Holland City News, August 11, 1894
Battle of Tebb’s Bend
Fought July 4, 1863
Between Two Hundred Men of the 25th Mich. Inf., and
General Morgan with a Force of Three Thousand
The Twenty-Fifth regiment of Michigan Infantry left the state and took the field in September, 1862. One of the companies, Co.1, was enlisted largely from Holland and vicinity. After doing provost duty, guarding railroad bridges and chasing independent bands of Confederate troops in various parts of Kentucky, the regiment in April, 1863, was ordered to Louisville, to do provost duty, the Colonel Orlando Moore, being appointed provost marshal of the city.
This position was a very trying one. The duties involved were largely of a civil nature, the status of the Negro, then and there, being especially complicated. Kentucky, though a slave state had, as a state, never seceded from the Union, and hence President Lincoln’s proclamation of emancipation did not cover her slaves. The loyal citizens of Kentucky, at least many of them, insisted that the legal status of their slave property should be recognized by the military forces, while the very presence of these forces demoralized slavery as an institution and foretold its doom. It can therefore be inferred how as provost marshal of the city of Louisville, Colonel Moore got involved in all sorts of difficulties. His immediate superiors were Kentuckians, whose sympathies were naturally with their own people, while the Colonel’s views on the Negro question were those of a northern abolitionist. The pressure on the part of the "blue bloods" and the antagonism of Geo. D. Prentice with his powerful Louisville Journal, were too much for Col. Moore and in due course of time he was relieved as provost marshal.
There was a good deal of hard feeling connected with this removal, on the part of both. With one-half of his regiment, companies D, E, F, I and K, he was ordered to Green River, June 10.
**----About 9 lines are illegible on the microfilm.----88
... not even to such a superior force of 3,000 men commanded by General John H. Morgan.
The accompanying diagram has been drawn from recollections by the resident survivors of that battle in Holland, aided by Col. Moore during his visit to this city some years ago, and it will aid the reader somewhat in a proper understanding of the Battle of Tebb’s Bend. It will also convince him of what it is to an army, large or small, to have a commander that knows how to utilize his surroundings and force them to contribute to his success.
The regiment having arrived on the banks of the Green River about June 15, it went into camp on the north side. This was in Green County, about 10 miles north of Columbia. The road crossing the river at that point was the main wagon road running north to Lebanon and Louisville. On the morning of July 2, Col. Moore was advised by Union citizens that Cols. Basil Duke and Johnson, under the command of Gen. Morgan, were crossing the Cumberland River to invade not only Kentucky, but also carry their raid into Indiana and Ohio, Morgan’s object being to liberate thousands of rebel prisoners and destroy millions upon millions of government stores and supplies. Morgan’s command consisted of between three and four thousand picked men, with able officers. The nearest Union troops to Tebb’s Bend were thirty miles distant, and there was nothing left for Col. Moore but to fall back upon his own resources. He felt it his duty to resist Morgan and retard him even it were for a few hours, as they might be of immense importance to either Louisville or Cincinnati..
Col. Moore made a thorough examination of the topography of the country, and selected for his battlefield a horse-shoe bend on the south side of the river, about one mile from where the regiment was encamped. The road on which Morgan was advancing ran through this bend. Near the river was a small wooden fortification, a stockade, erected there by previous detachments to guard the bridge. Had Col. Moore selected this spot, he and his command would have been gobbled up in less than no time. The battle-ground had high bluff banks, affording protection to the flanks, and compelling the enemy to fight us upon our front. This front had been protected as well as the limited time allowed. The defense consisted of felled trees on the battle line, which was in the rear of the open field, and intended particularly as an obstruction to the advance of the cavalry, while to the front, about one hundred yards in an open field, was thrown up a temporary earth-work, or rifle-pit, intended to check the enemy’s advance.
This earth-work could not be held against charges of a superior force, on account of the sides, or flanks, not being protected. Therefore, at the opening of the battle it was occupied by only seventy-five men, who were instructed that when it became necessary to abandon the work, it should be done by flanking to the right and left from the center, so as to unmask the force along the battle line and expose the enemy to their fire along the entire front.
