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“A Very Unsatisfactory Fight”

Updated: Feb 26

Sam Cox kept a fairly detailed and daily diary for the better part of 1862, but suddenly stopped recording in the fall. He picked up his pen once again in September 1863, but made just one entry a few days after the crushing defeat at Chickamauga. The 17th had not seen any hard fighting since Shiloh, and took part in the defense of Snodgrass Hill at Chickamauga, their first major action in almost a year and a half. After that, they participated in the breakout at Missionary Ridge, and campaigned in eastern Tennessee, a rough time for the regiment as supplies often ran low.


In May 1864, Cox wrote daily once again as the Union Army began its advance on Atlanta. For the 17th Kentucky, maneuvering, skirmishing, digging entrenchments, and outpost duty, all while dodging shots from Confederate sharpshooters, were the activities of the day. During their service in May 1864, the 17th was really only in two significant fights- Cassville and Pickett’s Mill. In both instances, the regiment suffered casualties, especially the latter.


Colonel Alexander M. Stout, 17th Kentucky Infantry


During the Atlanta Campaign, the 17th Kentucky was now under the command of Colonel Alexander M. Stout after Colonel John McHenry's dismissal by President Lincoln in 1862. That is a long story in and of itself that I will write about someday. The regiment was in Brigadier General Samual Beatty's brigade (later under the command of Colonel Frederick Knefler), Wood's division, IV Army Corps under the command of Major General Oliver O. Howard. The IV Corps was a part of the "Rock of Chickamauga," General George H. Thomas' Army of the Cumberland.



September 30, 1863

I have not had one day's sickness, and have not been absent from the regiment since its organization. I have been in every battle and skirmish in which the Regiment has engaged, without receiving the slightest wound; however, I am not impregnable to shot or shell and I fully expect to "go up" one of these days.


May 1, 1864

After a long and tiresome campaign in East Tenn., we came to our own Dept., some days ago and are now encamped near McDonald Station. We expect to go on the spring Camp. again which is expected to commence shortly. Have been well clothed since our return and am in good condition.


May 2

Five blouses, 5 trousers, 12 shirts, 9 drawers, 4 shoes, 12 canteens, 10 ponchos, drawn from Lt Gill R. G. M. Ordered to march tomorrow at 12:00 M with 5 days rations.


May 3

Marched to day from McDonald Station, Tenn., to bivouac on Ringgold Road, in Ga., a distance of 8 miles. Have marched since the 14th Day of June 1863, a distance of 459 miles.


May 4

Reveille this morning at 4. Marched at 5:30, traveled to Catoosa Springs, GA., a distance of 9 miles. Some little skirmishing in front today. Some talk of battle tomorrow.


May 5

Stood in line of battle this morning from 4 o'clock to sun-up. All quiet today. Some talk of an advance tomorrow or the day following. Have seen more General officers today than I ever saw in the same length of time since my enlistment.


May 6

Nothing of interest today. Orders for Reveille tomorrow morning at 3:30 o'clock and march at 5. Fighting expected. A letter from Briggs. Answered at once.


May 7

Started this morning at 5 o'clock; met the enemy's skirmishers directly after leaving camp and drove them all day from the road, blocked by fallen trees. Reached and occupied Tunnel Hill at 3 o'clock. Expected to move forward tomorrow morning, distance marched - 6 miles.


May 8

Have skirmished all day on Buzzard Roost Mt. Heavy skirmishing all along the line; have heard cannons this afternoon, a great distance to our right; suppose it is Hooker, as I understand he is bringing up the right. This is the Sabbath Day.


From Colonel Alexander Stout, 17th Kentucky Infantry:

"...this regiment was sent to the front upon outpost duty, and on the 8th advanced up the side of Rocky Face as skirmishers, and were supported by the Thirteenth Ohio Regiment Veteran Volunteer Infantry. On the 9th the regiment was relieved and returned to the base of the ridge, but afterward made frequent moves to the right and left, co-operating with other troops in making demonstrations against the enemy, who occupied the crest of the ridge, and whose stray shots were quite annoying to the troops. One man of my regiment was severely wounded, and it seemed wonderful that many more were not killed and wounded, for the fire from the enemy was almost incessant."


May 9

Have been lying under the fire of sharpshooters all day on Rack Face -- one man in Company D wounded. A good deal of fighting all along the line.


