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1864 April 16: Forrest’s “Rampage” in Kentucky

April 17, 2014

A detailed report on the Battle of Paducah from the April 16, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.

Forrest’s Rampage in Kentucky—
His Repulse at Paducah.

The telegraph has given but very imperfect accounts of FORREST’S [Nathan B. Forrest] recent movements in Western Kentucky and Tennessee, where he was plundering, burning, killing and doing whatever other damage he could to the Union cause. We make up the following account from the correspondence of the Chicago papers.

The first movement was made on Union City, just south of the Tennessee line, where Col. Hawkins¹ of the 7th Tennessee cavalry was stationed with some 400 men. he sent word to Gen. Brayman,² the commander of the District of Cairo, that Forest [sic] was advancing on him with some 7,000.  Gen. Brayman advised him to hold his position if attacked and he would bring him aid as soon as possible.  He immediately embarked the 25th Wisconsin and three other regiments on steamers at Cairo for Columbus.  There he took the cars and went within six miles of Union City, where he learned that Col. Hawkins had surrendered his entire forces, who had already been marched off as prisoners of war.  Gen. B. deeming it useless to proceed any further returned.  It subsequently appeared that it was only a detachment of Forrest’s force, numbering 1000 or 1200, under Faulkner [William Wallace Faulkner], that made the attack on Union City, and if Col. Hawkins had been made of stronger stuff he might have held out till reinforced, and then repulsed the enemy.  Except the prisoners, the rebels gained little here.

After capturing Union City, the rebels numbering in all about 6, 500 under the command of Gens. Forrest, Faulkner and Thompson [Colonel Albert P. Thompson], proceeded to Paducah reaching the place at one P. M. of the 25th. Their advance was made known to the garrison in the town by the retreat of the pickets, and by scouts.  As the rebels advanced, entering the town near the depot the Union troops retreated towards the fort.  A rebel captain and nine men rode up to the sergeant for the guard and commanded him to surrender, the sergeant relied by shooting the captain through his neck, and afterwards succeeded in making his escape to the fort.  The garrison of the place consisted of three companies of the 122d Illinois regiment, a few Kentucky cavalry, just organizing, and about 300 Negroes, in all numbering about 600 men, under command of Col. Hicks [Stephen G. Hicks].  The rebels formed a line of battle about two miles and a half in length, after which Forrest sent a flag of truce to Col. Hicks, stating that he had men enough to storm and capture the fort, but as he desired to avoid unnecessary bloodshed demanded a surrender, promising to treat his captives as prisoners of war, and threatening, in case of refusal, to give no quarter.—The gallant Colonel relied to the summons to immediate surrender, that he could not see it ;  that he had been placed there to defend the fort, and could not, as an honest soldier comply with the demand.

While the parley was going on, Forrest advanced his sharpshooters and placed them in houses where they could pick off men in the fort and on the gunboats.  The battle soon began and for several hours raged with great fury.  The gunboats poured their broadsides into the city, demolishing buildings and killing and wounding many of the enemy.  The guns from the fort thundered forth into the rebel ranks, and as the Confederates rushed up to the breastworks, mowed them down like grass.  Forrest put his best regiments in front, and, notwithstanding they exhibited great courage, some of the men marching up to the very mouths of the guns, they were repulsed four or five times.  Their Commanding General said they had never faltered before . There were about eight hundred men within the fortification, but only about on-third actively participated in the fights.  Col. Hicks calmly directed all the operations, and showed such bravery and skill as entitled him to the highest praise.  Owing to the exigencies of the case, but little time was given for the removal of the women and children, and in the fight several were killed or wounded.  A large part of them were towed across the river on the wharf-boat.  The ferry-boat returned for another load, but was fired upon by the rebels, and not allowed to land.

Finding they could not carry the fort, the rebels retreated to the town, and contented themselves with plundering and destroying the property.  The Quartermaster buildings and the commissary stores were destroyed, but fortunately the quantity of stores was not large.  They made the attempt to break into the banks, but failed to break open the vaults.  It is reported that some of the citizens went about with the rebels, and pointed out the property of the Union citizens to be destroyed.  One woman by the name of Grimes, who was afterwards killed, came through the streets, exclaiming, “let us kill the Yankee rascals.”  A large number of buildings were destroyed and one steamboat on the docks.  The houses nearest the fort were destroyed by the Union soldiers to prevent their sheltering the rebel sharpshooters.  Our guns continued their fire until about midnight, when the rebels left, though they remained about the city until 8 P. M. on Saturday, when they moved off in the direction of Columbus.

Our troops fought with the greatest bravery, the negro troops remarkably well, working the guns equal to the best men in the service.  As soon as the state of affairs was known at Cairo, a re-inforcement of 2,000 men, including the 25th Wisconsin, and a battery was sent to the relief of Col. Hicks ;  also, a supply of ammunition, of which his stock was nearly exhausted, but the rebels left before they arrived.

The rebels took about 30 prisoners, convalescents taken from the hospitals.  Among them were Cpl. Thos. S. Wakefield, Co. K., and Isaac Austin, Co. G., of the 25th Wisconsin.³  These, with the 400 taken a day or two before at Union City, Forrest offered to exchange for Confederate prisoners, man for man ;  but Col. Hicks replied that he was not authorized to make any such arrangement.  The number of White Federals killed is 14, wounded 46.  Eleven Negroes were killed and wounded, all shot in the head.

The rebels had 800 killed and about 1,300 wounded.  The later they took to Mayfield by railroad ;  the former they left unburied.  Among the Confederate officers slain was Brig. Gen. A. P. Thompson, a former resident of Paducah, whose body was recognized in the streets.

It was a piece of rare retributive justice that a considerable number of those who perished in the assault on the place were former residents of Paducah, and that much of the property destroyed belonged to them and other rabid secessionists.

1.  Isaac Roberts Hawkins (1818-1880) was a lawyer who had served in the Mexican War. He was a delegate from Tennessee to the 1861 Peace Conference in Washington, D. C. He was elected to the Federal relations board as judge of the circuit court in 1862. In support of the Union, he entered the Union Army as lieutenant colonel of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry, in late 1862. Hawkins was captured with his regiment at Union City, Tennessee in June 1864 and imprisoned. He was exchanged in August 1864 and resumed active service as colonel in command of the Cavalry force in western Kentucky until the close of the Civil War. For his service duty he was brevetted Brigadier of U.S. Volunteers on March 13, 1865. After the War, Hawkins was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives from Tennessee (1865-1870).
2.  Mason Brayman (1813-1895) was a newspaperman and lawyer before the Civil War. As an Illinois special prosecutor in the 1840s, he crafted the agreement that allowed the Mormons to leave Illinois. When the War broke out, he served as a major with the 29th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and was promoted to colonel of the 29th in April 1862. Brayman participated in the battle so Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Vicksburg. By the end of the war he had achieved the rank of Brigadier general and was serving as head of a claims commission in New Orleans. After the War, in 1876, Brayman became the 7th governor of Idaho Territory (1876-1880), nominated by President Ulysses S. Grant.
3.  Corporal Thomas S. Wakefield, from White Creek, was taken prisoner on March 26, 1864. He died in Andersonville Prison on August 4, 1864. Private Isaac Austin, from Durand, was taken prisoner on March 25, 1864. He also died in Andersonville Prison, on August 1, 1864.

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