• Derrick

To Fall with my Face to the Foe

Updated: Jul 15

Gabriel Netter may have been one of the least likely persons to try to recruit a regiment of Federal cavalry in Kentucky in the latter half of 1862. He was not born in the Commonwealth, or the United States for that matter. Netter hailed from France, and had only been living in the United States for a few years when the Civil War began. Not only that, but Netter was Jewish. It was also very difficult to recruit men in an area where loyalties were so deeply divided.[1]

Image of Gabriel Netter, with the rank of Captain. This photograph was probably taken in late 1861 or early 1862.

Gabriel Netter was born in a Bergheim, a town in Alsace, France in 1836. He was a part of a large Jewish family with eleven siblings. About 1855, he, possibly a younger brother, and his younger sister Pauline, immigrated to the United States, where Netter eventually settled in Cromwell, Kentucky, which sits in Ohio County. His sister Pauline Fournier and her husband, who was a hat maker, settled in Evansville, Indiana, not far down river from Owensboro. By all accounts, Netter was a well liked businessman and merchant who was passionate about his adopted homeland. He was so devoted that he offered his service to its preservation in 1861.[2]

He was later described by one of his soldiers as, “under the medium size, probably about five feet six inches in height, and weighed about one hundred and forty to one hundred and fifty pounds, but well formed and well proportioned; light complexion and of fine personal appearance, and of very pleasing address, courteous and affable in his manner and as polite as the proverbial French dancing master. Gentle as a lamb, he was as brave as a lion.” The company descriptive book describes Netter as having blue eyes and dark hair [3]

Regimental colors of the 26th Kentucky Infantry.

In September of 1861, Netter was enrolled as a captain in what would become Company B, 26th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment, commanded by Steven Burbridge. His first fight would be the skirmish at Woodbury, near Morgantown, Kentucky, 25 miles from his new home of Hartford on October 29-30, 1861. Colonel Burbridge, Colonel James Jackson of the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry, Colonel John H. McHenry of the 17th Kentucky Infantry, and a company of Ohio County Home Guards all had elements of their raw commands descend on the Confederate cavalry camp at Big Hill, just south of the Green River. As a captain in the 26th, Netter led a small company in the engagement, about 20 men, and drove back the pickets of the Mississippi cavalry encamped there. His 20 men fought off a reinforced picket line of 60, and in the words of Colonel Burbridge, “...killing 6 of the enemy, without the loss of a single man.” However, Colonel McHenry in his report stated that Netter advanced a mile further than the rest, driving the enemy back and losing only two men.[4]

During this small fight, Netter showed himself to be the type of officer that would take the fight to the enemy, rather than wait for it to come to him. This command attitude would prove to be significant in the summer campaign of the 10th Kentucky Partisan Rangers eleven months later in September 1862. One of his future recruits would later write, “I had formed an opinion, from what I had heard of him, that he was a reckless dare-devil, and hesitated somewhat to enroll myself under his standard…”[5]

Netter also made headlines by attacking and destroying Whippoorwill Bridge near Russellville, Kentucky on December 1, 1861. The bridge was an important point in the supply line between Confederate held Bowling Green, Kentucky and Clarksville, Tennessee. The bridge was only lightly guarded by men of the 5th, later 9th, Kentucky Infantry. Netter and the men of Company B attacked and drove off the rebel detachment, killing two, wounding two, and capturing eight while losing only four wounded. The Daily Nashville Patriot described the action with rather interesting language:

“The Federals, fifty or sixty in number, under command of Dutch Jew peddler, named Netta, and among who were several who had been raised in the neighborhood, made their appearance about day-break Thursday morning. Four of the guard, who were on duty, and who were standing by a plank cabin, fired upon them, whereupon they received a volley of over one hundred rounds from Sharpe’s revolving rifles, killing two instantly and wounding another.[6]

In another interesting story of the events, the Louisville Daily Courier wrote:

“The pursuers were cavalry, and came very close upon the fugitives, who were on foot, but they could not catch them, as they took advantage of a country almost impassable by horses. Netta got out with all his prisoners, and his wounded. If the attack and capture was a brilliant performance, in a small way, the retreat was masterly, and very Xenophonian.

“After one of the guard had been mortally wounded at the bridge, Netta twice ran his bayonet through his body.”[7]

While returning from this raid, Netter received his first wound. While in his home county of Ohio, he and his men visited the house of a Southern sympathizer, an Isaac Morton, in order to arrest his son. During the ensuing altercation, Morton fired on Netter. Netter raised his hand, but the bullet entered and then exited through his uplifted hand and into his chest. In response, Morton was pierced by multiple bullets. The Richmond Dispatch claimed Netter ordered Morton to be shot, but Morton pulled a pistol and shot Netter before the order of “fire” could be given. Of course, other contemporary accounts mention that Netter was shot and seriously wounded while trying to arrest Morton.[8]

