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  • Writer's pictureDerrick

The Hot Alabama Summer of 1862

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

After the capture of Corinth, Mississippi in May 1862, Buell and his army, which included the 17th Kentucky, marched east. Their target was Chattanooga, Tennessee, but the hot sun of Northern Alabama took a terrible toll on the army. As you read this portion of the diary, it would appear that even Cox, who was by now a lieutenant, had no idea where the army was supposed to be going. The heat and dust were a more lethal enemy and caused more problems than the Confederates. Of course, Bragg's invasion of Kentucky changed all of that.

Map showing the movements of the armies in the summer and fall of 1862. The 17th Kentucky was busy in Northern Alabama that summer.

17 June

This morning we came to camp and found the Regiment in line and ready to move and in short time were on the road to Tuscumbia, Alabama. We traveled three miles past Bear Creek and at sundown were ordered back. The men were tired and many were actually unable to return and therefore laid down on the roadside for the night. We arrived at our place of encampment about ten o'clock at night having again waded Bear Creek which was about three feet deep.

18 June

This morning six companies were ordered on picket at the bridge across bear creek. We had no objection to that order, for we were very anxious to go bathing, something we could not do every day.

19 June

Relieved this morning by the 6th Ohio. Returned to camp and learned that we would be paid tomorrow which surprised us very much, for we have been dodging the paymaster since the first of January and had concluded that we were at the time beyond his reach.

20 June

This morning we pitched tents and felt once more at home. This afternoon we had Brigade Review, but our Company, being on picket, did not attend. Pay master did not get through today.

21 June

Again ordered to Bear Creek on picket. Arrived and relieved the 5th Ohio.

22 June

Still at the bridge and and enjoying ourselves as best we can. Spending most of our time in the water.

Union Soldiers bathing in the North Anna River, Virginia. The men of the 17th Kentucky probably would have had similar scenes during the hot summer of 1862.

23 June

Relieved this morning by the 2d Kentucky. During our stay, our camp had been moved up some four miles; consequently, we did not go back but set out on the railroad and arrived in camp about nine o'clock PM,, when we were informed that marching orders had been received. Two days rations in the haversacks and six in wagons.

24 June

This morning we started at four o'clock; marched very hard indeed, and arrived at Tuscumbia, Alabama a distance of 21 miles, at sunset where we halted for the night. The weather is very warm, this being the warmest day by far I have experienced in the land of cotton.

"Tennessee River near Florence, Alabama, 1862" by Adolph Metzner

"North east view of Florence, Alabama, June 22, 1862" by Adolph Metzner

25 June

This morning at daylight we were on the move on the Florence Road. After going some two miles, we left said road on our right and took a road leading to the ferry on the Tennessee River. We arrived at the ferry in two hours and found the Steamer Lady Jackson with two barges ready to convey us across. We immediately marched on board, and in a short time were on the right bank of the Tennessee River. We took the road leading to Florence, which was one mile distant. At this place we found General Crittenden's Division under marching orders, they having crossed yesterday. Went through the town and camped on the bank of the river.

Florence is a beautiful place; but like all other towns of Dixie, it is almost deserted. There are, however, more citizens here than at any town we have as yet passed through. The country around us is good and from the number of fine farms one may guess this is a wealthy portion of Alabama.

26 June

This afternoon at three o'clock, we were again on our road to some other place. The soldiers cannot imagine where we are going and they have quit asking, but say that they are willing to go to "Hell" if there is any fighting to be done at that place.

We are traveling on the Huntsville Road and my own opinion is that we are on our way to East Tennessee or Virginia, to assist McClellan. We came seven miles this afternoon and we are now in camp for the night. It rained this afternoon which has cooled the atmosphere considerably, making it more pleasant for traveling along the dusty roads. Ordered to march at three o'clock tomorrow morning, so it is time for sleep.

