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5th Kentucky account... Middle Creek, 1862.

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  • 5th Kentucky account... Middle Creek, 1862.


    The 5th Kentucky Regiment was called the "Sang diggers" by their fellow Kentucky troops. It was noted, "they were squirrel hunters, butternuts, etc., and as most of them were from the mountain sections where ginseng at one time constituted a sort of staple of barter, they were dubbed Sang Diggers." [Thompson, Orphan Brigade...]

    E.O Guerrant of Gen. Marshall's staff, recalled (Battles and Leaders), that the 5th was Marshall's "ragamuffin regiment."

    "composed almost exclusively of mountain men...they were hardy, raw boned, brave mountaineers, trained to hardships and armed with long rifles..." It was a very severe winter, and Marshall's men were poorly clad, and many of the soldiers were nearly naked. One regiment had 350 barefooted men, and not over 100 blankets for 700 men." Guerrant states that Gen. A.S. Johnston forwarded 1,000 suits of clothing, including hats and shoes, which reached Marshall's army at Whitesburg, Ky.

    "When the quartermaster distributed the clothing among the soldiers it was noticed that they examined with suspicion the peculiar color and texture of the cloth. General Marshall discovering it was cotton, and fearing the result of such a discovery by his men, rose to the occasion with a stirring speech, in which he eulogized the courage, endurance, and patriotism of his men, and commended the government for its thoughtful care of them, and relieved their fears as to the quality of the goods by assuring them they were woven out of the best quality of Southern wool, with which, doubtless, many of the Kentuckians were not acquainted. The men took the generals' word for it (with a grain of salt) and walked off to their quarters with their cottonade suits. The general often remarked afterward that the deception nearly choked him, adding, "but something had to be done."

    "The army was not only badly clothed, but in general badly armed. Many of the men had only shotguns and squirrel rifles. Requisitions on the quartermaster department were not filled for want of supplies."

    George Washington Noble, of Swango's company of the 5th kentucky ("Sang diggers"), was 17 years old in the battle at Middle Creek in January, 1862. he enlisted at Paintsville on Dec. 28, 1861. Here is his account of service up to the battle:

    "We had no tents that I remember of. I dug a hole in the ground on the side of the hill and carried leaves and filled it and covered the top with dirt. I stayed in there, and one night it rained and John Muncey came and crawled in with me, and he crowded me so tightly that I got out. The next day we came very nearly having a fight about it. He just stood right up to me over it…

    We went out to drill. That was the first time I had ever tried that kind of business. The captain drilled us. A company was 100 men. The officers of a company was a captain, first, second and third lieutenants, an orderly sergeant and four other sergeants, second , third , fourth and fifth , including the orderly. The orderly called the roll and issued the rations to the different messes. He could only draw the rations for his mess. The orderly formed the company in line, and made them count off one, two, clear down the line. The tallest were on the right and the lowest on the left. The captain would command right face — then the company would turn on the right heel and No. 2 would step to the right of No. 1; then they were in double-file, and the captain would command forward march. He would say, “Keep time;" that was for every soldier to step at one time.

    There were five corporals in each company. They had to take the pickets to their posts and relieve them every two hours. There were three to relieve the guards, first, second and third, and a sergeant of the guard. Three reliefs and a lieutenant were officers of the day. No one could pass in or out without consent. The sentinel would halloo if anything was wanted. Corporal of the guard post No. 2, or what-ever his number was, would come and take the person to the Sergeant of the guard. If they had a pass the sergeant would pass them in or out; if they had no pass he would take them to the officer of the day. If he thought it necessary he would take them to the colonel. They relieved the sentinels every two hours. They were off four hours and on two for a day and might and on and off that way until the whole regiment on duty. The sergeant had to detail every man who served. The orderly sergeant did all the detailing and reporting of disorder to the captain. If anyone disobeyed he was sent to the guard house. That was a large tent kept for a guard house. A guard was kept there all the time; and also while marching.

    The officers were paid according to rank. In drilling we had to learn to mark time. That was that all the soldiers had to learn—to raise their right feet at one time. The captain would command, “Mark time; march.” We had to stand still and raise the right foot just as we stepped. The command to march meant to move no matter what command was given. We were not to move until the command of march was given. Then all had to move at once—like a gate shutting.

