Buried in soldiers’ graves, the men of the 8th Kansas Volunteer Regiment have not been forgotten.
One hundred and fifty years after the Battle of Chickamauga, more than 30 Civil War re-enactors from Kansas are scheduled to go to Georgia the third week of September.
“Chickamauga saw a terrible battle where the 8th Kansas, our state’s busiest Civil War Unit, lost 54 percent of its men and four flag bearers,” wrote Ken Spurgeon, a Kansas historian and filmmaker in an e-mail to The Eagle. He will be among the re-enactors traveling to Georgia.
The 8th Kansas was nicknamed the Kansas Greyhounds, in part because of its speed as an infantry unit at traveling across country, wrote Civil War historian Bill McFarland of Topeka in his book, “Keep the Flag to the Front: The Story of the Eighth Kansas Volunteer Infantry.”
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The regiment was organized in 1861, months after the start of the Civil War. It was to be a Home Guard Unit but was soon called elsewhere.
In the end, it would suffer some of the highest losses of the war and be the last Kansas regiment to be discharged. The 8th Kansas was in 17 battles, including Perryville, Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge.
The Kansas Civil War re-enactors, Spurgeon said, plan not only to participate in the battle’s re-enactment but to also hold a memorial service at the 8th Kansas monument there to honor where the unit experienced its worst moment.
“They were caught off guard and overpowered by Confederate forces,” Spurgeon said. “At one point, the unit fell back and Capt. Edgar Trego, for whom Trego County would be named for, is at the front giving water to the wounded and dying. He is physically picking up men and carrying them off the field. He then is mortally wounded as he is carrying one man away.”
Trego, Graham, and Thomas counties are named after men who died at the Battle of Chickamauga.
The morning of Sept. 19, 1863, — the second day of the three-day battle — the regiment marched eight miles in double-quick time, according to McFarland’s book.
Union military officials stationed troops at what would be the Confederate flanks — the center, they predicted would be ineffectual. Instead, it turned out to be at the heart of the battle, where the Kansas 8th was positioned.
“The Eighth Kansas had five captains, three lieutenants and over one hundred and fifty men shot down in less than half an hour,” McFarland wrote.
“As a Kansan, this is our biggest moment — it wasn’t Gettysburg or Vicksburg,” Spurgeon said. “Kansas Civil War soldiers were rarely in the thick of the big fights. Here, we were alongside all of the Eastern troops.”
Chickamauga was also a place where Kansans died far from home and were buried in the nearby Chattanooga National Cemetery.
“In that day and age, no family member would have gone there to put a flower on a grave,” Spurgeon said.
“In this day and age, we have the blessing and luxury of going there. Those graves need to be visited, marked and memorialized ... especially now.”