Ambushed at Ivy Mountain
In one of the opening moves to establish firm Federal control of eastern Kentucky, in early November 1861 General William Nelson marched a column of roughly 5,500 Federals from Prestonburg towards Piketon, Kentucky. At the head of the column were a few mounted scouts followed closely by four companies of Colonel Charles A. Marshall’s Kentucky Battalion (later the 16th Kentucky Infantry regiment) with Captain Alexander Berryhill’s Company A of the 2nd Ohio Infantry. Behind them were the 2nd Ohio, 21st Ohio, and 59th Ohio regiments with the guns of Battery D of the 1st Ohio Light Artillery bringing up the rear. Nelson had approximately 5,500 men in this expedition, plenty of force to disperse the enemy it was thought.
Athwart their path lay the newly raised Confederate volunteers of the 5th Kentucky Infantry under the command of Colonel John S. “Cerro Gordo” Williams. After spending the summer months enjoying “neutrality,” in early September Kentucky plunged into full-bore participation in the war when the Confederates moved into Columbus, Kentucky on the Mississippi River. Federal forces soon also moved in and recruiting points opened throughout the state seeking volunteers for both sides of the conflict. So poorly equipped and indifferently armed (shotguns and squirrel rifles) that they were called the “Ragamuffin Regiment,” the 5th Kentucky nevertheless gave the Federals a good fight at Ivy Mountain on November 8th. The Ragamuffins arrayed themselves along the brow of Ivy Mountain, a commanding position which forced the Federals to deploy along the narrow road with the mountain to their left and the West Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River to their right.
Chaplain John S. Bayless was at the front of the Federal column with the other members of Marshall’s Kentucky battalion when the Confederates sprung their trap on the lead scouts. “The guide along with Captains Gault and Reed, being considerably in the advance, discovered that the foe was concealed behind rocks, trees, and bushes, reserving their fire for a further advance of the column,” Bayless recounted. “Captain Gault, who was fortunately armed with a five-shooter Colt’s Revolving Rifle, opened fire upon them, discharging the contents of his gun and about the same time both the guide and Mr. Reed discharged their muskets upon the foe which brought them into a more precipitate action than was laid down in their program. The horse of Captain Gault was shot from under him, and the guide received two of the enemy’s balls which brought him to the ground. Reed’s horse was also killed, and such was their perilous and exposed condition that both were under the necessity of taking shelter under the cover of a shelving rock which induced Reed to suggest to Gault tin his peculiar style that “they were both gone up, sir!”
It was the first of many instances of Kentuckians fighting Kentuckians in this war, and in this case, the strength of numbers told and in about an hour the Federals forced the 5th Kentucky off Ivy Mountain after suffering 30 casualties. Chaplain Bayless’ account of the Battle of Ivy Mountain originally appeared in the Maysville Eagle and was subsequently published in the November 28, 1861 edition of the Louisville Daily Courier.
|Flag later carried by the 16th Kentucky; four companies of what later became this regiment fought at Ivy Mountain under the command of Colonel Charles A. Marshall. Chaplain John Bayless would accompany the regiment for the rest of his life.|
Ivy Mountain, Big Sandy, Floyd Co., Kentucky
November 9, 1861
On the morning of the 8th, we left Prestonburg and took up the line of march for Piketon and were in motion as early as 5 o’clock, moving forward rapidly. Colonel Marshall’s battalion, composed of Companies A, B, C, and D of his own regiment and Captain Berryhill’s Company A of the 2nd Ohio Volunteers constituted his command and were placed in advance of the 2nd, 21st, and 59th regiments of Ohio Volunteers. Upon our boys devolved the duty of climbing the mountains as scouts, to do which and keep at the same time in advance of the main column required the most exhausting toil. General Nelson, in order to form a junction with a force which he had moved forward in advance of us about 24 hours, was compelled to make a forced march. As our route was circuitous, distance could only be overcome by speed.
All our movements were rapid, sometimes advancing at the double-quick step. Our boys who scaled the mountains often made extended detours to head the gullies had to bound like deer to keep ahead of those traveling in a straight road and on a plain surface. I felt for them as they came in from the mountains wet with perspiration, faint, exhausted, yet determined.
About twelve miles from Prestonburg we came upon about 50 of the enemy’s cavalry scouts. The guard and Colonel Marshall opened fire upon them and put them to flight. Suspecting that some of the foe were still lurking in ambush, the moral effect of a shell was tried with what effect upon their nerves, if any were near, I cannot tell. After this little episode, we urged our way towards Piketon, the expected field of definite action. But when we proceeded between two and three miles and the head of Colonel Marshall’s battalion was approaching the upper part of the mountains, the guide along with Captains Gault and Reed, being considerably in the advance, discovered that the foe (1,000 strong) was concealed behind rocks, trees, and bushes, reserving their fire for a further advance of the column.
