NoD: The Graves of Seven Who Fell in ‘The Masterful Retreat’

Rural Cemetery - Elliott County
Unmarked Grave – Elliott County, Ky.

Momma always instructed us not to “cut off the hand that feeds you.” This old maxim shouldn’t be forgotten in life or in battle.

The Cumberland Gap was a strategic link through the Appalachians during the Civil War and control of it was a constant struggle. After the battle of Ivy Mountain, Union troops became increasingly bold in southeastern Kentucky. By the middle of 1862, General George W. Morgan saw his opportunity to take the Cumberland Gap. To do so, however, he (and his men and their artillery) had to cross very rugged terrain. The end result was a loss of their supply line.

By June 17, 1862, General Morgan had taken control of the Cumberland Gap, but his men were relying on foraging for their rations. After taking the Gap, General Morgan wrote to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton: “The enemy evacuated this American Gibraltar this morning … and DeCourcy’s brigade took possession.” Gibraltar being, of course, a reference to the straight by which one enters the Mediterranean Sea.
Ultimately, however, the Confederate Army sought an invasion of Kentucky (ultimately leading to the Battle of Perryville) through Tennessee. With no supply line and the threat of being surrounded by rebel forces, General Morgan abandoned the Cumberland Gap on September 17, 1862 and began what would be known as “The Masterful Retreat” toward Grayson, Kentucky.

Along the way, the Union troops under Gen. George Morgan were under constant threat from the tactics of CSA Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his 1,200 cavalry riders. As USA Morgan’s 7th KY Division made its retreat to Grayson, a constant calibration of security tactics was necessary because of CSA Morgan’s guerrilla-like ambushes. The only “roadway” through Elliott County wide enough for the 7th KYwas the riverbed of the Little Sandy River, which flowed through many gorges and narrows perfect for ambush.

It was said the the rebels “fought vigorously with ax and torch, felling trees, barricading the road, destroying bridges, and making every barricade cost a skirmish and time.” At one such skirmish, seven men of the Union’s 7th Kentucky Division fell and are buried in this little cemetery located two miles south of Sandy Hook.

It is likely that this cemetery also served as a family cemetery for local residents as there are more than seven graves present. Today, as is the case with so many Civil War sites, this rural corner of Elliott County is being developed, but a roadside marker (“Skirmish Here“) records the spot in the annals of history.

The remainder of the 7th Division arrived in Grayson after a grueling 16 day march.

More pictures are available here.