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This letter was written while the 16th Ohio was camped near Cumberland Ford, Kentucky, about 15 miles north of Confederate held Cumberland Gap. Sgt. McFadden talks mostly about two expeditions to Cumberland Gap in which the 16th Ohio participated. The editor of the Wooster Republican added an introduction.
From the 16th Regiment.
We have been kindly furnished with the following from a member of Capt. Van Doorn's Company, written to his uncle, Mr. Albert McFadden, near Wooster. The letter will be found full and very interesting to all who have friends in the regiment. We hope to be favored often from the same source. Cumberland Ford, March 25, 1862.
Cumberland Ford, March 25, 1862.
Dear Uncle: -- Yours of the 11th inst., was received about midnight of the 20th, when we were up drawing rations to march on the Gap. But before giving you the details of that march, I will answer your questions. And first, The Cumberland is not navigable here at the Ford, the head of navigation being at Mill Springs, the place of Zollicoffer's defeat. The river here at the ferry is about 80 or 100 yards wide and very deep. It is a mountain torrent; rising in a few hours from 20 to 40 fett. A little below the ferry it is much wider, and fordable at low water. The ferry is a flat boat capable of carrying 800 men, or a team of 6 mules and wagon. We get our provisions from Lebanon and Lexington, over miserable roads.
We have no Chaplain yet. An election was held a few days ago by the officers, and Matlock was chosen but I doubt if he ever comes. And it makes but little difference, for the Regiments that have Chaplains are the most wicked in the service.
But now to proceed. Nothing of much account happened since I wrote to you on the first. On the evening of the 10th we were ordered to draw one day's rations and 4 companies were ordered to march at 2 in the morning, and the remainder to follow at 4. We were of the latter. On account of the darkness of the morning we did not start so early. No one knew at the time what was up. We took the direct road for the Gap. About noon we reached the turn of the road which brought us in sight of the place. This was about 5 miles distant from their fortifications by way of the road. There the road turns to the right and follows the foot of the mountain in the opposite side of the valley from the Gap, being everywhere distant from it or nearly so for about 3 miles. We passed on, coming within 2 ½ miles of the Gap. The first companies had a chance to fire a volley on some cavalry who were out of reach of their guns. Some of the boys thought it quite an exploit to fire on an enemy though they were almost out of sight. We remained but a short time, it being merely a reconnaissance. We did not reach camp until late in the night. Scarcely half came into camp that night at all. They lay out along the road in old houses, or wherever they could. Those of us that reached camp had traveled 25 miles. From the main road the Gap appears like a second Gibraltar. The rebels seem to have cut down all the timber for thousands of acres around. Redoubt after redoubt, and stockade after stockade, connected by long lines of entrenchments, crown the mountain and its sides and base.
After this we did not do much but work on our fortifications until the evening of the 20th, when information was received by our General that the main force of the enemy had left the Gap, and had marched for Big Creek, 30 miles south, to attack Col. Carter, who was there with the 2d Tennessee and 2 companies of the 49th Indiana. Thinking this a favorable time to make an attack, orders were immediately issued to draw 5 days rations, and march at 8 o'clock on the morning of the 21st. The 1st Tennessee and 7th Kentucky, and Wetmore's 2 Parrot guns (all the artillery we took) passed us early, and the 16th Ohio and 49th Indiana brought up the rear. We followed the main road to the Gap for 8 miles, where we turned to the left, following the road down Yellow Creek for 3 miles, where we crossed a temporary bridge, and turning to the right marched 5 miles, which brought us within 2 ½ miles of the rebel entrenchments. It was now near sundown, and it commenced raining. There we were at the foot of the mountain in a deep gorge having the appearance of a second Hades. About dark orders came to march on, and we ascended the mountain, marched into the woods, stacked arms and lay down by our guns in groups of two or three as comfortable as we could under the circumstances, the snow coming down all night intermingled with rain. At daylight our picket drove in the rebels, and sharp firing was kept up for two hours. At 9 o'clock A.M. Company K was ordered out to relieve Company B, (Capt. Edgar, Holmes co.) which had been out all night. Company D (Capt. Mills, Dresden,) and Company A (Capt. Muse, Zanesville,) were also ordered up. We were not long in reaching the ground, and were drawn up behind a hill and deployed as skirmishers, each man seeking a rock or tree to protect himself. Companies D and A passed up a hill to the right, covered by timber cut by the rebels. We soon reached the top of the hill, when we were greeted by a volley from the rebel sharp-shooters hid in the valley below covered with rocks and fallen timber. For a while they had all the firing to themselves, but as soon as we could see where their shots came from we gave them shot for shot with interest. Companies A and D were soon ordered back, the enemy's artillery raking the hill completely. We remained alone, several companies being held in reserve in case of an emergency. We were kept at it to divert their attention while our artillery was being planted. They appeared to think we intended to put it on the hill we occupied. This is why they turned their cannon upon us. A shell from their 64 pounder, a few feet over us, cut off a pine tree thicker than any tree in your orchard, as neat as a knife could cut a twig. Musket and Minnie balls peeled the trees above and around us, and occasionally a shower of grape would fall upon the rocks and trees. We kept up a continual fire upon their stockade and skirmishers. I would not swear, however, that we killed any, but it was fun to see them dodge. It was fun also to see us dodge, but the joke was we always dodged after the balls were past. A rifle ball struck Lieut. Smith, of company K in the hip, cutting his sword strap, coat and pants, and stinging the hide. Another tipped Capt. Van Doorn's hair by his ear. The trees around us were literally peeled, and were any one else to tell me they had stood under such a fire for 7 hours without any one being hurt, I would not have believed it. Shells burst all around us, but fortunately not among us. About 11 o'clock our guns opened fire with shell, and the scene became intensely interesting. They immediately opened on our battery with 7 guns, but they proved themselves to be poor gunners, all their shots flying wildly. From the point we occupied, almost between the two fires, we could see the effects of shots. They soon drew in their sharp-shooters and we watched our chance to pick off their artillerists. At four o'clock we were ordered back. The regiment was concentrated and marched around the rear of our battery. It had been snowing all day, and continued during the night, but we built large fires and kept comfortable. Next morning we left Cumberland Gap, and at 2 P.M. of the 23d we reached our old camp, where we are now, fully assured that we cannot take the Gap without more artillery.
The mountain on which their fortifications are, is 1100 feet high. The sides where batteries are not, placed, are covered with fallen timber, making it impossible to carry at the point of the bayonet. Their works mount 19 pieces of artillery, one being a 64 pounder, and several 24 pounders, the balance 12, 9 and 6 pounders.
Col. De Courcy is considered the best military man in this brigade by one half, the General not excepted, and says it is harder place to take, in proportion to our means, than Sevastipol.
I can give you no idea of the strength of their position, or the magnitude of their works. Two trips there has made us pretty well acquainted with it, and if they persist in holding it, it will be a second Donelson affair in taking it.
We are now under Gen. Fremont, and heavy reinforcements are being ordered up of infantry and artillery. We must have heavy artillery to take that Gap.
You were awfully mistaken when you talked about that warm Gap. You imagined it a deep gorge or valley, but it is only a road over the top of the mountain.
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