January 18, 2012

'Notoriety Cheaply Bought': The 79th Pa Becomes 'The Dare Devil Regiment'

Location: Munfordville, KY, USA
 A Union Army Company (Mathew Brady, National Archives)
This is another company of the Army of the Ohio (Co. A, 9th Indiana), which was not connected to the incident described in this post.

January 17 marked the 150th anniversary of the first time soldiers from the 79th Pennsylvania were fired upon.  Unfortunately, it was by other Union soldiers who did not recognize the detachment of the 79th Pennsylvania led by Captain William G. Kendrick.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt and Kendrick's men barely even noticed the volley from afar.

The events leading up to this situation were part of a two-day adventure into the Kentucky countryside by Companies A, B, and F in pursuit of Confederate cavalry that was harassing the farthest advance of the Union picket line.  Kendrick's expedition included dramatically charging across an open field against a woodlot that turned out to be devoid of Rebels, saving over a hundred cords of wood which Confederates had tried to burn on their retreat, arresting a "noted secessionist", and interacting with civilians surprised to see Union troops for the first time.  

The three companies' actions led to a general alarm (spread by a frightened farmer) in McCook's whole division and sent the regiments of Camp Wood scurrying, some apparently in retreat.  Capt. Kendrick wrote a colorful letter of to his wife about the incident, and reported the Col. Hambright responded by double-quicking the rest of the regiment down the road to save his senior captain and three companies.  When everything was sorted out, Gen. Negley and his staff thought the whole incident was hilarious,"laughing at the devilish uproar we raised."  Judge Caines met Kendrick and told him "he was satisfied [Kendrick] was caught at last and Company A was a goner."  Kendrick concluded that "I think this will give me some notoriety cheaply bought as our Regiment has bin called the Dare Devil Regiment."  (WGK, 1/18/1862)

Kendrick's prediction turned out incorrect as a special correspondent of the Cincinnati Gazette at Munfordville reported on the incident as follows, casting a negative light on bravery of the Lancaster County Regiment: 
Four companies of the 79th Pennsylvania were sent out to make a reconnoisance to Horse Cave. Arriving at that point, they heard firing, which seemed to come from their rear, when they suddenly conceived the idea that it was the enemy, and that they were likely to be cut off. This was enough. It is believed the Pennsylvanians became panic stricken. At Horse Cave, where the railroad and turnpike diverge part took the turnpike and part the railroad, coming together again at Rowlett's station. Which party it was that despatched the courier is not clear--most likely the party that returned by the pike. Judge of the mutual surprise when they met at Rowlett's. It was supposed that the firing was on the left, and played the will-o'-the-wisp caper which so frightened the Pennsylvanians. In the hurried retreat of the Pennsylvanians they scattered the report that the enemy was approaching to attack us.
One of the Pennsylvania soldiers wrote a phrase-by-phrase retort to be published in the Louisville Journal, a copy of which appeared in Franklin County's Semi-Weekly Dispatch--available online here as part of the Valley of the Shadow Project.

Another source of information about the incident is Lieut. Lyman G. Bodie, originally an officer in Company A who had become the regiment's adjutant by this point.  Bodie wrote this letter published as a rare letter from the Lancaster County Regiment in the January 29, 1862, Examiner and Herald: (alternate link)

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