27 June

Had reveille at 2 AM, and were on the road at 3 o'clock. Traveled nine miles and came up with the rear of Crittenden's Division where we halted and remained until 3 PM. Traveled today fifteen miles. The roads are in fine condition, the dust being laid by a shower at noon.

28 June

Started this morning at 4 o'clock and traveled on very moderately during the day. Crossed Elk River at 12 'clock. We adopted the uniform of Nelson when he crossed the Duck River, the one nature gave us. Marched some three miles into camp for the night. Distance ten miles today.

29 June

At 4 o'clock this morning we were again on the move. Athens, Alabama, at 2 o'clock, a distance of 13 miles from our camp of last night. We are now one mile east of said town and rumor says we will remain here during the summer. I hope it's true, for we need a rest.

30 June

This is Monday and the last day of June, 1862, and our day for muster. We, therefore, had general inspection of guns, etc. After inspection, we were engaged rearranging our camp, pitching tents, etc. Camped in a beach bottom and near several fine springs and a creek to bathe in; consequently, we are well contented and fixed.

1 July

Have been busy engaged in making out pay and muster rolls today. Wrote a letter to Josie.

2 July

Still at work on rolls. Nothing of importance today. The boys are amusing themselves by playing cards for the "Lincoln Green".

3 July

Nothing of Importance today. I finished my rolls this morning, and this afternoon played a game of draw and won $45.00. There will be a grand review tomorrow, the Fourth of July, 1862,

"Young lady's call on outpost, Alabama" By Adolph Metzner

4 July

We had a grand review today, but our Company being on duty did not go out. I think they had quite a dusty time judging from the appearance on their return.

How Different I spent this day from last Fourth. One year ago today, I was enjoying myself in the company of the fair sex of Kentucky at a picnic near the mouth of Barren River, and today I am on picket guard one mile from Athens, Alabama, and do not know at what moment I may hear a "minnie ball" come whistling through the timber searching for my precious body.

I was in hopes of passing this 4th with my friends and relatives in Kentucky, but alas, this cruel war has lasted much longer than anyone anticipated, and Heaven only knows when it will end now. We hope, however, that it may close soon and that we may once more meet friends at home.

Heard on yesterday evening that McClellan had taken Richmond with 40,000 prisoners. I do not believe it, it is too good to be true.

5 July

Remained on picket until 5 o'clock this afternoon, when we were relieved by a company of the 4th Ohio. Have enjoyed ourselves remarkably, taking everything into consideration--good water to drink and a fine creek to bathe in, and we have been fortunate to buy some marketing today from some farmers which we cannot do every day. Report of McClellan contradicted.

6 July

Had this Sunday morning inspection. This afternoon went down to see Lieutenant Little, who is very sick in town. Saw several beautiful young ladies.

7 July

Nothing of importance today. Battalion drill this morning, and Company drill this evening. The weather is remarkably warm and dusty.

8 July

Nothing of interest today. Drilled 4 hours in the warm sun and dust 15 feet deep. We have to wash our faces in the evening before we can tell what company we belong to. received information to effect that we will move camp tomorrow.

9 July

--Reveille this morning at 3 o'clock, and we started for our new camp, some four miles distant. Arrived about 6 o'clock and immediately pitched tents for the summer, no doubt. This is a pretty good place to camp and convenient to good water. I am now in hopes that we may be permitted to remain here for at least a few weeks, if not longer, for we have indeed undergone many hardships and privations since we left Kentucky and it is time for us to rest. Wrote a letter to Josie today.

10 July

--It has been remarkably warm today. Have been engaged in arranging camp, clearing out undergrowth, etc. It has, this afternoon, the appearance of rain and I hope it will.

"Captain Adolph Metzner, Lieutenant Louis von Trebra and Jacob Labinsky, Huntsville, Alabama, July 1862" By Adolph Metzner. Soldiers of the 17th may have tried a similar approach to avoid the dust on the ground while sleeping.

11 July

Went to Athens on the back of a mule with Lt. Byers (Company E) and Thomas D. Davis (LT and Commissary officer).

