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Memoirs - Spencer Talley

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

 

EXCERPTED FROM THE SPENCER TALLEY MEMOIRS

 

.....Our company came together as often as we could in practice in drilling and to be posted as to the prospect of getting into camp "life" or as one would say in that age of the world.  John P. Murray of Gainesboro a prominent citizen and lawyer of Jackson county was forming a regiment at Livingston and Gov. Isham G. Harris learning of our readiness ordered us into that camp.

.....I think it was about the middle of September 1861 when our company left Lebanon.  We took the Trousdale Ferry pike and being "footman" or infantry we only got as far as "Caney Fork" the first day.  The next day we landed at what we were pleased to call "Camp Jollicoper" a place about 1 1/2 miles west of Livingston where flowed there and I suppose flows now one of the finest springs in Tennessee.  The water in a large volume gushes from the side of a mountain and falls from a projecting rock the distance of about twenty feet.  It was icy cold and clear as crystal.  So far then as water was concerned us we had all that could be desired, for no army was able to make it muddy or in anyway im (?) its usefulness and purity.  There were a few wagons came with us to carry our supply of rations and many other things that our good home people thought was would need in our army life and for several days we had old ham and good coffee galore and by the time we had used the good things brought from home our commission department had sufficiently organized and equipped to furnish all needed food from the surrounding county and we had a delightful time for several weeks in our army training camp with no one in camp capable to give the right and proper training for the development of that physical strength and endurance so necessary in the warfare in which we were about to engage.  Several of our officers had "Hardees" tactics and they studied these tactics daily and soon had us quite proficient in the manual of arms and also able to go through with the many maneuvers of well drilled soldiers.  We spent only about two hours in the forenoon and two in the afternoon drilling.  So the remainder of our time was spent in reading and writing to our home people and taking lessons in cooking.  In the connection with the above I will state that for two or three weeks after our arrival in camp we had no arms save a few old squirrel rifles and an occasional pistol though most all the boys had huge butcher knives made in our blacksmith shops.  The South had no arms or munitions of war but little chance of obtaining any from foreign countries on account of the blockade, consequently we were put it to get something to fight with on account of the scarcity of arms our state government had great number of what was called "Pikes" made, this consisted of a pole about 8 or 10 feet long with a spear and sharp hook at the end made to cut both coming and going.  However none of our regiment had any of these "Pikes" instruments to fight with.  Before we got our old flintlock muskets, used last in the Battle of New Orleans, and almost ruined by rust.  We were called a late hour of the night to rush up to camp "Myers" a distance of about three or four miles where COL. Sidney Slanton was forming a regiment.  The report said that a force of the enemies cavalry was approaching and that we would be needed in their defense.  Much excitement and great haste was made in getting in line of march, all were anxious to get into the night and it was about good daylight on the morning of the 19th of January that we came (to) the enemy camps.  The night was very cold and it had been raining, sleeting or snowing all night and many were the fences we had to burn on the roadside to keep from freezing.  Our old flintlock muskets were wet and water soaked, our Regiment spent about ten minutes in trying to dry out and be ready for the fray.  Battle's regiment the 20th Tenn and 15th Mississippi Rogh brought on the attack.  Gen. Zollicoffer in the mixup owing to the smoke and fog, dashed into the enemy's ranks and was killed before the battle had begun.  Leaving his brigade without a commander these two regiments were badly used up and gave way in great confusion.  Our regiment was on the extreme left while the fighting was all on the right and when they were repulsed, our wing was about to be cut off and captured.  We were formed through a dense thicket of undergrowth and grape vines, when our COL. gave order to retreat in haste or we would be cut off.  There was a rush made to get out of this thicket and in leaving my foot was caught in a vine.  I fell in the pathway leading out of the thicket.  I made many efforts to rise up but before I could rise some boys would step on me and I am sure that not less than twenty men ran over me before I could get on my feet, and when I had succeeded I found that I had been kicked along and that my hat and gun were twenty feet behind me.  And I knew it would not do to lose my gun and hat, and when I had gone back for them, I found I was way behind and the "minnie balls" flying thick and fast about me, after leaving the thicket we had to cross an open field, the ground was soft and wet and covered with grass which made the mud stick fast to our feet.  Before I reached the woodland on the opposite side of the field my feet felt as if there was twenty pounds to each foot and I was broken down and still behind my comrades and felt sure I would be captured.  I had gone but a short distance in the woodland before a piece of fleeing artillery came by me with ten horses hitched to it.  A man to each pair of horses was driving under whip and lash, as the cannon was passing I pumped astride of it and locked my arms around it and my gun to keep from falling off.  I rode this cannon for half a mile I suppose right through a woods when there was no road and frequently had jolts.  When the wheels would strike a tree, that almost knocked the life out of me, and I have often thought of this as the most uneasy as well as the roughest ride of my life.  This was our first scrap with the Yanks and I am sure we had a few days of as much suffering and want as we experienced during the civil strife.  We reached the Cumberland river near our camp about sunset.  The Yanks kept in close pursuit all the way.  Our few Cavalry men who covered our retreat held them back until we were in a somewhat fortified position where we held them in check till late in the night when we crossed over to the south side of the river.  When through crossing the little steamboat "Ella" which we used in crossing was burned to prevent its use by our enemy in its pursuit.  Now we privates had no idea that the retreat would be continued.  We thought we were back at home in our old camp and would probably spend the remainder of the winter there.  But early the next morning we were ordered in line of march.  We had no orders to take our rations or anything safe our guns and were expecting an engagement with the Yanks that were crossing over, but instead we took the Livingston road and never halted till night.  We hadn't a thing to eat or cooking vessels of any kind and our minds naturally reverted to the good coffee, bacon, flour, lard, etc.  We had a bountiful supply of provisions that we could easily carried along had we known that we were on a long retreat.  Our army officers were lacking in the first principles of army life.  They had little if any conception of the vital points to be guarded in case of retreat.  The news of this disaster having gone to our people at home, they quickly slaughtered a number of hogs and several wagons from Wilson county loaded with fresh killed pork and flour and meal met us a few miles above Gainesboro.  My father and Uncle E. D. Johnson were with the party and had each a load of the things we were wanting.  It is useless to say there was great rejoicing when these old men met us with such substantial relief, for we had been on starvation basis for several days and many of our boys had become sick and work out and would have fallen into the hands of the Yankees had not been for the courage and heroism of comrades who packed them for miles on their backs rather than leave them in the hands of the Enemy.  Dr. J. W. McFarland who died a few months ago often expressed his love and gratitude to me for having borne him along for miles to save him from the enemy.  We were much together and devoted friends before the war and of course I would do anything in my powers for his good and welfare.

.....We rested for a day or so at and around Gainesboro and then began our march for a concentration of our armies.  Fort Donelson on the Cumberland and Fort Henry on the Tennessee river both fell into the hands of the Federals soon after our defeat at Fishing Creek thus forcing our retreat to the southern boundary of Tennessee.

.....The entire army in the middle or Western division of confederate forces was now under command of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston.  The Federal or Union forces were under command of Gen. U. S. Grant who was concentrating his army at Pittsburgh Landing on the Tennessee river.

 

From:  S. B. Talley