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Cyrus/ An eyewitness account of the Skirmish of July 3rd, 1863

Morgan's Men in Columbia three times during the war

In lieu of an actual time trip back witness the Columbia Skirmish of '63, may I present in its stead an eyewitness account of that July afternoon, as well as the chilling story of how two young Columbians came perilously close to being executed by the Confederates?

This account was penned by Judge H.C. Baker, probably in 1917, and appeared in the May 29, 1918 edition of the Adair County News. Mr. (later Judge) Baker had completed his college studies the year before and had returned to Columbia to read law under his uncle.

Wrote Judge Baker:

The command of General John H. Morgan was in Columbia three times during the war. The last time was when he was starting on his great raid north of the Ohio river. He was met here by a detachment of Wolford's cavalry and some Ohio soldiers, and a fight ensued in which Captain Jesse Carter was killed, three or four federal soldiers wounded , and two or more confederates killed.

Writer witnessed fight from his window

The fight occurred on the 3rd of July, 1863, in the afternoon, and delayed the command some little time. It happened that I witnessed the fight from the upstairs window of the house I now occupy, and I will describe what I saw of it from my standpoint.

When I went home at noon, there were no soldiers of either side in town, and it was not known that any were near to us. I ate my dinner, and dropped down on my bedfor an afternoon nap, but was awakened by rapid firing on the road in front of the house. On running to the window, and looking out, I saw a Union soldier going down the road full speed, his head and body low down on the side of his horse, and a few feet behind him were three or four Confederates in hot pursuit, and shooting as rapidly as they could with pistols.

They passed over the hill in the direction of town out of my sight. In a few minutes the Confederates came back, and took position behind a barn located near to what is now the George Kemp residence, but they remained thereonly a short time, and then rode on over the hill beyond what is now the Hindman residence.

Union soldiers appeared from the direction of town

It was but a little while until Union soldiers appeared fromthe direction of town. Some of them took position behind the stable which ran to the Burkesville road, near where the Stotts residence is now located, and another squad took position behind the college building. While this was occurring, there were signs of activity over the hill in the direction the confederate soldiers had gone. In a little while one gray coat, and then another, came cautiously over the brow of the hill, and took position behind treesin an old orchard where now stands the Rosenfieldresidence.

Federals shooting from college, Confederates from orchard

Then the skirmish fire opened up from both sides--the federals shooting from the college, and from along the line of the old fence extending from the Burkesville road up back of the Cravens, now Hurt, property, while the confederates were posted in the orchard mentioned, and just the brow of the hill. Brisk firing was kept up from these positions for quite a while.

The Federals were evidently ignorant of the force with which they were contending, for they appeared the more aggressive. Three or four of them passed under the window where I was sitting. Not wishing them to enter the house, I rand down and locked the front door, andthen returned to my former position of observation.

About this time I saw a Federal officer on horseback riding up the road towards the confederates, accompanied by five or six soldiers on foot, who were walking by the fence, half stooped, so as not to be seen by the enemy. The officer, although between the two fires, rode quietly alongthe middle of the road, apparently quite indifferent to the danger. I expected every moment to see him fall from his horse, as he was riding directly up to the Confederate line and seemed to be in easy danger. If he knew his danger, he did not discover it by his conduct, for he rode as erect as if he had been in a place of absolute security.

Part of prudence was to retire to safer place

He had gone about one-third of the distance from my gate to the top of the hill, when the Confederates yelling the battle cry. in along line dashed over the brow of the hill.At this point I felt that was part of prudence to retire from the window to a safer place. I did not see what became of the officer, of the men with him. The charge ended the fight.

When I went out, one of the soldiers who had passed under the window, was lying out near a side gate of the yard with a shattered leg, which had to be amputated, the confederates who had been killed in the fight were lying on the roadside, on some boards, which had been provided, and when I reached town, I learned that Capt. Carter was shot through the body, and was in a room of the hotel dying. Others were wounded in the fight, but notseriously.

I am satisfied Capt. Carter was the officer whom I saw go up the hill towards the Confederate line.

Captain Carter was a Cumberland County boy

Capt. Carter was a Cumberland county boy, and entered the army from that county. Wolford held him in high esteem, and valued him as one of the most intrepid and dashing of his officers. The element of fear did not enter into his composition, and before his death he had won a reputation in other battles as a man of highest courage. It was about 3 o'clock in the afternoon when he was shot,and died during the night.

It was said that Col. [Silas] Adams and Major A.T. Keene, of the same command, followed with a small force, and arriving in the neighborhood of Columbia after the fight, and learning that Capt. Carter was wounded and dying, Maj. Keene in disguise, entered the town, while Morgan's force was passing, and went to the room of his dying comrade, and remained with him until his death. He and Carter were from the same county.

Ben Lee Hardin and James B. Baker narrowly escape death

It was after this fight, and immediately upon the entry of the Confederates into town, that Ben Lee Hardin and James B. Baker, then young men, narrowly escaped death in a summary way. They were charged with firing on the first soldiers who entered town, and were arrested and taken out behind the old clerk's office to be shot, and would have been executed, had it not been for the intercessions and statements of Col. Cravens and Nat Gaither, who convinced Col. Morgan* that the charge against them was false, and that the shooting complained of was done by soldiers, and not by the boys. It was while they were standing at the back wall of the clerk's office, that Jim said to Ben, "Well, Ben, they will be bad off for bass singers in town when we are gone." I doubt whether they fully appreciated the danger of their position at the time, for it was said that the man who commanded the squad which arrested them, was a man of evil reputation.

Several years after the war, I met Col. Morgan*, and in a conversation in regard to the fight here, he mentioned the circumstances of the arrest of the boys on the charge of firing on the troops, and how near they came to death, not knowing , until I told him, that one of them was my brother.

It was the day after the fight here when the battle ofGreen river occurred, in which Col. Chenault, Maj. Brents, and many other confederates were killed, and in whose memory the monument at that place was erected.
(* The Col. Morgan to whom Judge Baker referred was Cal Morgan, a brother of Gen. John Hunt Morgan. Ben Lee Hardin was a son of well-known Adair countian & jurist Parker C. Hardin, and the brothers Baker were the nephews of Judge T.T. Alexander. In 1863, Messrs. Jim Baker and Ben Hardin were lads of about 18 or 19 summers.)
Central Ohio Bureau Chief
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This story was posted on 2006-01-28 13:48:42
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Scenic Adair CO, KY. History: Judge Baker photo, Wayside Marker

2006-01-28 - Columbia, Adair CO, KY - Photo staff of picture Wayside Marker. This is a photo of the cameo of Judge Hershel Clay Baker which adorns the Wayside Marker entitled The Door Was Left Open! located on Burkesville Street off the corner of the Gate gas station. The caption under the photo says, Judge Hershel Baker (1841-1934). As a young man Baker witnessed Morgan Raders as they came through Columbia at the beginning of the Great Raid. He wrote of this in his memoirs for the Adair County News in 1898. The photo is credited to the Kentucky Historical Society.
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