“Git! The woods are full of Yanks!”
With those words, mounted troopers from the 10th Confederate Cavalry pounded back into the morning sunlight of the fields around Jay’s steam Sawmill, disrupting the remainder of Brig. Gen. Henry B. Davidson’s cavalry brigade.
The Yanks in question belonged to Col. John T. Croxton’s brigade, advancing through the timber towards Jay’s Mill. The time was approximately 7:30 a.m., September 19, 1863. Though the previous day, September 18, had already seen substantial fighting, and there had already been significant skirmishing prior to 7:00 a.m. on the 19th, this particular encounter has often been erroneously pegged as the “beginning” of the battle of Chickamauga.
The Chickamauga Study group has walked this ground many times, and explored many of the stories surrounding that fateful engagement.
But there are always more stories. After all, roughly 130,000 men were engaged at Chickamauga.
This story is about two of those people – Benjamin F. Hunt and William R. Hunt, both members of Company F, the 1st Georgia Cavalry. They were father and son; Benjamin was 43 at the time of the battle, his firstborn son William, a stripling at 17.
The Hunts lived in the small community of East Armuchee Valley, Walker County, in Georgia. According to the 1860 Census they were farmers; Benjamin, his wife Susan, five boys and two daughters. In the 1860s, Armuchee was pretty remote, located in the far southeast corner of Walker County. Today it is still quite rural, and one of the prettiest spots in northwest Georgia – reminiscent of another very scenic locale: McLemore’s Cove.
Benjamin F. Hunt enlisted in the 8th Georgia Infantry Battalion as a private, but he was elected to major in May 6, 1862. He then served in that capacity until he resigned on March 30, 1863. Hunt offered no specific reason for his resignation, noting only that “Circumstances rendered it necessary.” Presumably this meant problems at home, though he was absent sick for a time in August 1862.
Perhaps it was because his oldest son, William, was also absent from home. William joined the cavalry in March, 1862, despite being only two months past his 16th birthday. This left Susan alone at home with six children, several of whom were still infants or toddlers.
Benjamin presumably spent that summer at home in Walker County; where he would have been aware of the looming Union invasion of North Georgia. A man named B. F. Hunt sold a large quantity of oats and 120 pounds of bacon to the Confederate Army that summer, receipted at Dalton and Catoosa, respectively.
What is known that he re-enlisted for “three years or the war” on August 4, 1863; joining the 1st Georgia Cavalry, then stationed at Sweetwater Tennessee – about halfway between Chattanooga and Knoxville. He enrolled in Company F, alongside his son, as a private.
Benjamin could have just as easily joined one of the home-guard cavalry companies that were being called into service that August, answering the Governor’s mobilization order; several such were organized in Walker County.
On September 19, the 1st Georgia was serving in Davidson’s (until recently, John Pegram’s) brigade of Forrest’s Cavalry Corps. Davidson’s command included the 10th Confederate, 1st and 6th Georgia, 6th North Carolina, and Rucker’s Tennessee Legion; all cavalry. Most of the 1st Georgia was dispatched not to face Croxton, but up the Reed’s Bridge Road to deploy as skirmishers against Ferdinand Van Derveer’s Federal brigade. The 1st Georgia numbered about 295 men that day; they suffered 10 identified casualties. 3 men were killed, 7 wounded. Benjamin Hunt was one of the wounded, which proved mortal. He died that night.
On September 20th, 17-year old William brought his father’s body home, a 42 mile journey from Jay’s Mill to Armuchee. Susan’s subsequent pension application stated that Benjamin’s body was “pierced through and bloody.” He was buried in the family cemetery in Villanow, Georgia.
William survived the war, but by only few years. He died in 1870, aged 24; of consumption.
Susan lived until 1899, survived by only 3 of her seven children.
Thanks go to Dr. Keith Bohannon for information about the Hunts and the inspiration for this post.