Category Archives: Kentucky

John Hunt Morgan’s Kentucky Raid Ends

July 17, 1862 – Colonel John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate horsemen attacked a Federal garrison at the key railroad town of Cynthiana before successfully ending their Kentucky incursion.

John Hunt Morgan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Brigadier General Jeremiah Boyle, commanding Federals at Louisville, had initially panicked at the prospect of Morgan overrunning Kentucky. But by July 17, he had collected information from various sources and reported to Major General Don Carlos Buell, “I am persuaded Morgan has not over 1,000 men and two brass howitzers.”

Boyle believed that Kentucky secessionists had “lied for Morgan and magnified his forces,” and Morgan’s raid would only result in a “loss of individuals and destruction of property.” Boyle sent a spy posing as a Kentucky secessionist trying to join Morgan’s ranks. The spy assessed Morgan’s recruiting efforts and concluded that “only the low and evil will join him.”

As Morgan continued leading his Confederates through Kentucky, he initially targeted Lexington but learned that it was too strongly defended. So the troopers rode 30 miles northeast to Cynthiana on the Licking River. Morgan hoped to capture the Federal garrison there, but he also hoped to deceive the Federals into thinking he would continue moving north to threaten Cincinnati, Ohio.

Morgan’s troopers approached Cynthiana on the 17th. Federal Colonel John J. Landrum guarded the Kentucky Central Railroad at Cynthiana with 340 troops and a cannon. He did not know that Morgan was coming.

The Confederates attacked from three directions, crossing all three fords over the Licking River. Surprised, the Federals took refuge in town buildings and homes, firing from windows and getting off two artillery rounds that prompted Morgan to withdraw his horse artillery. However, Landrum soon realized that the three-pronged Confederate attack had virtually surrounded the town.

The Federals began running out of ammunition as Landrum tried regrouping them near the railroad depot. They fought off the advancing Confederates block by block. Landrum led about 30 men in trying to take one of the bridges, but the numerically superior Confederates forced them to retreat. Landrum fought his way through a small detachment and fled southeast, with the rest of Morgan’s troopers in pursuit. Landrum ordered his men to scatter; he and a few escaped while Morgan captured the rest.

The Federals lost about 70 killed or wounded, with another 230 or so captured. The Confederates also seized 300 badly needed horses while losing about 40 men. They left Cynthiana and headed southeast, reaching Paris by dark.

Cynthiana marked the northernmost point of Morgan’s incursion into Kentucky. The next morning, Morgan learned that about 1,800 Federal troopers under General Green Clay Smith were headed their way from Lexington, so he led his men farther south to Winchester.

The Confederates continued riding until they reached Richmond before dawn on the 19th. Many of the horses captured at Cynthiana died from being ridden so hard. Morgan hoped that Kentuckians would join his force at Richmond, but the pressure of advancing Federals forced him to stay on the move.

Morgan’s victory at Cynthiana panicked Boyle once more, as he called on Buell again for more men. Buell refused: “The condition of things here (in northern Alabama) requires the services of every soldier than can be mustered and perhaps more. No detachments should be sent from here except in case of the greatest necessity.”

Both Boyle and Smith estimated Morgan’s force to number at least 3,500 men when it really totaled less than 1,000. Boyle finally realized the true size of Morgan’s force on the 20th, reporting to Buell, “The rebel lies alarmed some of my commanding officers and produced consternation among the people,” including himself (though he would not admit it).

That same day, the Confederates arrived at Somerset, southwest of Richmond. They seized the telegraph office, where one of Morgan’s men intercepted Federal dispatches since July 10 and countermanded all of Boyle’s orders to pursue the raiders. The Confederates took all the supplies they could from Somerset and burned the rest before resuming their southward withdrawal. Their arrival at Livingston, Tennessee, ended both their raid and the Federal pursuit.

Morgan deemed the operation a success, reporting that in 24 days, his men had “traveled over a thousand miles, captured 17 towns, destroyed all the Government supplies and arms in them, dispersed about 1,500 Home Guards and paroled nearly 1,200 regular troops. I lost in killed, wounded and missing of the number that I carried into Kentucky about 90.”