In the official records, General Buell was not pleased with the loss of the bridge, even though the Confederate supply to Bowling Green would be hampered until it was rebuilt. In his message to McClellan, Buell wrote, “Our ill-timed friends have destroyed the railroad bridge over the Whippoorwill, near Russellville. I tried to stop it, but was too late.” Why he wanted the destruction of the bridge stopped is a mystery. Whether he liked it or not, Netter rendered the bridge over the Whippoorwill useless. Perhaps Netter moved without orders and acted on his own initiative. If so, it would definitely add to the “reckless” and daring reputation he was beginning to form for himself.[9]

After weeks of skirmishing and patrolling, Netter and the rest of the 26th would eventually move to Camp Calhoun, Kentucky where it and seven other infantry regiments would become the core of General Thomas Crittenden’s forming division. After spending a terrible winter in Camp Calhoun where the 26th was reported to be burying men every day, the regiment was finally officially mustered into United States service in March. The division then moved southwest with Buell’s Army of the Ohio.[10]

Regimental marker for the 26th Kentucky during the Battle of Shiloh.

On April 6, 1862, General Grant’s army was attacked by the Confederate Army of Mississippi at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. The 26th, being a part of Buell’s army was hurried to Savannah to await transport across the Tennessee River to reinforce Grant. The 26th, then under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Cicero Maxwell, was placed near the center of the Union Army’s advance on the Confederates on April 7th. During this fight, Netter and the 26th captured an enemy battery near the Davis Wheat Field but were forced to withdraw when the position became untenable. Maxwell lists Netter as one of his officers who “...acted with conspicuous coolness and bravery during the charge, and also while falling back, and rendered great assistance…” The young captain was receiving the seasoning needed to command his own regiment.[11]

Davis Wheat Field at the Shiloh Battlefield. The 26th advanced across this field, north to south, and sustained several casualties.

For Netter, it would not be an easy road to commanding his own regiment. During the Union Army’s incredibly slow advance on Corinth, Mississippi, Netter was brought before a court martial. In May 1862, Colonel Burbridge brought charges against Netter. The first being “insubordinate and mutinous language to a superior officer.” The second charge was “disobedience of orders.”[12]

According to the charges filed by Col. Burbridge, Netter and his company were on outpost duty on May 14th, while a Captain Albert Keigwin of Company D temporarily commanded the regiment’s detail. Some sort of argument flared up between the two men and Netter professed in front of his entire company that if the regiment was ever under Keigwin’s command during a battle, he would remove his company from the regiment and fight under his own responsibility. Keigwin, obviously taking offense at such a remark in front of the men, reported the incident to Col. Burbridge. Burbridge sent a messenger to inform Netter to consider himself under arrest, and to return to camp and turn in his sword. Netter refused, and did not return to camp until the regiment was relieved from picket duty. It is unknown if Netter was ever disciplined for this incident, but he did tender his resignation a few weeks later to begin recruiting his own regiment back home in Kentucky. It is worth noting that when Burbridge was promoted to brigadier general, Keigwin was detached from the 26th to serve on his staff. [13]

A few weeks later, Netter was back home in Hartford, Kentucky recruiting his new regiment. Unfortunately, he had some competition, and not the Confederate army. Quintis Shanks was recruiting what would become the 12th Kentucky Cavalry in nearby Cloverport, James Shackelford was recruiting men for the 8th Kentucky Cavalry in Henderson, and Judge George Yeaman was actively recruiting in Owensboro for the 34th Regiment of Volunteers. The Owensboro Monitor does not state the branch of service, but mounted infantry is probably what it was due to the need of anti-guerrilla forces in the region. Yeaman’s regiment was short lived, which was good for Netter. The adjutant general of Kentucky ordered the cessation of recruiting of the 34th due to the fact that the 12th and 15th were being recruited so near. However, Shanks was still competing for men. The Owensboro Monitor reported on August 20th of Shanks’ regiment, “All persons who desire to enter the service under these gallant officers must report at Hartford by next Friday night.” Recruiting in Hartford appeared to be getting rather crowded.[14]

The Evansville Daily Journal was delighted at the prospect of having Netter commanding troops so near, especially after the Newburgh fiasco. The Journal wrote:

“Our citizens will remember the gallant, dashing Capt. Netter-the terror of guerrillas and the admiration of loyal Kentuckians. They remember how he galloped to and fro through that State at the head of his company of cavalry, smiting the Philistines hip and thigh, cutting off their communications and rendering their situation at Bowling Green uncomfortable. Well Capt. Netter is with us again, this time as a Major, and yesterday we had the pleasure of shaking him by the hand...He is also authorized to organize battalion or regiment of cavalry as he may deem proper. The gallant Major designs entering upon the duties of his new position at once, and with his accustomed energy. We predict a warm time for the guerrillas who have been infesting that section of country...Major Netter is so well known throughout the Green river country, and his skill and daring as a soldier is so highly appreciated, that the Union men of that section will rally with enthusiasm to the starry flag when it is unfurled by him...hundreds of them will will rally under their old flag, and such will hail with joy the advent of such a gallant and experienced leader as Major Netter, who knows every foot of the country in which he has to operate, and the character of the rebels with whom he has to deal. We need hardly add that the rebels know him, and what mercy they may expect at his hands if they continue in arms.”[15]

