Col Joseph Preyor Nuckols

History of the First Kentucky Brigade by Edwin Porter Thompson, Cincinnati, Caxton Pub House, 1868
Pg 380-391

Joseph Preyor Nuckols, eldest son of Hezekiah P Nuckols and Susan J Nuckols, was born in Barren County , Kentucky April 28 1828. His immediate ancestors came from Virginia- remotely they were of the old Cavalier stock- and, happily the high-toned principles of the fathers are not extinct in the children. There is a little of the sniveling Puritan in the Nuckols of today as there was in the Rupert of 1640. Imbued, from boyhood, with a natural turn of mind, so characteristic of deep-toned and really enthusiastic, he embraced the first opportunity, then there was an evident tendency in the affairs of the country to render such a step necessary and useful, to gratify this passion. Under the act of the legislature providing for a state Guard, he organized a company of young men at Glasgow -- men , for the most part, of good families and good character, who have been described as "the flower of the county." With that ardor and determination, that earnestness of purpose, which have characterized him through life, he set about this work to succeed, and in a short time had the finest company in all that portion of country. Meeting with opportunities in the outset, chiefly from those who soon drifted into the current that swept away their principles, and left them the minions of that horrid monstrosity of the nineteenth century- the spirit of old John Brown re-embodied in a people and "marching on" - he took more than ordinary pains in his work and uncommon pride in his men, that led him not only to improve every chance to exercise and instruct, but to uniform, arm, and equip them in the most excellent style. To this end he drew largely upon his own private purse, entailing upon himself the expense of furnishing almost wholly the beautiful gray dress for which they were noted. Not that they were unable to meet these expenses individually, for the greater part were the sons of the wealthy, as well as of the most respectable people, but that to uniform without delay, to arm and equip speedily, with the best that could be furnished by the State, and to impart a martial bearing to the company, were objects upon which he had set his heart - to meet them was to triumph over the captious and the croaking- and money, in such a case, was a paltry consideration, save as it enabled him to accomplish his purpose. When the success of the North, in the election of a sectional President, had been proclaimed, there was general trouble in the state guard, and but few companies remained perfectly intact. In a large number of instances, these organizations were broken up, the weapons and colors sometimes falling into the hands of one or the other party; sometimes each man retained his gun, and refused to parade under this or that banner. The material of this company, however, was such, and the influence of the commanding officer so great, that, despite every effort of the new converts to fanaticism, and the cavils of the weak-kneed, they maintained their organization, and, early in the spring of 1861, paraded through the streets of Glasgow under the standard of the South. Continual additions were now being made to the company, and by the 1st of August it numbered eighty-three, there being no married man among them but the captain himself. The now famous spot, Camp Boone, in Montgomery County Tennessee, was already occupied by the Second and Third Regiments, under Hawes and Tilghman, together with the nuclei of several unorganized companies. The preparations were at this time complete and the company ready for camp, but the political contest between major Barlow, for the South and one Waring for the abolitionists --Candidates for the legislature - war pending and they remained in Barren County until after the election, to cast their votes for the major, who was triumphantly elected. Previous to setting out, Captain Nuckols evinced a regard for law and order, and an honesty of purpose that will do him credit wherever these principles are known and respected. The arms and accouterments of his company belonged to the State-in form, if not fairly and in spirit, she had declared for neutrality -and there had, as yet, been no palpably overt act of war within her borders. Conceiving that to retain and carry out these arms was a violation of the law of rendering just equivalents, which neither individuals nor governments can disregard without guilt, he boxed them up and turned them over to the county judge, who was even then organizing " home guards," that were generally so well known to be in the interest of the Federal power that no friend of the South would engage with them. This spirit, so diametrically opposed to that of his foes, the very , ground-work of whose policy was lawless plunder and rapine, he exemplified in his conduct, and enforced, as far as possible, during the operations of the war--receiving nothing ,without compensation, and always