THE 26TH KENTUCKY VOLUNTEER INFANTRY REGIMENT AND IT’S HISTORY

By Robert W. Ford

Introduction

The following regimental history is the story of two sons of Butler County, Kentucky, and their Civil War service in Company B, 26th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  They were William Henry Hampton and his brother-in-law, Thomas Jefferson Ward.  This material is part of a manuscript titled, Timothy Burgess Hampton and Margaret Moore of Butler County, Kentucky and their Descendants.

The 26th Infantry Regiment was organized at Owensboro, Kentucky from July to November 1861. It was mustered into Federal service at Nashville, Tennessee March 5, 1862. It was mustered out of Federal service July 10, 1865 in Louisville, Kentucky after returning from North Carolina. During their service the Regiment lost 173 men who were killed or died of wounds or of disease. Of this number 2 Officers were killed and 2 died of disease. Of the enlisted men, 27 were killed or died of their wounds, and 142 died of disease.

To Save the Union

The clouds of civil war reached Kentucky for William Henry Hampton and his brother-in-law, Thomas Jefferson Ward on October 15, 1861. On that day, they left Butler County to join a newly forming regiment to defend the Commonwealth and their homes, and to fight to preserve the Union. They, with others Green River men, went 20 miles north to Camp Calloway at Hartford. There they joined a State militia unit as privates where Captain Gabriel Netter enlisted them for three years in Company B.

Captain Netter had formed the company on August 10 as a part of a newly forming unit known as the 26th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The Regiment was recruited and organized by Colonel Stephen G. Burbridge in the summer of 1861. (Burbridge was made Brigadier-general in June 1862 and left the Regiment to become division commander.) In September camp was established at the fair grounds at Owensboro where the Regiment was equipped with Colt revolving rifles.

William Hampton was 28 years of age, five feet, eight and one half inches tall, of fair complexion with blue eyes and dark hair. William was the youngest son of Thomas B. and Margaret (Moore) Hampton. He was born in 1836 in Butler County. He died in 1909 at Fort Smith Arkansas and is buried in the National Cemetery there.

Thomas Ward was born in 1830 in Owen County, Kentucky. He was the son of Thomas H. and Martha Ward. He married William’s sister, Nancy Jane Hampton in 1855. He was a farmer and preacher. Thomas died in 1903 in Morgantown. During the war as a soldier, he would also serve as chaplain to his company and the Regiment. Near the end of the war, he was commissioned a Lieutenant. in a newly forming Kentucky Negro unit.

Their First fight

Confederates advanced in Kentucky on October 23, 1861, and occupied the town of Bowling Green, only seventeen miles from Woodbury. On the Saturday, October 26, the Regiment most of the regiment was rushed from Hartford to Morgantown. But it was a Sunday morning, the 27th, when Company B, made a 30-mile march over rough road to make connection with their Regiment. The Company was to join the Regimental commander, Colonel Burbridge and the rest of the Regiment, but they missed making any connection by Sunday evening.

On that Monday, the 28th of October, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston took command of forces in central Kentucky. He began moving cavalry forces across the Green River. Confederates cavalry crossed the Green River occupying Woodbury, on Tuesday, October 29, 1861. It was Captain Thomas Lewers, commanding the 1st Mississippi Cavalry Regiment.

Colonel Burbridge sent word from Morgantown for Captain Netter and his company to join the rest of the Regiment at Cromwell, but the Netter was unable to do so before Burbridge moved out. The result was that the Company B men did not arrive in time to participate in the first skirmish for the Regiment with Confederates. The battle on Big Hill was the fight in which the first Kentucky Union soldier was kill, Granville Allen of the 17th Kentucky Infantry Regiment, who died about one mile northwest of Morgantown.

After the skirmish that killed Private Allen, the Confederates cavalry units retired to their camp near Woodbury and reported to battle to Captain Lewis who immediately took 60 men and proceeded toward Morgantown. About two miles from town, his advance guard came upon a numbers of Union troops posted on the crest of a rugged hill across the road. It was Captain Netter’s men of Company B, which included William Hampton and Thomas Ward.

Intending to rejoin Colonel Burbridge at Cromwell as ordered, Captain Netter had marched his men to a point south of Morgantown. They had gone about a mile or two from town when Netter’s twenty-one man detachment, reinforced by a body of Ohio County Home Guard, encountered the 60 Confederate cavalrymen of the First Mississippi Cavalry Regiment under the command of Captain Lewers. The Union men had spotted the Confederates first without being detected. They lay in wait on both sides of the road for the Rebel cavalry. William Hampton and Thomas Ward went into their first battle with only twelve days of training. When the Confederates road into their hiding place, the Union men rose and fired.

The Confederate advance guard withdrew without injury and rejoined Captain Lewers who then had half of his troops to make a frontal cavalry charge while the other half attempted a flanking maneuver to cover the attack. The nature of the rocky ground caused horses moving off the road to slow to a walk under withering fire from Captain Netter's men. The cavalry could not close in on the infantry. The Colt revolving rifles of Company B made Lewers’ men pay a high price for their effort.

Captain Lewers later wrote of the battle: "…I then divided my command, sending one-half to the right with a view of engaging the emery’s attention in that direction while I could charge him by the road in front.

I soon ascertained that we were unable to effect anything against the enemy posted as they were. We were fully in range of their Minnie muskets, without being able to reach them with our guns and repeaters, while at the same time we found the ground of such a character as to prevent our ascending the hill except at a walk, and completely exposed to the fire of their entire force. One man and several horses having been wounded, I deemed it proper to withdraw and return to my camp."

Union reports say that six Confederates were killed. No Union men were killed, but several were injured including William Hampton. After the fight, the Confederates retired to the area of the Little Muddy Church and the Union men retired to near Woodbury where the Battle of Woodbury was then fought.

A Battle of Woodbury was fought on October 29, 1861, a half-mile from the home of Timothy Hampton in Woodbury. Union forces succeeded in driving all Confederates from Butler County to Bowling Green, some of who retreated to Fort Donelson, Tennessee where General U.S. Grant defeated the Confederates.

Company B was not engaged in the Woodbury battle. A few days afterwards, Company B attacked sixty-nine Texas Rangers in Rochester, Kentucky, and routing them. The Texans lost two killed and several wounded. (Others would report five or six were killed.) No losses or wounded were suffered by the Company B. Captain Netter’s men held the place under martial law until relieved.

The Regiment went to Owensboro where they encamped at the fairgrounds. In November the Regiment moved to Camp Burbridge near Calhoun where it was encamped with the 11th, 17 and 25th Kentucky Infantry Regiments and the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry. The Confederates were at Bowling Green, Russellville and Hopkinsville. The presence of these Regiments at Calhoun deterred the Confederates from advancing north of the Green River.

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