By late July, Netter was officially commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel of United States volunteers. However, this promotion in rank brought him not satisfaction in raising his regiment. As in many aspects of life, politics and jealousy were injuring the cause of the Union in the area between the Ohio and Green Rivers. Netter believed he was to raise a regiment of cavalry for 12 months service, the 15th Kentucky. Yet, he had been receiving word that his men were not to be cavalry but mounted infantry, the 38th Kentucky. To some, this might not seem like a serious issue, but for Netter and his men it was. Cavalry and mounted infantry can often be confused due to the fact that both are usually mounted. The main difference being that mounted infantry only use their horses for transportation. They are still armed, equipped, and fight like regular infantry. Cavalry on the other hand, have a completely different purpose, and therefore will attract recruits in a way that mounted infantry cannot. It should also be noted that if a mounted infantry regiment does not receive mounts, then it will just be regular infantry. This confusion was frustrating Netter and his recruiting efforts. He had amassed more than 300 men at Hartford, but upon learning their years of service was to be three instead of one, he released them from their obligation. On the 14th of August, Netter wrote, “After liberating them — I called upon them to remain — for the sake of their State — cause — & people — for their honor's sake — Two hundred of them remained by my side .”[16]

In a letter to George D. Prentiss, Netter desperately wanted satisfaction for this confusion, and answers. Prentiss, a friend who was currently in Frankfort, was able to forward Netter’s letter to Governor Robinson. In this letter, Netter goes so far as to claim, “H. D. McHenry- (who will never forgive me — to have done with 20 men, that which his brother the Col. refused to do with 150 — has been at work in Frankfort- ever since his arrival & there — doing all the mischief to my interest that he possibly can — I have been changed from the 1, to the 3, years service — Mr. Mc,Hy. wrote home, to his wife a letter which promenaded the streets here- with much show- that I would be ordered away from here & that such an order was made out before he McHy. reached Frankfort,” and, “Shanks is prominating and the letter of McHenry's to-day — stating that I will be changed from cavalry to infantry — or cannot be accepted.”[17]

Adding to Netter’s frustration in possibly being changed to infantry, is that 100 of his men had already been clothed and partly armed as cavalry. On July 25th he had also been told by General Finnell that his men would all be mounted as soon as permission was received by the War Department. All of that seemed to be coming apart.[18]

As dismal as the situation seemed, it did not dampen his fighting spirit. He wrote General Boyle on August 28th, “Before I can do some good I must be armed and mounted.” He also continued to inquire about the weapons for his men. In the same letter he mentions getting a receipt for 200 revolvers, but only 66 showed up. He also went so far as to request Colt repeating rifles and pistols. He wrote that General Boyle might expect anything from his men if they could procure these types of arms. He was ready to take the field as soon as he received proper arms and mounts. He seems to be so eager to begin service, that he mentions his men will be mounted infantry and signs the letter to General Boyle as the 38th.[19]

With the question as to the arms of Netter’s men, it would appear that when he was with the 26th Kentucky, his company may have been armed, or at least partially armed with Colt revolving rifles. The Evansville Daily Journal wrote in December 1861, “The brave Capt. Netter is with Col. Burbridge, and if his boys come within Colt’s-rifle range of the rebels they will be made to pay dearly for their little triumph over Col. Jackson’s cavalry.” If he already had a positive experience in commanding a company with these weapons, it is probable that he would want to repeat that with an entire regiment, and one that was mounted at that.[20]

By August 29th, Netter had transferred his command from Hartford to Owensboro, and encamped on the fairgrounds west of town. Over the next few weeks and into September, Netter and his recruits drilled and prepared for war. The Evansville Daily Journal wrote:

“Col. Netter’s regiment arrived from Hartford Friday evening, and are now encamped at the Fair Grounds. We learn that it is to be one of the best equipped regiments in the service. - Owensboro Monitor.

“We hope it will be equipped at once and put into the field. Col. Netter is the very man for the work. He is well acquainted with the various localities infested by the guerrillas. He is brave, intrepid and resolute. He believes in making war, and he owes the rebels not good will. We hope to hear soon that the lion-hearted Netter and his gallant regiment are in the field. We know we should hear a good account of them. When he takes the field, the rebels will seek their holes.”[21]

In the early morning mist of September 19, 1862, several hundred troopers of the 10th Kentucky Partisan Rangers, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Martin, rode into Owensboro with the intent to capture Netter and his camp. Netter immediately got the battalion up and moving, ready for a fight as soon as word reached camp that the Confederates were in fact in Owensboro. 1st Sergeant Charles “C.B.” Mitchell saw to the men of his company. No one really quite knew what would happen, but there was sure to be something. Soon thereafter, a teenage African-American boy that used to work for Mitchell also made his way into camp. He relayed perhaps some of the most important information that would stave off disaster. He had snuck out of the city as the Confederates took the town. He had overheard some Rebel horsemen talking about how their force had been divided. A portion had not gone into Owensboro, and had instead positioned themselves in a woods and cornfield on the west side of the camp. They expected the Federals to make an attempt toward the town, which they would then proceed to capture the undefended camp and destroy the supplies they could not take. Such was their plan. Robert Martin may not have known that two people had relayed critical information to the Federal defenders.[1]

