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 Beautiful Belmont, Part 39 -- The Regiment Crosses into Kentucky.

by John Salisbury Cochran.

See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 38 -- My Coming to War.

Our regiment was quartered at Mansfield, Ohio, awaiting the arrival of several more companies. We got there in the evening, tired and hungry, finding a portion of the regiment already assembled. Owing to the manipulations of former Secretary of War Floyd, the federal government had been left with little or nothing with which to provision an army. Our supper was composed of hard crackers, bacon, sugar, and coffee without any cream in it. My mother was a good cook, and the contrast between this meal and the bountiful supplies of the farm and groceries from the city always spread upon her table was a shock that dissipated all the fanciful romance about war, which had played in my imagination for so long.

I made my bed that night upon a pile of straw in a wall tent under two blankets, supplied by myself and a comrade, Alexis Cope of Farmington. I awoke next morning with stiffened limbs and an uncomfortable feeling from the effects of a cold taken during the night. I then began to realize the hardships and the sufferings subsequently to be endured as a soldier.

The neighboring state of Kentucky had declared her neutrality in the war and warned both armies, North and South, that they must not invade her territory. General Russau had been collecting an army near Cincinnati, just across the Kentucky border, and one night unexpectedly threw his brigade into Louisville. Rapidly passing on through the capital of Kentucky, he advanced our front to Barren River. Our regiment composed a portion of this army division.

We lay there for a time, until ordered to the assistance of General Ulysses Grant, who was then fighting the battle of Fort Donaldson. Before arriving there, Grant had completed his first great victory, and we retraced our steps, going as far as Bowling Green, Kentucky. It was a most laborious march, as heavy rains had prevailed, and each company had to remain with its wagon in order to free it from the mud, which was axle deep in some places. The river at Bowling Green had been very high, covering the second bottom for at least a quarter of a mile, but had since receded, leaving the bottom a mass of mud and water.

It was at Bowling Green that I had my first sight of the effective operations of artillery. The town was located on an elevated body of land just across the river from the direction in which we were advancing. As we came in sight of the town a long line of Confederate railway cars loaded with provisions was just moving out along the ridge in full view, possibly a mile and a half distant. Cotter's battery unlimbered and sent a solid shot, which carried away the front wheels of the engine, thereby stopping the train, and all other trains behind it, which we captured.

In crossing the river bottom the mud was so deep that many of the soldiers lost their shoes. I left a good pair of boots sticking in the mud by pulling my feet out of them, and I crossed the remainder of that bottom and a pontoon bridge which we had constructed across the river in my bare feet. It was sleeting and freezing, and I was forced to sit on a log with my feet near the fire while my brother Rob went to get me a pair of shoes. The commissary was inaccessible, being then on the march, and we were compelled to buy a pair from a German resident nearby. These shoes were too large for me and I had not marched many miles before the skin was worn from my feet, and I was compelled to drop behind my comrades. I ran across Dr. Isaac Cope, who, though not well, was determined not to go to the hospital, but to remain with the command. When we had completed half the distance between Bowling Green and Nashville, Tennessee, we succeeded in securing a cattle car and attached it to a moving train, which took us to the Tennessee River, opposite Nashville, the bridge across the river having been destroyed by the Confederates on their evacuation of that city.

For the first year of the war, our part of the army under General Buell was made to do much guard and fatigue duty, protecting property and slaves of the families of the section through which we marched, whose husbands and sons were fighting us in the Confederate army. Added to the other duties of the soldier, this became particularly burdensome and it produced a widespread dissatisfaction among the soldiers. While in Kentucky and Tennessee, many slave owners would ride into camp and, in most arrogant and haughty tones, demand an answer as to whether their slaves were there or had been seen.

In the earlier part of the war these intrusions were met with respectful replies, but as the Union soldier began to realize the great task before him, and the tenacity with which the South was still persisting in the rebellion, they began to realize that the quickest way to end the war was to make those engaged in it, either actively or sympathetically, realize fully the severities of the conflict. The common soldier then not only refused to wear out his life in this extra duty but, on the contrary, aided the escape of all slaves in every manner possible. It subsequently became a dangerous matter for an owner to follow his slave within the confines of a federal camp, and the owners very quickly learned and heeded this danger.

