Most of the Southern states were represented by units in the Army of Northern Virginia at Sharpsburg, but Kentucky is not usually thought of as one of them. However, a Kentucky unit was present at Sharpsburg; the only outfit from that state in Leeís army.
A company of Kentuckians left the Commonwealth early in the summer of 1861 to fight for the Confederacy. Dr. Luke P. Blackburn, later Governor of Kentucky, paid to arm and equip the unit, which called itself the Blackburn Guards. Samuel V. Reid of Covington was the first captain of the company, and led his 29 men off to Virginia1.
The men were accepted into Confederate service at Nashville on June 10, 1861. Companies from Arkansas were passing through Nashville on their way to Virginia, and the Blackburn Guards joined a group of men from Drew County, Arkansas. Reid was probably told that he would have to join with another unit to be accepted into service, since he was far short of the 100 men normally required to make an infantry company.
The company traveled to Virginia, and together with other companies from Arkansas formed the 3rd Arkansas Infantry Regiment at Lynchburg on July 5, 1861. Reid became the captain of Company H, which was made up about equally of Arkansans and the Kentuckians of the Blackburn Guards. The Kentuckians and Arkansans divided the officer and NCO positions equally: fellow Kentuckians became the second lieutenant, first sergeant, and third sergeant of the company. Arkansans filled the other officer and sergeant positions.
The Blackburn Guards thus became the only Kentucky unit to serve in the northern Virginia theater, after the 1st Kentucky Infantry was disbanded in May 1862. The Kentuckians could not have picked a harder-fighting unit to join. The 3rd Arkansas saw action in most of Leeís battles, several times losing over 50 percent casualties. The regiment fought one of its bloodiest battles on September 17, 1862 along the banks of the Antietam Creek at Sharpsburg, Maryland. The battle of Antietam was the baptism of fire for most of the Blackburn Guards, though they had been involved in some picket skirmishing in western Virginia in the fall of 1861. They were not engaged in any of the battles of the Peninsula Campaign, and were guarding the defenses of Richmond during Second Manassas. As they set out on September 4 with the rest of Brig. Genl. J. G. Walkerís division to join the main army, they were largely untried, and could have no idea of the fierce fighting awaiting them.
The Blackburn Guards crossed the Potomac and advanced to the area of Frederick, Maryland. Walkerís Division was then ordered to assist Maj. Genl. Thomas J. ìStonewallî Jacksonís forces in investing the Union garrison at Harperís Ferry. Upon the surrender of Harperís Ferry on September 15, Walker was again ordered to join the main army, and he reached Sharpsburg on the evening of September 16.
Daylight on September 17 found the 3rd Arkansas over watching a ford on Antietam Creek near the Lower Bridge (soon to become famous as Burnsideís Bridge). The Blackburn Guards were observers of an artillery duel between Confederate batteries to their left and Union guns across the stream, but were not engaged during the morning. That would soon change, as they may have judged from the growing roar of battle on the left of the Confederate line.
Around 9:00 A.M. Walker was ordered to take his division to the left and support Jacksonís command, which had been under heavy attack in the area of the West Woods, Millerís Cornfield, and the Dunkard Church. As he hastened to Jacksonís line, Walker ordered brigade commander Col. Van Manning to leave a force to hold a gap between the West Woods and the left of Maj. Genl. James Longstreetís command, which was defending the Sunken Road area. Manning selected his own regiment, the 3rd Arkansas, and the 27th North Carolina. Col. John R. Cooke of the 27th North Carolina commanded the small semi-brigade; the 3rd Arkansas was commanded by its senior captain, John Reedy2.
Cookeís men halted in a cornfield to the west of the Hagerstown Pike and found themselves immediately under artillery fire. They advanced to a rail fence bordering the cornfield, and opened fire to their left on elements of Greeneís Division of the U.S. Twelfth Corps that had forced their way into the West Woods. Cooke had the left companies of the 27th North Carolina fire on infantry and an artillery battery, which withdrew from the West Woods area. He then had his two regiments fall back into the cornfield and lie down3.
When Greeneís regiments retreated, Cookeís front was clear, but he could see Frenchís Division of the Union Second Corps advancing on the broken Confederate lines at the Sunken Road to his right front. Undaunted so far by ìseeing the elephantî (a Civil War soldiersí term for their first battle), and evidently feeling that his little command was doing well, Cooke decided to advance against Frenchís right, and ordered a charge (or was ordered to advance by Longstreet, as his division commander reported)4. The two small regiments scaled the rail fence, crossed the Hagerstown Pike, and ìwent at them.î They scattered remnants of Greeneís troops and took a number of temporary prisoners, whom they directed to stay to the rear as they rushed forward through the fields of farmer Mumma. At one point their advance was so rapid that Cooke ordered his regimental color-bearer to slow down, to which the enthusiastic color-bearer replied, "Colonel, I can't let that Arkansas fellow get ahead of me."5 The Kentuckians, Arkansans and North Carolinians continued to drive toward the right of Frenchís line until they met a stronger force of the enemy posted behind a fence. This was probably the 14th Indiana and 8th Ohio regiments of Kimballís Brigade, Frenchís Division, which had changed front to the right to protect their brigadeís flank6. Being almost out of ammunition, isolated, and faced with this larger force, Cooke decided to withdraw. While his division commander thought the withdrawal was done ìin the most perfect order,î7 the rearward movement became as impetuous as the advance had been. A North Carolinian reported ìwe had to pass between two firesî because they were engaged not only by Frenchís regiments, but also by the ìperfidyî of the prisoners whom they had taken during the charge, and who now formed and attacked Cookeís men as they withdrew. The 3rd Arkansas and 27th North Carolina soon arrived back at their starting point west of the Hagerstown Pike8. Their attack had probably helped shift the Union focus away from the central part of the battlefield.
