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Introduction to the M. A. Harvey Letter
By George Rugg
Little is known of the author of this single folio-sized letter written in the aftermath of Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg's 1862 campaign in Kentucky. M. A. Harvey is identified in the 1860 Federal census as a 21-year-old farmer in Buck Horn Township, Austin County, Texas. He was a Georgia native, unmarried, with $8,500 in real estate and a personal estate of $10,700; he held ten slaves. On 7 September 1861, at Houston, Harvey was mustered in to Co. B of the 8th Texas Cavalryone of the most celebrated of all Confederate cavalry regiments, known then and later as Terry's Texas Rangers. Harvey's Confederate military records show him to have been a private in the Rangers as late as April 1863. In June 1863 he was appointed captain, and ended the war (March 1865) as captain and A.A.G. (and Acting Chief of Ordnance) in the Northern Sub-District of Texas. The letter itself is some 1400 words in length, and was written from Kingston in Middle Tennessee on 15 November 1862as much as ten weeks after the events it describes. It is directed to a niece, identifiable only as "Eva."
The Kentucky campaign was initiated by the parallel northward movement of Confederate forces under Bragg himself (departing from Chattanooga on 28 August) and Maj. Gen. Sterling Price (who had left Knoxville two weeks earlier). At the outset the Texas Rangers were attached to the cavalry brigade of Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, which on 3 September joined the vanguard of Bragg's army, to help cover the move north. Harvey's account of the campaign is essentially a string of anecdotes, mostly relating to encounters with Federal troops. None of these is more intriguing than the first:
The first fight we had was near the [Tennessee-Kentucky] state line here we ran into a Yankee Ambuscade and had a right sharp hand to hand fight we had to fall back though as the enemy outnumbered us two to one we made a good many go up before we did retreat though and took several prisoners I had quite a romantic adventure here. I noticed one of the smallest specimens of humanity I ever saw fighting in the Yankee ranks. The little nondescript was bolder than any of them and advanced so close
r to our lines that I captured it and what do you suppose it was! Nothing in the world but a little fifteen year old girl dressed up in Yankee uniform she was right pretty and sharp as any full grown Yankee. [...] can assure you she was a curiosity We kept her two or three hours and then turned her loose. I wish we had a Barnum down south I would have sent her to him as a new specimen of the "genus homo.
The skirmish Harvey is recalling here cannot be identified with certainty. It must have taken place on or about 8 September 1862, perhaps at Kentucky Line, Kentucky; the Rangers' antagonists would probably have been elements of Maj. Gen. Alexander McDowell McCook's Division of Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio. The "little nondescript" described by Harvey appears to have been a young woman fighting disguised as a man. In recent years a great deal of research has been dedicated to the topic of women in the Civil War armies, and it is now plain that a very substantial numberhundreds, surely, and perhaps thousandsserved in the armies in male disguise. The number is difficult even to estimate, since disclosure as a woman meant expulsion from the ranks, and some female soldiers surely remained undetected, and so unknown to current scholarship. If Harvey's "romantic adventure" happened as representedthere is no particular reason to regard the tale as invented or embroidered, but it finds no confirmation in the writings of other members of the 8th Texas Cavalry, eitherit would appear to represent a previously unrecorded instance of a woman's military service in the Civil War. In the event, it is unfortunate that the Rangers' opponents in this skirmish cannot be identified with more precision.
The next incident described by Harvey probably occurred near Woodburn, Kentucky, south of Bowling Green, on 12 September. In the process of harassing Buell's rear along the Nashville-Bowling Green turnpike, the Rangers mistakenly attacked elements of the cavalry brigade of Confederate Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler, also keeping tabs on the Federals. Forrest ordered the Rangers to charge what he took to be a body of Federal horsemen but was in fact, as Harvey says, "some Georgia cavalry"; the latter, for their part, ran off, sparing the Confederates the possibility of self-inflicted casualties. Harvey then mentions his participation in the siege and surrender of Munfordville and Woodsonville (14-17 September), one of the significant Confederate victories of the Kentucky campaign. Following Munfordville Forrest was sent back to Tennessee, command of his brigade being assumed by Col. John Wharton. For Harvey, there followed a period of detached service, under Lt. Col. Marcus Legrand Evans of Co. C of the 8th Texas Cavalry. Evans was sent with a detachment of troopers (Harvey says 40 men; other sources say more) to occupy Taylorsville, Kentucky, some 20 miles southeast of the Federal strongpoint of Louisville. There they remained until Buell moved out of Louisville, when they withdrew to the vicinity of Bardstown, Kentucky, occupying the town and its approaches. It was at the battle of Bardstown, on 4 October 1862, that Wharton's brigade made a momentous charge against four regiments of Federal cavalry drawn up in the road to receive them:
They were about four miles from us when we heard of them Col Wharton ordered us forward immediately in a gallope We very soon made the distance and found them sure enough Their cavalry, four regiments about two thousand drawn up in line of battle in an old field and immediately across the road. Their infantry and artillery was on the left. My company was in the advance we charged them immediately without [illeg.] forming they let us get within ten steps of them and then turned loose a volley right in our faces this did not stop us a second we gave a yell you could hear for miles and run over and scattered them in every direction. This was the most complete victory I ever saw we killed forty or fifty of the enemy without the loss of a man. This was very strange considering we were fighting hand to hand. I captured a good horse and and enough blankets for Ans and myself all the winter.
Four days after Bardstown, on 8 October 1862, Bragg met Buell at the battle of Perryville, the military climax of the Kentucky campaign. Here, too, the Rangers were heavily engaged, in this case on the Confederate right. Bragg thereupon determined to withdraw from Kentucky, through Cumberland Gap, which the army reached on 22 October. Harvey notes that "Gen. Bragg gave me all the straggling cavalry and sent me a different route across the mountains," though the exact nature of that route is not evident from the records. The campaign was plainly an arduous one. All told, the Rangers were in Kentucky for 38 days, and were under Federal fire 42 times.
Provenance note: The Harvey Letter was acquired by the Hesburgh Libraries from Historical Collectible Auctions of Burlington NC (auction of 6 December 2007, lot 85). Acquired through the generosity of Robert and Beverly O'Grady.
Bibliographic note: For a good account of the 8th Texas Cavalry in the Kentucky campaign, see Bryan S. Bush, Terry's Texas Rangers: History of the Eighth Texas Cavalry, Paducah KY, 2002, pp. 41-64. See also Jeffrey D. Murrah, None but Texians: A History of Terry's Texas Rangers, Austin, 2001, and Terry Texas Ranger Trilogy, Austin, 1996. The OR includes a report by Confederate Brig. Gen. Joseph Wheeler covering the Kentucky campaign, but much of this is less relevant than it might be, since Wheeler did not actually command the Rangers until after Perryville (13 October 1862); see Official Records, Series I, Vol. 16, Part 1, pp. 892-900. For woman soldiers in the Civil War, see DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook, They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War, Baton Rouge, 2002, and Richard H. Hall, Women on the Civil War Battlefront, Lawrence KS, 2006.
Index of Letters
|MSN/CW 5006-1-F1||Letter||November 15, 1862||Kingston, Tennessee||M. A. Harvey|