frowning down a wanton disregard of the rights of friends or enemies. Arriving at Camp Boone, August 9th, he shortly afterward met with Colonel Trabue, who had authority to raise a regiment of Kentuckians for three years. His company was immediately sworn into the Confederate service, and its organization completed. Other companies were speedily united with it, and the Fourth Regiment Kentucky Volunteers was organized. He was offered the position of major, but declined the honor, esteeming it a duty, as well as his desire, to be immediately with his own company in its first engagement. The regiment was consequently without a major until October 21, when Thomas B. Monroe, Jr, was appointed to the position. Captain Nuckols being the senior officer of his rank in the regiment, and the field officers much engaged in looking after the other interests of the troops and of the cause, the command developed upon him for the greater portion of the first four months, and right worthily did he discharge his trust. Full of devotion to the cause, embodied with martial ardor, proud or these representatives of Kentucky's old-time principles, he set vigorously to work. A strict disciplinarian, and of a soldier bearing himself, his influence is acknowledged to have been great, and his labors and example Contributed much to the formation of the splendid Character of the regiment. While on this subject, it may be well to remark that during the war he envinced an admirable tact in keeping the regiment together on the march -his men well in hand--- which all observers of military affairs will readily admit to be one of the most difficult ordinary duties of a commander. Straggling was out of the question, and desertion was exceedingly rare. The better to preserve the morale of the regiment, he steadily set his face, when he was in command, against the exchange of his men for those of the cavalry. Though it pained him, he remarked, to deny the boys any thing, his sense of duty compelled him to guard against any precedent or this kind. He reasoned that the habits and military education of the cavalryman were not such as to enable him to adapt himself readily to the infantry , and that by losing any considerable number of his men, even though he received others in return, the efficiency of his command would soon be weakened, if not destroyed, since there would at least be a want of that mutual confidence which adds so much to the effectiveness of any military body. At Shiloh, contrary to his wishes, he was placed in charge of the left or the regiment, as acting major, and in this first trial proved equal to the estimate that had been formed of him. Mounted throughout the day, always uncovered, avoiding no exposed place, his lofty stature rendering him more than commonly conspicuous, the figure was such as a soldier loves to contemplate. The example gave force to the words of cheer, and when that battle closed, Joseph P Nuckols had been written among the proud names of Kentucky. The splendid engagement with the 46th Ohio on Sunday, and the more trying struggle with a division of Buells Army on Monday, in which his conduct is matter of special remark, have already been noticed at length in Col Trabue's report. The wound received in the latter affair was by a musket-ball in the ankle-joint, which wedged itself between the bones, and caused the most dreadful pain. It was extracted on tbe field; and while he was being borne to the rear, a strange incident as any recorded of war-the singing of "The Kentucky Battle Song" under the furious roar of musketry and the constant falling of men-took place. He slept that night on the ground, in a cold and drenching rain, and in such a situation that the water accumulated under and around him. Some of the men, less seriously wounded, did all they could to alleviate his sufferings, but it was a night of terrible misery-one of those trying scenes in war which the ancients had in view when they represented fortitude as being one of the noblest of the virtues. He was taken to Corinth on Tuesday, and, as he afterward expressed it, he " turned himself over to the tender mercies of tile surgeons." His wife joined him in a few days, and nursed him through the succeeding months of pain. General Breckinridge, in his report of the part taken by his division, made honorable mention of his conduct., and ever afterward manisfested for him the warmest friendship and esteem. Judge Walker , too, of New Orleans, who published a pamphlet descriptive of the battle, notices his conspicuous gallantry. About the 1st of October, he rejoined the command at Knoxville, and, though still unable to walk without great pain, reported for duty. General Breckinridge now gave him permission, in company with four other officers, to precede the division to Kentucky for the purpose of recruiting, with the comfortable assurance that he expected them to be murdered for their hardihood before they reached the orderly portions of the State. They set out, however, and went as far as