Sergeant Mitchell took the young man to Colonel Netter, where he relayed again what he had overheard. After talking with the teen a little longer, Netter concluded that he was probably telling the truth. This development changed everything about how events would proceed for the next few days. Netter knew the Confederates were out there waiting for their chance, thanks to an African-American teen whose name has since been lost to history. The Confederates were not going to get that easy chance for which they had hoped.[2]

The camp sat about a quarter of a mile from the Ohio River and about three quarters of a mile on the west side of town on the old fairgrounds. They had roughly 350 men fit for a defense of the camp, along with a near obsolete, brass 6 lb artillery piece. To add to the defense, a fence surrounded the ground. Netter had only one option. There was no time to dig in and set up a strong perimeter. On top of that, he did not have the numbers.

While awaiting proper cavalry armaments, it is unknown exactly how the Union men were armed. Netter had requested Colt revolving rifles, but it is unknown if these weapons ever made it to the recruits. He was going to have to attempt an infantry style breakout on foot, or the very least, drive off one portion of the guerrillas before turning his attention back to Owensboro. Netter left a company of at least 100 men, and the gunners for the artillery piece under the command of Sergeant-Major Freeman, in camp, and proceeded to march out of camp with the bulk of his command, about 200 men. Even with a shrunken force protecting the camp, the Confederates would not have an easy time getting to it. With Camp Miller being on the Fairgrounds, it was surrounded by a fence, a good defensive obstacle for the Federals.[3]

Before the column could leave, an officer clad in gray and brown approached the camp with a white flag, or as “W” wrote to the Owensboro Monitor it resembled more of the black-flag than a flag of truce, and appeared to have seen active and dirty service for a month. The pickets halted the rider, and Netter’s attention was brought to the matter. The colonel motioned for the pickets to let the man enter the camp a short distance, where he walked up to hear the message. The rider, whom some sources say was Captain Clay Merriwether while others say Scobey, informed Netter of the situation. Owensboro was in their hands, and they had a force of about 800 men with the intention to attack the camp. This was their opportunity to have it done without blood. The camp, men, and all government property must be surrendered. Netter’s eyes must have flashed as he conceived as legendary a response as any. Netter politely asked the officer if he could address his men, and the rider relented. “Boys, this officer comes with a flag of truce from Lieutenant Colonel Martin, who, with 800 guerillas, has possession of the town and demands of me a surrender of all my command and all of the government property in my possession. I want you to hear my answer.”[1]

A depiction of Netter from the National Tribune, a Union Veteran's Magazine.

The raw recruits must have been taken aback at such a turn of fortune. They expected to fight Johnny Reb on some distant battlefield, not at their own home. They expected gallant cavalry charges with pistols and sabers, not the possibility of being cut down by a numerically superior foe after just a few weeks of enlisting. Not to mention, they were pathetically armed. The green soldiers anxiously awaited their commander’s decision. Netter turned and faced the Confederate messenger, and with his hand, motioned to the ground. “NEVER, till the last man of us is laid low in the dust.” Netter then turned toward his men and asked, “Boys, does my answer suit you?”[2]

Surprisingly, the men were so impressed and encouraged by this stunning sign of confidence and defiance that they swung their blue caps in the air and give three rousing HURRAHS. The scene must have been awe inspiring, as men facing what seemed like certain doom confronted their possible death with bravery and determination. The Confederate messenger was even deeply moved, and as he turned his horse to deliver his message to Lt. Col. Martin he remarked, “Colonel, I carry back with me the most profound respect for you and your brave men.” The messenger smartly saluted, spurred his horse, and trotted back toward the Confederate positions.[3]

Small groups of men went out ahead of the column under the command of Adjutant Ira Stout, and flankers protected both sides of the column from a possible ambush. Netter’s men began to move.[4]

A postwar map with possible locations of Union and Confederate forces on September 19th.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Munday and the men of his Confederate company dismounted near the Guthrie farm adjacent to the river and moved into a cornfield and wood line, near the ravine by the Ohio River. Here they would wait for the Yankees to leave camp and then move in. But, the Yankees were actually coming straight for them.[5]

The Federal column silently trudged down Dublin Lane in the early hours of daylight, then turned west down the River Road. The only sound to be heard was the excited steps of brogans and the clanking of the bayonet scabbards on the canteens. One of the advance pickets discovered Rebel activity in the field just ahead of Netter and his men. He came galloping back pointing behind him. Netter ordered his men to the double-quick and they moved faster down the River Road until they came to the cornfield where the Confederates were positioned. The column quickly formed into line of battle and advanced into the corn. At that moment, a gunshot pierced the stillness and quiet of the daylight, and the fight was on.[6]

The battalion halted and immediately returned fire. The smoke hung low over the field as the morning sun struggled to lift it and the morning dew away. The Federals fired volley after volley into the stalks of corn and trees where their enemy lay.[7]

