Bullitt County History

Brig. Gen R. W. Johnson in Lebanon Junction

In 1886, Brig. Gen R. W. Johnson wrote A Soldier's Reminiscences in Peace and War which was published by the J. B. Lippincott Company in Philadelpha.

In chapter 22 (pages 266-273) Johnson described his time at Lebanon Junction during the Civil War.

"In a previous chapter reference was made to the Home Guards of Louisville, Kentucky, which patriotically rallied to the defence of that city.

"The fall of 1861 was a memorable period in the history of Kentucky. The attack on Sumter and the call for volunteers made it necessary that the State should at some time take a definite position in reference to the struggle for the preservation of the Union against armed rebellion. Those who adhered to the government recognized the extraordinary difficulties that lay in the way of placing the people of the State in line with those who believed that the national existence should be maintained at every cost of blood and treasure. All the officers of the State, without exception, sympathized with the rebellion, and the State guard was intensely disloyal. All arms and ammunition belonging to the State were in the possession or under the control of those who intended to ally Kentucky with the Southern Confederacy when they could safely undertake the task.

"The State was in that condition when the true policy was to postpone active co-operation with the Union forces until the loyal men could be organized and armed. Mr. Lincoln approved that course, and hence did not at the outset occupy the State with the military forces of the government. Believing that the mass of the people were thoroughly devoted to the Union, he gave the friends of the government an opportunity to educate the public mind by discussion as to the danger and wickedness of secession. He avoided giving the rebels the excuse for saying that he was unwilling to give the people an opportunity to decide the pending question for themselves, unintimidated by armed forces. The Union men entered vigorously upon the canvass for members of the Lower House of Congress, in the summer of 1861, upon the single issue whether Kentucky should withdraw from the Union. Upon that issue every district was carried by the Unionists. That election fixed the popular mind against the rebel cause and held the State firmly in the loyal ranks.

"The next step was to arm the Union men of the State. To effect that result, General William Nelson was given full authority by President Lincoln. He entered into correspondence with Hon. James Harlan, James Guthrie, and other leading Union men, and made every possible effort to introduce arms into the State. He shipped a large number of arm-chests by the Kentucky Central Railroad from Covington for Camp Dick Robinson, which had been established only a few days before. The rebels at Cynthiana got wind of this shipment and stopped the train at that place, and the arms were returned to Cincinnati. From that city, following the suggestion of prominent Union men in Louisville, he shipped the arms by boat to that place. The boat reached Louisville in the night-time, and, under the direction of Joshua F. Bullitt, John M. Harlan, and others, they were transferred before daylight to the Louisville and Lexington Railroad and forwarded to Lexington, where, in accordance with previous understanding, they were to be received by Ethalbert Dudley's Union company. As soon as the Confederate company of that city heard of the arrival of the guns they rallied under John Morgan and then proceeded to the depot to seize them; but the arrival, 'just in the nick of time,' of Bramlette from Camp Dick Robinson, at the head of several hundred mounted men, prevented such seizure and secured the guns for the Union cause.

"Throughout the State at that time there was imminent danger of conflicts between individual citizens and organizations, on account of their differences in reference to the pending struggle.

"At last the rebel forces occupied the extreme southwestern part of Kentucky, under General Polk, and shortly afterwards followed Buckner's invasion from Nashville. Then the Union troops from the West, fully armed and equipped, poured into the State for the purpose of resisting the advancing forces of the enemy. General Anderson, of Sumter fame, was ordered to the State, and he was soon succeeded by General Sherman and General Thomas, and a number of general officers were ordered to report to him. Then it was that the Union men set about to organize and meet the responsibilities of the hour. Rumors came to Louisville, thick and fast, of an advance upon that city by Buckner at the head of a large Confederate force. Sherman determined to occupy Muldraugh's Hill, beyond Lebanon Junction, with such forces as he could hurriedly collect together. It was in this neighborhood, and only about forty miles apart, that Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Davis were born.

"Sherman requested the assistance of the Louisville Home Guards, one of which -- 'The Crittenden Union Zouaves' -- was under the command of Captain John M. Harlan; and this company constituted the guard at General Sherman's headquarters, which were established in the hotel at Lebanon Junction. Sherman's watchful eye was never closed. After some few days' delay he determined to advance as far as Elizabethtown and occupy Muldraugh's Hill with the few soldiers at his command. It was here that he called the prominent officers of his command around him and informed them that he expected to fight a battle, and that 'each man must understand that he is to stand and fight down to the stubbs.'