Barboursville, but meeting the head of Bragg's column here, they returned ro Knoxville, and went with the division to Murfreesboro. At this place in November, he was promoted to major, to take rank from the 7th of April; and he again devoted himself to exercising and increasing the efficiency and high character of the regiment. December 18th, be was promoted to lieutenant-colonel, vice Hynes, resigned. On the afternoon of the 28th December, when Rosecrans had appeared before Murfreeshoro, he. was ordered, by General Breckinridge, to take command of one com-any from each regiment of the division, and to deploy them so as to cover it, one mile In front. He remained In command of this advance line until Wednesday, watching the movements of , the enemy, and reporting position. Relieved on Wednesday mourning, December 31st, he rode back to General Breckinridge, and represented to him that a regiment ought to be thrown upon the hill over which the terrible struggle of Friday took place, lest the enemy, foiled at all other points, should seize it, and have to be driven away. The general sent Colonel Buckner with him to reconnoiter it, and Buckner coincided in the opinion of its importance. General Breckinridge promised that it should be attended to, but the battle was raging on the left, and the matter was dropped for the time. What the result of this far-sighted and prudential course would have been upon the fortunes of that week, no one can see ; but it seems to have been one of those singular circumstances, so common in the history of warfare, upon which hang the destinies of armies, and by neglecting or attending to which a battle is lost or won. At about one o'clock, Friday afternoon, he was conversing with Breckinridge, Hanson and other officers, in the rear of Cobb's Battery, when the order of General Bragg came to General Breckinridge to report to him on the west bank of the river, and he was instructed to take the position and establish his artillery upon it. Returning, the General remarked to Colonel Nuckols, " Ah! Colonel, this is a pet measure of yours, I believe. Do you desire as much as ever to place tbe Fourth there?" But he, knowing that Van Cleve was already in possession, replied that he thought they would have "some dispute about it." "Well." the general is said to have rejoined, "we must take it anyhow", and accordingly made his disposition. When the 4th regiment had been formed, Col Nuckols rode along in front of the line, talking in that cheerful and encouraging tone, so well calculated to impart and extend the mysterious sympathetic influence which goes far toward sustaining bodies of men under trying ordeals; but with that ready tact at discovering the tendency f matters on a battle-field, and of comprehending a situation for which they were remarkable, they had discovered the true state of affairs, and knew that a desperate and bloody crisis was at hand, and that more than ordinary deeds were expected from them. Said he, describing the scone afterward : " They were calm and collected; but I saw a peculiar glitter in every eye, and a circumscribed red spot on every cheek, as of men who were moved by no idle fears, but who dreadful nature of the work they had to perform." The particulars of that short but sanguinary contest have been recounted at length but it is with difficulty that we restrain ourselves from description here. The fall of Hanson-the almost settled, strange despair or the cool and , intrepid Trabue -- the anguish of the noble Breckinridge, at seeing his "Orphan Brigade" thus uselessly torn to pieces before his eyes--the bitterness that Sat upon the countenance of the subject of our sketch, when he found himself foiled in the last attempt to silence the death-dealing batteries--these things and such as these-though a terrible picture, it has yet the fascination that invests sublimity, and in contempluting a single actor, we can scarcely forbear to paint, though in a simple way, a scene so splendid in its very fury , and grand in the excess or its horror. After the first repulse, noticed in the report of the battle, he suggested an attempt to reform parrallel with the river, higher up, for the purpose of arresting the fury of the cannonade by killing off the enemy's gunners. Endeavoring to execute it he had an arm stricken powerless when in the act of grasping the colors, and designating with them the point for the rally. Here, too, his horse was shot, but not fataly, and when it was found necessary to retire still furthur, he assisted General Breckenridge in restoring order on that part of the field -- the men, he described it , "falling in promptly as they arrived.", which only veteran heros could do under circumstances so desperate. His horse was now shot again-this time disabled-and he was compelled to limp from the field on foot. But the drama had been played, and the disastrous denoument reached before he turned with a bleeding heart to leave to the merciless cold of the approaching night, and to the now victorious