Sergeant James Munday, and his company immediately opened fire when the Yankees came into range. With their first volley, several of the Union soldiers fell. But still they shot back. The Partisan Rangers began firing their shotguns, fowling pieces, and the few muskets at the oncoming Federals. These weapons were having too little effect. This had not been the plan anyway. They had thought the Federals would try to retake the town, not try to break out of the trap! In the meantime, they would just have to pour in as much fire as possible, hoping the cornfield and trees could give them sufficient cover. They were about even in terms of numbers, but the Yankees were better armed, even with their arms situation. Stalks of corn broke in front of the Confederates as the Union fire seemed to increase and become more deadly. Near Munday, a newly recruited Partisan Ranger, Dick Hayden, fell due to a Federal ball as did others.[8]

The Union fire was having too little effect to completely drive away their foe. Netter needed to close the distance between them and make a push. The order was given, and the line moved forward. Gabriel Netter advanced a few yards in front of his men, his arm extended with sword in hand, occasionally looking back at his followers and yelling, “FORWARD!” His devoted soldiers followed in imperfect battle line formation.[9]

On the other side of the field, a dismounted Ranger, Corporal Jim Hall, took up position next to a tree with his squirrel rifle. He had removed his hat and replaced it with a white handkerchief, probably wet to keep himself cool in the scorching heat. The fear was gripping. The line of blue slowly and menacingly made its way toward him and his comrades. Ammunition was low, so the men would need to choose their targets carefully. He would have seen the handsomely uniformed and brave officer leading the Federal soldiers toward his position, leading with a confidence that was unusual with new recruits. Under such circumstances, his breathing intensified as he brought his weapon to rest against his shoulder. For many men in the company, they were seeing what they thought was the elephant. Even though it paled in comparison to what some of their leaders had seen at other places such as Fort Donelson or Shiloh, it was still a fight and men were still dying.[10]

As in many battles, confident leaders can sometimes be all that holds a force together, and perhaps Corporal Jim Hall understood this as he took careful and deliberate aim. He aimed for one of the brass buttons adorned with the Federal Eagle on the officer’s chest. The officer he had set his sites on was climbing over a fence. When Hall pulled the trigger, the hammer on his piece slammed down on the cap, igniting the powder, and the small lead ball exited the barrel and flew faster than the speed of sound toward the officer.[11]

The puffs of smoke from the trees to his front would have been perfectly visible to Netter. He and his men would have heard the hiss and wiz of musket balls fly around them as they moved forward. Just a few feet away was a wooden fence. He and the men would have to climb over it to continue the push. He set his foot upon the wood and pulled himself up on top urging his men forward.[12]

As he negotiated the fence did he happen to look directly in his front toward a puff of smoke? It was at that moment he would have felt a burning pain as the bullet passed through the indigo coat, and slammed into his chest. The bullet immediately robbed his lungs of air and his left hand tried to reach up to the wound as he fell to the ground. What little adrenaline that was left in his body allowed him just enough strength to bring himself back up on his feet. The reports of musketry about him and across the field would have made any order hard to hear, but somehow, Gabriel Netter mustered the strength to turn his head toward his men and yell above the roar and crash of battle, “Charge, bayon…!” As he attempted to finish the order, his breath was gone, and his heart’s blood poured from the gaping hole in his chest, along with his spirit. Gabriel Netter then collapsed to the dusty ground, dead, just as he had told the Confederate officer he would rather do than surrender earlier in the day.[13]

Jim Hall had changed the course of the morning with a single shot. If not for the death of Netter, it was possible that a more aggressive Federal attack would have continued throughout the rest of the day and possibly the next. But with the pull of his trigger, events would be altered. Private W.C.J. Adams stood only feet away from the Colonel he would have followed into hell. As his orderly, he stayed as close as possible. He saw Netter climb the fence and encourage the rest of the boys to keep moving forward, just as a bullet ripped into the brave officer. The puff of smoke directly across the field must have caught his attention at the same time bullet slammed into Netter. He raised his musket to his shoulder and immediately aimed toward where he had seen the puff of smoke. He saw the white handkerchief, and in seeing the handkerchief, saw his leader’s killer. The 19 year old aimed for the clear white target, and pulled the trigger. Jim Hall did not stop his motion after sending the fateful bullet into Netter. He instantly began the process of loading again, but he was not able to finish the job. His blood and brain matter sprayed behind him as the Federal bullet entered the front of his head and exited out the back of his skull. [14]

But all was not over for everyone else still fighting. The left of the Federal line began to falter at the site of their brave leader being killed. Soldiers emptying their muskets toward the enemy, but beginning to back up at the same time. The soldiers in the center of the line began to disregard the Rebels in front of them and attempted to recover Netter’s body amid the enemy fire, disrupting the formation of the line even more. It was like a domino effect had hit the battalion, as the right also began to stutter and fall back. The line was on the verge of collapse. If the line collapsed, that would be the end. The men would lose the will to fight and the Confederates would take the camp and everything in it. For a few minutes, the two enemies poured fire into each other to little effect.[15]

