"Hardtack and Hard Times": Who Do You Trust?

Ned Jilton • Nov 10, 2013 at 11:58 PM

Spinning a story to one’s advantage is not new. One of the difficulties encountered while doing research for the series “Marching with the 19th TN” is who do you trust when officers on the two sides can’t even agree on the number of dead or who drove who from the battlefield.An example of this difference would be the Battle of Mill Springs (Logan’s Crossroads, Fishing Creek) and the report of Lieutenant Colonel William C. Kise, Tenth Indiana Infantry compared to that of William Worsham, regimental historian of the 19th TN Volunteer Infantry.Lt. Col. Kise’s very colorful report on the 10th Indiana stated “A regiment of rebels were advancing in line of battle and their treasonable colors were seen flaunting in the breeze. Having selected as good a position as practicable, I took a stand and ordered the regiment to fire, which order was instantly obeyed. The firing continued without cessation for one hour, during which time we engaged three of the enemy's regiments and held them at bay.”Kise stated that his right started to give but he was reinforced by the 4th KY and was able to regroup and hold.This would seem to imply that not only did the 10th Indiana stop the advance of the 19th TN but also the 15th Mississippi, who were advancing on the 19th’s right, and either the 20th TN who were on the right of the 15th Miss, or the 25th TN who were behind the 19th TN in the second brigade.Worsham’s view of what happened that day was very different from Lt. Col. Kise.“The 19th Tennessee encountered first the 10th Indiana, about half way between the top of the ridge and the woods at the bottom” wrote Worsham. “We charged at a double quick, closely followed by the 25th Tennessee, and drove the enemy under shelter of the woods. The 15th Mississippi and the 20th Tennessee by this time had also driven the enemy from the top of the ridge into the woods below, thus forcing the whole Federal line from the clearing into the woods on the creek.”Worsham also stated that 10th Indiana was reinforced by the 4th KY but that the 10th Indiana retreated back to them not the 4th KY coming to them.Who do you believe, Worsham of Kise?First, remember that this was the January 19, 1861 battle that resulted in the death of Gen. Felix Zollicoffer when he mistook the 4th Kentucky Regiment of the Union Army to be Confederates.The 19th TN advanced fast enough to lose contact with the 15th Miss on their right. Zollicoffer rode up and not seeing the 15th Miss thought the 4th KY was them (The 15th Miss wore light blue uniforms, the weather was foggy and Zollicoffer was somewhat nearsighted.) and fearing the 19th TN was firing on fellow Confederates ordered them to stop firing then rode forward to order the 4th KY to stop firing, resulting in his death.This begs the questions if the 10th Indiana held as Lt. Col Kise stated how did the 19th TN get so far ahead of the Confederate line to lose contact with the 15th Miss resulting in Zollicoffer fatal mistake? Why was Zollicoffer riding up to the 4th KY and not the 10th Indiana?Second, What did other officers involved have to say about the actions of the 10th Indiana? If the regiment made such a brave stand wouldn’t it be noted in the reports of other officers?Col. Speed S. Fry commanding the 4th KY (and given credit for the fatal shot that killed Zollicoffer) did not give any mention of the 10th Indiana at all in any report. However, Col. Robert L. McCook of the Ninth Ohio Infantry commanding the Union Third Brigade tells a different story to what Kise stated.McCook stated “Colonel Manson, commanding the Second Brigade, in person informed me that the enemy were in force and in position on the top of the next hill beyond the woods and that they forced him to retire. I ordered my brigade forward through the woods in line of battle, skirting the Mill Springs road. The march of the Second Minnesota Regiment was soon obstructed by the Tenth Indiana, which was scattered through the woods waiting for ammunition. In front of them I saw the Fourth Kentucky engaging the enemy, but evidently retiring.”Now we have a Union brigade commander saying the 10th Indiana was scattered in the woods BEHIND the 4th KY.Funny, though, Lt. Col. Kise in his report gives a glowing description of the arrival of the Ninth Ohio as reinforcements after the 10th Indiana drives the Confederates back with a bayonet charge.Kise wrote “The whole regiment, from right to left, was not warmly engaged, and slowly but surely driving the enemy before them, when I ordered a "charge bayonet," which was promptly executed along the whole line. We soon drove the enemy from his place of concealment in the woods into an open field 200 yards from where I ordered the charge. When we arrived at the fence in our front many of the enemy were found lingering in the corners, and were bayoneted by my men between the rails. I pressed onward, and soon beheld with satisfaction that the enemy were moving in retreat across the field, but I suddenly saw them halt in the southeast corner of the field on a piece of high ground, where they received considerable re-enforcements and made a last and desperate effort to repulse our troops. In the mean time the gallant Colonel McCook, with his invincible Ninth Ohio Regiment, came in to our support.”According to McCook there was a bayonet charge, by the Ninth Ohio, who along with the 2nd Minn. Regiment had moved past the 10th Indiana and taken a position on the flank of the 4th KY.At the end of his report Lt. Col. Kise reported that “Three stands of rebel colors were captured by my regiment.”Gen. George H. Thomas, commanding general of the Union forces at Mill Springs, made no note of any charge by the 10th Indiana but stated he witnessed the charge of the Ninth Ohio. In his report of captured materials from the battle Thomas noted captured battle flags by other regiments but then stated that Lt. Col. Kise reported the capture of three battle flags but has failed to produce them.In the end whose description of the battle do you trust, Lt. Col. Kise of the 10th Indiana or William Worsham, musician and historian of the 19th TN?

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