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Seventeenth Kentucky Infantry

Contributed by Pamela N. Baker.

Col. John H. McHenry, of Owensboro, Ky., who raised this regiment, read an account of it before the Federal Historical Society March 2, 1882, and the following sketch is made up from that narrative, which covered the period from organization until November, 1862.

When President Lincoln called an extra session of Congress to meet July 4, 1861, a special election of Congressmen became necessary in Kentucky. This election was held June 20th, and James S. Jackson, of Hopkinsville, was elected from the Second District. Jackson had scarcely taken his seat when he resigned to enter the military service. He came back to Kentucky for that purpose, and John H. McHenry, being his personal friend and having had a military education at West Point, at once was associated with Jackson. It was soon arranged that several well-known Kentuckians, including themselves, would each recruit a regiment; Jackson a cavalry regiment, which became the 3rd; McHenry an infantry regiment, which became the 17th. Hawkins, of Warren, Burbridge, of Logan, and Shackelford, of Hopkins, were the others.

Col. McHenry says: "Great difficulty and even danger was experienced by recruiting officers in Western Kentucky in filling up their ranks. In many counties were numerous persons who desired to volunteer in the regiments then being formed for the Union army. They had no opportunity for doing so without fleeing to the north side of Green river. Leaving their homes and families unprotected, they would band together in squads, and with such arms as could be procured, cross the river at night and come hastily to the Union camps."

He says Col. Hawkins had assembled several companies on the south side of Green river, at Rochester, and he (McHenry) visited his camp early in September, his own camp being then at Hartford, Ohio county, and named Camp Calloway for a Revolutionary soldier who lived in that county. About September 11th Gen. S. B. Buckner came into the state, and Col. Hawkins made his way with his men to McHenry’s camp at Hartford. A few days later they removed to Owensboro, and camp was established there; also one at Henderson and one at Calhoon. To these camps recruits came from all the adjacent counties to join as Col. McHenry says, "the various regiments that were being recruited by Jackson, Hawkins, Love, Burbridge, Shackelford, Bristow, Buckner, myself and others."

These camps were in constant apprehension of invasion from the Confederates who had established themselves in Kentucky, at Bowling Green, Russellville, Hopkinsville and other places. The camp at Hartford was particularly exposed by its advanced position. It was in no condition to cope with the enemy’s troops, for it must be remembered that in the Confederate camps in Tennes-see not only the Tennessee troops but a number of State Guard troops from Kentucky, with the arms of the State of Kentucky, had been organizing and drilling for many months previous, and the Kentucky Unionists were now taking their initial steps. From the day of enlistment these Unionists may be said to have entered into active service, and the 17th engaged the enemy at Big Hill near Morgantown, Ky., October 29, 1861.

Col. McHenry says: "Our regiments, still only partially organized, were concentrated at Calhoon in November, 1861, and placed under command of Gen. Thos. L. Crittenden, of Frankfort. They were the 11th Ky., 001. P. B. Hawkins; 17th Ky., Col. McHenry; 25th Ky., Col. J. M. Shackelford; 26th Ky., Col. S. G. Burbridge; 3rd Ky. Cay., Col. J. S. Jackson, and the 31st, 42d, 43rd and 44th Indiana, and a battery of artillery." Here the recruits suffered greatly from measles, colds and pneumonia, and many were so disabled that they were afterwards discharged.

They remained at Calhoon about two months. In January, 1862, four of these regiments were sent to join the command of Gen. Grant. They were transported by steamboats. They were the 17th and 25th Ky., 31st and 44th Indiana. Col. Cruft being the ranking officer, commanded them as a brigade. When the steamers reached Ft. Henry it had been captured. They at once went back down the Tennessee river and then up the Cumberland to Ft. Donelson. They reached that place in time to share in all the fighting that preceded the surrender.

Col. McHenry says: "As my regiment was disembarking, Gen. Grant, who was at the place, said, 'I have a big contract on hand, and will have some work for you and your regiment to-day or to-morrow, and I expect to hear a good report from the Kentuckians.'"

