Athens is a lovely little town and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the local history room at the library where the most helpful librarian shared a number of diary accounts from town residents regarding the sack of Athens. After we chatted for a few minutes, she commented that I didn't sound like a local. I replied that I was from northern Ohio. "What brings you to Athens?" I shifted uncomfortably, "Well, my great great grandfather served in the 37th Indiana during the war..." She frowned. "I've heard of them," she said with just a touch of iciness. "I do hope that you'll be on your best behavior while you're here." The way she said "while you're here" implied her hope that my visit would be short. And such are memories in the old South when one of the descendants of the "Yankee vandals" returns to visit, even in 2001.
This week's blog post features a letter written by an unknown soldier of the 37th Indiana who regularly had letters printed by the Cincinnati Commercial, which is a tremendous source for soldiers' letters during the war. Known by his nom-de-plume "Jargo Nethliz" (no clue what it means), Jargo wrote the following account of the sack of Athens shortly after it occurred and he characterized the event as "a disgraceful outrage."
More importantly, he writes at length about a little known engagement that occurred at a bridge located twelve miles north of Athens near Bethel, Tennessee, in which a large portion of Co. E was captured after a fight with Confederate cavalry. The company had been sent to guard the railroad trestle over Sulphur Creek shortly after the sack of Athens on May 1st. About 400 Confederate troopers (mostly 1st Kentucky Cavalry with about 80 Texas Rangers) under Lieutenant Colonel John Adams of the 1st Kentucky attacked the detachment of the 37th Indiana; the company had 48 men at the bridge and lost five killed and the remainder captured. This engagement, fought May 9, 1862, is known by several names: the engagement at Elk River, the battle of Hewey's Bridge, or the Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle.
|Lieutenant Andrew J. Hungate, Co. E, 37th Indiana Infantry|
|Northern Alabama from an 1860s map of the region.|
|Major William D. Ward, 37th Indiana|
|First Lt. James Coulter, Co. B|
|Private Robert Whittaker, Co. H|
|Colonel John B. Turchin|
"The Russian Thunderbolt" or "The Mad Cossack"
|37th Indiana Regimental Colors (Indiana Historical Society)|