Monday, November 24, 2008

The Dutton Hill Battle

The Hickman Covered Bridge was constructed in 1838. It was the only bridge across the Kentucky River in the area of central Kentucky during the Civil War.

As Pegram and his subordinate officers wasted their energies sniping away at each other, James Edward Evans, my 2nd great-grandfather, was among the cavalrymen whose fate it was to follow the beleaguered Pegram on the ill-fated Kentucky raid.

“Mercury 27 degrees above zero. Clear and heavy frost. The Peach bloom are putting forth. The Louisville Journal of March 26th has some startling news in it concerning the invasion of the Rebels again into Ky. ‘It is stated upon good authority that John Breckinridge has command of the invading forces. -- Since his arrival in the State it is known that he has issued a proclamation to the people of Ky. copies of which had been received at Danville on Tuesday. The arch Traitor sets forth his proclamation that he has been authorized by Hawes the provisional Governor of the State, to possess and hold Kentucky as a member of the Confederate States, declaring among other things his intention of enforcing the conscription. We have learned from other sources, also that the provisions of that act are being rigidly enforced, in those regions thro' which the rebel army is passing; and that numbers of loyal men have thus been already pressed in to the rebel service.’ The same paper states that the residents of the state Capital were in a state of high excitement this morning in anticipation of an immediate advance of the enemy. It also states that the Confederate force under Wheeler, Forest and Wharton crossed the Cumberland River at Harpeth Shoals, this morning six miles above Franklin, and it further states there is no doubt that the Eastern portion of Ky. has been occupied by rebel troops. Also we have a pretty well authenticated report that Danville has been occupied by the enemy.”
~ Eldress Nancy of the community of Shakers lived at South Union near Bowling Green [i]

While foraging for cattle, Pegram’s cavalry encountered and skirmished with Yankees on March 28th at Hickman’s Bridge. Then, narrowly evading the closely following 44th and 45th Regiments Ohio Infantry, they continued to rustle cattle until they had rounded up about 750 head. Bragg was relying on beef to keep the Army of Tennessee supplied with nourishing food.[ii] Pegram’s cavalry had herded 537 of the cattle across the Cumberland River when their luck ran out.

March 30, 1863

About 1 1/2 miles from Somerset in Pulaski County, Kentucky, the Battle of Dutton Hill took place.[iii] Pegram’s cavalry was overtaken by a Union force of 1,250 men under the command of Brigadier General Quincy A. Gillmore. Pegram, displaying his usual lack of ability to plan or lead while on the battlefield, was sounded defeated.

The following account is reprinted with the permission of Kentucky artist Dan Dutton whose family owned the land the battle was fought upon.

“My dad did an interview with a local paper back in the 70s – telling the story of Pete Dutton and the Battle of Dutton Hill. This text is most of what I have to work with at present concerning Pete.

What I’ve included here begins at the entrance of the first human characters in my project, Pete and Charles arriving at Dutton Hill on horseback with my great-grandfather, Daniel (1). To set up this scene I intend to describe the formation of the limestone outcropping of the hill itself, and the water-table that supplies the spring, however many millions of years that took, and the life-span of the 400-some year old white oak that stood near the Dutton home-place.

(Here begins the excerpt from the newspaper story:)

Daniel would return to Missouri once, to get the two black farm hands that his father-in-law had given him - Pete and Charles. The three rode back to Kentucky on the back of a horse. Pete was eight. Charles was six. Charles eventually left the Dutton’s, but Pete stayed on. ‘Pete stayed here until he got so old he couldn’t work,’ Joe remembers, ‘even after he was freed.’ Pete Dutton – he took on his master’s last name – was a large measure of a man, standing about 6’4” and weighing 250 pounds. ‘He was big, powerful,’ Joe Dutton said. ‘His hands would almost make two of mine. He finally went to live with his kids in Danville,’ Joe said, ‘and he made a trip here every year, when I was just a boy, and it was interesting to hear him talk. One thing about him was that we’d get ready for a meal and say ‘C’mon Pete’ and he’d say ‘No s’um, I’ll eat after you folks.’ He wouldn’t eat at the same table with us. I guess it was drilled in his mind so heavy that he wouldn’t.’

It was Pete, perhaps the only witness who was not a participant, who relayed the story of the Battle of Dutton Hill at family gatherings when Joe was just a child. A few days prior to the battle, Pete heard that Confederate troops were retreating south toward the Cumberland River from a defeat around Danville, stealing horses and food along the way. ‘We (the Duttons) had four good horses and Pete haltered them up and took to those knobs back there with them,’ Joe said, pointing toward the East. Pete tied the horses under a big cliff and stayed with them. My grandmother (Lucy) told him, ‘Pete, if they come and find you with them horses, give them the horses.’ Pete said, ‘They’ll get them horses after Pete’s dead.’

