Captain Thomas Quirk
Chief of Scouts, J.H. Morgan's Cavalry, CSA
1841 ~ 1873
Tom Quirk was born at Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland on January 1, 1841. He immigrated to America at age 14 without money or family, and eventually settled in Lexington, Ky., where he operated a candy store prior to the war.
He left Lexington on September 25, 1861 to become a member of Morgan's “Old Squadron”, Company A, at Camp Charity, near Bloomfield. He was mustered in at Woodsonville, Ky., in October 1861; and was one of the original sixty-four men who comprised the nucleus of Captain Morgan’s command.
As a private he distinguished himself for his fearlessness and daring in several battles and “red hot” skirmishes. In April 1862 he was promoted to Sergeant. After the May 5th battle of Lebanon, Tenn.; he received special mention by Colonel Morgan in his report, (it was Quirk, who at the end of the battle attempted to paddle across a river to rescue Morgan’s mare, “Black Bess”, but was forced to give up his attempt by Yankee gunfire).
In August he boldly led an advance scouting party of 40 men into Hartsville, Tennessee and routed an entire Federal regiment. For this action he was promoted to Lieutenant, of a company in the Second Kentucky Cavalry. Also in August, he took a conspicuous part in a fight between Gallatin and Nashville; again distinguishing himself by his valor and dash.
Quirk took part in many skirmishes during the time Bragg occupied Kentucky. He assisted in the capture and destruction of the Salt River bridge at Shepherdsville, Ky.; he was slightly wounded at the battle of Augusta, Ky., where he had several desperate personal encounters and “killed his man” in each (one of whom he had spied taking aim upon one of his scouts, he'd downed with a stone).
During an early raid into the Bluegrass, while Morgan's command moved out into the Cumberland Mountains they were annoyed by bushwackers sniping at them. The best sharpshooters of Lieutenant Tom Quirk's company were detailed as a defensive rear guard.
Kelion Peddicord, one of the members of this special organization, afterward, remembered the rapid-fire action demanded of them by Tom Quirk, declaring the Irishman's favorite command was "Double quick! Forward!" and adding that "he would clap spurs to his horse and be off like a shot, flying up the pike, and then after slowing to reform the line would shout: 'Right wheel, double quick! Forward march!' and on we flew."
In November 1862 he was promoted again to Captain in command of an elite 60 man independent company of scouts, afterwards known as “Quirk's Scouts”.
The men of Captain Quirk's company were described as a "joval set" by Will T. Hale, who was a child living in Liberty at the time Quirk's company was bivouacked there. He recalled being waked up by hearing scouts Bill McCreary, Jim McGowdy, and others of the company singing "Lorena" and "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground". He also recalled another of Morgan's Men, Jeff Citizen, who would get drunk and ride his mule around Liberty, singing out of time:
"I lay ten dollars down,
And bet every one,
That every time we have a fight,
The Yankees they will run."
Though a few men from the Second Kentucky Cavalry were in this company, most of its ranks were filled with recently exchanged men from the Lexington Rifles who had been captured during the “Lebanon Races”. Quirk’s Scouts answered to no regiment but directly to John Hunt Morgan himself (who, along with the assistance of George St.Leger Grenfell, had especially trained the scouts).
On Christmas day, Quirk was wounded twice in the head at Bear Wallow (Barren County), Ky., while charging a battalion of Federal cavalry with his company.
As John Wyeth (later of Forrest’s command) was to recall, the Federals had set-up an ambush, and in the ensuing counter attack Quirk received his wounds. Wyeth turned and was shocked to see blood spurting down Quirk’s face.
“The damned Yankees shot me twice in the head,” Quirk growled in his thick brogue, “but I’ll get even with them before the sun sets.”
He wiped the blood out of his eyes and swore an Irish oath. “Johnny, I want you to go back to the rear as fast as you can. Tell my men if they don’t come back here and help me clean these fellows out, I’ll shoot the last damn one of them myself!”
Later when Morgan arrived on the scene and found Quirk with a bloody handkerchief around his head, he ordered the Irishman to the surgeon. But Quirk only grinned and declared he had a head built in County Kerry, so toughened by shillelaghs that a couple of bullet wounds were mere trifles.
As always, he gathered his scouts and resumed his march in advance of Morgan’s men.
In early December of 1862, Quirk and his scouts were once again in the vanguard of Morgan’s raid upon Hartsville, Tenn. Joining him in the front were British soldier-of-fortune Colonel George St. Leger Grenfell, snuggled inside an oversized poncho, and Morgan’s brother-in-law, Colonel Basil Duke. These three were given the honor of leading the first river crossing and assault upon the surprised Federal garrison.
Kelion Peddicord, one of the scouts, later recalled that Morgan had promised them horses and overcoats as rewards for accompanying him on the expedition, and when the first Federal cavalry appeared in view, Morgan shouted to the scouts :
”Boys, yonder are those horses I’ve been promising you!” And he added: “Be careful how you take them, each has an armed rider on his back!”
After the garrison at Hartsville was taken, Morgan obtained the overcoats promised to the scouts. After their capture, Morgan ordered the 104th Illinois drawn up in line and given the command found in no military manual : “104th Illinois, attention! Come out of them overcoats!” In the cold snowy weather, the captives obeyed somewhat reluctantly.
“The overcoats”, reported Private Peddicord, “were dyed black and worn by our men afterward.”
During the Christmas Raid Quirk bravely rescued Basil Duke who had been rendered unconscious by an expolding shell in the middle of the Rolling Fork River.
Early in the Ohio Raid (July 1863), Tom Quirk was wounded once again in a skirmish at Marrow Bone, Ky. The scouts had stripped naked to keep their clothes dry as they crossed the rain swollen Cumberland river. As they and the Second Kentucky regiment were crossing over, a small detachment of Wolford’s Kentucky Regiment (US) opened fire upon them.
