Sunday, July 05, 2020

How a Civil War nerd spent his Fourth of July: Tebbs Bend!

Needing a shave, a beer, a toothbrush and a new ballcap, your humble blogger at his destination.
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What's the best way to practice social distancing outside? Go visit a Civil War battlefield. That's what I did on the Fourth, leaving Nashville at 10 a.m. for my first visit to the Tebbs Bend (Ky.) battleground. On the trip through the Bluegrass State, I passed the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green (does it have mannequins of 75-year-old bald men in the vehicles?), the epically named Rugged Truth Barber Shop in Columbia, a lemonade stand along a highway in gawd-knows-where and lots of roadkill.

Miles traveled to battlefield: 144. Mask wearers observed indoors in Kentucky: 0. (Sigh.) Time zones experienced: two. Arrival: 1:20 Eastern. Temperature at the field: Blistering.

The now-overgrown campsite of  25th Michigan Infantry, which whipped a much larger force of cavalry
at Tebbs Bend on July 4, 1863. (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
This iron truss bridge used to span the Green River. Now it overlooks campsite of the 25th Michigan. 
Tebbs Bend battlefield scouting report: excellent wayside markers. (Damn. I read every ... single ... one. Alternate name: Battle of Green River Bridge. Inviting walking trails. Tour route: about three miles. Stops: 13. One 1907 iron truss bridge that used to span Green River. Two intimidating foxes spotted running through former campsite of 25th Michigan. Character of area: rural, much as it was in 1863. Rumors of bears in area. Hmmm ... not good. Visitors spotted on 157th anniversary of battle: three -- including one from my native Pennsylvania.

Site of Camp Hobson on the old James Allen Sublett farm.
Of course, one of those dang signs sucked me into stopping for this photo. From December 1861 to February 1862, this field was the site of Camp Hobson, a U.S. Army recruiting site and training camp. Nearly 2,000 volunteers -- they became the 13th and 21st Kentucky -- mustered into the U.S. Army here. Ah, I wonder what "treasures" they left behind.

Aptly named Green River.
There was little traffic on the battlefield road, so I stopped for this photo in the middle of the 21st-century bridge spanning the Green River, which 25th Michigan soldiers used for bathing. Probably looked something like this. (Avert your eyes!) Before the new bridge was built, the iron truss bridge was here; in 1863, a covered bridge spanned the Green River.

Confederates attacked toward the camera on the morning of July 4, 1863.
By sunset on July 4, 1863, the Confederacy was rocked by three defeats -- at Gettysburg, at Vicksburg and at this obscure battlefield. Here, on America's 87th birthday, 200 soldiers in the 25th Michigan under Colonel Orlando Moore whipped 2,500 dismounted calvary under Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan. Roughly 800 of Morgan's soldiers saw action, but still ... Casualties were very minor compared to Gettysburg and Vicksburg -- four dead and 16 wounded for the U.S. Army; at least 35 killed and 45 wounded for the Rebels.

Confederate artillery position astride Tebbs Bend Road. 
Nice wheels, Blogger Man.
From the small plateau in the first photo above, a battery of four Confederate cannon fired upon Moore's line (beyond the trees in the middle distance) early on the morning of the Fourth. I scanned the ground here for several minutes hoping to find evidence that these artilllerists were, as the wayside marker says, actually here in 1863. My "batting average" for relics spotted on battlefields is 215 points lower than this guy's lame career average.

In front yard of a mobile home, the Federals put their forward line. Check that: Home wasn't here in 1863.
So how did Moore pull this off against overwhelming odds and the vaunted Morgan, whose 1863 raids into Ohio, southern Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia alarmed the powers-that-be in Washington? Guts, smarts and, apparently, a little attitude. Choosing superb defensive terrain the day before the battle, Moore set up a forward line behind rifle pits and another line about 100 yards behind in an open field.

"The scene was beautiful and exciting," 25th Michigan veteran John Swanger wrote decades after the war about the defensive preparations, "the men, wakeful with the thoughts of the coming struggle, were jovial and happy; the brightened barrels of the arms glittering in the moonlight rendered the view soul-inspiring."

The rifle pits were manned by only 75 soldiers. These men were ordered to eventually retreat to their right and left, thus explosing the advancing Rebels to fire from the concealed main defensive line behind abatis of felled trees. To Moore's right, the steeps banks of the Green River; to his left, another stretch of the winding river.

Another of the excellent markers on Tebbs Bend battlefield. This one describes the Confederates'
demand for 25th Michigan Colonel Orlando Moore to unconditionally surrender. 
After Morgan's artillery pounded the Federals, Confederates approached with U.S. Army lines with a flag of truce. Their demand: unconditional surrender. Moore delivered what I like to think was the 19th-century equivalent of a one-finger salute: "This being the Fourth of July," he told them in this field, "I cannot entertain the proposition of surrender."

And this fight was on... 

Behind excellent defenses, Moore's men held off eight assaults. Corporal Morgan Wallace of the 25th Michigan was among the six Federal deaths. His femoral artery was severed by a bullet, and the married father of two young children bled out and died in 30 minutes. The 27-year-old soldier's effects, including two gold pens, a great coat, a pocketbook containing a dollar, 13 sheets of papers and 14 envelopes, were sent home to his wife, Ellen. Deep respect.

Confederate cemetery on the Tebbs Bend battlefield high above the Green River.
After taking a beating from Moore's mighty, little band of warriors, Morgan realized any further attacks would be futile. "The enemy, having met with a heavy loss, after a battle of four hours' duration, retreated, leaving a number of killed and wounded on the field greater than the entire number of the patriotic little band that opposed them," 25th Michigan veteran Harvey C. Lambert wrote years later.

One of the last battlefield markers I read before I headed home. "Michigan Man' Bo Schembechler 
would have loved it. (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
Thumbs up for this visit: Two. Photos taken: 43. Questions remaining about Tebbs Bend: Scores. (What's the real deal with this woman, who "tented with two of soldiers" of the 25th Michigan, "with whom she frequently went in swimming in the river"? Hmmm.) Suggested further reading on battle: Betty J. Gorin's Morgan Is Coming!the fine Tebbs Bend Battlefield Association web site and its Facebook page, which includes excellent videos. I'm digging in on this one.

Stop the insanity: Leave quarantine for a few hours for a battlefield near you.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Morgan Wallace dependents' pension file, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C., via
-- South Bend (Ind.) News-Times, July 1, 1913.
-- The National Tribune, Feb. 28, 1889.

1 comment:

  1. G'Day John,

    Thanks for your excellent(as usual!) Tibb's Bend blog. All the various links sent me down several very interesting "rabbit holes." Fascinating!


    Rob FNQ,Au