Yesterday’s post on Colonel Mulligan prompted me to share this interesting recollection of Mulligan’s last moments on earth. I had not seen this particular account when Shenandoah Summer was published, but it supports other accounts that led me to the same conclusion regarding General George Crook’s actions at Kernstown. It is quite interesting to see the difference of opinion from soldiers who were from outside of Crook’s sphere of influence. Crook’s tight knit group, including Col. Rutherford B. Hayes, sugar coated Crook’s role in the defeat at Kernstown. Hayes went so far as to write that escaping from such an overwhelming force after a defeat was greater evidence of a General’s skill than actually winning the battle. The following account was written by Lieutenant T. S. Nutter of the 10th West Virginia Infantry.
The battle of Kernstown was fought July 24, 1864. General Crook commanded the Union forces. Only part of his forces, however, were engaged. Mulligan’s Brigade, the Tenth West Virginia, Twenty Third Illinois, and a few other regiments bore the brunt of the battle. The Union forces were not only defeated but utterly routed, demoralized and panic-stricken, worse than ten thousand “Texas steers.”
I have always held that General Crook was wholly responsible for Colonel Mulligan’s death, and the disastrous and useless battle that was fought. I formed this conclusion at the time from an animated conversation that took place between the two not more than a half hour before the battle began. Colonel Mulligan, with his brigade, had been skirmishing with the enemy all day the day before the battle and on the day of the battle up to within a half hour of the time the conversation took place. Colonel Mulligan was satisfied that the enemy were in full force in our front, and so reported to General Crook. About 2:30 P.M., our line fell back, and took up a position behind a lane that runs from the Strasburg Pike to the Pritchard Mansion. About one-fourth of a mile distant there is a crook or turn in the lane about midway. Right at this turn the two regiments – Tenth Virginia and Twenty Third Illinois- joined. My company was next to the Twenty Third.
Colonel Mulligan was exactly in our rear, no more than twenty feet distant. Just then General Crook and staff rode up very leisurely, and after saluting each other, General Crook said, “Well, Colonel Mulligan, what are the prospects here?” To which Mulligan replied, “The prospects are that we will get a sound thrashing. The enemy are in our front in full force, and I think we had better fall back, cover our retreat, and save ourselves the best we can.”
Crook replied “Oh, no; no, no; not at all. I don’t think there are a hundred men over in those woods. I have sent back for reinforcements; there is no danger. We are able to whip all the rebels there is in our front.”
This somewhat discourteous answer of General Crook in which he might have said to Colonel Mulligan in so many words, “You don’t know any thing about it; I guess I know what I am doing, evidently stung Colonel Mulligan to the quick, for he quickly replied in an animated but suppressed manner, “All right, General; if you say so, right here we will fight, but we are doomed to defeat.
To this General Crook replied, “Never fear, Colonel.” The result showed that Colonel Mulligan was right, and that General Crook was totally ignorant of the true situation. The penalty of General Crook’s ignorance was the worse than useless sacrifice of one of the best such men who walked on American soil, wore the Irish Green or American blue. Colonel Mulligan was certainly a magnificent specimen of manhood, a true soldier, loved and respected by all…
I saw Colonel Mulligan fall; saw his brother in law and aid-de-camp, Lieutenant [James] Nugent dismount and attempt to raise the fallen hero up, but only to receive a death wound himself. This occurred near the spot where the two officers held the conversation so short a time before.
By Lieutenant T. S. Nutter, 10th West Virginia Infantry
Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, September 10, 1881