The Green River and its bridges, fords, and ferries continued to be a point of contact between forces of the blue and gray early in the war in Kentucky. According to a dispatch of General T.C. Hindman of the Confederate Army a brief skirmish took place at Brownsville, presumably near the ferry crossing. The after-action report of this engagement and the date of the skirmish are not preserved for history but Hindman, in a missive to headquarters, does indicate that the engagement took place between a detachment of Major Phifer's cavalry battalion, under Captain Chrisman, and an unknown Union force. This probably transpired in early November of 1861.
On the 18th day of November, 1861 another expedition in the direction of Brownsville was launched by the Confederates to obtain spirits for medicinal purposes. A Lieutenant Murphy of the 1st Arkansas Battalion, with six men of Major Phifer's cavalry battalion, first set out on this expedition, but did not return as expected. Assuming that the men were captured or cut off by the enemy, Brigadier General T.C. Hindman determined take a sizeable force in the direction of Brownsville in order to destroy the Federal encampment which guarded the ferry. This he did on the 20th day of November, 1861. The Federal encampment was located near the northern banks of the Green River opposite the town. Hindman chose Captain Chrisman, Captain McNeill, and 1st Lt. Orlin from his command to accompany him. Additionally, he was accompanied by 50 of Phifer's mounted troopers and one gun of Swett's battery.
After coming to within a mile of the town Captain McNeil was detached by General Hindman with 25 troopers to proceed to a knob south of and overhanging the place. This was to cut off any Federal retreat by river. Upon observing Brownsville, no Federal presence appeared in the town. However there was a Federal presence on the opposite side of the Green River from the town. Fifty Union troopers were seen in a road near the river. These troopers apparently received advance warning of the arrival of the rebels and were preparing for the potential fray. One hundred yards further down this road was a squad of about 15 dismounted troopers posted near a small log cabin situated in a field. Even further down on the Leitchfield Road was another party of about 50 mounted Federal troopers partly concealed behind timber. The Federals were a detachment of unmustered volunteers of the Third Kentucky Cavalry. The main body of that regiment was then in Leitchfield still organizing. The Ferry guard were armed with minie muskets and common hunting rifles.
Hindman directed his men to proceed to the public square in Brownsville and begin firing. First, a volley was fired upon the mounted Yankees stationed in the woods. These troopers immediately scattered deeper into the woods. The second volley was directed at the Federal squad near the cabin. This volley quickly dispersed the squad and several more Federals fled out of the cabin. Thereafter another volley was leveled upon the cabin and artillery case shot was fired into the cabin as well.
Captain McNeill's contingent of rebels then entered the towns with one Union picket as their prisoner. His men soon captured a second picket in the town. The artillery piece was then moved to a point closer to the river, and fired at the enemy. A general skirmish then followed with the dismounted Federals taking cover behind trees, logs, fences and whatever. The remainder of Hindmans men then dismounted to give support in the skirmish. Hindman moved them closer to the river and firing between the two sides continued for about 15 minutes. At that point the Federals ceased their fire, save for an occasional shot, and withdrew into the woods. The retreating Federals were yet fired upon by the artillery crew of the rebels, even though by now the Federals were in a rapid retreat.
The rebels succeeded in acquiring needed medical supplies on this expedition. They were taken from a merchant named P. H. Solman--a local Unionist who had assisted the Federals. According to the report of Hindman, the casualties inflicted on either side during this spirited skirmish were as follows: UNION: Killed. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Captured. . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Wounded . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 (one mortally)
The Federals also lost 5 cavalry mounts. The troops engaged for the Union were from the command of Col. James S. Jackson. Brownsville is the county seat of Edmonson County. It is located on the banks of the Green River. There is now a bridge where the ferry crossing was once located. Incidentally, the Confederate wounded in this action was a private named Private Dugan.
O.R. Series I; Vol. 7; pages 2-4.
