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Friday, October 28, 2011

Skirmish at Campbellsville, or a Hard Fight?

On September 5, 1864, as Wheeler's Cavalry retreated out of Middle Tennessee toward Alabama, a rearguard action was fought at Campbellsville, near Pulaski. The history of the 12th Alabama Cav is terse, saying that the regiment repulsed Brownlow, losing 45 men at Campbellsville. In Dodson's 1899 work on Wheeler's Cavalry, the place is mistakenly called Campbellton. Finally, the 1st Tenn Cav (US) under Brownlow, produced a regimental a history which claims they charged with sabers across an open field in this action, routing Wheeler's troopers from their cover in the woods. That the 12th Ala lost 45 men certainly indicates a severe fight. We are not told how many were taken prisoner. Wheeler claimed to have lost no men captured on this raid, and if true, this means most of these 45 men were killed or wounded. Confederate sources claim the Federals halted their pursuit of Wheeler after this sharp engagement, while Brownlow's reports claimed they pursued Wheeler all the way to the Tennessee River, where he escaped, leading his worn-out troopers and horses deeper into Alabama. Wheeler crossed at Muscle Shoals without opposition, thus it seems more reasonable to believe that there was no pursuit of him by Rousseaus's forces beyond Campbellsville. John W. DuBose wrote that Wheeler repulsed all attempts to bring him to ground, including at Campbellsville.

Given the aggregate strength of the 12th in November, amounting to just over 450 men, of whom about 350 may have gone on this raid, we can conclude that the loss of 45 men would be no less than 10 percent. Normally, such a percentage of combat casualties does in fact indicate a hard fight, rather than mere skirmishing.

General Wheeler's personal records contain this interesting note: "Lieutenant John Bellinger. Shot three times in leg, side and arm while by General Wheeler's side. Sept. 4th, 1864 at Campbellsville." However, "at Campbellsville" is so faint as to have possibly been erased.

One man certainly taken prisoner on the 5th, and probably in this fight, was Col. Reuben R. Ross, a Tennessean and graduate of West Point, class of 1853. His records show that he was the adjutant of Davidson's Brigade, Humes' Division. While en route to Johnson's Island, a prison camp for officers near Sandusky, Ohio, Ross escaped around October 24. Unfortunately, in December of that year, Confederate General Hood ordered cavalry from Paris, Tennessee, to make trouble in Kentucky in preparation for his invasion of Tennessee. Col. Ross had made it back to Confederate lines, where his old friend General H.B. Lyon talked him into going on the last raid. Ross, an intelligence officer, was mortally wounded on December 16 near Hopkinsville, overpowered in hand-to-hand combat in a skirmish with the Union forces of General McCook. A photo of Ross in uniform can be seen in Confederate Veteran Magazine for 1896, page 393.

One account states that he was killed resisting capture, but he seems to have lingered on until the 21st. Gen. H.B. Lyon made no mention of Ross in his lengthy report, possibly because of his intelligence activities. However, Union Gen. McCook's report does mention that Col. Ross was among the killed at Hopkinsville.

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