Col. Moore had imbued his command with an enthusiasm, and a devotion and confidence in him unsurpassed in any other organization in the service. He told them, and they believed it, that there were no rebel troops organized that could whip them upon their own front, as long as their flanks were protected. Col. Moore was a thorough soldier, an officer in the regular army, and he had drilled his regiment by the bugle. It was this that confounded Gen. Morgan greatly during the battle, as he was led to infer from the bugling the presence of a strong cavalry reserve.
On the evening of July 3, Col. Moore broke camp, crossed the river, and occupied with his command the ground previously selected and prepared for battle. That same evening, Gen. Morgan encamped with his entire command about 5 miles south of the river.
The next day was to be the Fourth, and what a memorable day it would be. Gettysburg had just been fought; Vicksburg was about to capitulate; and here on the banks of the Green River was to be witnessed one of these memorable exhibits of American valor, of which the late war has furnished us so many striking instances.
That night our men slept on their arms, knowing that in the morning it was to be demonstrated of what mettle they were. Remember, they had never been in action before, and this engagement was to be their "baptism of fire."
At the gray of morning, it was about 3:30 o’clock, the fire of the rebels upon the pickets resounded through the woods and the entire division of Gen. Morgan was pressing upon
our front. The fire was returned with spirit as our pickets fell back upon the breastwork and joined the 75 men already stationed there. (It was at this time that Peter VerSchure, Co. I, who was one of the pickets, fell mortally wounded.)
Gen. Morgan had a battery of light artillery, four pieces, with him, and having planted it where Col. Moore expected he would, opened fire, disabling two of our men. He then sent in a flag of truce with the following dispatch.
Headquarters Morgan’s Division
In Field in Front Green River Stockade,
July 4th, 1863.
To the officer commanding the Federal Forces at Stockade near Green River Bridge, Ky.
Sir- In the name of the Confederate States Government, I demand an immediate and unconditional surrender of the entire force under your command, together with the stockade.
I am, very respectfully sir,
John H. Morgan
Commanding Division Cav, C. S. A
As to the nature of the reply made by Col. Moore, there is no dispute. But when it comes to the exact phraseology made use of by him, there is a discrepancy between the recorded page and the recollections of those that stood within hearing of the peremptory refusal. Just be that as it may, upon this disputed point we prefer to follow the record.
"Colonel Moore rode forward between the lines, where he met the delegation of rebel officers, who appealed to him with marked curtsey and diplomacy, urging the surrender of his command, and promising kind treatment, as their only interest was to move forward in their course. Colonel Moore replied, ‘Present my compliments to General Morgan, and say to him, that this being the 4th of July, I cannot entertain the proposition to surrender.’
"Col. Allison, of Morgan’s staff said, ‘I hope you will not consider me as dictatorial on this occasion. I will be frank. You see the breach we have made upon your works with
our battery. You cannot expect to repulse General Morgan’s whole division with your little command. You have resisted us gallantly and deserve credit for it, and now I hope you will save useless bloodshed by reconsidering the message to General Morgan.’
"To this the Colonel replied, ‘Sir, when you assume to know my strength you assume too much. I have a duty to my country, and therefore cannot reconsider my reply to General Morgan.’
"The rebel officer seemed to be moved by these remarks, extended his hand, and with a moist eye, said, ‘Good-bye, Col. Moore. God only knows which of us shall fall first.’ All turned their horses in the opposite directions, and at once renewed the conflict.
"No sooner had the rebel battery reopened fire than Col. Moore commanded the force to ‘rise up and pick those gunners at the battery,’ and no sooner was the command given than a deliberated and deadly fire by the ranks was delivered, which silenced the battery. Col. Johnson’s brigade then charged the rifle pit, and the little command abandoned it, as previously instructed. When the rebels reached it they found that it availed them nothing against the deadly fire which was poured into them from the main force on the battle line in the timber.
