Thursday, July 19, 2012

Citizen's Report of Federal Army at Smithland, Kentucky 1862

It was surely difficult seeing your hometown overrun with soldiers during the early days of the Civil War, especially if those soldiers were in the Federal army and you sympathized with the southern cause.

People expressed their displeasure at the war in different ways. Some citizens of Smithland, Kentucky risked repercussions by flying the Confederate flag, others enlisted in the Confederate army and still others sent reports on the Federal army to the Confederacy.

Shortly after the war began in 1861, it was recognized that Smithland was important because of its location at the confluence of the Cumberland and Ohio rivers. The Federal army moved into Smithland in September 1861 and remained there until after the war was over in 1865. The strengths and weaknesses of the Federal army at Smithland was of interest to the confederacy. Who better to report on activities than Ben F. Egan? As a former resident of Smithland, he knew the people, the roads and, as a steamboat captain, he knew the rivers.

The first report Egan made about the Federal army in Smithland can be found in Official Records, Series I, Vol. 52, page 155, dated 26 September 1861. The report was sent from W.J. Waldron at Clarksville, Tennessee to General Polk. Waldron stated that "Capt. Ben F. Egan, just in from Smithland, reports that steamer Empress landed there on Tuesday evening 1,000 infantry and one company of cavalry, and took possession of the town."

It is a later report that provides a good look at the Federal army in Smithland. This report is located in Confederate Citizens File, Civil War, on Fold3. Egan submitted this report on the 11th of February 1862 [incorrectly given as 1861 in one place]. The report, accompanied by a hand drawn sketch, reads as follows:

"The Federal forces now occupying Smithland number 320, regularly enlisted soldiers and about 75 raw, green recruits recently brought there by P.D. Yeiser, of Eddyville Ky, who is raising a company for Judge Williams' regiment, these men are quartered in an old cooper shop near the market house. The Federals are encamped on Dr. D.B. Sanders' hill, behind his brick house in the orchard, their position is shown in the sketch ... these men are armed with the old U.S. muskets. There are only 3 pieces of cannon, one 64 and two 32 pounders - The 64 and one 32 are planted behind the camp and command a range a range [sic] from the Sulphur Spring (about a mile and a half distant) to the head of Cumberland island, the other 32 pounder is planted in the south East corner of the Grave Yard, commanding a range from the Sulphur spring to the foot of the Cumberland island - the guns in the accompanying sketch are marked ... The camp is on the farther side of the hill from the town immediately below the 64 lb gun. These guns are planted so as to command the road leading to Eddyville and Paducah but can be fired in any direction, as they work on turn tables. The pickets are stationed about a mile on the Paducah road and about a mile and a half on the Eddyville road and in a circle of about a mile to the Cumberland river. Trenches are dug on each side of the big road ... The troops say that if they are left alone and have one week to complete their fortifications that they will be well prepared to resist any attack that may be made by Southern troops.

"On Tuesday night an expedition of these troops started up the Cumberland river destroying all flat boats, ferry boats & rafts... and every description of water craft. On Wednesday they progressed as far as Greens Ferry, and were to continue the destruction of boats as far up the river as Ross' Ferry (27 miles) - The force occupying Smithland are [illegible word] and have been all the time in constant fear and alarm and greatly dreading an attack."

The Grave Yard mentioned in the report is Smithland Cemetery, which is located high on a hill just back of the old courthouse and provides a good view of the rivers.

It is unknown if Egan's reports ever became known to Smithland residents, but it is known that he left Smithland before the war and never returned to live there.

Ben F. Egan led a very interesting life on the river and elsewhere. He was the son of Edward Egan and Martha "Patsy" Barner of Logan County, Kentucky. After her husband died, Patsy Barner Egan married Henry Wells, an early commission merchant in Smithland. Following the death of his mother and stepfather, it is believed Ben F. Egan moved into the house of his Uncle Benjamin Barner on Charlotte Street. Further information on the life of Ben F. Egan will be presented at a later date on this blog.

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