12 July

Nothing worthy of note. Reported to Division Headquarters, three miles distant, for the purpose of drawing clothing, and on reaching said place, our presence was not required as we received a wrong order from Col Stout. It was anything but pleasant to walk three miles in the warm sun on a dusty road. Consequently, he received many a prayer from each commissioned officer in the company.

13 July

This is again Sunday. Had inspection this morning. Received a letter from Josie today per Dillehay from Josie.

14 July

This morning we were aroused from our slumbers by the bugle sounding reveille at 2 o'clock. It was something unusual for we were in the habit of sleeping until sun-up, except when on the march.

We could not imagine what was taking place up until we were ordered to eat breakfast, strike tents, and be ready to march at 5 o'clock. The boys did not like to tear down their tents from the fact that they were better situated than we have been since we came into service. We, however, obeyed the orders and by five o'clock we were on the road to Athens. We passed through said town and took the road leading to Elkton and Nashville and at present are encamped for the night four miles from Elkton. This has been the warmest day that was ever known. I am sure that the Old Master cannot make the sun shine warmer than it has shown today. We have traveled twenty miles, the men carrying 60 rounds of cartridges, knapsacks, etc.. The consequence has been that many poor soldiers have given up and are still behind on the road. They will, I suppose, come up tonight.

15 July

Started this morning at two o'clock, crossed the Elk River at Elkton at sun-up, at which place, we took breakfast and afterwards took the Turn Pike to Pulaski, Tenn. The sun coming down, as on yesterday, and in fact, "hotter than Hell." Today the whole Brigade gave out; the men actually refused "Old Ironsides Nelson" to go an inch farther. He took the artillery and moved on to Pulaski having made twenty miles in that time.

General "Bull" Nelson

We are now encamped for the night on the creek near said town; a great many are still behind and one or two, I suppose, will never get up as they fell on the road.

We are ordered to move forward at 2 o'clock tomorrow morning.

16 July

Up this morning at 2 o'clock and to our great surprise, were informed that the regiment would be left to garrison the town, and the 23d Kentucky to take place in the 4th Division, to which we heartily concurred for we are actually worn out and need a good good rest. We came up town this morning as the troops passed through, and immediately looked over our respective quarters. We are now situated, or at least camped, in the buildings around the public square. My company is in the Pulaski Hotel. This is a beautiful place, but like all other towns in the South, shows the effects of the war.

17 July

This morning I was detailed as officer of the Guard, and am on duty tonight. Guard posted around the Colonel's quarters, the courthouse, and in various streets through the town. They are instructed not to allow any soldier or soldiers to go inside any private house or yard. We came here to protect the property of all citizens and we intend to do so. They have been imposed upon by such men as General [Colonel] Turchin long enough. Rode out since dark in the stage coach to our lines to pass it through.

For some context on what some have called the "Rape of Athens" and other activity by Colonel Turchin, click here for a quick read on the subject.

18 July

Have been amusing myself today by playing a game of cards. Lost $20.00. Wrote to Josie today per Dillehay.

19 July

This day has passed away without anything of importance occurring. Had Company drill this morning and evening, and will have inspection tomorrow morning.

20 July

We are now at Reynolds Station, 8 miles from Pulaski. We came here one night last week. Nothing of importance has occurred since Sunday last, except we were alarmed once at Pulaski, and had the infernal long roll beaten. It turned out, however, to be a false alarm. Brink Neal passed down last week from the 11th Kentucky and also cousin Bob Cox from the 27th Kentucky. Wrote to FM Allison today.


For some reason, Sam Cox will not write in his diary again until the fall of 1863 between the Battles of Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge. He writes just for a day, then again neglects his pen until the spring of 1864 during the Atlanta Campaign, which he records more frequently.

If you would like a good read on this period in northern Alabama, not just the Union soldiers' movements, but Turchin's terrible acts, Kenneth Noe's Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle covers the entire campaign in detail as it leads up to Bragg's Kentucky Invasion.


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