Fearing a complete route of the force that was now his to lead, the Adjutant, Major Ira Stout, instinctively took command of the men and the situation. He quickly dressed the line and ordered an immediate charge. The men were wild with rage and anger, and those who had not emptied their muskets before the assault took careful aim and fired as they advanced, the bayonets glistening and flashing in the sun. Several Rebels dropped to the ground, and some of them began to run.[16]

As the Federals neared the wood line, the Confederates had begun a general retreat. They mounted their horses and galloped away to safety, groups of them riding in different directions. Stout then halted the battalion and some continued firing once they reached the woods. Union sources put the Confederate casualties around 25-30, while Confederate accounts claim only a few.[17]

The whole affair had lasted no more than 30 minutes. The Confederates had fled in a couple directions, some toward the river, others to the west. Stout assessed the condition of his own men. Lieutenant Thomas Cherry had taken a bullet and was slightly wounded, as was John London, A.W. Wallace, and another man who went by the name of Taylor. And then of course the fallen Colonel Netter. However, morale was plummeting with his death.[18]

Postwar Map with possible movements of Union and Confederate forces on September 19th.

The Federal recruits helped their wounded as best they could, and commenced aiding the Confederate wounded as well, even though they were de facto prisoners. The wounded and dead were brought back to camp, except for a Rebel with the formerly white bandanna around his head. He was not moved, and would not be buried for some time after. That was the Federal punishment for the man who killed Colonel Netter. Some horses were also were reported as “lost” but it is unclear whether they were killed or taken. This could possibly mean that some of Netter’s men were mounted during the skirmish, but this is the only mention of the horses.[19]

C.B. Mitchell and the rest of his company were left behind to protect the gun, and had heard the sharp fight, only a short distance away. It was then that they noticed their own adversaries, nearly in range of the 6 pounder. It appeared that about 200 guerrillas were trying to use the woods to conceal themselves for an attack upon the camp. The officer in charge ordered the cannon loaded with grape shot. Once the Rebels were in the range of 300 yards, the order to fire was given.[20]

Their advance had been seen and stopped cold. They tried to move slowly, but each shot of grape and canister stymied their attack. Some of the Union men fired their rifles, which seemed to completely dishearten the Confederates when combined with more shot from the gun. They were prepared to defend the camp. They might be outnumbered, but they would cut down a considerable amount of Rebels if they dared try to make a serious attack.[21]

No sooner had this “attack” begun, when it ended, and the Rebels fell back. They mounted their horses and rode south. Sergeant-Major Freeman ordered the gun to be loaded with solid shot, and they continued to harass the guerrillas as they retreated.

They had seen the Rebel horseman who had been engaged with Netter’s men retreat from their position, and as they saw them riding in different directions the horsemen began to gather in small groups. Mitchell’s captain gave the order to fire the gun at the guerrillas as they tried to consolidate. Each time they would scatter and retreat further until they were out of range.[22]

Stout marched his men back to the camp where the rest of the battalion waited with the artillery piece, which lobbed shells toward any area the Confederates might be. His main concern would be to protect the government property there, and try to hold off the Rebels as long as possible. Reinforcements were surely coming. He was already beginning to run low on ammunition, and any prolonged siege by the Confederates would render his men useless. Though they had driven the enemy before them, the men understood that there were even more in Owensboro, possibly heading their way.[23]

During the Confederate retreat James Munday had galloped in the direction of the river toward a large building where they then crossed a meadow to wait for developments. Had the camp surrendered? Rumor had it among the men that an unconditional surrender had been agreed upon with the Yankee officer dead, but that was not the case. Something had gone wrong with his gun, and since he could not fire, he stood watch on the road. The day was disappointing. They had hoped to get an easy victory so close to home, but it was poorly planned in his opinion. Too undisciplined, too ill equipped. His company began a long ride around their former positions in order to reform with the rest of the regiment south of town. All the while, Federal shells from the 6 pounder crashed in the woods nearby. He was exhausted. They had been in the saddle for days on end, and had not eaten since the day before. The further south they rode, the fainter the Yankee gun became. They were safe for now. [26]

In Owensboro, Martin received word about the skirmish west of town, and that the companies engaged had been driven off and were attempting to link back up with the main body. He had also been informed that an unknown number of Yankee soldiers had somehow gotten themselves across the Ohio River and were now undoubtedly raising the alarm to the Indiana Legion and any other Federal units in the area. Owensboro would not be a good place to make a stand. If he were attacked from the south, the Ohio River would be at his back. In addition, there were Federals to his east in Cloverport, and to his west, in Henderson, Colonel Foster commanded a strong force of infantry, artillery, and cavalry. Steamers would still be able to ferry men over from Indiana for a fight, and gunboats would surely show up. Poorly trained cavalry would not stand a chance in something like that. Attacking the camp would not a prudent decision. The original plan of emptying the camp of its defenders had failed, and the position was too strong with the natural barriers.[27]