Quirk’s Scouts, not waiting to dress, charged straight away into battle, supported from the rear by the Second Kentucky Regiment.
The strange sight of naked men engaging in combat amazed the enemy, who quickly withdrew.
The scouts moved onto Marrow Bone creek, charged the Union encampment there, and suffered one wounded, Captain Tom Quirk himself, wounded in his “rein arm”.
Quirk was ordered back to Burkesville, and thus escaped capture later in the raid.
His scouts regarded Quirk’s loss as an ill omen, they had come to regard the bold Irishman as indestructible.
Quirk was, however, captured and paroled while recovering from his wounds, but was exchanged 5 months later and returned to Morgan's command for the Last Kentucky Raid in June 1864.
Prior to Morgan’s death at Greeneville, Tenn., in late 1864; Quirk went to a store near camp to purchase supplies for the men of his company. He had done so on other occasions, but this time he found a guard posted there who refused him admittance. Quirk, not having time to procure a pass, gave his name and rank, and in the company of the stores owner, forced his way inside and procured his much needed supplies.
Charges were brought against Quirk by an officer of the company the guard belonged to, and he was court-martialed by the “red-tape gentry”; and cashiered from service.
In a very short time afterward, at the earnest solicitations of Generals Morgan and Breckinridge, Quirk was reinstated.
It has been said that this was a blot upon Quirk’s record, and while strictly speaking it was a violation of army regulations, the attending circumstances made it, in the eyes of his scouts, anything but a blot. It is needless to say that his reinstatement was hailed with joy by the whole command.
Tom Quirk was under arrest at the time of Morgan’s death, and Morgan’s men who served with the one and under the other did not hesitate to say that had the intrepid commander of scouts been in Greeneville, his general would not have been killed.
Finally, Captain Quirk was a member of the sad party of six men that recovered General Morgan's body from Greeneville, Tenn. on September 4, 1864.
He surrendered at Chattanooga on May 5, 1865 and returned to Lexington.
Tom Quirk died of "consumption" (tuberculosis) January 13, 1873. His funeral service was observed at St. Paul's Cathedral in Lexington. His pall bearers were his friends and comrades: General Basil Duke, Colonel W.C.P. Breckenridge, Major Alex G. Morgan, Captains Ben S. Drake and John Boyd, Lieutenants J.G. Withersmith, George Clark, Chas. Mills, Thos. S. Logwood, and John T. Walsh.
As an officer, Captain Tom Quirk was devoted to his men, and never lost an opportunity to show that devotion, always providing for them whatever they needed as he could.
Had Quirk desired it, he could have easily moved onward in the scale of rank, but so well did he love his men, and the exciting life of a scout, that he was content to remain a captain and serve his country and his general in that capacity.
As a unit, Captain Tom Quirk & his company of Scouts earned a reputation of never allowing Morgan to be surprised when they were in the advance.
Battles fought by Captain Tom Quirk:
(source: Confederate Veterans Association of Kentucky, 5th edition, 1895)
Bacon Creek, KY ………….......December 1862
Shiloh, TN ………….April 06 & 07, 1862
Pulaski, TN …………..May 01, 1862
Lebanon, TN …………....May 05, 1862
defense of Chattanooga, TN …May 1862
Tompkinsville, KY ………......July 08, 1862
Cynthiana, KY ………….....July 09, 1862
Gallatin, TN …………..August 21, 1862
Salt River Bridge, KY ………….September 1862
Augusta, KY …………...September 1862
Lexington, KY …………....September 1862
Lebanon, TN …………....October & November 1862
Gallatin, TN …………..October & November 1862
Nashville, TN …………....October & November 1862
Hartsville, TN …………...December 08, 1862
Glasgow, KY …………....December 24, 1862
Bear Wallow, KY ………….......December 25, 1862; & twice wounded in the head
Christmas Raid ………….....1861-1862
Woodbury, TN …………......January 24, 1863
Bradyville, TN …………....February 1863
Milton, TN …………....February 1863
Snow Hill, TN ………….......February 1863
Greasy Creek, KY ……….......June 1863
Marrowbone Creek, KY ….....July 02, 1863; & badly wounded in arm
(the following did not have dates & maybe out of sequence as well):
Stewarts Ferry, VA ……......?
Bulls Gap, TN ………….......?
Grassy Creek, TN ……….......?
Saltville, VA …………....(Oct. 02, 1864?)
Greenville, TN ………….......(September 04, 1864?)
Liberty, TN …………....?
Alexandria, TN …………........?
twice at Cynthiana, KY …...?
Mt. Sterling, KY ……….......?
surrendered at Chattanooga, TN …. May 05, 1865
James D. Brewer “The Raiders of 1862” 1997.
James A. Ramage “Rebel Raider, the Life of General John Hunt Morgan” 1986.
Basil W. Duke “History of Morgan's Cavalry” 1867 and various reprints.
Dee Alexander Brown “The Bold Cavaliers - Morgan's 2nd Kentucky Cavalry Raiders” 1959.
Thomas Gray Webb “A Bicentennial History of Dekalb County, Tennessee” date?
John Allen Wyeth “With Sabre and Scalpel” 1914.
John Allen Wyeth “Captain Quirk's Marvelous Heroism” Confederate Veteran V p16-17 1897.
Ephraim Prindle “John Morgan's Scouts: Death of the Noted Commander of a Noted Body of Men - Incidents in the Life of Capt. Tom Quirk, of Lexington - How He Saved Basil Duke” (Obituary) The Louisville Courier Journal January 15, 1873.
Special thanks to Dan Rush of the Morgan’s Men Association for providing copies of the Prindle – Wyeth documentation.
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