*After the destruction of the mill the citizens had to depend upon Crips's Mill, on Dry Creek, and that
of William Bate, on Helton Creek.
treated following the battle of Murfreesboro, December 3, 1862, to January 1, 1863.
This wing extended from Woodbury, Tenn., into Wayne County, Ky., a distance of one hundred and twenty miles. Liberty
being the most important point on the line, strategically considered, the main force was established there. Duke
says also that they kept within safety of Snow's Hill; but he finally decided that this place of retreat, when
the command was closely pursued, was not as safe as it had been regarded.
Morgan's command reached Smithville January 4, 1863. It remained there and at Sligo ten days. Then it marched
to McMinnville, where the commander made his headquarters. On January 23 Col. John C. Breckinridge was ordered
to move to Liberty with three regiments-the Third Kentucky, Lieutenant Colonel Hutchinson; the Ninth Kentucky,
Lieutenant Colonel Stoner; and the Ninth Tennessee, Colonel Ward. Col. A. R. Johnson was already in the vicinity
of Liberty with the Tenth Kentucky.
Capt. Thomas Quirk was sent ahead of the three regiments. He was an Irishman commanding sixty scouts. Before
he could be supported, he was driven from the village by Federals, however. This must have been about January 21
When Colonel Breckinridge arrived he occupied the country immediately in front of Liberty, picketing all
the roads. Shortly afterwards Colonel Stoner, with several companies, was ordered to Kentucky, leaving the Confederate
force about one thousand effective men. There was a similar force in the neighborhood
of McMinnville and Woodbury. During January, February, and March the Confederates
were kept constantly scouting and making expeditions. Fights were of almost daily occurrence somewhere near the
line they were defending. "Perhaps no period in the history of Morgan's Cavalry can be cited in which more
exciting service was performed," avers General Duke.
General Stokes's troops, or a portion of them, were frequently with General Wilder's in making these forays
into the county. The Stokes home was three miles down Smith Fork Creek, north of Liberty, and the Confederates
had a great desire to capture its owner. One of the Kentucky soldiers, writing to the Confederate Veteran for September,
1898, says: "Liberty is a village situated at the base of Snow's Hill, fifty miles due east from Nashville.
Rome would have been a better name for the town, as it seemed that all the pikes and dirt roads in Tennessee led
to Liberty. . . . Somewhere on the road between Liberty and Cumberland [ Caney Fork] River there lived at that
time a Col. Bill Stokes, an officer of some note, of whom we heard a good deal in time of the war. It was Colonel
Ward's ambition, as well as that of his men, who were Tennesseeans, to capture Colonel Stokes, and they made diligent
search for him and at the same time guarded his house closely with the expectation of finding Colonel Stokes at
While Lieut. G. C. Ridley was with Morgan's force at Liberty in 1863 he received an order to select ten
picked men to go by way of Alexandria, Lebanon, and Goodlettsville and send a messenger on the quiet to
Nashville to ascertain the location of the Federals and their approaches. Near Payne's
Ferry, on the Cumberland River, they found a young lady willing to make the secret trip into Nashville. In twelve
hours she was back with a complete diagram. Receiving it, Lieutenant Ridley started back posthaste, but soon learned
that General Wilder with a large force had marched from Murfreesboro by way of Lebanon and Alexandria to attach
Liberty. Ridley changed his course for Columbia, going by Peytonville, Williamson County. Near the latter place
he was chased by Cross' Southern guerrillas, who thought he was a Federal. Lieutenant Ridley and squad finally
reached General Forrest at Columbia.
Speaking of General Wilder, he was once assisted into DeKalb County by a Union girl. She was Miss Mary,
daughter of Dr. J. W. Bowen, of Gordonsville. He had started out from Nashville with seven scouts. These scouts
were captured by Confederates, all wounded, five dying from their wounds. General Wilder reached Gordonsville after
dark. Dr. Bowen being absent, Miss Bowen volunteered to act as his guide to Smithville. It was dark and rainy,
but the trip was successfully made. Miss Bowen became Mrs. Aust, mother of John R. Aust, a prominent lawyer at
On January 29, 1863, General Morgan, with Major Steele, Captain Carroll, and a few men, came to Liberty
from McMinnville and selected fifty men to enter Nashville stealthily, burn the commissary stores, and in the confusion
of the fire make their escape. Among
these intrepid scouts was Captain Quirk. But at Stewart's Ferry, on Stone's River,
they met the captain of a Michigan regiment with twenty men. For a while the enemy conversed, Morgan claiming to
be Captain Johnson, of the Fifth Kentucky Regiment of Federals. Presently the Federals saw under their overcoats
the Confederates' gray pants. This spoiled the raid; for while fifteen of the Federals were captured, the others
reached Nashville and gave the alarm.
Before Mr. B. L. Ridley, of Murfreesboro, became a lieutenant on the staff of Lieut. Gen. A. P. Stewart
he was a private in Colonel Ward's regiment, camped at Liberty. In a letter dated March 23, 1914, he writes:
I was a boy then-had been in the war a good while before, but had never regularly enlisted until Morgan
settled down in Liberty. Our quarters for the winter were near where the pike runs through between the creek and
the hillside, forming a covered road [ Allen's Bluff]. We were just north of the road that runs toward Woodbury,
and my regiment guarded that road. We also scouted toward Auburn and Alexandria; and on one occasion Colonel Ward
took us over to near Carthage, where we captured a big wagon train and a large escort of guards. All the prisoners
we marched through Liberty to the rear.