"When he moved from Lebanon Junction he left me in command, with only Captain Harlan's company. Late in the evening of the day upon which he occupied Muldraugh's Hill he sent me a note, in which he stated that he would probably have a fight, and that he wanted me to send him five thousand rounds of ammunition. I ordered Captain Harlan to comply with the order with all possible despatch. The railroad bridge beyond was down, and how he was to get that quantity of ammunition to Sherman across the Rolling Fork was a question of much importance, and one not easily solved. He went back that night some two miles along the railroad and aroused a farmer, and told him to hitch up his wagon, with body on, and prepare for a movement into the enemy's country. The farmer demurred, but, seeing that resistance was useless, he got up and harnessed his team. Then he was required to drive to the Junction, where there was a hand-car. This hand-car was placed on top and across the wagon body, and around it were placed the boxes of ammunition. About this time it was broad daylight, and Harlan started with the team for the crossing of the Rolling Fork. The stream was 'belly deep' to the horses, but the Rubicon was safely crossed. In order to direct the team, Harlan mounted the leader without saddle or equipments. On reaching the south bank the hand-car was placed on the railroad track, the ammunition loaded thereon, and then pushed to the top of the hill, thence down grade to Sherman's headquarters.

"As Harlan was about to enter the stream, mounted on the leader, a special artist of some Eastern illustrated paper was on hand to make a sketch of the perilous undertaking. This sketch would have been much more interesting if it had been known that the saddleless outrider was destined to act a prominent part in the great war and finally become a member of the Supreme Court of the United States.

"While at the Junction, Sherman was walking on the platform in front of the hotel, with a cigar in his mouth, nearly smoked up and unlighted. Observing a soldier smoking, he asked him for a light. The soldier handed him his fresh-lighted cigar. Sherman lighted his stump, put the soldier's good cigar in his own mouth, threw his stump away, thanked the soldier for his courtesy, and walked on, not realizing what he had done. The soldier good-naturedly laughed, and remarked in an undertone, 'That's cool, isn't it?'

"It is not at all surprising that old Tecumseh was at that time forgetful of many things. All was confusion around him. Much was expected, yet he had very little with which to do anything. I remember to have often heard him, while at Lebanon Junction, declare that neither the authorities in Washington nor the people at large had any conception of the vast work before them, in conquering the rebellion; that the war would last for several years before the rebels would be overthrown and the Union restored. His genius for war was evidence to the politicians that he lacked mental balance. But subsequent events showed that he was wiser than all who were around him.

"While at the Junction the pickets arrested a young man by the name of Payne. He was well mounted, fully armed, and on his way to join the rebel army at Bowling Green. He was disarmed and brought to my headquarters for examination and final orders in his case. He was candid in his answers to all questions I asked him and was free to confess his object and intentions.

"For some time I held him in suspense, and at last, becoming impatient, he asked me what I was going to do with him. Pausing for a few moments to prolong his agony, I said, 'I shall send you to the Dry Tortugas to remain during the war.' This was a place of which he had never heard; so I explained its geographical location, character, etc, I saw he was not pleased, and directly he said to me that if I would pardon his offence he would return to his home, and remain during the war a true and loyal citizen. So I ordered his release. A few years since I had a letter from his father asking me to send him his son's pistol.

"On another occasion the guard brought in two citizens who had just arrived from the enemy's lines and were on their way to Louisville. Their names were given to me as Bob Bell and O. W. Thomas, of Louisville. Bell I had known from boyhood; in fact, we were boys together. When he was told that he would have to go to the headquarters of Colonel Johnson, he was not aware that his old-time friend was the Colonel Johnson into whose presence he was soon to appear.

"When my door was opened and these two men were ushered in, they were too mad to look at me, but kept their eyes on the floor. I said, 'Well, Bob Bell, what are you doing here?' He looked up, and, recognizing me, he said, 'Dick Johnson, I was never so glad to see you in all my life; give me your hand, old fellow.' Then he introduced me to Mr. Thomas. I learned that they had been South to collect some outstanding debts, and that they were then en route to their homes in Louisville. I ordered their release, and two very happy men went on their way rejoicing. From that time to the present I have always numbered Thomas among my friends, and whenever I see him he invariably refers to his first introduction to me.

"On another occasion a lady was arrested. She was on her way to Louisville, and had a ponderous trunk in her possession. It was but right that the contents of the trunk should be examined. Not wishing to overhaul a female's wardrobe, of which I knew so little, and learning that her brother, Major Nicholas, was in my command, I had him examine her baggage, and, as he reported finding nothing 'contraband of war,' I permitted her to pass on to her home. On the following day I received a large basket of choice fruit, in recognition of my 'kindness and consideration for her.'"

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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 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday appointments are available by calling 502-921-0161 during our regular weekday hours. 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: 12 Jan 2024 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/johnsoncw.html