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Tom Chaney: The Lighted Torch of the Secesh
Of Writers And Their Books: The Lighted Torch of the 'Secesh' or Civil War Days in Reality. Tom reproduces a letter from February 1862 describing an event in Hart County. This column first appeared 4 September 2005 (slightly revised 15 September 2009).
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Fenton Johnson: A Fine Voice from New Haven
By Tom Chaney
The Lighted Torch of the 'Secesh' or Civil War Days in Reality
Four years ago I shared this letter which Chip Palmore found concerning an event in Hart County during the War Between the States. I hesitate to call it the Civil War -- human slaughter seems most un-civil to me.
Mastin Dashiel enlisted in the Union army in September 1861 at the tender age of 45. A resident of Johnson County, Indiana, he joined "Captain Graham's Company, Indiana Mounted Volunteers" which later became Company G 34d Indiana Cavalry. He furnished his own horse.
On "February 2n, 1862" Mr. Dashiel wrote to the Indianapolis Daily Journal. Four days later on February 6, 1862, page 2, column 3 the Journal published it titled "Letter from Kentucky, Camp Wood, Munfordsville [sic], Ky."
The spelling and punctuation have been retained. I have broken up the three long paragraphs for ease of reading.
Mr. Dashiel got to Tennessee. On December 31, 1862, he was captured at Stone's River. Paroled, he rejoined his unit in June of 1863. He mustered out at the end of the war and died May 17, 1903. He is buried in Indianapolis.
For some time I have felt an inclination to address you and hear from my good old home. There is nothing immediately interesting in our camp, only the rise and fall of the mud, which is a very interesting item with us boys and poor horses. But situated as you are, with an abundance of gravel upon which to promenade, I forbear to delineate upon the difficulties of the one or conveniences of the other.
Notwithstanding our privations, labors, unfavorable weather and hard living, we enjoy tolerable good health, but few sick and an occasional death from our ranks. Our patriotic emotions, like all other soldiers, is to get out of this scrape as quick as possible, by the command of a 'forward march' movement into the 'land of Dixie.'
The late battle of Mill Springs gave some Graham's squadron an opportunity to look slightly into 'Dixie,' and to there behold some of its deluded soldiers, who profess to be fighting for their rights.
The bodies of Gen. Zollicoffer and [Lt.] Peyton reached this point [Munfordville], per Railroad, on the 30th, encased in splendid coffins, labeled and directed to the care of Gen. McCook, for the same to forward under an escort of flag of truce to some place. Early on the morning of the 31st two ambulances, with four horses attached to each, moved from headquarters with the mortal remains of Zollicoffer and Peyton. [Zollicoffer and Peyton of Tennessee had been killed at the battle of Mill Spring, January 10.1862.]
The procession was headed by Gens. Johnson and Negley, of this division of the army, with a host of Colonels and Orderlies of the two staffs, and one of Frank Leslie's artists. Then followed the ambulances, and in the rear twenty-five of Graham's Cavalry, your humble servant one of the number.
We crossed Green River in safety on the pontoon bridge, took the Glasgow road as far as Horse Cave, a small village, situated on the Railroad, which has lost most of its houses by the lighted torch of the infuriated 'secesh,' who have to let go and give back as our army increases or advances.
This place is noted for the great cave here, from which it derives its name. We had no opportunity to examine the cave only as we passed by near its mouth -- we could see far into it. From this point we turned to our left, and took the Louisville and Nashville pike -- a good road -- but every place where timber has stood upon its borders it has been felled across it to obstruct our march.
The water for all kinds of use in this country, away from the river, stands in sink holes or ponds. Doubtless some of these are supplied by springs. They are plenty, varying from one to two hundred yards across, and the water in some of them is as good as that in artificial cisterns.
Many of these watering places contain from five to eight dead cattle or hogs, that have been driven into the water and shot down, and the owners ordered not to remove them.
Every cow-pit and culvert on the railroad, as far as observation could be made, had been burned, and every place where wood had been corded near the road it has been thrown upon the track and burned, thereby destroying the cross-ties and railing.
Everything possible for secesh ingenuity to invent, to obstruct or delay our forward movement, has been called into requisition. But still we go on.
We were called to a halt at the Woodland House. Wilson Righter, a good Union man, proprietor. Here the whole escort dismounted, and two were sent forward with the white flag to look for rebel camps, officers, orders, &c. During the interval our horses were taken to the barn and bountifully supplied with hay and corn, while our host, with all his household laid hold, and by their united efforts, in an almost incredibly short space of time, the long table was prepared in the spacious hall, loaded with more of the good things and luxuries of this life than is the common lot and fare of the soldier.
Officers and privates alike partook of the welcome repast, with grateful hearts and wishes for the long life and prosperity of the inmates of Woodland House. The gentle, harmonious sounds of the piano greeted our ears as we passed from the dining room to the front of the hotel.
This house was formerly the Mammoth Cave House, and is distant from the cave about five miles. The proprietor has been robbed of his grain, hay, horses, hogs and cattle -- all except one horse -- by the rebels, but still he has the heart and will to assist the Union cause and maintain his country. The house is of large dimensions, and the grounds judiciously laid off, all of which were promptly sketched by our accompanying artist.
At 3 o'clock the white flag appeared in sight from the south, in its front General Hindman, Col Hawthorn, with a host of Majors and Orderlies, followed close in their rear by fifty Texas Rangers, all mounted. Their officers dismounted and advanced, as did ours, of the same rank, and moved together to the hotel for consultation, &c.
But now came the time for us boys to mix in, and with our Hoosier impudence, carbines swung to our backs, swords and revolvers at our sides, we penetrated the ranks of the Rangers. Oh! How savage they looked. They eyed us close. We paid the same compliment to them.
Their uniforms were just what their individual fancy dictated to them -- some of them had on goat skin pants, others with pants of deer and cow skin, and one fellow's whole suit was of bear skin.
Their arms were revolvers, shot guns, and knives. Conversation at last began, with some shaking of hands. They informed us they were native Texans, whilst we were not slow in letting them know that we were live Hoosiers. We changed some tobacco: they also partook of some of theirs.
An exchange of newspapers was also made. I got a Nashville Courier of January 18, which contained the proceedings and the resolutions of the late Democratic convention held at Indianapolis, with the speech of John G. Davis upon that occasion. That Convention, with its resolutions and accompanying speeches, is all right down in Dixie, but does not suit a soldier in the Federal army. Consequently I left it with the one that presented it to me.
The charges that had been committed to our hands were delivered to the Confederate officers, and we parted with the rangers by inviting them to our quarters at any time most convenient to them. The same compliment was tendered to us. But I have extended this too long. I am safe in camp; 'tis getting cold. Please send me a daily.
P.S. In my next I hope to hail from 'away down in Tennessee.'
Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney
This story was posted on 2014-09-14 05:34:54
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