Rosecrans was stationed at Murfreesboro, and General Wilder was one of our adversaries. With him was Stokes's
regiment. The latter, with Wilder's support, made frequent raids upon us. They came out on foraging expeditions
and a number of times drove us back to Snow's Hill. Sometimes Federal parties would go out on the Woodbury Pike
to McMinnville. Then we would intercept the raiders by marching out from Liberty and threatening the rear, when
they would get back toward Murfreesboro. My company was often made to picket the Woodbury [ Clear Fork] Road. One
base was near the house of a man who seemed to have two hundred chickens. He looked
as surly as a snarling cur. His folks were in the Yankee army, and he was no doubt a home guard. We tried to buy
some of his chickens, but he would not sell. Anyhow, the boys captured twenty-five and hid them. The officers found
it out, and we had to carry them back. He refused even to give us one or two!
We got the wife of one of Stokes's cavalry to wash our clothes and cook our rations. We made a contract
with her that if we captured her husband we would treat him kindly if she promised she would make him be kind if
he captured us. She agreed. But after the war Favor Cason told me it was fortunate that we did not fall into that
fellow's hands, as he was a cutthroat. I have forgotten his name.
Together with my brother, I called on Mrs. W. B. Stokes, and she treated us kindly.
All of these raids were made by General Wilder, but Stokes's cavalry was usually with him.
While at Liberty the battle of Milton came off, Captain Cossett, of my company, being killed by my side.
He was under arrest for writing a letter to President Davis asking for a pass to slip into the Federal lines and
kill Abe Lincoln, but, securing weapons, went into the fight.*
The battle of Milton took place March 20, 1863. Early that morning Morgan's men at Liberty were notified
to hasten toward Milton and attack Colonel Hall, who had already driven the Confederate outposts to within a few
miles of Liberty. All was excitement. The pike from the village was crowded with horsemen,
*All Americans have heard of the assassination of President Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth, the actor.
Few have heard that it was meditated two years previously by a soldier in camp at Liberty. Were Booth and Captain
Cossett rendered insane by brooding over the war and its havoc?
first in a gallop, then in a wild dash toward Auburn. Many horses fell, but the Confederates
passed through Auburn amid cheers and waving of handkerchiefs by the citizens. Colonel Hall retreated, but was
overtaken and forced to fight; then came the pop of small arms, the roar of cannon, and the yells of the contestants.
The battle was stubborn and long. It lasted three hours, the confederate loss being about three hundred. Morgan's
ammunition gave out, and he had to withdraw. The Federals went back to Murfreesboro, the Confederates to Liberty.
Captains Cossett, Cooper, Sale, and Marr were killed.
When Morgan reached Liberty with his two thousand cavalry the citizens looked on a sight they would always
remember-the dead cavalrymen tied on horses and the dead artillery men strapped on the caisson and gun carriages.
The St. Louis writer to the Confederate Veteran, R. L. Thompson, mentioned a while ago, was a soldier at
Liberty at this time. In his article he says of the battle of Milton: While in camp at Liberty I remember one morning
about two o'clock, while the cold rain was pouring down, Cooper the bugler gave the boots and saddle call quick
and lively. At the same time Johnson's pickets were hotly engaged on the Murfreesboro Pike. We went briskly toward
the sounds of the guns and continued to go until we reached the town of Milton. There we found General Morgan with
a part of his force in battle with Federal infantry. Two batteries were engaged in a duel when we arrived. As soon
as our regiment put in its appearance the Federal
battery began firing on our column. . . . One shell stopped at our feet, and Comrade
Judge emptied his canteen of water on it, extinguishing the fuse. We dismounted and entered a large cedar thicket,
the ground being covered with large rock which sheltered us from bullets. When the battle ceased we withdrew, bringing
the dead and wounded away, all that we could find, on our horses, the dead tied on. The battery removed its killed
and wounded in the same way, the dead strapped on the caisson and gun carriages."
The writer recalls this scene of the dead soldiers. The day was cool and cloudy. The main street was then
about where W. L. Vick's business house stood in 1814. At this point the command halted. Some of the wagons with
the dead were near the yard fence of the writer's home.
A former DeKalb Countian and a gentleman of veracity writes: "An incident of the Milton fight I remember
very distinctly. I was then at Sligo Ferry, a small boy. My father had been paroled and had taken his family to
Sligo. Captain Ragen, of Morgan's command, was sick at our house. Learning of the probable fighting at Milton,
he went to his command against my mother's protest. Leaving one day, he was killed the next. I presume he was one
of the dead men brought through Liberty tied on horses. Another incident: The Kentuckians at one time were camped
in the woods on our place at Sligo. They had no tents. One mess, sleeping behind a log, were, with the exception
of one man, killed by a falling tree. All were buried at Sligo. My mother took their trinkets
and forwarded the same to their relatives. Afterwards their remains were removed,
I think, to Versailles, Ky. About eight years ago I was on a train going from Louisville to Chicago and met a very
handsome gentleman, finely dressed and prosperous-looking. I cannot now recall his name, but in the course of conversation,
I learned that he was the soldier who escaped death from the falling tree. He had been hurt, but not seriously."
Go to Chapter 19
Return to Index Page
Return to the Dekalb County Page