Thursday, January 9, 2014

Battle of Salem, Kentucky

Almost the only things about the battle of Salem in Livingston County, Kentucky  that historians agree on are that it occurred 7 August 1864 and the 48th Kentucky Mounted Infantry (Union) was involved. The number of soldiers killed and wounded on both sides varies according to who is telling the story.   Thus far, it seems to me the Adjutant-General's Report for Kentucky gives a good account of who was involved and an account of the events from the Federal view.

The 48th Kentucky was composed of men from the following Kentucky counties: Breckinridge, Grayson, Muhlenberg, Christian, Trigg, Lyon, Livingston, Caldwell, Crittenden and Union.  The purpose of this regiment was to help prevent raids in Kentucky and to clear the state of guerrillas. Basically, these were hometown boys protecting the homes of their families and friends from the rebels.

The Adjutant-General's Report gives the following account:

"On the 7th of August, 1864, Capt. Hiett, with thirty-five men detailed from Companies B and C, were attacked at Salem, Ky., by three hundred Confederates and guerrillas. Capt. Hiett, with thirteen men, in the open street, with one volley from their guns and the bayonet, resisted the first charge of the enemy, after which he secured quarters in an old courthouse, and fought the enemy for six hours, compelling them to retreat, leaving eight killed. Loss of Capt. Hiett, two killed and three, with himself, wounded. The enemy carried off most of their dead and all of their wounded. Major Chennoworth was their commanding officer."

The Adjutant General's Report lists Wiley P. Fowler of Company B and Littleton Perry of Company C of the 48th Kentucky Mounted Infantry as Killed in Action on the day of the battle. This report also lists David S. Green of Company B as Killed in Action, but gives his death date as 12 August 1864. Shortly after the death of David S. Green, his widow, Clarinda, applied for a widow's pension and in that application [#73614] it states Green was "Killed on the Battlefield" at Salem on the 11 August 1864. Perhaps he died on the 11th August of wounds suffered on the 7th August.

Wiley P. Fowler, a native of Crittenden County, is buried in the John Wheeler Cemetery in that county.  According to the WPA's Registration of Veterans' Graves, Littleton Perry was buried in Perry Cemetery, Caldwell County, Kentucky. David S. Green is buried in Dollar Cemetery in Caldwell County, according to Find A Grave.

An article in the Evansville [Indiana] Journal on Thursday, 11 August 1864 tells about the battle, also from the Federal point of view.

"Fight at Salem, Ky. - We are informed  by a gentleman just from Kentucky that on Sunday last, Col. Sypert (rebel) with 140 men attacked Col. Jim Wilson, of the 48th Ky. (Federal) at Salem, Crittenden [sic] county, Ky., and was handsomely repulsed.

"The Federal force was about equal to that of the rebels. The rebels acknowledge a loss of three killed and six wounded. Among the former was Capt. McGoodwin.

"The rebels claims that they killed 12 of Wilson's men and wounded a goodly number but as Wilson fought under cover while the rebels were exposed, and from the additional fact that Sypert  retreated to Morganfield, it is natural to suppose that the rebel loss was far greater and our loss far less than reported by the rebels.

"Later - From a gentleman who arrived from Smithland yesterday we learn Jim Wilson was not in the fight at Salem. The Federals were commanded by Capt. Wyatt [sic] and another captain whose name we do not remember and consisted of only 40 men, the balance of the command being out on duty scouting.

"The rebels, 120 strong, approached the place about daylight and captured the pickets, and then sent in a demand to the little garrison of Federals, who had entrenched themselves in the Court-house, to surrender, saying that they had 200 men, and that 300 more would reach there in an hour.

"The answer returned was that they would have to fight for the town, when the battle opened at about 7 o'clock and continued until 11, the rebels losing nine men outright and two left wounded so badly as not to be able to be moved, and from 30 to 40 others more or less wounded, including Col. Sypert, who had his right elbow broken. Capt Bush, commanding at Smithland, having learned of the contemplated attack, mounted 200 men and sent them to the relief of the little band of heroes. They arrived in sight of the town at 11 o'clock, and being  seen as they crossed a hill two miles distant, the rebels incontinently fled.

"The Federals had their horses picketed under range of their guns, and the rebels, being unable to steal them, got into houses and shot some 30 of the horses.

"The Federal loss was three killed and four or five wounded."

Another newspaper account in the 17 August 1864 issue of the Louisville Daily Journal  stated the guerilla [sic] forces numbered 300 and repulsed by 30 Federal soldiers. "The Union loss was several slightly wounded, one mortally, three killed and four taken prisoners ... The guerrilla loss was eight killed, and from ten to fifteen badly wounded. Quite a number were taken prisoner."

Hugh W. Hiett was only in his mid-20s when he became Captain of the 48th Kentucky Volunteer Mounted Infantry. He was wounded at Salem and just a few months later he was captured at Eddyville. Hiett and eight other officers were exchanged for the safe return of Col. H.B. Lyon's wife, who was taken during the shelling of Eddyville. After the war, Hiett lived in Crittenden County before moving to Illinois.
Col. Leonidas A. Sypert was a lawyer in Hopkinsville, Kentucky before the war. He was with the 3rd Kentucky Partisan Rangers (CSA). There is a sketch of Col. Sypert in The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army, edited by William J. Davis, 1904.

There is a tradition that several soldiers who died during the battle at Salem were buried at the Butler-Pippin Cemetery just outside town. This cemetery was inventoried in January 2013. If Civil War soldiers are buried there, their graves are not marked.
Published 9 January 2014, Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog,

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