May 10

This has been an uneasy day; the Rebels on Rock Face have been firing constantly and we have no chance to return the fire. Heavy cannonading along the line. Heard the dispatch from General Halleck read, announcing a great victory of Grant over Lee in Virginia.


May 11

Moved out of range of sharpshooters this morning and are now encamped on Tunnel Hill; the troops are moving this morning, mostly to our right. One man in Company F wounded this morning.


May 12

The enemy made a demonstration on our left, but it proved to be a feint. Relieved the 9th Kentucky on picket duty this A.M. on Rocky Face Mountain.


May 13

This morning at daylight we discovered that Rocky Face was evacuated, also Dalton. The army immediately started on pursuit, traveled 20 miles and evacuated for the night. The Rebels seem to be retreating on Atlanta -- four prisoners so far.


May 14

Started today at 10 A.M. Marched 5 miles. Heavy fighting today, in which 23 Army Corps participated, also, one division of the 4th Corps. The enemy seems to be concentrating on our left. Our soldiers seem to bin the best of spirits and all feel confident of success should we fight tomorrow.


May 15

Our Brigade has not as yet engaged, but we expect to go in tomorrow. Very heavy fighting today -- our loss heavy. Gen. Willeck [August Willich] of the 4th Corps wounded today, thought to be mortal.


May 16

The enemy retreated last night and this morning the army started in pursuit, have marched 8 miles today.


May 17

Have traveled 8 miles today. The enemy made a stand about 5 P.M., but gained nothing in the operation. We captured some prisoners. Passed through Calhoun, Ga., like all other towns, badly torn up and evacuated.


May 18

Marched 7 miles today, passed through Adairsville. No enemy until about sundown, whence, we came on his rear guard. Or Brigade in advance today.


May 19

Traveled 7 miles today. Came up with the enemy about 2 P.M. Our regiment deployed as skirmishers had desperate fight. Three men killed and 21 wounded. Capt. W.J. Landrum killed while make a charge with the Regiment.


From Colonel Alexander Stout, 17th Kentucky Infantry:

"We passed that place on the morning of the 19th and came up with the enemy near Cassville. Here I was ordered to send out three companies of my regiment as skirmishers and another as flankers, and did so. The enemy resisted the advance of the skirmishers very stubbornly, and had the advantage of the cover of a thick growth of small timber. I was ordered to re-enforce the skirmishers from time to time, until my whole regiment was was thus engaged in front of the brigade. We continued to drive the enemy's skirmishers until they were apparently much strengthened by re-enforcements, and until they certainly occupied much higher ground than we did and placed themselves behind barricades made of fence rails. A rapid fire was kept up by us until perhaps an hour after dark. At the end of that time I was ordered to cease firing and retire all of my regiment, except a thing skirmish line, which I did...we could not see the enemy's position as the woods were very thick and it was dark. Our losses were heavy. Capt. W.J. Landrum was killed and Lieut. C.A. Brasher received a severe wound to the face; 2 privates were killed and 16 others wounded. Captain Landrum was a brave and gallant officer, and his death is deeply lamented."


Captain Landrum's Casualty Sheet

Colonel Alexander Stout's report of Captain Landrum's death.

The Owensboro Monitor, June 1, 1864.

May 20

Have not moved today. The enemy withdrew from our front last night. Our loss yesterday was not so heavy, as first supposed. Loss 3 killed and 21 wounded. Geo. O'Bannon was wounded.


Casualty Sheet of Sergeant George O'Bannon

May 21

Nothing of interest has transpired today. We are lying in same place as yesterday near Casville, Ga.


May 22

This is Sunday and a lonesome day. It has been still, lying idle, but suppose we will move tomorrow. Have orders to carry 3 days rations to do 5 days.


May 23

Struck camp at 12 P.M. today, crossed Etowah River at sunset. Have traveled 10 miles today, was sick and had to fall out. Roads very dusty.


May 24

Marched 12 miles today. We are on the Alabama Road. Bivouacked this evening between Dallas and Marietta. Have heard some cannonading today on our front.


May 25

Our Reg. was detailed today to guard ammunition train. Made only 4 miles today, rained directly after dark. Heavy fighting to our left. Suppose it was 20th Corps under hooker.


May 26

Left the train this evening and rejoined our Brigade. Traveled 8 miles. The enemy seems to be in considerable force in our front and I expect will make a stand.


May 27

Our Brigade, together with our Division and Corps, advanced in line of battle at 9 A.M. My company in the skirmishing line. Had a severe battle about 5 P.M. Loss heavy.