The Occupation of Nashville

While in Nashville, in company with Surgeon Isaac Cope and Captain Jenks, I visited the tomb of President Polk. It is located in the heart of the city in the front yard of the Polk residence, about half way from the gate to the front door, the front walk dividing and passing around on either side of the monument erected over his grave. While we were standing there in federal uniform, reading the inscription, Mrs. Polk, a very fine-looking aged lady, came down the walk. Looking at us quizzically, she said, "Gentlemen, is it out of respect for the president, or mere idle curiosity that brings you here to his grave?"

Quick as a shot Captain Jenks replied, "We cannot say, madam, it is either. It is out of our high regard for the exalted position which he once occupied." She had little success concealing the irritation that this quick reply brought and, quietly plucking a flower from the tidily kept grave, she slowly returned to the house. Captain Jenks, as we turned away, sarcastically remarked, "I think she feels she did not make much by that insinuation." Mrs. Polk was a deep sympathizer with the cause of the South. Apparently the sight of federal uniforms around the tomb of her husband was displeasing to her.

In company with our brother Rob, his wife, Surgeon Isaac Cope and some other officers, we also visited the home and tombs of President Andrew Jackson and his wife at the Hermitage, some fourteen miles from Nashville. It is a fine farm and a really beautiful place, set in a lovely, inviting stretch of country. The Jacksons are buried side by side, each grave being covered with a broad stone slab extending the whole length of the grave, with a covering over all, supported by four corner pillars. Mrs. Jackson died first, and her husband has inscribed upon her stone a long and affectionate eulogy. On his own are the simple words, "General Andrew Jackson, born March 15, 1767, died June 8, 1843." He wrote both inscriptions himself, and one would reasonably infer he took more pride in the title of "General" than of "President," as no mention is made of the latter. His eulogy of his wife is tender and praiseworthy. Obviously the old hero could love, as well as fight, and could carry that love devotedly to the grave.

One day while lying in camp south of Nashville, a tall, powerfully built, active, light-colored Negro woman came running through the regiment with all speed, followed by a white man with whip and dog. She was almost out of breath, and as she halted in front of us, she cried out in despair, "Gentlemen, for God's sake save me, and don't let that man take me back into slavery again!" Someone said, "Who is he?" "He's a slave catcher, and he'll beat the life out of me for runnin' away," she replied. Her pursuer, who just then came up holding his dog by a rope, appeared as much out of breath as she, but hearing her last words said, "Yes, and I intend to give your back a good flaying for this, and I'll give you some of it right here." "Don't you strike that woman with that whip here," said a large, brawny soldier, as the slavedriver began turning his cat-o'-nine-tails so as to use the loaded end on her.

The man approached and caught her savagely by the arm, she shook him off like a child, for she was a field hand, and wonderfully strong. He fell on the ground amid the jeers and laughter of the soldiers. It angered him, and he made a rush, striking her on the head with the leaden end of the whip. She staggered and turned completely around, and I shall never forget the wild look of despair in her eyes as she recovered her equilibrium. In an instant a crushing blow from the brawny fist of the soldier who had warned her tormentor not to strike her, fell full upon the face of the slave catcher, crushing the bridge of his nose like an eggshell and dropping him to the ground. It did not stop at this. A half dozen bayonets were run through the bloodhound, killing him, and his master was so mercilessly beaten that he died shortly after. I never knew what became of the fugitive.

One day, in a quiet balmy twilight of evening, from a neighboring regiment, which had come into camp the day before from Southern Tennessee, I heard the sweet strains of a violin. It started me to thinking of home. I had been out nearly a year, and owing to the army's poor mail service, I had received only a couple of dozen letters from home. They were full of concern for me, giving the events at home in as much detail as possible. I wondered what those back in Ohio were doing at that hour, and dreamily lived over our past as the sweet strains of violin music played upon my heart.

Suddenly it struck me that there was a strange familiarity about those tunes, suggestive of our cousin, James Cochran, who was a fine violinist, and who frequently played for our picnics and dances in the neighborhood. I had not heard of him having enlisted, however, and when I remembered how bitterly his father was opposed to the war, and that there were 30,000 soldiers in that camp, it was altogether likely someone other than he would be able to play all these familiar tunes. I concluded I was probably mistaken. The tunes kept coming, though, and I became fully convinced that it was James playing. I followed the sound of the violin until I came to the tent where the music was and, looking in, there saw my cousin James. Of course it stopped the music, and he was quite as much surprised as I. When I told him how I discovered him we had a good laugh.

See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 40 -- The Hardships of Soldiering.

For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.

This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.

CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
CO-AUTHOR: Schultheiss, Tom. (Asst. Editor)

DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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