My dad did an interview with a local paper back in the 70s – telling the story of Pete Dutton and the Battle of Dutton Hill. This text is most of what I have to work with at present concerning Pete.
What I’ve included here begins at the entrance of the first human characters in my project, Pete and Charles arriving at Dutton Hill on horseback with my great-grandfather, Daniel (1). To set up this scene I intend to describe the formation of the limestone outcropping of the hill itself, and the water-table that supplies the spring, however many millions of years that took, and the life-span of the 400-some year old white oak that stood near the Dutton home-place.
(Here begins the exerpt from the newspaper story:)
Daniel would return to Missouri once, to get the two black farm hands that his father-in-law had given him - Pete and Charles. The three rode back to Kentucky on the back of a horse. Pete was eight. Charles was six.
Charles eventually left the Duttons, but Pete stayed on. “Pete stayed here until he got so old he couldn’t work,” Joe remembers, “even after he was freed.”
Pete Dutton – he took on his master’s last name – was a large measure of a man, standing about 6’4” and weighing 250 pounds. “He was big, powerful,” Joe Dutton said. “His hands would almost make two of mine.”
“He finally went to live with his kids in Danville,” Joe said, “and he made a trip here every year, when I was just a boy, and it was interesting to hear him talk. One thing about him was that we’d get ready for a meal and say ‘C’mon Pete’ and he’d say ‘No s’um, I’ll eat after you folks.’ He wouldn’t eat at the same table with us. I guess it was drilled in his mind so heavy that he wouldn’t.
It was Pete, perhaps the only witness who was not a participant, who relayed the story of the Battle of Dutton Hill at family gatherings when Joe was just a child.
A few days prior to the battle, Pete heard that Confederate troops were retreating south toward the Cumberland River from a defeat around Danville, stealing horses and food along the way. “We (the Duttons) had four good horses and Pete haltered them up and took to those knobs back there with them,” Joe said, pointing toward the East. Pete tied the horses under a big cliff and stayed with them. My grandmother (Lucy) told him, ‘Pete, if they come and find you with them horses, give them the horses.’ Pete said, ‘They’ll get them horses after Pete’s dead.’
Pete came back to Dutton Hill for food in about three or four days, leaving the horses up in the hills. He was in the house eating when he saw them. “He happened to look up, Joe remembers him saying, “and there was a Rebel in the yard for every blade of grass.”
Pete went out in the yard and was confronted by the soldiers. “They addressed him as a nigger,” Joe said Pete told him, “They said, “Nigger, we want feed for 500 horses, And Pete said, ‘Sir, we haven’t got that much feed’ and the soldier said, “I’ll take what you’ve got.”
It was about that time that Pete first heard gunfire. It was coming from the North side of Dutton Hill on the road to Crab Orchard, now Highway 39. “They (the Rebels) rode as hard as they could go back to the hill,” Joe said. “I never knew where my grandfather was. He was out logging or sawing somewhere, I guess. My grandmother (Lucy) said, “Pete, we’d better get out of here. We’d better leave here.” Pete carrying Joe’s father, who was two years old at the time, helped Lucy Jane get everyone to David Dutton’s House in the Caney Fork area, then returned to the battle site.
He positioned himself on a hill from which he could watch. “There was a big cedar snag,” Joe said, “and he got up on it. He said that when he got back the northern soldiers were busy stacking up rails of an old rail fence along that hill and rolling rocks and working hard at it.
Pete saw the Confederate soldiers advancing up the other side of the hill with three cannons. As they reached the top, they began to fire, but their shots went over the heads of the Union soldiers because of the steep incline of the hill. “Pete said they were doing a lot of shooting, but they were missing.” Joe remembered. “Before long, they (the Union) were on top of the hill. It was all over then, the way he put it.”
The battle lasted about half a day, Pete told Joe. When the family returned home, it found that the Rebels had cleaned out the house and the barn before their retreat. “They busted up what they didn’t take.” Joe said.
The Union Soldiers buried 19 of the Confederate dead at the top of the hill, 10 in one row, nine in the other, head to head and wrapped in blankets. A monument now stands near the battle site.
Joe Dutton said that the Confederates retreated south toward Somerset and the Cumberland River. The Battle of Dutton Hill was an attempt to delay the Union Army so that the Confederates could get their horses across the river at Burnside. Before the Rebels showed up at the Dutton home, Pete told Joe that a large number of horses had gone on through, headed south.