They had gotten out of Owensboro what they most desperately needed, ammunition. Now it was time to consolidate his force and move to a safer location. The Partisan Rangers quietly formed up, and rode eight miles south down the Livermore Road toward Panther Creek and the Sutherland farm. The farm was just south of the creek about a mile and a half. Munday thought the march to the Sutherland Farm “miserable” and upon reaching the place they finally had a chance to rest. “We took the rest so inviting, so necessary to man and best, and dropping the shade of the first trees that afforded protection from the still warm, but sinking sun we forgot for a while in quiet ease our past hardship and the many dangers that still menaced.”[28]

In Evansville, Colonel Gabriel Netter’s body was laid to rest a few days later. One of the steamers, the Delaware, which had been shuttling Legion soldiers to and from Owensboro brought his remains to Evansville for burial. Netter’s Sister, Pauline and her husband had lived in Evansville since coming to America. John Fournier, her husband, was at the time a hat maker. Upon receiving the news of his brother in law’s death, Fournier made his way to Owensboro to collect the body.[1]

Evansville paid a large tribute to a man they highly respected and esteemed. Just weeks before, Netter had been presented with a sword and sash as a gift from his friends in the city, including Colonel Hollingsworth. In the accompanying letter Hollingsworth wrote:

“Sir:— Some of your old friends and citizens of Evansville, appreciating your services and approving your courage and zeal in the cause of our country, desire to present you a sword and sash accompanying this letter. Although but a slight testimonial, they feel assured you will prize it and will continue to persevere in the prosecution of the glorious undertaking until the last of our country's enemies shall be put down. You will, then, accept this token of their approbation for past services and assurance of kind regards. With best wishes for future success, I have the honor to be. Your obedient servant, W. E. HOLLINGSWORTH, Col. 2d Indiana Legion.”

Just a few day after receiving the gift that was no doubt carried during his death, Netter responded:

Headquarters Netter Battallion, Hartford, Ky., Aug. 10th, 1862. Col. W. E. Hollingsworth, Com'd'ing 2d Ind. Legion, Evansville, Ind. Colonel : The handsome sash, beautiful sword, and so very kind letter, presented to me by yourself and others of your true, loyal and generous townsmen, came all duly to hand to-day. With my heart only, not with words, can or will I thank you. Such an encouragement from my countrymen is a compliment to be remembered to the last. May God grant me to show and prove myself worthy of your generosity and kindness— worthy of taking my humble share in the war for the redemption of our country. May He grant me, if I fall, to fall with my face to the foe, my last breath expending itself in a kiss to the fine blade you presented me with, my last prayer to be listened to by the Almighty, for the speedy success of our noble and holy cause. Believe me, sir, forever, Your true friend, GABRIEL NETTER, Lt. Col. Comm'g. P. S.— To my friends, please be patient. I have got a great deal to contend with. I was sent to this place without a man or a gun and have been much neglected since; but I will get ready, by the by, nevertheless. G. N.

Netter’s wish came true as earlier stated, his dying breath was in defense of the cause for which he fought, with that very blade drawn against the enemy.

Image of the letter and photograph graciously shared by Netter's extended family in France.

As Netter’s body was taken to Oak Hill Cemetery, it was followed by a regiment and battalion of Indiana Legion. As the funeral procession marched toward the cemetery, each unit was accompanied by their respective bands. The regiment had its German brass band, and the battalion was followed by the Crescent City Band. After the burial, Fournier copied the article from the Evansville Daily Journal describing his fall from English into French along with a photograph of Netter to the family in France.[2]

Headstone of Gabriel Netter located in Evansville, Indiana.

I have often wondered what sort of career Netter would have had, if he survived the fight at Owensboro. I also wonder how events would have transpired the next day at the Battle of Sutherland's Hill (Panther Creek). If Netter had lived, I see a more aggressive approach toward the Partisan Rangers south of town. I don't see them escaping from that with their artillery piece or even making it to Ashbyburg like they did. The What-If game can be played endlessly. Even with his early death, Netter's story to the Civil War in western Kentucky is an important one. He gave his life for his new country, and for that he should be honored.


[1] Evansville Daily Journal, September 22, 1862, 2.

[2] Evansville Daily Journal, September 22, 1862, 2.

[1] Owensboro Monitor, October 1, 1862, 3.; Bernheim, Settlement of Jews, 44.; Johnson, Partisan Rangers, 348.

[2] Bernheim, Settlement of Jews, 44.

[3] Bernheim, Settlement of Jews, 45.

[4] Owensboro Monitor, October 1, 1862, 3.

[5] Munday, Diary, 6.

[6] Munday, Diary, 6.; Owensboro Monitor, October 1, 1862, 3.; History of Daviess County, 166.

[7] Munday, Diary, 6.

[8] Munday, Diary, 6.

[9] Owensboro Monitor, October 1, 1862, 3.

[10] Munday, Diary, 6.

[11] Munday, Diary, 6.

[12] Bernheim, Settlement of Jews, 45.; History of Daviess County, 162.; Owensboro Messenger, July 11, 1909, 10.

[13] Bernheim, Settlement of Jews, 45.; History of Daviess County, 162.

[14] Munday, Diary, 7.; Owensboro Monitor, October 1, 1862, 3.

[15] Owensboro Monitor, October 1, 1862, 3.; Bernheim, Settlement of Jews, 45.; History of Daviess County, 162.