"The rebel foe, with a hideous yell, charged across the open field eight successive times in the face of terrible fire, which repulsed them on each occasion, with severe loss. The conflict was almost a hand to hand struggle with nothing but a line of felled trees separating the combatants. At the same time, the rebels were engaged in cutting out a gorge leading through the precipitory bluff into the river bottom, which had been obstructed with felled timber. The entrance was finally affected, and a regiment, commanded by Col. Chenault, opened fire upon the right flank of the line of the Union troops. This was a most critical and trying moment; the rebels had gained a most important point; to defeat it was of the utmost importance. Company I had been held in reserve for any emergency which might arise during the battle; it was now brought forward, deployed as skirmishes across the river bottom, with the right flank extending beyond the rebel line, and presented the appearance of being the advance line of reinforcements.
"The strength of Col. Moore’s command was a matter of doubt with the rebels, rendered more so by his having instructed his men to keep quiet and pour in as rapid and deadly a fire as possible. As cheering was suppressed, nothing but the efficacy of the firing afforded ground for estimating their strength, and when Col. Moore brought forward and maneuvered the reserve company with the shrill notes of his bugle, it had the desired effect of impressing the rebels with the idea that reinforcements of cavalry or artillery were advancing, and by the bold front and deliberate firing of the line of skirmishers, the rebel command in the river bottom was routed, the rebel Colonel commanding, killed, and they were promptly driven back through the gorge through which they entered, disheartened and defeated."
Col. Moore was everywhere, encouraging and inspiring his men. His horse was wounded. The fighting at times was terrific. In his official report he says:
"The battle raged for three and a half hours when the enemy retreated with a loss of over fifty (50) men killed and two hundred (200) wounded. Among the killed were Colonel Chenault, Major Brent, another major and five (5) captains and six (6) lieutenants as far as can be estimated.
"The conflict was fierce and bloody. At times the enemy occupied one side of the fallen timber while my men held the other in almost a hand to hand fight. The enemy’s force consisted of the greater part of Morgan’s division. My force was a fraction of my regiment, consisting of two hundred (200) men, who fought gallantly. I can not say too much in their praise.
"Our loss was six (6) killed and twenty-three (23) wounded.
"After the battle I received, under a flag of truce, a dispatch asking permission to bury their dead, which request I granted, proposing to hold them in front of our lines."
General Morgan, seeing that he could not dislodge the enemy, gave up the fight, managed to ford the river some distance below, left his wounded behind in charge of a surgeon, and continued his march to Lebanon.
The Battle of Tebb’s Bend, for its size, and in its results, was a most important one. If Morgan had not been checked, he would have made his way into Louisville, and destroyed millions of dollars worth of government stores, and a large number of locomotives and rolling stock. The Confederate sympathizers had on the quiet made preparations to receive him with tables set, fresh horses, and steamboats to transport his command to the Indiana side of the river. Louisville had no troops, except the other five companies of the 25th Michigan Infantry. The delay enabled the city to be reinforced. Gen. Morgan admitted that his defeat at Tebb’s Bend knocked the bottom out of his raid. The heroic resistance and gallant fight at Green River encouraged the small force at Lebanon, which was the next point of attack, to make a valiant defense, although Morgan finally force them to surrender.
The Battle of Tebb’s Bend was an independent battle not ordered from headquarters or directed by any commanding general, but entirely planned by Col. O. H. Moore and fought under his command. Gen. Morgan’s tribute to the 25th Michigan Infantry was that it might be wiped out, but it could not be whipped.
For the memorable fight and splendid victory, Col. Moore and his command received the thanks of the Kentucky Legislature. The Louisville Journal which only a few weeks previous had seen fit to abuse Col. Moore most terribly, among others, had this to say:
"Col. Moore’s repulse of a force unequal to twenty or twenty-five times his own was one of the most chivalrous affairs on record. Though it is unquestionably history, it reads like the wildest romance. We do not think that Col. Moore made a very good provost marshal when he was here; but he fights like the devil. We rashly invited him to make a charge with his fraction of a regiment upon the Journal office, but now we hope he won’t do it. We apologize. We retract. We back out. We knock under."
Photos courtesy of Archives of Michigan
Col. Orlando Moore Gen. John Morgan
Transcriber: Joan Van Spronsen
Created: 3 February 2009