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150 years later: Remembering the Battle of Tebbs Bend

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By Calen McKinney

They came to remember and honor the past.

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In period dress, the re-enactors file in for flag ceremonies and noted Civil War historians speak about the importance of what happened there.

About 200 people gathered on Saturday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Tebbs Bend at the Green River Bridge.

The battle was July 4, 1863, and a large confederate ceremony on Tebbs Bend Road features markers erected in tribute to those who died in the battle.

A new marker was unveiled on Saturday in honor of one of those soldiers, Pvt. Frank Voss. Some of his descendants came from Michigan to help unveil the marker.

Local historian Betty Jane Gorin-Smith, along with other Tebbs Bend Battlefield Association members, planned the ceremony.

"We are here to remember those men who gave the full measure of devotion for causes in which they sincerely believed," Gorin-Smith said.

Re-enactors of the 9th Michigan Infantry USA and 3rd Kentucky Infantry CSA, along with members of Campbellsville's 1/623rd Field Artillery Battery B, which is known as Morgan's Men, performed color guard ceremonies.

Gorin-Smith gave an account of what happened during the Battle of Tebbs Bend.

"’Morgan is coming’ was shouted out from farm to farm," she said.

After the battle, Morgan asked for a truce to be called to bring in the injured and dead. They were buried in a mass grave.

"It is said that the blood ran down through the yard into the turnpike road," Gorin-Smith said.

A monument was erected in 1872 to honor those who died there.

"They have not been forgotten by their countrymen," she said the monument states.

She said on Confederate Declaration Day, it became a tradition to put flowers on the monument to remember those who were buried in a mass grave at Tebbs Bend.

Some of the soldiers' bodies were buried near the Green River stockade, but were later moved to the Lebanon National Cemetery. That is why there is only a confederate cemetery on the Tebbs Bend Battlefield, Gorin-Smith said.

On June 3, 1911, about 4,000 people came to the cemetery to honor Civil War veterans. It was the largest gathering in the Green River valley, according to newspaper clippings.

"The crowd today is somewhat short of 4,000," Gorin-Smith said. "The old veterans have gone to their reward."

Campbellsville Mayor Tony Young and Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers welcomed the crowd and thanked them for remembering what happened at Tebbs Bend.

"There's been a lot of effort to be here today," Young said.

He said the Civil War has become a recent interest of his and he has learned the time was a challenging one.

"Definitely this war changed the landscape of this country."

Rogers said his grandfather owned land in the Tebbs Bend area, so it's important to him that the area be honored and remembered for what happened there.

"So I've got a lot of desire to see this area developed greatly," he said.

"Your attendance is proof of what this area means, not only to our local citizens, but to the many historical enthusiasts. Those enthusiasts are the ones that help to preserve our history."

Rogers said the Tebbs Bend area means a lot to the Taylor County community and he has overseen many efforts to preserve it. He said many have been involved to refurbish the area and make it easy to tour so people can learn about why Tebbs Bend is important. Rogers said he will continue those efforts.

Cheryl Tillery, president of the Tebbs Bend Battlefield Association, said the group was formed in April 1997.

By August, she said, the group had arranged for the confederate monument to be entered into the National Register of Historic Places. As of now, more than 1,300 acres in the Tebbs Bend area has been placed on the registry.

Tillery said the group has seen that many markers be placed to identify Tebbs Bend Battlefield sites, the Toll House has been restored and several highway markers have been installed. She said the group has collected about 200 images of Morgan's Men and a diorama of the battlefield has been created.

"We're proud of our accomplishments here," she said.

Gorin-Smith recognized several descendants of soldiers who fought and died in the Civil War.

Phillip Seyfrit, director of Richmond Battlefield, told the crowd, on behalf of Gov. Steve Beshear, that he commends the Tebbs Bend Battlefield Association.

"For your undying efforts in keeping the memory of these men here alive," he said.

"I've been to a lot of Civil War sights and they just don't care. But one thing we all need to do, [is] if I don't remember these men, and you don't remember these men, who will? It's up to us."

David Broene, of Michigan, an avid follower of the 25th Michigan Infantry and Kent Masterson Brown of Lexington, a Civil War historian, spoke.

"You today are part of history," Broene said.

Gorin-Smith said Brown is the person who helped the Voss family connect with the Tebbs Bend Battlefield Association and get a marker erected to honor him.

Brown said it's an honor to remember Voss and be able to see his family finally see a marker erected in his honor. He said the Tebbs Bend battle has special significance to him.

"Somehow, this battlefield has an eerie presence in my life."

In the Civil War, Brown said, about 1 million people were killed. Of those, he said, about 900,000 died in battle.

"We owe a great deal of debt to every one of those. No matter what side. As a result of that war ... really, this nation was defined for all time."

Brown said the 150th anniversary of the battle is a good time to pause and remember those 1 million people.

"Wherever they are, wherever they're buried," he said.

Gorin-Smith read a roll call of the dead who are honored at the cemetery, along with acknowledgement of the unknown soldiers who died there.

After a 21-gun salute by the 9th Michigan Infantry and the 3rd Kentucky Infantry, re-enactor Brian Riley played Taps.