The next day they engaged in the fighting; Col. McHenry describes it as very severe. He says the lines of the armies were in full view of each other and in gunshot range for hours, it being the intention of Grant to draw his enemy out, and the intention of the others not to be drawn out. And the matter was determined by an assault by Grant’s forces. During this engagement the attacking forces were exposed to severest weather.

At Donelson the 17th and 25th were in Gen. Lew Wallace’s division. He says: "Col. Jas. M. Shackelford, 25th Ky., and Col. John H. McHenry, 17th Ky., and their field and company officers all won honor and lasting praise; nor can less be given to the valor and endurance of the men who composed their regiments." Col. Cruft compliments all who were in his brigade, saying all behaved well. Col. Shackelford in his report, says: "He led his men in the face of a most terrific fire." Col. McHenry described the fighting as a "terrible battle." The casualties of the 25th were fourteen killed and fifty-eight wounded; of the 17th four killed and thirty-four wounded.

After the fall of Donelson Grant’s army moved to Pittsburg Landing. Arrangements were made at that time for the consolidation of the 17th and 25th Ky., and Col. J. M. Shackelford returned to Kentucky ‘to raise another regiment. The 25th continued under command of Lieut. Col. B. H. Bristow (afterwards Secretary of the Treasury) until after the battle of Shiloh when the con-solidation was consummated, April 13, 1862. These two regiments were closely associated in the battle of Shiloh, being in the same brigade under Brig. Gen. J. G. Lauman. Gen. Lauman in his report says the regiments in his brigade "fought from morning until night like veterans." Col. McHenry describes the 17th in line early Sunday morning, near the right of an open field in rear of a portion of the camp Gen. Prentiss had occupied. It first had to endure a terrible artillery fire, then a column of infantry attempted a left flank movement, and was driven back with dreadful loss. Fighting until cartridge boxes were exhausted, the regiment was moved to a new position, which it held until nearly sundown. He says: "About four o’clock, owing to the withdrawal of Lieut. Col. Bristow, who was wounded, and the wounding of Maj. Wall, of the 25th Ky., that regiment was turned over to me and the gallant officers and men acted with the same courage that had characterized them during the day." Capt. Morton, of the 17th, was mortally wounded. Capt. Robert Vaughan was wounded. He specially mentions Capt. Beckham, Lieuts. Kieth, Nall, Brown, Campbell, Bratcher, Ferguson, Little, Heston, and Adjt. Starling. The casualties were, one officer killed and two wounded; seventeen men killed and sixty-seven wounded.

On the 13th of April, 1862, the 25th Ky. was formally consolidated with the 17th, and under the latter designation continued during the remainder of their service. It moved with the army to Corinth and was engaged in severe skirmishing, lasting nearly all the night before the evacuation and it was with the first troops to enter the place. In the organization of the army of the Ohio, in April and May and the summer of 1862, the 17th was in Ammen’s brigade, Nelson’s division.

From Corinth it marched with Buell’s army to Huntsville, Ala.; in June it was at Athens; in July at Pulaski and Reynolds’ Station, Tenn. It was with Buell’s army in the march to Louisville, being often near to Bragg’s columns, and at the time of the battle of Perryville was in McCook’s corps, Rousseau’s division, Starkweathers’ brigade. It was not in the battle of Perryville, having marched from Springfield that day, where it had been sent as train guard, and arrived on the field after the close of the engagement.

After the battle of Perryville the 17th followed Bragg’s army as far as Livingston, Ky., and then was sent to Bowling Green and thence to Russellville, where, in Col. S. D. Bruce’s brigade, it, with other troops, was employed in the protection of that part of the state during November and December, 1862. At this time Col. McHenry’s connection with the regiment ceased.*

In December, the 17th was ordered to Clarksville, Tenn., where it remained until March, 1803, when it proceeded by steamboat to Nashville, Tenn. In April it was at Brentwood; in May at Murfreesboro; in June and July at McMinnville, and crossed the mountain to Pikeville. In the organization of Rosecrans’ army, July 31, 1863, the 17th was in Crittenden’s corps, VanCleve’s division, Beatty’s brigade, and it so remained until after the battle of Chickamauga, in which it was severely engaged both days. On the first day it assisted in capturing a battery which was sent to the rear.

