Francis Marion Wilcox Journal
Next morning we arose, washed ate breakfast and started our traveling through Laurel and Knox Counties passing over some of the roughest mountains to be found. I need not say roads for we seldom traveled them. Roving guerilla Rebel bands kept us alert and the rougher the roads, the safer we felt. After traveling another full day, we found ourselves on the waters of the Red Bird, a tributary of the Kentucky River some twelve miles south of Manchester in Clay County, Kentucky. We stopped for the night at a widow woman's house, a Mrs. Gipson.
Our Confederate money was gone. At $1.00 a meal it was soon exhausted and now were over 100 miles from home, perhaps more, with no friends or money. Oh, how we wished that the war was over and that we had never left home during the war to visit friends in an enemy's land. We had nothing to fall back on but the ground. It was getting cold, Christmas was coming and us without money and away from home. We thought and thought and then thought...we did not have time to think. Something must be done. We needed money and must have it. Buy it with our labor!. Yes, that was our only medium. We asked Mrs. Gipson if she could give us some work and she said yes. She would give us 33 1/3 cents per hundred to cut and split her some white oak rails. Isaiah and me agreed and at it we went and cut and split 4,000 of the toughest rails I have ever seen. For this labor we were paid in greenbacks, the first such money we had ever seen. We appreciated them as Lincoln's money. I called it Lincoln's Rhines. It was good, had a purchasing power that was not found attached to the Jeff Davis rags which we had been accustomed to carrying but had gotten rid of through our tramp through East Tennessee.
We were cutting these rails about Christmas day 1862 and on Christmas evening, Col. Carter, acting Brigadier General with his staff, rode up into the widow Gipson's hard and stopped for the night. Placing our pickets and inside guards his entire command of 4,000 Union soldiers camped nearby. He was on his way to East Tennessee to destroy the railroad while the eastern army were making some movements. These were our first Union soldiers that we had ever seen, dressed in Federal uniforms throughout, armed and equipped carrying the Old Flag. How different from the Rebel rags and the gray janes. Ah, our blood seemed to raise the loyal sentiment so long cherished could now find for once, full, free expression. We went to bed early and where before we had lain in nights of dread listening for the Rebel raiders infesting that section, we now felt safe. A Union general in the same house with his army as guards. We fell asleep and such sleep we do not remember experiencing in all our natural lives before or since.
The next morning we awoke to witness the entire command pass on. Three regiments of cavalry and one of infantry made a grand show. Guns, pistols and sabers clanking, the latter rattling at the sides of each cavalry man, and a would be citizen seated upon the fence, asked a soldier what that was hanging at his side, referring to the saber. The soldier quickly replied, "a jackass batten" with an oath, the citizen said, "Is that right!" After they went on and we, after splitting over 4,000 rails, got our pay and started for home in Pike County, Kentucky.
Our first day's travel was up a large stream called Cut Shin, a tributary of the Redbird. I think we crossed it some 300 times in less than 16 hours and pulled up onto the Lewis neighborhood, stopping overnight at Moses Creek. The people were loyal here, yet in great dread of roving guerilla bands that often scooped down on them taking their property and often murdering them for no other reason than being loyal Union citizens aiding poor Union men to get back to the Union lines. These guerrillas were independent bands claiming to be regular Rebel soldiers, yet were only thieves claiming the side their hearts were one. They were not loyal to any legal authority and never better satisfied than when robbing some Union man of his horse, clothes and money. They were naturally cowards, devoid of principal, fit only for acting this part of bushwacker, murderer and assassin. These same robbers who this day and time proclaim against the Union soldier drawing pensions for honorable services because they, the blood-thirsty villains, cannot get upon the rolls.
After leaving Cut Shin on Moses Creek, we traveled east, crossed the middle fork of the Kentucky river and made our way to Perry County. We crossed rough, high, steep hills daily, our meals irregular and sleep more so. The wind and water rendered our travel slow and tiresome until it seemed that our legs when willed to push on and go forward could not move any more under ordinary effort. The sentiment of the country was divided about equal between secession and loyalist. We had to play it real fine and consider ourselves as the Romans and do as the Romans do while in Rome. The secessionist would advise us on how to sneak past the Unionists and the Unionists how to get through the Rebel neighborhood.
