December 18, 2011

'En Avant': To Munfordville and the Green River

Location: Munfordville, KY, USA
Sketch of Munfordville, Kentucky (HW 1/11/1862)
Today's letter is similar to yesterday's, touching on the December 17 march from Bacon Creek Station to Mufordville and the Battle of Rowlett's Station.  Written by Hospital Steward John B. Chamberlain, it does give some new details about how the regiment treated its sick, praising efforts at the regimental level but condemning the Louisville and Nashville Railroad for its operations.  "En Avant," by the way, is French for "forward" or "onward."

As a research note, if anyone knows anything about the Lancaster Inquirer for the first half of 1862, please let me know.  I do not know of its existence in any archives, leaving a six-month gap for which we would be missing any letters from "Judge" Caines and Chamberlain.  Letters posted on the blog from the Inquirer up to this point are from the bound volume for the year 1861 in possession of the Lancaster County Historical Society.  

From the December 28, 1861, Inquirer:


Munfordsville, Hart co., Ky,
Dec 18, 1861

Mr. Editor:-At last the longing anticipations of our boys have been realized.  'En Avant!' has been the order; and the joyous alacrity--the eager hope that we could measure strength and manhood with our accursed enemies, showed the anxiety of the men to advance to the fray.  Some time ago, while we were making 'ready' for an advance, in camp Negley, and while the men were drilled incesantly in every movement laid down in the 'books,' orders were received to march, which were obeyed with cheerfulness.  Green River--Buckner--Zollicoffer and traitors floated in the dim distance; and the boys wanted no better prospect or greater allurements.  Onward we marched; but to halt at Bacon creek, on account of a bridge having been burned down by a body of secesh cavalry: so we pitched out tents and waited for it to be rebuilt. General Negley detached a number of men from the 79th regiment for the purpose, and Capt. Kendrick was appointed to superintend the work.

On the morning of the 17th inst., orders were received to strike tents and march for Green river, but eight miles from camp Wood.  After a rapid march, we arrived in good spirits; immediately after our arrival, a dispatch was received ordering out the entire force, on a 'double quick' to the river, as a skirmish was going on with the enemy.  But our hopes of a fight were disappointed, for upon our arrival, the fight was already over, and we were not afforded even an opportunity of seeing the tail-end of the retreating and beaten traitors.

From all account that I can gather, three companies of Colonel Willich's German Indiana regiment crossed the river, and were attacked by two regiments of Infantry and one regiment of Texas Rangers.  A brisk hand to hand fight immediately commenced; and notwithstanding the trrible odds, with the great advantage of position, ambush &c., the rebels were badly beaten.  When our artillery opened on them, they started on the run, as if they would let the 'devil take the hindmost.' The 79th was eager for the fray, and wanted to make a dash; but the rebels were off, and we had to take it out in thinking what we would have done, had the rebels only waited.  the list of injured can hardly be correcly ascertained, as there are so many conflicting rumors afloat.  We lost twelve killled, five mortally and twenty-four slightly wounded.  The rebels suffered severely, losing some sixty killed, and among them a Colonel and a Major.  Colonel Willich says the infantry was a cowardly set of dogs; but the cavalry were as bold, determined and brave men as he ever saw.  The rebels are poorly clad, some have no uniforms at all. 

The village in which we now are, has between four and five hundred inhabitants.  The houses are eminently Southern--being mostly log huts.  It strongly reminds me of Charlestown, Virginia, which I consider the meanest burlesque on civilization I ever saw; but Mumfordsville is an admirable imitation--a kind of delapidated second edition.

The earnest, sincere thanks of the sick of the 79th are due our most excellent surgeon, Dr. Wright and his assistant, who regard the comfort of the sick as of the highest importance first, and make all circumstances yield accordingly.  They always look ahead and provide for any contingency that may occur.  I must not close without giving the Louisville and Nashville Railroad a passing notice.  There is no system or management at all on the road.  If you ask for any information, they will either pay no attention, or else tell a downright lie.  The day we were to leave, orders were given each surgeon to have his sick at the Railroad Depot by noon, as there was to be a special train ready at 3 o'clock, p.m., to take them down the road.  The appointed time arrived, but no train; and there the sick had to wait all night!  Fortunately some hospital tents were found at the station, in which some were placed; while the rest were quartered in sheds to prevent exposure to the night air.  I doubt not but that the exposure will prove fatal in numbers of cases.  Such conduct on the part of the managers of the road is atrocious, and should receive the severest censure.  At eight o'clock on the morning of the 28th inst., six or eight freight cars were brought up the road, and the sick put aboard.

I am happy to say that the 79th still retains its reputation of being the healthiest and hardiest regiment in this division.  We have but nine men at Louisville, in the hospital there; and but thirteen in the camp hospital.

Your old correspondents, "The Judge" and "The Missionary," send their regards; you will hear from them soon.  By the way among the recent promotions, not as yet announced however, in the army bulletins, is that of Wm. H. Thackara, of Company B, to Ward Master in the hospital.  You know, from personal acquaintance, that a better selection could not have been made.  Kind, faithful and attentive with methodical, orderly habits, he attends to his duties ably and efficiently.  He deserves a more eulogistic panegyric than this, but partiality might be ascribed to me.

Yours, respectfully,


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