Captain Gault, who was fortunately armed with a five-shooter Colt’s Revolving Rifle, opened fire upon them, discharging the contents of his gun and about the same time both the guide and Mr. Reed discharged their muskets upon the foe which brought them into a more precipitate action than was laid down in their program. The horse of Captain Gault was shot from under him, and the guide received two of the enemy’s balls which brought him to the ground. Reed’s horse was also killed, and such was their perilous and exposed condition that both were under the necessity of taking shelter under the cover of a shelving rock which induced Reed to suggest to Gault tin his peculiar style that “they were both gone up, sir!”
|Colt's Revolving Rifle|
Colonel Marshall urged on his column which was between a quarter and a half mile in advance of the 2nd Ohio when the battle commenced. Captain Gault was cut off from his command and in order to rejoin it with the least prospect of safety, he had to swim the river and carrying Colonel Marshall’s revolving rifle in his hand and then return to reach the side of the river at least a point lower down. By this time, the engagement between Colonel Marshall’s command (on the narrow road at the base of the mountain and immediately on the banks of the river) and the foe (entrenched upon the top and brow of the mountain) became general, and three of Captain Gault’s men fell at the very commencement of the action and a number more of them were wounded. This company from their position had to bear the brunt of the battle and courageously and persistently they did so.
“I was riding along somewhat carelessly when crack, crack, crack went their rifles and down fell our men. Crack, crack, crack, they came. I jumped off my horse when along came Major Harris and gave me his horse to hold. I soon hitched them both to a tree down by the river and sprung again up the bank when whiz, a bullet went past my face about three inches from it and made me draw my head back in a hurry I can assure you. I looked up the hill but could see no one for the smoke, so I levelled my gun in the direction of the enemy and fired, loaded again, and fired. I got my rifle in readiness again, but another ball passed pretty close. Here comes another- buzz, buzz, you can hear their whiz for fully a hundred yards as they come- and I got out of the way. But where did it go to? Whew, that was close! But great God, it has gone through a man’s shoulder within a few yards of me and he falls.” ~ unknown officer of 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Captain Berryhill’s company of the 2nd Ohio, which had been placed in Colonel Marshall’s command, bore themselves most gallantly and rendered most effective service by scaling the mountains where, under the command of their fearless and intrepid captain, they accomplished deeds of noble daring. In point of suffering, the company stands second on the list as will be seen by the more detailed account of the result of the engagement. It is coped from Major Harris’ official report, prepared to be submitted to General Nelson. It soon became evident that the foe was faltering before our fire, when we were opened upon from the opposite side of the river and thus exposed to both fires. Our command maintained their ground until the artillery was brought into action.
The slain of the enemy left on the battlefield on this side of the river whom we buried and of the three wounded prisoners who were cared for by us, two have died, making the number of their dead, so far as our personal knowledge extends, to be eleven. It is stated, however, that they acknowledge their loss in wounded, prisoners, and slain as many as 60. The 2nd and 21st Ohio participated in the action, doing good service. The 59th, which came up later by a well-directed volley, silenced the foe who by their fire were trying to pick off the artillerymen from the other side of the river.
|Colonel Jesse S. Norton|
21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry
In this contest, our boys faced the fire and showed the spirit of determined bravery every way worthy of Kentucky’s ancient fame. They fought and conquered. Among the incidents not detailed in Major Harris’ report, I must mention that he was slightly wounded. That he is alive is doubtless owing to the fact that a silver spectacle case and a well-filled pocket obstructed the passage of the ball so that only the point of the bullet imbedded in the flesh. Colonel Marshall’s Kentucky jeans are badly riddled, both his upper and nether garments look decidedly worse for the contest. Even his cap was ventilated, and his noble steed fell victim to the enemy’s fire. To the great gratification of all his command, he still lives unscathed and unharmed. I know that he will ever cherish with the most grateful emotions the many instances of devotion shown him by the gallant soldiers whom he led and cheered by his voice and presence during the battle. He heard the cry time and again as he passed along the line among his soldiers, “Colonel, we are with you! Colonel get out of the way! They are shooting right at you!”
This engagement lasted one hour and a half. After our men were brought into action, they never yielded one inch of ground although they were exposed to the enemy’s crossfire both from their mountain ambuscade and the opposite side of the river. The advance under Colonel Marshall including Captain Berryhill’s company was less than 500 men while our information is that the assault was made on us by a force of 1,000 who chose their ground well. [Confederate reports indicate their force to be 231 men] We routed them, taking four prisoners besides the three who were wounded.
Letter from Chaplain John S. Bayless, 16th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, Louisville Daily Courier (Kentucky), November 28, 1861, pg. 1
“The Battle at Piketon: A Soldier’s Experience in His First Battle,” account from unknown officer of 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Reading Times (Pennsylvania), November 29, 1861, pg. 2
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