Accounts in the history books confirm the story told by Pete Dutton, as Joe Dutton remembered it, right down to the tearing down of fences and the number of cannons.
The battle involved 1,100 Union troops commandeered by Brigadier General Q.A. Gilmore, including about 400 from the First Kentucky Calvary under Col. Frank Wolford, and 2,600 Confederate Calvary under General Pegram.
A detailed account of the battle appears in “The Wild riders of the First Kentucky Calvary.”(an excerpt):
In front of the First Kentucky was a small field on a hillside, which had been in corn the year before, and on the crest of this hill were two or three pieces of artillary which opened fire upon our lines.
… Wolford’s men, not being in a situation to see the movements of the enemy, were now in hopes that the bloody work was over, but were mistaken, for just at this time, Scott’s dashing Louisiana Calvary was seen flanking our position on the extreme right.
…Wolford moved up cautiously until Scott’s men were located, then halted his men on the borders of heavy timbered land, with a small stubble field between them. Here our men received their fire at several hundred yards distance. There was a rail fence between our men and the enemy, which Col. Wolford ordered to be torn down.
…Wolford was again charging at the head of his command. It may truly be said that the Federals met foe-men worthy of their steel. Many of these men fought us hand to hand, when every hope of escape was cut off… The fighting at this point was desperate, but of short duration. There were more men killed here than in any other part of the field.”
The history books give varied accounts of the number of men lost by both sides, but all say that the battle lasted for three to five hours and that the Union chased the Confederates south to the Cumberland River, where the pursuit ended. “As it was, they were allowed to escape with an immense herd of cattle, and loads of plunder gathered mainly from the rich counties, called the Blue Grass Region.” one book says.
After the war, Pete stayed on and helped raise the Dutton children, living in a small house near the battlefield. Both Pete’s house and the Dutton house are gone now. Pete often told stories about how he and the children played, Joe said.
The last time Joe Dutton saw Pete was in 1931, at his funeral. He was 95 years old. “We buried him on a hot day in July.” Joe remembers. “The ground was hard as brick. An old colored fellow came to our door and said Pete had died and wanted to be buried here. He came to dig the grave. He looked like he was almost ready for the grave himself. I was about 15 or 16, and Dad sent me out to help.
“At about two o’clock, we were still digging when the family came with Pete’s body. They stood and waited while we got it deep enough.”
Pete and his wife Jennie now rest in the Dutton cemetery, just a stone’s throw from the battle site and the place where a small house once stood near “Pete’s Spring.” Just inside the gate to the cemetery is a neatly kept grave with a clean, new stone that reads “Pete Dutton, Born 1836 in Mo. Died 1931 in Ky and Wife, Jennie. Born in Slavery-died free’.”
(Here ends the newspaper story.)
In the 1900 census I discovered that Pete and Jennie were married in 1888. Jennie was 54 in 1900. Curiously, on that census Pete’s name looks like Pear, perhaps it’s just that the “t” that looks like an “r” – “Peat” – spelled phonetically.
In the piles of Dutton family photographs I found this image, of a smiling woman in a fur coat sweeping snow - the only image of a black person in the lot. Could it be Jennie? It's hard for me to imagine why the photo was there otherwise - but of course the thing with history is that unless you have certainty, all you have is mystery. If I can identify the fashion of her shoes and coat, I may be able to rule Jennie in or out. I'm holding out hope that I may yet see an image of Pete.
Here’s one of the military records of the battle of Dutton Hill:
Dutton's Hill Battle
(Marker Number: 712)
Location: 2 mi. N. of Somerset, KY 39
Description: March 30, 1863, USA force of 1,250 under General Q. A. Gillmore overtook 1,550 Confederate cavalry under Gen. John Pegram, here. Five-hour battle resulted. CSA driven from one position to another, withdrew during night across Cumberland. Killed, wounded, missing, CSA 200 and USA 30. On nine-day expedition into Ky., CSA had captured 750 cattle and took 537 across river.
At the risk of making a hodge-podge of this post, here's the latest last rose ~ an old damask called "La Ville De Bruxelles."
You can see the button eye, a very desirable feature in an old rose.