March 25, 1864: Forrest’s raid on Paducah

Nathan Bedford Forrest

The New York Times Kentucky correspondent reports that Forrest attacked Paducah, Kentucky on March 25 and was repulsed, thanks largely to Union gunboats and the US Colored Troops defending the fort.

Last Friday night information reached us that FORREST had made his appearance at Paducah at 2 P.M. with 2,000 men, and had begun an attack on that city. Col. HICKS, commander of the post, withdrew all his men, some 800, into the fort, and sent the citizens across the river to the Illinois side. The telegraph operator at Mound City said he could see a great light in the direction of Paducah, and supposed the city was in flames. Gen. BRAYMAN being notified of this, sent up the Twenty-fifth Wisconsin to reinforce the garrison. Saturday morning the steamer Iatan came down, having passed Paducah at 5 o’clock, at which time the buildings occupied as headquarters, Quartermaster’s and Commissary’s offices, and ammunition depot had been destroyed; also, many other houses, and the steamer Arizona, which was on the ways. The enemy appeared to have possession of the town, and the fort and three gunboats and been shelling them vigorously. When the fight began 200 men occupied the fort, and had three days’ rations, but soon after 600 other troops were thrown in, and the rations were quickly used up. The Iatan was ordered to load at Cairo with provisions, and go to the relief of the garrison.

Your correspondent went aboard of this steamer and proceeded to the scene of action, to ascertain what damage had been done. Before we left, however, the Tycoon came down with a report that firing had ceased and the rebels had gone. In the meantime the Fourth Division, Sixteenth Army Corps, which had been here for about a week, under command of Gen. VEATCH, embarked on several steamers for Paducah, hoping to catch FORREST before he could get out of the way. It is said that four thousand cavalry, sent out by Gen. GRIERSON from Memphis, are in his rear. An order was issued from headquarters Friday night, prohibiting the landing of steamboats on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, between Cairo and Paducah, and the crossing of skiffs from one side of the river to the other without a permit from some military officer.

We arrived at Metropolis at 7 P.M., where we found a number of women and children who had escaped from Paducah the day before. They were seated around a fire on the bank of the river, and apparently making the best of their condition. Here we were told that shelling had again commenced at three o’clock, but it was supposed that the gunboats were trying to drive the enemy out of the woods. At 12 M., it was said, a flag of truce had been sent in by FORREST. Friday evening a rebel who tried to cut the telegraph was shot dead. Capt. BAWKMAN and Capt. CRUTCHFIELD, of the Sixteenth Kentucky Cavalry, were wounded in the head, and Capt. BARTLEY in the arm. Sergt. T. HAYS, of the Fifteenth Kentucky Cavalry, was killed. Four white men and seven negroes in the fort were killed. Twenty-five houses around the fort were destroyed by the Federals because they afforded shelter for sharpshooters who could fire directly into the fortification.

At Metropolis we learned that just before the enemy came into the city, all the citizens returned to the fort and remained there until Col. HICKS informed them that he could not furnish arms for all, and those who desired to cross the river could do so. Accordingly, many got aboard of the wharf-boat, which was towed by a ferry-boat to the opposite side of the river. As we approached Paducah we saw the camp fires of these people illuminating the river. Provisions were scarce among them, but Col. HICKS had just sent over a supply which had come from Cairo, with instructions to give to the poor but sell to those who were able to pay. It was after dark when we landed at Paducah, but we walked up toward the fort through the smouldering ruins of the once beautiful city. The warehouses and dwellings exhibited prominent marks of the recent struggle. In many places nothing but bare walls and chimneys were standing. Scarcely a building escaped the terrific fire of the gunboats, and many of them were completely riddled by shrapnel and solid shot. The gunboats Peosta and Paw Paw fired in all about 500 rounds, and had two men slightly wounded. The commander of the latter vessel received a slight scratch on his cheek, and a minie ball passed through his pantaloons. The cabins of the boats were perforated with shot. It was the fire of the gunboats that did so much damage to the town. Had it not been for the navy, Col. HICKS would have had a much more severe contest.