In Gen. Crittenden’s report of this battle he mentions three regiments, 44th Ind., 9th Ky., and 17th Ky., which rallied and formed on Snodgrass Hill on the right of the main line on the second day, and fighting all day, only left the field when ordered at 7:30 p. m. Gen. Thos. J. Wood mentions this fact in his report, and says the fact that these regiments preserved their formation and did not retire when other troops did, was most creditable.

Gen. Beatty, in the report of his brigade, says these regiments made a stand and held the hill by the most terrific fighting, until dark, when they withdrew by order and joined the army at Rossville. Col. Stout in his report describes the fighting of his regiment on the 19th and 20th. It was very severe both days; on the 19th Lieut John D. Millman was killed and Capt. J. W. Anthony wounded. Lieut. Col. Robt. Vaughan was wounded on the 20th. On the 20th the 17th, with the other regiments, fought as has been mentioned. The casualties in this two-days’ battle in the 17th were one officer killed, two wounded; five men killed, one hundred and three wounded, and fifteen miss-ing. The fighting of the 17th is mentioned in the reports of many officers who were on the same part of the field.**

The 17th remained at Chattanooga until the 25th of November, when it participated in the battle of Missionary Ridge. It was in the grand assault made then, and Gen. Beatty especially complimented the work of Col. Stout and his men. Col. Stout says: "When the battalions in advance had advanced half way up the ascent, I advanced quickly, and had great difficulty in restraining officers and men in their ardor to reach the crest. Their enthusiasm, excited by the desire to reach the crest, and the tremendous cheering of our several lines, and the thundering of the guns on both sides knew no bounds . . . We reached the crest soon after the first flag had been planted on it, and while the balls of the enemy were flying thick around us."

After the battle of Missionary Ridge the l7th went with other troops into East Tennessee where it remained moving from place to place during the winter, being at Maryville, Knoxville, Strawberry Plains, Powder Spring, New Market and Dandridge. In April it was at Cleveland, May 4th at Catoosa Springs, and moved thence to take part in the Atlanta campaign, being in the 4th Corps, Wood’s division, Beatty’s brigade. May 7th, marched to Tunnell Hill, May 8th advanced and suffered loss at Rocky Face; also was engaged at Cassville, losing severely. There Capt. W. J. Landrum was killed and Lieut. C. A. Brasher badly wounded May 24th, at Altoona. May 27th fought at Pickett’s Mills, where Capt. Thos. R. Brown was wounded; June 6th at Ackworth; June 17th Capt. R. C. Sturgis received a wound from which he died. Fighting was continuous throughout the campaign about Kennesaw, Dallas, Marietta and across the Chattahoochee. Then in the battles around Atlanta, and in the movement to Jonesboro and Lovejoy’s south of Atlanta. Col. Stout says in his report: "During the campaign the regiment made twenty-seven lines of strong defensive works and many slight lines and barricades . . . The loss was one officer killed, four wounded, seven men killed, and eighty-three wounded." He compliments the officers and men of the regiment for their conduct.

After the fall of Atlanta, the 17th moved with Sherman’s army in the pursuit of Hood, spending the entire month of October, 1864, marching through the northern part of Georgia, still being with the 4th Army Corps. When Sherman prepared to march to the sea, November, 1864, he sent the 4th Corps and 23d Corps to Nashville to serve under Gen. Thomas against Hood’s army. The 17th Ky. went with the 4th Corps and in November was at Pulaski, Tenn., the 4th and 23d Corps being under Gen. Schofield. From Pulaski the troops fell back to Columbia, then to Spring Hill, then to Franklin, where the battle was fought November 30th. The 17th participated in all the movements and engagements of this campaign. After the battle of Franklin it was ordered to Louisville, where it was mustered out of service January 23, 1865. Few regiments had a record equal to that of the 17th Ky. It had more than three years of service in the field, and participatd in six of the greatest baffles of the war, and an untold number of smaller engagements.