foe, so many of his mangled and suffering friends.. He was now under the necessity of seeking rest and attention away from the army, but rejoined it about the last days of February at Manchester. He was at this time (Colonel Trabue having died) promoted to colonel. At Jackson, he was present during the week in which the brigade was engaged there. The excellent discipline, the reciprocal confidence existing between him and his regiment, as well as the splendid material of which the regiment was composed, were strikingly exemplified at Chickamauga (on the morning of the first day). where he led them forward to protect the artillery , so furiously engaged, under the heroic Graves, near Glass' Mills. Through the storm of heavy shot and screaming, bursting shells, they marched steadily and unfalterering, well aligned as though upon the drill-ground--anon a missile tearing through the line-shoulder to shoulder they pressed forward - the pride of their brothers near by, the admiration of the army-to the designated spot in front of the cannon, and held the ground until Graves drew off. So dreadful was the ordeal that many of the officers and men declared that without the steady, Collected, magnificent bearing of their leader, they could not have marched through that open field, under the horrid fire, with such galliant precision-a compliment indeed, and worth more than a volume of common eulogy. Yet this was scarcely more excellent conduct than that of Sunday morning, when he was thrown forward to feel the enemy and report position. After having ascended the rising ground, with his command as skirmishes and come full upon an entrenched line, he rode back and forth along the regiment, under a storm of balls, explaining the necessity of holding the ground at all hazards, while the men answered with a shout, and plied their rifles unflinchingly. It was here, after having alighted at the center of the regiment, with the intention of defending the position until supporting force should arrive, that he received a wound whicb disabled him, in some measure, for life. A Minie-ball passed through the left arm, beIow the elbow, shattering the bones, and inflicting intense pain. He suffered long with the wound itself, and the effect upon his general health- never good, and for the past year so dreadfulIy impaired-- was such as to preclude the possibility of further service in the field, though he long continued to cherish the hope of being able to return to duty. In personal appearance, Colonel Nuckols is tall and commanding-six feet two inches in height-with dark hair, dark eyes, and a certain settled, stern expression of countenance, which is, however, the result of constitutional ill health, and not of any moroseness of temper or sour misanthropy. When we take into consideration his naturally feeble physical organism, the many trying vicissitudes of his life, the hardships and exposures incident to his career as a soldier, with the severe wounds that have been inflicted-three during the war, and one by the hands of would- be assassins, in August, 1866- we can but wonder that he has been able to survive so long. It is related of the great defender of the Protestant faith in Europe, and the deliverer of Great Britain from misrule, William, Prince of Orange, that he rose, by the sheer force of an unconquerable will, superior to physical infirmities, and performed, during many years of a useful life, military and civil labors that would have appalled the majority of even able men. Reflecting upon the energy , the force of will, the admirable fortitude and great tenacity of life that have been displayed by Colonel Nuckols, we have been involuntarily led to compare him in our mind to that prodigy of a troubled age. This force of will and great decision of character. combined with unaffected kindness and devotion to his friends, have always given him much influence with them; but to those who wontonly excite his emnity, he is full of scorn and bitterness that characterize determined natures. In his intercourse with the officers of the army, there was none of that envy and spirit of detraction always so plainly discerible in little minds. His star, he conceived, would shine none the brighter by any attempt of his to hang a dubious curtain over that of his brother in arms. Speaking, after the battle of Murfreesboro, of the momentary pause that was occasioned by the sudden discovery of water in front of the line, when a movement to avoid obstacles had to be made, his mention of "that brilliant advance of the gallant Lewis" was as creditable to him as it was complimentary to the officer named. When the war had closed, though returning to his home worn in body and ruined in fortune--disappointed of the hopes he had so fondly cherished four years before - the manner of his reception was like an ovation, and the "war-broken soldier" was as much a hero as though he had come in pomp, beneath the fluttering of triumphant banners

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