On December 17, 1861, Colonel Benjamin Franklin Terry trained his binoculars on Kentucky's Green River; a pontoon bridge had just been constructed. “This could be a prelude to a Union advance,” he thought. “It had to be taken out.” Running through Central Kentucky, the Confederate front was threadbare at best. General Albert Sidney Johnston relied heavily on his mobile forces to observe and counter enemy activity along his line; a task the 8th Texas Cavalry or Terry's Texas Rangers would in time become well suited for.
Just north of the Green River, the 32nd Indiana Infantry Regiment under Colonel August Willich guarded the bridge. Consisting entirely of German immigrants, the 32nd took their orders in German and were trained in Prussian infantry tactics.
Before immigrating to the United States, Willich was a revolutionary in Germany and an early proponent of Karl Marx’s budding Communist movement. He served with distinction in the Union Army until severely wounded at the Battle of Resaca during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign. Willich served in various military posts until he retired as a Major General in October, 1865.
Terry planned to lure Willich’s regiment across the bridge using a small decoy force then charge and surround them with his main cavalry force. It would be the Texans first charge and one of the first cavalry versus infantry encounters of the war. The 32nd took the bait and followed the decoys across the bridge. Borrowing a tactic from the Battle of Waterloo, they fell into a hollow square formation to hold off the charge. Nevertheless, the firepower from the Texans pistols and shotguns forced them to retreat across the river but not before exacting a tragic toll. Colonel Terry was felled with a bullet to the head. One of his officers, Captain John G. Walker, was severely wounded in the arm.
Walker's tenure with the Rangers wouldn't last a full year. If suffering through the horrors of Shiloh wasn't bad enough, his arm wound never heal properly. Months in the saddle also wore on him and finally led to his resignation. For the rest of the war, he served as the provost marshal of Orange County, Texas. He never regained the full use of his arm.
The Texas Civil War Museum is currently displaying the side arms, hat and saddle rosette of Lt. Colonel Walker. The most prominent item is Walker’s Colt revolver, the most popular pistol of the Civil War. The Rangers were more than proficient in its use and absolute terrors with it at a dead gallop. Because of the difficulty in loading on horseback, Texas cavalrymen carried up to five revolvers at the ready to sustain a constant rate of fire. Walker’s Bowie knife was also a popular accoutrement among Texans but was seldom used in combat, serving more instead as a cutting tool. The Lone Star patterned rosette is clear evidence of the owner’s home state.