorry to say there are a few to whom all discipline or good order is an eyesore who turn and read backward. (At this point George turned the paper over and literally wrote between the lines.) impute the foulest motives to the best of actions and must find fault with some one. Now I have enquired of those who know best and I have found those to like the Colonel best who know him best and that decent men find little fault with officers generally. Now as for myself I can stand anyone for a officer and made up my mind to obey everything without a grunt and find fault only when the milk and water policy is in vogue. The good name we won at Leib junction was owing to the exertions of the Colonel. Our health also was preserved by his discretion, tho the boys grumbled. You can never have any adequate idea of KY pies, cakes and cooked chicken, turkeys and geese generally. The pies are strictly union. You can't tell where the upper crust leaves off and the under crust begins. A certain dampness is discernible about the centre and as for tearing the crust apart you can tear leather as well. Also chicken and other cookery. These delectible articles of diet were prohibited by the col and it gave him the name of the old woman. He was also very particular about guards and pickets and was always awake when danger was apprehended. McCook is not sick at Summerset and Col van Cleve is in command of this part of the Brigade. It seems McCook did not like the milk and water dealing with rebels and gave his men the greatest liberty and they took it of course. He ordered our guards off but the Col went to the Gen and does as he pleases. Our Co was on guard yesterday but the guard was taken off at 8 PM and put on again at 6 this morning. More of our boys are sick now than ever before. After the battle it was found we had no bread and no salt meat so for 3 or 4 days we had flour and beef. The boys made pancakes and the beef was 1/2 cooked. We had no way to bake bread. About a dozen have the measles, several the fever and almost all have diarrhea. Several have just joined us from the hospitals and more will before long. We have lost by 2 by disease one more came deaf and one by disease setting in a broken leg has been discharged. 2 week ago this morning about this time we were in full pursuit of rebels in high spirits. Now we are as peaceable as rainy cold weather could make us. Its decidedly dull at present. The fight is talked out, no prospect of pay for some time and so many sick does look dubious. You must keep up good courage at home. I believe the administration is doing all it can to bring the war to a close and I have hopes of being at home at least by harvest. If as much is done in the next 4 as in the last 4 months there won't be much of rebellion left. Get thru as soon as possible is the wish of the army. But I believe I have spoiled enough of this sheet and must close soon. I am contented and do my regular duty, manage to enjoy myself pretty well for one so lazy as I have become. You must write oftener and send more papers. I have rec'd all your letters up to Jan 15 No 4 and you must remember this is my 19th since leaving home. I am out of money and stamps and will have to get this franked by the Col's clerk as I did my last. Give my respects to all my friends and stick to the administration. Old Abe and McClellan will take us safe thru if the country will support them and let them do as they please. There is no service this cold weather. You must not let the boys enlist now there is no need of it; keep them at work but look out for breakers ahead. This war is trying the soul of this nation and you will see hard times and high taxes, high tariffs and high prices or I am very much mistaken and can't read the signs of the times.