Pete came back to Dutton Hill for food in about three or four days, leaving the horses up in the hills. He was in the house eating when he saw them. ‘He happened to look up, Joe remembers him saying, ‘and there was a Rebel in the yard for every blade of grass.’ Pete went out in the yard and was confronted by the soldiers. ‘They addressed him as a nigger,’ Joe said Pete told him, ‘They said, ‘Nigger, we want feed for 500 horses, And Pete said, ‘Sir, we haven’t got that much feed’ and the soldier said, ‘I’ll take what you’ve got.’ It was about that time that Pete first heard gunfire. It was coming from the North side of Dutton Hill on the road to Crab Orchard, now Highway 39. ‘They (the Rebels) rode as hard as they could go back to the hill,’ Joe said. ‘I never knew where my grandfather was. He was out logging or sawing somewhere, I guess. My grandmother (Lucy) said, ‘Pete, we’d better get out of here. We’d better leave here.’ Pete carrying Joe’s father, who was two years old at the time, helped Lucy Jane get everyone to David Dutton’s House in the Caney Fork area, then returned to the battle site. He positioned himself on a hill from which he could watch. ‘There was a big cedar snag,’ Joe said, ‘and he got up on it. He said that when he got back the northern soldiers were busy stacking up rails of an old rail fence along that hill and rolling rocks and working hard at it. Pete saw the Confederate soldiers advancing up the other side of the hill with three cannons. As they reached the top, they began to fire, but their shots went over the heads of the Union soldiers because of the steep incline of the hill. ‘Pete said they were doing a lot of shooting, but they were missing.’ Joe remembered. ‘Before long, they (the Union) were on top of the hill. It was all over then, the way he put it.’ The battle lasted about half a day, Pete told Joe. When the family returned home, it found that the Rebels had cleaned out the house and the barn before their retreat. ‘They busted up what they didn’t take.’ Joe said. The Union Soldiers buried 19 of the Confederate dead at the top of the hill, 10 in one row, nine in the other, head to head and wrapped in blankets. A monument now stands near the battle site.

Joe Dutton said that the Confederates retreated south toward Somerset and the Cumberland River. The Battle of Dutton Hill was an attempt to delay the Union Army so that the Confederates could get their horses across the river at Burnside. Before the Rebels showed up at the Dutton home, Pete told Joe that a large number of horses had gone on through, headed south.

Accounts in the history books confirm the story told by Pete Dutton, as Joe Dutton remembered it, right down to the tearing down of fences and the number of cannons. The battle involved 1,100 Union troops commandeered by Brigadier General Q.A. Gilmore, including about 400 from the First Kentucky Calvary under Col. Frank Wolford, and 2,600 Confederate Calvary under General Pegram.
A detailed account of the battle appears in ‘The Wild riders of the First Kentucky Calvary.’(an excerpt):

In front of the First Kentucky was a small field on a hillside, which had been in corn the year before, and on the crest of this hill were two or three pieces of artillary which opened fire upon our lines.

… Wolford’s men, not being in a situation to see the movements of the enemy, were now in hopes that the bloody work was over, but were mistaken, for just at this time, Scott’s dashing Louisiana Calvary was seen flanking our position on the extreme right.

…Wolford moved up cautiously until Scott’s men were located, then halted his men on the borders of heavy timbered land, with a small stubble field between them. Here our men received their fire at several hundred yards distance. There was a rail fence between our men and the enemy, which Col. Wolford ordered to be torn down.

…Wolford was again charging at the head of his command. It may truly be said that the Federals met foe-men worthy of their steel. Many of these men fought us hand to hand, when every hope of escape was cut off… The fighting at this point was desperate, but of short duration. There were more men killed here than in any other part of the field.’

The history books give varied accounts of the number of men lost by both sides, but all say that the battle lasted for three to five hours and that the Union chased the Confederates south to the Cumberland River, where the pursuit ended. ‘As it was, they were allowed to escape with an immense herd of cattle, and loads of plunder gathered mainly from the rich counties, called the Blue Grass Region.’ one book says.

After the war, Pete stayed on and helped raise the Dutton children, living in a small house near the battlefield. Both Pete’s house and the Dutton house are gone now. Pete often told stories about how he and the children played, Joe said. The last time Joe Dutton saw Pete was in 1931, at his funeral. He was 95 years old. ‘We buried him on a hot day in July.’ Joe remembers. ‘The ground was hard as brick. An old colored fellow came to our door and said Pete had died and wanted to be buried here. He came to dig the grave. He looked like he was almost ready for the grave himself. I was about 15 or 16, and Dad sent me out to help. At about two o’clock, we were still digging when the family came with Pete’s body. They stood and waited while we got it deep enough.’ Pete and his wife Jennie now rest in the Dutton cemetery, just a stone’s throw from the battle site and the place where a small house once stood near ‘Pete’s Spring.’ Just inside the gate to the cemetery is a neatly kept grave with a clean, new stone that reads ‘Pete Dutton, Born 1836 in Mo. Died 1931 in KY and Wife, Jennie. Born in Slavery-died free’.”