From Colonel Alexander Stout, 17th Kentucky Infantry:

"On the 27th we moved with the division and attacked the enemy's right. Here again the ground was exceedingly rugged and difficult, and we had to march over it several miles in line of battle or in column of divisions, our skirmishers driving those of the enemy before them. This brigade was preceded in the attack by the other two brigades of the division. They each in turn were repulsed, while we lay in line under the bursting shells of the enemy. The shells bursting among our men, and the men of the other brigades, some wounded and others demoralized, rushing through our lines to the rear, were calculated to try the mettle of ours. When ordered, however, we advanced against the enemy, who was flushed with success and in an exceedingly advantageous position. The brigade was in two lines, this regiment on the left of the first line. The regiment came under fire long before they could see the enemy or learn his position. Owing to the exceeding thickness of the bushes and saplings and the roughness of the ground and the smoke of battle, to say nothing of the noise, it proved very difficult to march men up to the attack in a good line; it was, in fact, impossible. I succeeded, however, in getting my command up to a fence, with my left some fifty or more yards from a ravine on my left. The enemy were in their front across a small field with rail barricades, and also upon a considerable ridge on the left of the ravine before mentioned, which commanded pretty much the position of the whole brigade. It certainly did the whole of my line. The fire from that ridge was incessant and very destructive. A brigade of the First Division, Fourteenth Army Corps, commanded by Colonel Scribner, was on my left and part of it on the left of the ravine, but as their skirmish line was not advanced as far to the front as my line of battle, it therefore could not or did not drive the enemy from that ridge or protect us from cross-fires. I tried to induce the officer commanding the regiment in the first line on the left of the ravine of that brigade to advance as far to the front as our line, but could not move him. I think tried Colonel Scribner, but failed. In obedience to orders from colonel commanding the brigade, I moved my regiment to the left and to the ravine; and the Ninth Regiment Kentucky Volunteers, which was in the second line, came to my assistance. Darkness came, and the men of the two regiments became thoroughly intermingled. Our own firing was rapid; that of the enemy destructive. Individual soldiers began to report to me that their ammunition had been exhausted and would fall back, and it was so dark you could not see to prevent them. An hour after dark their boxes were all well-nigh empty. There were no supplies to be had. The country was so rough I could not see a wagon or ambulance. The firing ceased, and the killed and wounded were being carried to the rear, when the enemy commenced on the right of our brigade, made a furious charge, cheering and yelling. Regiment after regiment fell back, until all were in motion...Here my loss was very heavy. Captain Thomas R. Brown was wounded severely, 1 private killed and 42 wounded. This was a very unsatisfactory fight to me. The only grain of comfort I could glean from it; an additionally evidence to many others was afforded by it of the invincible pluck of the Seventeenth Kentucky."


May 28

Have done nothing today but build entrenchments. Considerable skirmishing along the line. The reg lost in yesterday's battle, One killed, 32 wounded. Capt. Brown wounded.



Medical certificate of Captain Thomas Brown


May 29

Been lying in the shade all day. The enemy made a demonstration on our lines last night. Suppose they were repulsed.


May 30

This has been a dull day. Our Brigade is in the same position as yesterday. Had orders to move forward at dark, but for some cause the movement was postponed.


May 31

Moved to the right of the enemy about sun-up some 400 yards, and had just commenced building entrenchments when a wild yell broke the silence to our left, and in an instant the shout ran along the line from left to right. The right wing of our Regiment being on the skirmish line became engaged hotly and it, together with the 7th Brigade battle line, repulsed the charge in gallant style. We threw up our line of works and are now lying behind them awaiting the movement of the enemy. Received a letter from Joe today.


From Colonel Alexander Stout, 17th Kentucky Infantry:

"Before this event, however, namely on the 31st of May, five companies of this regiment were in front of our works doing duty as outposts, in charge of Maj. D.M. Claggett, when the enemy in their front made a charge upon them, which they repulsed handsomely without assistance or re-enforcements. But here 1 enlisted man was killed and 5 wounded."

There is history that needs to be remembered.  

Lost and forgotten.  Too many stories from our past have collected dust on bookshelves, or have been left behind with previous generations.  Join me as I piece together the tales about the 1862 Western Kentucky Summer Campaign in Laid Low in the Dust, and John Locke of the 14th Tennessee.

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Derrick Lindow              Owensboro, Kentucky            derricklindowauthor@gmail.com

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