THE SKIRMISH AT THE BROWNSVILLE FERRY OF THE GREEN RIVER DECEMBER 31, 1861
A party of rebel cavalry under the command of Captain John Hunt Morgan attempted to cross at the Brownsville Ferry in Edmonson County, Kentucky on New Year's eve in 1861. The party was met at the ferry by Captain Baker and his company of Home Guards. On the previous occasion that rebels forces had clashed with Union forces near Brownsville, on November 20, the Yankees had been soundly defeated. However, this time Union men had constructed a breastwork of logs. The small band of rebels, who were on a foraging mission to acquire supplies (including coal oil for lamps), were turned back by the volleys of the Union men. According to the local papers of the day, they retreated to the sound of a broken kettle drum. Casualties in the clash were reported by the Louisville Democrat as follows:
According to Edmonson County local tradition Morgans Cavalry were turned back by a skirmish with Union Home Guards near the Brownsville Ferry over the Green River. One of the wounded rebels, so the local tradition goes, died of his wounds. The rebel was fired upon after Morgans men fired a small field piece at the Home Guards on the northern side of the Green River near the ferry crossing. The projectile lodged in a large Beech tree according to local lore. At that juncture Tom Vincent, one of the local home guards, aimed and shot down the unlucky rebel trooper.
This local tradition is probably based upon the subject matter skirmish. Before leaving the town supplies and several horses were appropriated by the Confederates from people in Edmonson County. The Confederates stopped to bury their deceased comrade just outside of Brownsville in a little town known as Rhoda (pronounced by locals "Rodee"). While the Confederates were burying their comrade in Rhoda, a Union woman, named Hazelip, approached Morgan and demanded that her horse be returned. Morgan replied, "The Confederacy does not make war on women." Thence, her horse was, indeed, returned. SOURCES:
The Daily Democrat; January 19, 1862.
The New Albany Daily Ledger; January 3, 1862.
Carroll, Ricky L., managing editor for the Edmonson County Historical Society, Family Histories; Edmonson County, Kentucky, Turner Publishing; (1989).
SKIRMISH NEAR MAMMOTH CAVE AUGUST 17, 1862
On August 17, 1862 Captain W.B. Wortham of the Rock Creek Home Guards, in the company 5 small squads of various home guard units, chased a band of 43 Confederate guerillas about forty miles from the direction of Leitchfield. They caught the band near Mammoth Cave in Edmonson County and killed or captured the lot of them. The number killed is not included in Worthams report, but the band consisted of 66 men. The home guards kept the horses of the rebels in payment for their services to the Union Army.
OR Series 1, Vol. 16 pages 861-862
The above information was provided by Andrew White, who is currently writing a book about Civil War in Kentucky. He can be reached at (502) 585-5522 or by email at email@example.com This information is not to be republished without authorization from Mr. White.
Other Background Information provided by the community:
The turbulent years of the Civil War did not leave Edmonson County unscathed. It has been estimated that over six hundred men from the county fought for either side, with the majority siding with the Union Army.
On November 20, 1861, Brownsville experienced first-hand the effects of the War Between the States. John Hunt Morgan and his band of cavalry had been ravaging through south-central Kentucky collecting needed supplies for the Confederacy and the town of Brownsville was to be another of their targets. News of the on-coming invasion was quickly realized by the town's residents and many townspeople swam or rowed boats across to the north side of Green River. The Home Guards stationed themselves at the foot of a hill and waited for the invaders.
Morgan's men, numbering fifteen to twenty, rode into town, but did not attempt to cross the river. Probably to demonstrate their command of the situation, the invaders, using a small field piece, fired at the Home Guards. According to local lore, the Confederates fired artillery, missing people but striking a large beech tree. In retaliation, Tom Vincent, using Hiram Morris' big-bore rifle, took a shot at one of the rebels. Vincent was amazed when the bullet found its mark and the man fell dead into the creek. This was the only fatality of the skirmish at Brownsville.
Taking their slain men with them, Morgan's men withdrew. They carried out their assignment and took what supplies they needed from the town's businesses. It was during this process that Mrs. Hazelip, a Brownsville resident, suffered the loss of a fine saddle horse. Upon learning of the theft of her horse, Mrs. Hazelip mounted another horse and pursued the band. At Rhoda, the Confederates stopped to bury the dead soldier and she overtook them. Advancing to the leader, she informed the officer that she was a widow and that one of his men had stolen her horse. Locating the horse, Morgan, according to legend, said, "The South does not make war on women." He instructed that the horse be returned to her, thus ending the skirmish at Brownsville.
A re-enactment of the skirmish at Brownsville is currently being planned.
CIVIL WAR HISTORICAL MARKER IN BROWNSVILLE:
Civil War Skirmish (State Marker 607, near Green River Bridge, KY 259, Brownsville)