~ Dan Dutton [iv]

Pete Dutton’s gravestone. Photo courtesy of Dan Dutton [v]

200 CSA and 30 US soldiers were killed, missing, or wounded after the battle.[vi] One of the fallen was Felix G. Stailey, a private in Co C, 1st KY Cavalry USA. [vii]

“Here off duty until the last reveille, lie the Southern soldiers, in numbers who were slain in this county during the war of the secession. They fell among strangers, unknown and unfriended. Yet not unhonored; for stranger’s hands have gathered their ashes here, and placed this shaft above them, that constancy and valor, though displayed in a fruitless enterprise, may not be unremembered.”

Inscription on the Dutton Hill Monument

The base of the monument at Dutton Hill. Photo courtesy of Dan Dutton.[viii]

Only a small obelisk stands atop a knoll on Old Crab Orchard Road, about 1 mile north of the Junction of KY 39 and KY 80 in Somerset, Kentucky, to mark the site of the actual battle and the resting place of those who fell. According to State Marker number 712 located in Pulaski County, Kentucky, on KY 39 two miles north of Somerset, Union forces under General Q. A. Gillmore overtook the Confederate cavalry on March 30, 1863. A five-hour battle resulted during which the Confederates were driven from one position to another and finally tried to escape by crossing the Cumberland River as night fell.

"Father, I came very nearly being killed in that fight"
~ John Barker Company D, 5th KY Mounted Infantry

James Edward Evans was among the men captured by Union forces on March 30, 1863 in Somerset, Kentucky, during the Dutton's Hill Battle.[ix] As a prisoner of war, James was taken to Louisville and held at the military prison. On April 13, 1863 he was processed to be sent to City Point, Virginia by way of Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland. This travel was made by railroad, usually in unheated cars. James was paroled at Fort Monroe, Virginia on April 21, 1863 and exchanged under the terms of the Dix-Hill Cartel with in a group of 527 Confederate Prisoners of War and one surgeon on April 22, 1863 at City Point, Virginia. The surgeon’s name was J. H. Thompson.[x]

James Edward Evans was man number 36 on the April 10, 1863 Roll of Prisoners of War at the Military Prison in Louisville, KY. Click the image to enlarge the roll.

“…prisoners went to City Point, Virginia, east of Richmond. The route ran through Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Washington to Fort Monroe.” [xi]

The battle sparked the powered keg of personal animosity between Pegram and Scott. Each blamed the other for the Confederate defeat. Pegram lost several hundred men as prisoners as well as most of the cattle he had gathered to feed Bragg’s army. He also lost any last respect his men held for him. In the face of open criticism from his subordinate officers, Pegram requested reassignment back to the Eastern Theatre. The request was granted. Once back in his native state, Pegram seemed to have far fewer problems working with others. Perhaps his condesening manner was more acceptable amoung Virginians.

"…The 112th is taken from the 3rd Brig & is stationed here alone. We shall probably stay here a number of days. The Brig has been on the move night & day ever since we left Lexington. Many are sick. The Cavalry caught up with the Rebels near Somersett & have a grand fight - Whipped them good - took 300 prisoners. Killed & wounded about 100 - our loss was very small - The 112 was about 8 hours behind the fight. I have to come back to the Regt when we left the Brigade. All the detailed men have got to come back…I returned to the Regt on the 30th of March. I was sorry to come back…The 112 I suppose will stay here until they get their Horses & Equipments. They are going to be Mounted. It will be nearly the same as Cavalry. It will be much harder than Infantry for we shall be kept here in Ky in the Mountains & in the Edge of Tenn. The Regt is getting quite small - about 50 are Paroled Prisoners & a large number sick…It is the coldest weather I ever saw at this time of the year - freezes hard here every night…"

~ John C. Rockwell of the 112th Illinois Infantry, Company I. Datelined "Lincoln County / Milledgeville Ky / April 6th /63 Monday Morn"


[i] Neal, Mary Julia. “ The Journal of Eldress Nancy” 1963
[ii] O. R., vol. 23, part 2, p. 760.
[iii] O. R., vol. 23, part 1, p. 171-6
[iv] Dutton, Dan. “ You’ll Always Come Back,” dandyland muse, Friday, October 3, 2008, original interview appeared in the Pulaski Week, 1990 - the interviewer was the editor, John Nelson, Joseph Dutton was 76 years old.
[v] Photo courtesy of Dan Dutton whose family owned the land the battle took place on.
[vi] Porter, Melba and Hay, Dianne. “Roadside History: A Guide to Kentucky Highway Markers” University Press of Kentucky
[vii] Wolford, Col. Frank. “The Wild Riders of the Firse Kentucky Cavalary: A history of the regiments, in the great war of the rebellion, 1861-1865: Pathetic scenes, amusing incidents, and thrilling episodes, a regimental roster, prison life, adventures and escapes"1894.
[viii] Photo courtesy of Dan Dutton whose family owned the land the battle took place on.
[ix] Compiled Military Service Record of James Edward Evans 1862 – 1865
[x] Compiled Military Service Record of James Edward Evans 1862 – 1865
[xi] Levy, George. “To Die in Chicago, Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65,” 1999, Chap. 8, p. 131


Dan Dutton said...

This is great, MB! I'm going to forward it to family members. Thanks! Dan

Mary Beth said...

Thank you Dan! Your praise is a honor most high!