The following statistics of the 17th Ky. are taken from the official records at Washington:

Total enlistments
Killed in battle or died of wounds received
Wounded in action
 Died in hospital, prison and by accidents, etc
 Total fatalities

Of the officers of this regiment it may be mentioned that Col. Stout was breveted Brig. General. He was a lawyer and died in 1895 in Chicago, where he located after the war. Lieut. Col. Vaughan became a business man in Louisville, where he now resides. Lieut. Col. I. B. Nail is a resident of Louisville, where he has been for twenty years engaged in newspaper editorial work. He served continuously through the war. Not only with the regiment, but also upon the staff of Generals Cruft, Beatty and Wood. Faithful as a soldier he has made one of Louisville’s most prominent and useful citizens. Major Wall was a prom-inent lawyer and died in Owensboro soon after the war. Major Caihoon is leading a useful life in the lower Green river section. Major Claggett removed to the Northwest and became prominent as a lawyer, but died several years ago. Adjt. Ritter practiced law in Hopkinsville until his death. Adjt. Starling became colonel of the 35th Ky. regiment. Adjt. Gist was in the government service in Washington for several years. Surgeon Burgess lives in Illinois at a ripe old age.

Of Company A, Capt. Morton was a most excellent soldier. His company was the first recruited in the Green river section and was on its way to Camp Dick Robinson when overtaken by a message from Col. McHenry asking him to return and become the nucleus of the 17th regiment. Capt. Morton was killed at Shiloh. Capt. Cox is a banker in Hartford and one of its best citizens.

Of Company B, Capt. Frank H. Bristow has served several terms as county judge of Todd county. Lieut. Shelby Hicks is a prominent citizen of Owensboro and has been in the revenue service at different times.

Of Company E, T. W. Campbell became Lieut Col. of the 17th Ky. Cavalry.

One of the first acts of the new recruits of the 17th was the disarming of the State Guard company at Hartford, which was done by Col. McHenry on the first demonstration of its purpose to side with the Confederacy. A conflict between the 17th and the State Guard in the streets was narrowly averted.

* He had issued to his regiment an -order to deliver to their owners all slaves found In his lines. This order was read at Bloomfield, KY. it was in conflict with the policy of the administration, and when it reached the eyes of the President an order was made dismissing him from the service. The order was received at Russeilville, Ky., and for some hours there was great danger of mutiny in the oamp. In fact. some of the men left for their homes, and nothing but a personal appeal from Col. McHenry himself quieted them. It was more their love and affection for him that affected them than Interest in the subject.

Lieut. Col. Stout was promoted and commanded the regiment until its muster out.

** Of the engagement on Snodgrass Hill, Col. Stout, in a letter, November 23, 1893, says: "I have always contended that the 17th Ky. was the first to start the line, and the others came up and formed." In another letter, dated November 26, 1893, he says: "I lay great stress upon my statement that we were the first to form the new line upon the right of Thomas. almost at right angles with him. He (Gen. Walker) says that we were the first to raise our colors on the new line." Gen. N. B. Walker, who was then colonel of the 31st Ohio Volunteer and an officer in the regular army, was a member that day, of Gen. Brannan's staff, in a letter, December 2, 1881, to Col. Stout, says: "You will remember that there was much confusion with the troops on the morning of the 20th of September, 1863. Your regiment was formed on the line with some of Gen. Brannan’s, and some others, which did not belong to his division. For instance, the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and, I think, the general meant to include both your regiment, the 17th Ky., and 21st Ohio, in his report, but he ought to have mentioned both regiments in the most honorable manner. I now say that your regiment the 17th Ky., was the first organized body of troops on the new line on the hills on the morning of the 20th. I well remember that when your regiment came upon the first hill one of your captains was carrying your colors, and I directed him where to plant the colors, as a guide to the deployment I wanted you to make. I offered to take the flag in my hand to indicate the precise point I wanted it to occupy, but the captain would not allow me to take it out of his hand, but stepped forward with me and planted the staff, saying that the flag should not quit his living hand. Your regiment immediately deployed on the right, and there remained and fought as bravely as men ever did. through the entire battle of the day."