We finally reached Trouble, a tributary of the Kentucky River, a stream being true to its name and an appellation most admirably noted to the region through which it serpentined its waters along. The stream was "trouble", indeed, a rugged one minus bridges, 40 to 50 miles long and to be crossed it seemed to me more than half a thousand times and generally to be forded on the bottom - that means waded. The last mile traveled on this stream became trouble indeed. Rebel soldiers were reported in the neighborhood. We had crossed Trouble just below an old mill down below us in the Collins neighborhood. Upon the south bank stood the Mill House, a little further up the bank stood the old Rudely construction, a low, log still house where corn, apples and peaches were boiled and from this made into juice, doubled and made into brandy and whiskey. We felt troubled as we knew Rebels liked these articles well.
An old darkey was in front of the still house some 20 yards away chopping wood. We walked up and spoke to him and asked if any Rebel Soldiers were ever seen there or if they came there at all. "Yes sir, you better believe they does. Two of Col Ben Adel's men are in the still house now and lots more of them just above dis here place. You better believe dar is chickens and blackbirds near here, Suh." We knew were in for a meeting soon with the Rebel soldiers. Four of us moved slowly on - the other men having stopped in Clay County, Kentucky near Manchester the county seat. We all agreed to tell the same story of our loyalty and to yell, "We are soldiers belonging to the Southern amy and have been captured by General Carter on his late raid into East Tennessee and finally made our escape". We met sixteen armed Rebels, told our story with such bold effrontery that they never doubted, but drew up closer and made us taste their apple Jack from their Rebel canteens. They aided us in crossing another high mountain between the head of Beaver Creek in Floyd County as well as Troublesome Creek.
We bid Trouble some goodbyes for a time. Yet in less than two years the writer would again travel down that stream from head to mouth - but how different. When first traveling it in fear, on foot, passing Rebel soldiers daily and then in the advance of 1, 500 Union Cavalry acting as one of the advance well armed soldiers in blue uniform, putting everything to flight and capturing 19 Rebel soldiers from Rebel John H. Morgan's men along this troublesome stream. We reach Beaver and stay all night in Floyd County at one Mr. Isaac's. Next morning we move on and cross high hills and mountains and late in the evening reach Uncle Isaac Greer's, the father of our Isaiah. Aunt Nancy, his mother, was out milking when we called. Sid did not know me. Her son Zade (Isaiah) says, "you know me, don't you Mama?" She dropped her cup exclaiming, "Glory be to God, my son Isaiah has come home!" She embraced him as though he had arose from the dead. Who can express the joy at that meeting after several years separation! We were all known soon and at home for a time. Isaiah Greer, George Lawrance and Phillip Greer came to that point with me only to learn that Father had moved to Little Sandy in Carter County, Kentucky, over 125 miles north.
I visited friends and relatives here for three weeks, then in the company of George Elswick and George W. Sowards I started down the Big Sandy Valley for Carter County, Kentucky. After some six days tramp through mud and water I arrived home on Deer Creek, Kentucky on February 13, 1863 - one year, five months and twenty-seven days from the time I bid my family goodbye September 16, 1861. My mother did not know me on my return for a time but finally said, "Tis not Marion? Oh, yes, tis my Marion come home to me now!" She knew that her oldest boy had come home to her now. He had been counted dead yet her hope had lingered day and night that he might be heard as being alive. He was finally home and soon Father came and stepped in and says, "Well, Marion, they say you've come home!" I can see his tall form, his smiling face as it was but yesterday. The other boys, Sowards and Elswick were at home also with me while at our house.
The war was raging yet seemed to be off for a season, then brought nearer. I enlisted in the Union Army Volunteers in Company D, commanded by John McGuire first and then by a Captain Elius P. Davis of Carter County, Kentucky. I was a private as was my father who enlisted the same day. I don't feel that I need to attempt to record my wandering scout raids while in the service of the United States. 'Twas not pleasant. Much hard and fatiguing duty to do; an enemy to rout often and many undesirable things to be demanded by officers and performed by the private soldiers. The honor of an army is generally accorded to its officers yet in reality it belongs to the men who did the duty. Thousands of times the private soldier suggests a course to be pursued and it is done. The officers command and get the glory, yet they do not merit it anymore than does the poor private lying the ditch.