The following is an excerpt from Across the Great Divide: “The Clouds of War”, relating an incident from the Christmas Raid of Morgan’s Raiders, December 22, 1862.
In the next few days, a new group from Shelbyville and another from Louisville joined Morgan’s command. With so many now reporting to him, Will saw him less frequently, though he always seemed to retain a particular affection for those who were original members of the Rifles. Will worked with some of the newer men on shooting and riding.
The next morning at assembly, Duke addressed the command.
“Men, the Federals have occupied Green River, where we were a few weeks back. We are ordered to Bell’s Tavern, to support a group of Texans that got themselves in trouble. Also, the Federals are rebuilding the Bacon Creek railroad bridge to move supplies to their troops. Captain Morgan is looking for a few volunteers to help blow the bridge. Anyone interested, step forward.”
Will and about ten others stepped forward.
“Volunteers, report to Captain Morgan with your horses in two hours. Draw four days rations from the quartermaster. The rest of you we leave in three hours for Bell’s Tavern. We want to be ready to attack tomorrow morning. Whoever has a horse can ride it, the rest of you will have to march or ride one of the wagons if there’s room. We’ll be traveling all night. Dismissed.”
In gathering twilight, Will and the others followed Morgan to Bacon Creek. Reports said there was a large camp of Federals nearby, so surprise and secrecy were paramount. They split the group, with two riding in the front, two riding in the rear, and the rest of them bunched in two columns of fours. Whenever the front riders thought it safe, they proceeded at a trot. Will was glad that he had the Morgan horse, whose stamina at a trot made it possible for him to go for miles at a time. Will’s rear end was not faring as well as the horse, and he had a feeling he’d be quite sore the next day. From Bowling Green, it took them nearly fifteen hours riding to get near the bridge, with a few hours stop for rest and food. Morgan cautioned them against fires, and needless chatter. They found a ravine about a mile from the bridge, and rested there until dark. Some of the men played cards; others gathered black walnuts and persimmons. Will sat at a distance from the rest, reading his Bible by the failing light. He thought of the coming fight, and read Psalm 144, “Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight: My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me.”
As the moon rose, the men mounted and rode closer to the bridge. They dismounted again about a hundred yards away. Making their way down to the edge of the creek, they gathered dry wood and kindling. Will and one other sharpshooter stationed themselves in trees back from the creek, with orders to pick off any federals that ventured from the guardhouse near the bridge in an attempt to stop the burning. Soon the men had a roaring blaze going. They relaxed on the creek bank, roasting food, playing cards, and generally being unconcerned about a possible Federal attack. Two men came out of the guardhouse. Will fired, purposely hitting the ground just in front of the first man. He quickly re-loaded, keeping his already loaded Springfield nearby in case the man tried to run. The dirt kicked up behind the other man, as his comrade fired. Two other Confederates rushed to the entrance to the bridge, rifles aimed, urging the men to surrender. The men laid down, hands behind their heads. Ben Drake and Jesse quickly took them prisoner, and hustled them to Captain Morgan. Will came down from his tree, and walked close to where Morgan was questioning the men.
“How many Federals in your camp?”
“About two hundred in the stockade. Another brigade to the north,” answered the man, obviously scared.
“Which units?” queried Morgan, testing him.
“Ninety-first Illinois. Please, sir, I got a wife just had a baby. I want to live to see my son.”
Morgan patted the prisoner’s shoulder. “Don’t fear. You will see him, as far as it depends upon me. Tell the truth, answer my questions, and you’ll be set free.”
Will listened as Morgan questioned him further, then appearing to be satisfied, he said, “Go back to your commander. Tell him not to bother re-building this bridge. As many times as he builds it, I will torch it. Tell him further that within a week, I will burn him out of Woodsonville.”
Morgan then dispatched men to burn the stockade a half mile from the bridge, and others to set fires and bend the rails all along the line. Will went with the stockade group, to discourage Federal resistance with his long gun.
(c) 2018 Michael Ross, All rights reserved