    The Fifth Kentucky Regiment had for colonel John S. Williams. He was a captain in the war with Mexico. Jack May was lieutenant; Harvey Hawkins, major, and R. T. Daniel, adjutant. ln drilling, when they wanted four to walk side by side, the officer would command, “Double file, march;” then No. 2 would step to the right of No. 1–then they were four deep. When in a fight the colonel would command “front face,” and each captain would give the same command. Then he would command the first rank, “Ready; aim; fire;” then he would command, “Fall back; load;" to the second rank, “Ready; aim; fire; fall back.” By that time, the first were loaded and ready, and so the fight went on that way. The colonel would walk behind the regiment and cheer the soldiers, saying, “Put it to them, my brave boys!" The lieutenant-colonel remained at one end of the regiment and the major at the other end, carrying out the orders of the colonel. The adjutant kept with the colonel to receive the dispatches from the general and write the dispatches for the colonel. The carrier stayed with the colonel, ready to carry the dispatches from the colonel to the lieutenant-colonel or general. The general stayed with the battery. The flag-bearer, drum and fife stood in the middle of the regiment and played the fife and beat the drum. If the color bearer was shot down, it was grabbed and held up by some one else.

    Sometimes they would send skirmishers off as guards, and the cavalry would charge them. The Colonel would command, “Rally by fours; march,” and the soldiers would run four together and set their backs together with the bayonet and keep them off with the bayonet. The cavalry was armed with sabers to fight with.

    The lieutenants kept in line behind their companies to keep the men in line and carry out the command from the captain. Sometimes the sergeants would attend to the wounded unless the battle was too hot. Each regiment had its doctor and preacher, called sergeant [sic., Surgeon] and chaplain; also a quartermaster to attend to the provision for the army. He provided all kinds of flour, meat, etc., called commissary. Each had a wagonmaster to attend to wagons, horses and many other things. The drilling was to learn how to fight, how to load the gun, how to aim, how to lie down and load, how to fix bayonets, how to charge bayonets, how to knock off a bayonet, how to salute an officer, etc.

    We camped at Hager's Hill. Humphrey Marshall was the brigadier-general. The cannons there were called Jerry's [Jeffress'] battery. Gen. Marshall was a colonel in the Mexican war, and he was a fine general, too. He attended to fixing breast works and placing the cannons on a high knob and throwing up earthworks. On January 14, 1862, we were ordered down with everything we had. That was the first time I had marched with the regular army, and it was night. They said the enemy was close, and I got lost from my company and fell in with the guards and they were guarding a road and put me in a field not far from the road with orders to fire if I saw any one coming. The water was running over a log and making a noise and the moon was shining on the water. It looked to me like something moving. I had heard my father say the Indians would slip upon a man and tomahawk him. When I thought of that I would raise my gun to shoot; then my mind would change. At last the corporal came and took me off. They were upon a march. The mud was knee-deep in places. We got back to the old camp at daylight.

    The army was throwing guns into a well and pouring out barrels of sugar and destroying a quantity of commissaries. I filled my haversack with sugar and ate all I could, and so did all the soldiers. That was all I got for breakfast. We marched all that day. On January 16, 1862, we had a battle on Middle Creek, near Prestonsburg, Floyd county.
    Battle of Middle Creek.


    Gen. Garfield was commanding the Federals. We formed a line on the top of a mountain. As the Fifth Kentucky Regiment marched out we passed the cannons. We did not get far until a cannon roared and the guns were cracking at our left. It was not long until we were in line in single file, and the firing began on the right of where I stood. There were three companies to the right of Swango's company. From where I stood it was not long before I saw Bob Winn going down the hill with his leg bleeding and swearing that he could whip any Yankee in their army with his fist. In a few minutes Henry Combs broke off down the hill, and Col. Williams drew his sword and said: “If you don't get in line I will cut your head off!” The balls were going over our heads, and we were ordered to lie down. The company was shooting at will, and I got up and got behind a small bush. Joe Combs said to me, “You will get your head shot off! Lie down.” I replied, “Joe is scared.” At that instant a bullet hit the side of the bush right by my face, and just made the bark fly. I tell you, I fell down quickly and did not rise up until we were ordered up. Joe laughed at me, and said, “You had better watch!” The Yankees fell back and we lay there until night, and then marched about six miles and camped in a cornfield. We used fence rails to make a fire.

    For supper our mess had bacon and parched corn which we found in the field; had the same for breakfast. I never learned how many were killed; they said two were killed in the Fifth Kentucky Regiment. There were two regiments of Virginia infantry under Col. Trigg and Col. Moore and a battalion under Col. Slimp, from Virginia, and another battalion under Col. Dunn from Virginia and Major Shawhon. The Kentucky cavalry engaged in the battle. The army then retreated to the head of Carrier Fork, in Letcher county, and there I received the first Confederate money I ever owned. We remained there one week and then marched to Rockhouse Creek, near the Kentucky river, and camped one week. The soldiers had heard that the army was ordered to Virginia and they began to desert by great squads, taking their guns and ammunition…"

    [Noble, George Washington, Behold He Cometh in the Clouds, Hazel Green, KY, 1912.]

    J. Marshall,
    Hernando, FL
    Last edited by floridawar; 07-10-2021, 05:33 PM.
    James "Archie" Marshall
    The Buzzard Club (Saltmakers for the south)
    Tampa, FL
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