The shooting was largely over for the day for the two regiments, mainly due to the fact that they were virtually out of ammunition, but they continued to hold their part of the line. Longstreet reported that ìCooke stood with his empty guns, and waved his colors to show that his troops were in position.î9 The defiance of Cookeís men, along with other local Confederate counterattacks, shored up the center of the line and helped prevent a possible disaster to the Army of Northern Virginia.
The baptism of fire at Sharpsburg took a terrible toll of the Arkansans and Kentuckians. The 3rd Arkansas did not submit a separate casualty report, but the 27th North Carolina reported 63 percent casualties10, and the losses of the 3rd Arkansas must have been comparable. In the Blackburn Guards, five men were wounded: Joseph M. Applegate, John K. Ball, George B. Dodd, Jesse S. Head (who died in enemy hands on September 26), and George W. Pence. George Pence was captured, and spent months in Federal hospitals until he was paroled11. But they undoubtedly took pride in the part they had played; perhaps some of them may have heard that Genl. Lee himself complimented them, reporting that he saw Cookeís men ìstanding boldly in line without a cartridge.î12
The Kentuckians of the Blackburn Guards soldiered on, but time dwindled their ranks to almost nothing. A number of them were permitted to transfer to other units early in 1863, and others were captured or discharged because of wounds or sickness, and some deserted. When the end came at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, only one of the Kentuckians was still with the 3rd Arkansas: 2nd Lieut. Josephus Miles was adjutant, and surrendered and was paroled with the regiment13.
Researchers today can find few reminders of the Blackburn Guards. The Kentucky Adjutant Generalís Report mentioned the company, with no explanation of how it came to be part of the 3rd Arkansas. Scattered individual service records remain in the National Archives, and occasional obituaries in Confederate Veteran magazine and local newspapers mention these Kentuckiansí service in the Army of Northern Virginia. But the menís war service was a strong influence and evidently fondly remembered: George Pence named two of his sons after Van Manning (colonel of the 3rd Arkansas) and John B. Hood (the Texas Brigade commander); Samuel Mathenyís obituary proudly stated that ìfor four years [he] did noble service for the lost cause.î
-- Gregory A. Walden, Titusville, Florida
Native Kentuckian Greg Walden is a descendant of George Pence and Samuel Matheny of the Blackburn Guards.
The illustration above is a First National flag in the collections of the Museum of the Confederacy. It is believed to have been donated to the Confederate Memorial Literary Society in 1913 by the widow of Captain Samuel V. Reid, and may have been the flag of the Blackburn Guards.______________________
Clark, Walter, ed., Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861 ñ í65. Vol. II. Published by the State. Goldsboro: Nash Brothers, Book and Job Printers, 1901. (Captain James A. Grahamís sketch of the 27th North Carolina Regiment tells the story of Col. Cookeís attack with this regiment and the 3rd Arkansas at Sharpsburg)
Collier, Calvin L., "Theyíll do to Tie to!" The Story of the Third Regiment, Arkansas Infantry, C.S.A., Little Rock: Pioneer Press, 1959.
Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Arkansas (CSR). Roll M317, Record Group 109, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.
Confederate Pension Records, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, KY.
Flora, Samuel R., comp., Confederate Veteran Association of Kentucky Membership Roster 1891-1895. [1985?]
Legislature of Kentucky, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky, Volume II: Kentucky Confederate Volunteers, Frankfort: 1918, pp. 414-415.
L. T. Leavell, Obituary in Confederate Veteran, Volume 35 (1927), page 185.
Pence, Homer L. Letter to ìDear Annie,î May 23, 1927. (includes information on the war service and post-war history of his father, George W. Pence, of the Blackburn Guards)
Samuel Nelson Matheny, Obituary in Stanford (Ky.) Interior Journal, May 3, 1878. (Samuel Matheny enlisted in the Blackburn Guards in June 1861, and was wounded and captured at Gettysburg)
U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (OR), 128 vols. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.
1 Pension application of Mrs. Josephine Reid, Confederate Pension Records, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, KY.; and
Kentucky, Legislature of, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky, Volume II: Kentucky Confederate Volunteers, Frankfort: State of Kentucky, 1918, pp. 414 - 415 [AotW citation 2275]
2 Report of Brigadier General J. G. Walker
US War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (OR), 128 vols., Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1880-1901, Ser. 1, Vol. 19, Pt. 1, pp. 914-917 [AotW citation 2276]
3 Clark, Walter, editor, Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War, 1861-1865, 5 vols., Raleigh and Goldsboro (NC): E. M. Uzzell, Nash Brothers, printers, 1901, Vol. II, pp. 434-435 [AotW citation 2277]
4 OR, op. cit., page 915. [AotW citation 2278]
5 Clark, op. cit., page 436. [AotW citation 2279]
6 OR, op. cit., pp. 328-330 (Reports of Brigadier General Nathan Kimball; Colonel William Harrow, 14th Indiana; and Lieutenant Colonel Franklin Sawyer, 8th Ohio). [AotW citation 2280]
7 ibid., page 916. [AotW citation 2281]
8 Clark, op. cit., pp. 435-436. [AotW citation 2282]
9 OR, op. cit., page 840. [AotW citation 2283]
10 Clark, op. cit., page 437. [AotW citation 2284]
11 US War Department, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers, Record Group No. 109 (War Department Collection of Confederate Records), Washington DC: US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), 1903-1927, Roll M317, CSR of Company H, 3rd Arkansas Infantry soldiers [AotW citation 2285]
12 OR, op. cit., page 150. [AotW citation 2286]
13 CSR, op. cit., CSR of Josephus Miles, 3rd Arkansas Infantry. [AotW citation 2287]