Bullitt County History

A Civil War Adventure

The following story is transcribed from The Military Telegraph during the Civil War in the United States by William R. Plum (Chicago: Jansen, McClurg & Company, Publishers, 1882, pages 289-291)

It describes how a bold telegraph operator named Charles Lehr passed through Confederate lines to help General Buell locate his supply train.

"In Buell's absorbing anxiety to save Louisville he marched far in advance of his main wagon train. Although it was convoyed by a considerable force, both it and the guard were in imminent peril of capture, and no sooner did Buell feel easy about the city, than he became uneasy concerning this train and convoy. Just where it was, he knew not, and the nature of his aid depended upon its position; but he must have known full well, that without reinforcements, being many miles long, it could not pass Lebanon Junction. A small relief force would aggravate the trouble, and a large one he wished not to endanger. In this great emergency, he asked for a volunteer operator to restore the telegraph to his train. Charles Lehr, who had been serving as chief operator of the Cumberland Gap line since Fuller's sickness, was accepted.

"Taking four soldiers, dressed like himself, as railroad section men to propel a light hand-car, he started down the road, expecting every moment to see the rebels who scouted to within five miles of the city, but it so chanced that the little party reached Salt River without discovering any. Here, where the iron bridge lay in ruins, they found the first bad break in the line which was soon repaired, and after dragging the car over the debris, they had proceeded but two miles when they came in sight of a rebel camp on the left, with a picket on the track. But the men pulled away vigorously. Doubtless, the very boldness of the venture lulled suspicion, as the party passed unmolested. Repairing the line at Rolling Fork and Muldraugh's Hill, the men pushed on safely to Elizabethtown, where they arrived about five, p.m. It was near here that Buell supposed the train would be. Lehr connected his instrument, and getting circuit from Louisville, telegraphically shouted to Bruner, in Buell's office, "Glory to God! Tell Buell I'm here. The train not yet come up." Buell was better off than with his train, for he was practically there, while in fact, forty-two miles away with his army. The train was ordered to turn west to the Ohio River, for transportation by steamers.

"The next morning the line was cut, and Lehr and comrades now abandoning the car, set out to return on foot, judging from their unmolested trip down, that a cautious return afoot could be safely made. All went well until near Lebanon Junction, when Lehr chancing to be ahead, discovered about fifty Confederate cavalrymen come out of a neck of woods a short distance beyond. Lehr's assistants ran across a cornfield, but were overtaken and treated as "section men," instead of spies, as they really were; but Lehr, without being discovered at once, ran down a bank along the road, and, while he was pressing forward, the cavalry passed in pursuit of the four others. When he was discovered he was fast reaching the heavy blackberry bushes that grow in abundance in that section, and into which it was not easy to ride. These were well calculated for concealment, and there he eluded the pursuit of two horsemen, who soon gave up the chase. Lehr had spent much time at Lebanon Junction, a terminus of the Gap line, and knew the country and people, which was a great help. Staying that night at a Union man's house, he, next morning took the road and woods by the road, until coming to the rear of a house on his route, he met a negress, who exclaimed: "Lord, massa, you jest make yourself scace, fo the front room am full 'o rebs." At Shepherdsville, Lehr found a force of rebels which he could not pass by day, so, feigning to be a rebel citizen, he took tea at the tavern by the side of a Confederate officer, and waited for darkness before attempting to pass the pickets, which he safely accomplished, creeping stealthily by. Finally, after other narrow escapes, Lehr reached Louisville, his shoes torn and his clothes in rags. He received congratulations from the Corps, and from Buell himself."

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The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 11 Sep 2020 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/civilwaradventure.html