As early as July 4, 1878, Gen. Walker wrote to Col. Stout, saying: "Yours were the first colors on the new line, and they waved in grand defiance of the enemy all the day long, and until the unfortunate order to fall back came."

From Dyer's Compendium:

17th Regiment Infantry

Organized at Hartford and Calhoun, Ky., September to December, 1861. Attached to 13th Brigade, Army of Ohio, to December, 1861. 13th Brigade, 5th Division, Army of Ohio, to February, 1862. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, Army of the Tennessee, to March, 1862. 3rd Brigade, 4th Division, Army of the Tennessee, to April, 1862. 10th Brigade, 4th Division, Army of the Ohio, to July, 1862. 9th Brigade, 3rd Division, Army of Ohio, to September, 1862. District of Western Kentucky, Dept. of Ohio, to November, 1862. Post of Clarksville, Tenn., Dept. of the Cumberland, to March, 1863. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 21st Army Corps, Army of the Cumberland, to October, 1863. 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 4th Army Corps, to January, 1865.

SERVICE.--Duty at Calhoun, Ky., until February, 1862. Action at Woodbury, Ky., October 29, 1861. Morgantown October 31. Moved to Fort Donelson, Tenn., February 11-13. Investment and capture of Fort Donelson, Tenn., February 13-16. Expedition to Crump's Landing, Tenn., March 14-17. Battle of Shiloh, Tenn., April 6-7. Advance on and siege of Corinth, Miss., April 29-May 30. Bridge Creek before Corinth May 28. Pursuit to Booneville May 31-June 12. Buell's Campaign in Northern Alabama and Middle Tennessee June to August. March to Nashville, Tenn., thence to Louisville, Ky., in pursuit of Bragg August 21-September 26. Moved to Bowling Green, Ky., thence to Russellsville, Ky., and duty there until December. Ordered to Clarksville, Tenn., and duty there until March, 1863. Moved to Nashville, Tenn., thence to Murfreesboro, Tenn., and duty there until June. Middle Tennessee (or Tullahoma) Campaign June 23-July 7. At McMinnville until August 16. Passage of Cumberland Mountains and Tennessee River and Chickamauga (Ga.) Campaign August 16-September 22. Battle of Chickamauga September 19-20. Siege of Chattanooga, Tenn., September 24-November 23. Chattanooga-Ringgold Campaign November 23-27. Orchard Knob November 23-24. Mission Ridge November 25, March to relief of Knoxville November 28-December 8. Operations in East Tennessee December, 1863, to April, 1864. Moved to Cleveland, Tenn. Atlanta (Ga.) Campaign May to September. Demonstration on Rocky Faced Ridge May 8-11. Battle of Resaca May 14-15. Adairsville May 17. Near Kingston May 18-19. Near Cassville May 19. Advance on Dallas May 22-25. Operations on Pumpkin Vine Creek and battles about Dallas, New Hope Church and Allatoona Hills May 25-June 5. Pickett's Mills May 27. Ackworth June 6. Operations about Marietta and against Kenesaw Mountain June 10-July 2. Pine Hill June 11-14. Lost Mountain June 15-17. Assault on Kenesaw June 26. Ruff's Station July 4. Chattahoochie River July 5-17. Peach Tree Creek July 19-20, Siege of Atlanta July 22-August 25. Flank movement on Jonesboro August 25-30. Battle of Jonesboro August 31-September 1. Lovejoy Station September 2-6. Operations against Hood in North Georgia and North Alabama September 29-November 3. Moved to Nashville and Pulaski, Tenn. Columbia, Duck River, November 24-27. Battle of Franklin November 30. Ordered to Louisville, Ky., December, and mustered out January 23, 1865.

Regiment lost during service 7 Officers and 128 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 5 Officers and 158 Enlisted men by disease. Total 298.

17th Kentucky Infantry, U. S. Volunteers, Website
Mark Carroll

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