[16] History of Daviess County, 163.

[17] Munday, Diary, 7.; History of Daviess County, 163.

[18] Owensboro Monitor, October 1, 1862, 3.; Report of Colonel John W. Crooks

[19] "Thomas Letters - September 20, 1862 ". 2018. Rarebooks.Nd.Edu. Accessed December 11 2017.; Owensboro Monitor, September 24, 1862, 2.

[20] Owensboro Monitor

[21] Owensboro Monitor, October 1, 1862, 3.

[22] Owensboro Monitor, October 3, 1862, 3.

[23] History of Daviess County, 163.

[24] Munday, Diary, 7.; History of Daviess County, 163.; Owensboro Monitor, October 1, 1862, 3.

[25] Owensboro Monitor, October 1, 1862, 3.

[26] Munday, Diary, 7.

[27] Johnson, Partisan Rangers, 348-349.

[28] Munday, Diary, 7.; Johnson, Partisan Rangers, 349.

[1] Bernheim, Settlement of Jews, 42-43.

[2] Bernheim, Settlement of Jews, 43.

[3] The Evansville Daily Journal, September 22, 1862, 2.; Gabriel Netter to Brigadier General Boyle, August 28, 1862.

[1] Chyet, Stanley. “Ohio Valley Jewry During the Civil War.” Bulletin of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio, Volume 21, No. 3 (1963): 182.; Weissbach, Lee Shai. "KENTUCKY JEWRY DURING THE CIVIL WAR." The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 110, no. 2 (2012): 165-84.

[2] Bernheim, Isaac W., History of the Settlement of Jews in Paducah and the Ohio Valley (Paducah, Kentucky: 1912), 37, 41.; 1860 U.S. census, Vanderburgh County, Indiana, population schedule, Evansville, p. 29, dwelling 151, family 156, John, Pauline, and Clandine Fourneir; digital image,, accessed April 18, 2018,;

[3] Bernheim, Settlement of Jews, 41.; Gabriel Netter Service Record, 26th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, Appears on company descriptive book, Compiled service records of volunteer Union soldiers who served in organizations from the State of Kentucky**.

[4] Gabriel Netter Service Record, 26th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, Company B**. Compiled service records of volunteer Union soldiers who served in organizations from the State of Kentucky.; Report of Col. S.G. Burbridge, Kentucky Volunteers, October 31, 1861, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington D.C., 1880-1901), ser. 1, vol. 4, p. 220.; Report of Col. John H. McHenry, jr., Kentucky Volunteers, November 3, 1861, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington D.C., 1880-1901), ser. 1, vol. 4, p. 221.

[5] Bernheim, Settlement of Jews, 41.

[6] Daily Nashville Patriot, December 10, 1861, 4.

[7] The Louisville Daily Courier, December 11, 1861, 3.

[8] Richmond Dispatch, December 17, 1861, 2.; The Evansville Daily Journal, December 10, 1861, 2.

[9] Brigadier-General D.C. Buell to Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, December 9, 1861. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, ser. 1, vol. 7. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1885, p. 485.

[10] The Evansville Daily Journal, December 10, 1861, 2.; Wilson, Don., The Boys from Calhoun: The story of Camp Calhoun and its contribution to the Civil War (February 2008), 9.; Gabriel Netter Service Record, Company Muster Roll, February 1862.

[11] Report of Lieut. Col. Cicero Maxwell, Twenty-sixth Kentucky Infantry, April 9, 1862, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington D.C., 1880-1901), ser. 1, vol. 10, p. 368-370.

[12] Charges against Captain Gabriel Netter prepare by Colonel S.G. Burbridge, 26th Kentucky Infantry. May 15, 1862.

[13] Charges against Captain Gabriel Netter prepare by Colonel S.G. Burbridge, 26th Kentucky Infantry. May 15, 1862.; Captain Gabriel Netter Letter of Resignation to Col. Burbridge.; Albert Keigwin Service Record, Company Muster Roll, November-December Roll 1862.

[14] Owensboro Monitor. 1862. August 20, 1862, 3.

[15] Evansville Daily Journal. 1862. July 29, 1862, 2.

[16] John W. Finnell to Nathaniel Gaither, Jr., 25 July 1862, Office of the Governor, Beriah Magoffin: Governor's Official Correspondence File, Military Appointments, 1859-1862, MG7-9, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, KY. Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition,, (accessed July 27, 2018).; Gabriel Netter to George D. Prentice, 21 August 1862, Office of the Governor, James F. Robinson: Governor's Official Correspondence File, Military Correspondence, 1862-1863, R2-22 to R2-23, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, KY. Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition,, (accessed March 11, 2018).

[17] Gabriel Netter to George D. Prentice, August 21, 1862

[18] Gabriel Netter to George D. Prentice, August 21, 1862

[19] Gabriel Netter to General Boyle, August 28, 1862, Gabriel Netter Service Record.

[20] Evansville Daily Journal. 1862. December 6, 1861, 1.

[21] Evansville Daily Journal. 1862. September 6, 1862, 1.

1 comment

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  

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