Tales from the Ranks

August 19, 1861 was an exciting day on the farm of William H Crook of Clay County Kentucky. Hundreds of people had gathered to hear the pontificatin’ and chest thumpin’. At that point everyone knew that Theophilus Garrard was raising a regiment to help preserve the Union and this rally would result in the enrollment of about 3 companies of recruits. James H Hensley was there most probably with his family. He was married two years prior and now had a young daughter. The reason Mr. Hensley enlisted will probably never be known for certain but he did enroll in what would eventually come to be known as the 7th Kentucky Volunteers, Company B.

According to Private Hensley, his wife accompanied him and the Regiment from December of 61 until the Regiment boarded the Steamer Dic Vernon at Memphis on December 21, 1862. It was at this point that point Private Hensley’s story became most interesting.

It seems that women, laundresses, and all “other attached others” would not be allowed on board the Dic Vernon and Mrs. Hensley was escorted off the boat. She was “an utter stranger” in Memphis and Lt. Colonel Ridgell told Private Hensley to go into town and “procure a place for his wife to stay for a while”. The good Private, and loving husband, did just that. What was Lt. Col. Ridgell thinking? The following is from an affidavit filed in Private Hensley’s record:

…And affiant did as directed by Lieut Col JH Ridgell. It was quite late before he found a place and had made the necessary arrangements for her. This affiant made an attempt to return to the boat and regiment but the streets were filled with guards and they would not let him pass during the night and the boat with the Regt left the wharf and was gone before he could reach the place where he had left. After day light next morning and before another boat left and he could procure transportation to his regt and within a week after being left affiant was taken down in the back and remained in charge of different Army surgeons. there duty at Memphis until about the last of Feby 1863 when he was sent to his regt and he joined his regt as soon as he could at this place about the 12th day of March 1863.

Given under my hand the place and date above mentioned.

James H Hensley

Now, let’s take a look at this and attempt to place ourselves in the mind of a 24 year old man. He has permission from the Lieutenant Colonel of his Regiment to escort his wife through the city. Private Hensley had to know that it could be years before he saw his wife again, if ever. The fact that it was “quite late” before he had made the “necessary arrangements for her” should come as no surprise to anyone. The late hour obviously didn’t prevent this dedicated soldier from attempting to get back to his regiment but those darn pesky Guards blocked his way. For a soldier, veteran of Wildcat Mountain, Cumberland Gap, and Richmond, he simply had to understand Guard Mount and what would be necessary to get past them. Having just completed the “necessary arrangements” for his wife, again, it comes as no surprise that he didn’t press the matter with the Guards. He couldn’t be expected to sleep on the street like a vagabond, so he returns to his wife. The next morning he tried again but the boat had left before he could get there. Within a week, he “was taken down in the back” and fell under the care of “different Army Surgeons”. All those “necessary arrangements” caught up with him. No names are given for the “different Army Surgeons” and there are no hospital records of any nature in the record.

Private Hensley saw no promotion until the last two months of his service when he found himself in Corporal stripes. Here we have a young, literate, and reasonably articulate man yet he wasn’t promoted from the ranks until such time that a promotion would do little benefit or harm to the service. It is the opinion of the author that the exploits of December 1862 through February 1863, while perfectly plausible, were also perfectly transparent and those in his Company and Regimental command could see through it thus doing great harm to his upward mobility.

Here is a more thorough look at James Hensley’s adventures that should be published soon in the Kentucky Historical Society’s genealogical quarterly sometime.

Transcribed Muster Record of James H. Hensley, Private, Co B:


Original scans of Muster Record:


Brother John Hensley:


Brother William Washington Hensley:



2 Responses to Tales from the Ranks

  1. Greg Dodge says:

    he could of been counted as a deserter…. wondering what the roll calls of the company put him as?

  2. Wayne says:

    Read the article I have linked toward the end of the post for the complete story. 🙂 He was listed as a deserter until he arrived back at camp. He was then restored to duty. I have his muster records linked at the end of the post as well.

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