Upon arriving within the fort we learned that when FORREST first came in, he formed a line of battle about two and a half miles in length, after which he sent a flag of truce to Col. HICKS, stating that he had enough men to storm and capture the fort, but, desiring to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, he demanded a surrender, promising to treat his captives as prisoners of war, and threatening, in case of refusal, to give no quarter. Col. HICKS replied that he had been placed there to defend the fort; that he was obliged to obey orders, and could not, as an honest soldier, comply with the demand.

While this 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 their breast-works, 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 fortifications, but only about one-third actively participated in the fight. Col. HICKS calmly directed all the operations, and showed such bravery and skill as entitle him to the highest praise. Around the fort lay heaps of unburied rebels and the blackened remains of many beautiful dwellings.

While the battle was raging, parties of the enemy scouted through the city, plundering stores and robbing stables. A large amount of goods was carried away and many horses stolen; none of the latter belonging to the Government were taken, as the rebels were told they were the property of a prominent secessionist. The fight lasted all the afternoon, and resulted in a Federal loss of as stated below, and about 30 prisoners. These were convalescents, and were taken from the hospital; the names of some of them are as follows: Thos. S. Wakefield, Corporal, Co. K. 25th Wisconsin Infantry; Geo. W. Babb, Co. A, 13th Tennessee Cavalry; Thos. Daniels, Co. C, 16th Kentucky Cavalry; Hiram Smith, Sergeant, Co. B, 16th Kentucky Cavalry; Z. Booth, Sergeant, Co. B, 16th Kentucky Cavalry; John Mullin, Co. E, 13th Illinois Infantry; G.T. Sharp, Corporal, Co. K, 63d Ohio; John S. Howard, Corporal, Co. K, 127th Illinois; Samuel Loder, Co. I, 31st Iowa Infantry; John Morehead, Co. E, 9th Illinois Infantry; Hanson Hart, Acting Assistant Surgeon; Simon A. Murphy, citizen; John Jordan, Co. K, 122d Illinois; M.R. Waller, Co. C, 16th Kentucky; J.A. Sadford, Co. B, 16th Kentucky Cavalry; R.J. Martz, 1st Ohio Battery; G.W. Farley, Co. D, 16th Kentucky Cavalry; Isaac Austin, Co. G, 25th Wisconsin; W.J. Bridges, Co. F, 122d Illinois; P. Byerly, Co. I, 20th Missouri; Thos. Pollard, Co. A, 127th Illinois; James Park, Co. E, 7th Tennessee Cavalry; W. Waldeman, Co. F, 31st Iowa; Henry Nabors, Co. E, 7th TennesseeCavalry; A. Irwin, S. Hamilton and Robert Barnes.

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 300 killed and about 1,000 wounded. The latter 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. The enemy remained about the city until 3 P.M., on Saturday, when they moved off in the direction of Columbus, where fit was supposed the next fight would take place. Learning that that place was threatened, your correspondent hurried aboard of the dispatch-boat Volunteer, and returned to Cairo this morning.

A correspondent of the Chicago Tribune writes regarding the attack on Paducah:
“The dispatches in the press of St. Louis and Chicago do not give a correct statement of the force. In the fort there were about 250 recruits for a United States colored regiment, a portion of the Sixteenth Kentucky Cavalry, without arms, and two companies of the One Hundred and Twenty-second Illinois Infantry, in all about 500 men.

It was the negro regulars that fought so well. They handled the artillery with great skill, and their bravery is on the tongues of all the loyal men. One of the regiments in the attack on the fort was the Third Kentucky, Col. THOMPSON, who commanded a brigade. This regiment was raised in Paducah three years ago by Col. TILGHMAN, afterward Brigadier-General, and Col. THOMPSON, who was at the time Prosecuting Attorney for the Paducah circuit.

Col. THOMPSON was a man of great influence, and did more than any one else in recruiting the regiment from the chivalry. This was its first visit home. Before the attack was made threats were freely made in the streets that they would capture the fort and kill every damned nigger in it.

In the attack, this regiment was in the advance and suffered the most. Col. THOMPSON was literally torn in pieces by a shot from a siege gun handled by colored men. These colored men were native Kentuckians, and seven of them have offered up their lives for their country.

To Hon. LUCIEN ANDERSON, of that district, the credit is due of getting permission to raise a regiment of blacks, which was done against the opposition of the State authorities.

To Col. HICKS, a noble War Democrat, and all the troops under his command, great credit is due for their obstinate and successful defence.

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