Morgan also ended with more troops than he started with, having gained about 400 recruits. His men had advanced 250 miles into enemy-occupied territory, captured 3,000 stands of arms at Lebanon, and destroyed many bridges, railroad tracks, and other property whose estimated value was as high as $10 million. All this had put the residents of Cincinnati and other towns on the Ohio River into a state “bordering on frenzy.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 195-97; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 184, 186; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 430-31; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 237, 242-43; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 430; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24

Edmund Kirby Smith Eyes Kentucky

July 10, 1862 – As Federal forces closed in on Chattanooga, Confederate Major General Edmund Kirby Smith revealed a daring plan to take the offensive.

Confederate General E.K. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Smith commanded the Confederate Army of East Tennessee, which he had divided. His 9,000 best troops were stationed north of Knoxville under Brigadier General Carter L. Stevenson to confront Brigadier General George W. Morgan’s 10,000 Federals at Cumberland Gap. Smith kept another 9,000 men, mostly raw recruits, at Chattanooga to face the 31,000-man Army of the Ohio approaching from northern Alabama.

Smith repeatedly asked Richmond to send more men to defend the city and finally got 6,000 reinforcements in early July. Despite this, Smith reported on the 2nd that a Federal “attack may be daily looked for.” He asked General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Mississippi at Tupelo, for more men once again. Bragg, under no orders to do so, finally complied by sending him 3,000 troops under Major General John P. McCown, a man whom Bragg said lacked “capacity and nerve for a separate, responsible command.”

With Chattanooga reinforced, Smith began thinking about taking the offensive. He envisioned defeating his old friend George Morgan at Cumberland Gap and then advancing north into Kentucky, aided by the path that Colonel John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate troopers had already opened into that state.

Smith wrote a confidential letter to Stevenson explaining that he intended to outflank Morgan’s Federals and advance into Kentucky. Smith then notified Bragg that even though the Federal Army of the Ohio was closing in on Chattanooga, “I am mobilizing my command for movement on General Morgan or into Middle Tennessee, as the circumstances may demand.”

Meanwhile, the Army of the Ohio under Major General Don Carlos Buell continued its extremely slow drive through northern Alabama toward Chattanooga. Operating in enemy territory, Buell’s supply lines were regularly cut by Confederate raiders and local residents, causing extensive delays. Adhering to the Articles of War, Buell would not retaliate against civilians. By July 8, Buell approached Stevenson, Alabama, having advanced just 90 miles in three weeks. He was still not even halfway to Chattanooga.

Major General Henry W. Halleck, Buell’s superior, notified him that Bragg’s army was mobilizing either to confront Buell at Tuscumbia or Chattanooga, or to confront Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals at Memphis or Corinth. Halleck wrote:

“A few days more may reduce these doubts to a certainty, when our troops will operate accordingly. The President telegraphs that your progress is not satisfactory and that you should move more rapidly. The long time taken by you to reach Chattanooga will enable the enemy to anticipate you by concentrating a large force to meet you. I communicate his views, hoping that your movements hereafter may be so rapid as to remove all cause of complaint, whether well founded or not.”

Buell responded to Halleck’s admonition: “I regret that it is necessary to explain the circumstances which must make my progress seem so slow. The advance on Chattanooga must be made with the means of acting in force; otherwise it will either fail,” as Brigadier General Ormsby M. Mitchel had done in May, or else the city would “prove a profitless and transient prize… The dissatisfaction of the President pains me exceedingly.”

Halleck responded the next day:

“I can well understand the difficulties you have to encounter and also the impatience at Washington. In the first place they have no conception of the length of our lines of defense and of operations. In the second place the disasters before Richmond have worked them up to boiling heat. I will see that your movements are properly explained to the President.”

By this time, Buell’s Federals had repaired the railroad lines damaged by the raiders, and his men at Stevenson began receiving supplies from Nashville. But the raiders continued causing problems, including burning bridges around Nashville on the road leading to Chattanooga.

As Buell inched closer, E.K. Smith wrote to President Jefferson Davis warning that the Federals were “an overwhelming force, that cannot be resisted except by Bragg’s cooperation.” Smith did not share his secret plan to outflank Morgan’s Federals and advance into Kentucky.

Five days later, Smith wrote the Confederate adjutant general that “Buell with his whole force” had reached Stevenson, 30 miles from Chattanooga, and was “daily expected to attack.” Noting that Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry had broken the Federal supply line at Murfreesboro, Smith stated, “This may delay General Buell’s movement and give General Bragg time to move on Middle Tennessee.”

Shifting responsibility to Bragg, Smith wrote, “The safety of Chattanooga depends upon his cooperation.” Smith also informed Bragg that Buell “was momentarily expected to attack. If possible hasten your movement on East Tennessee. The successful holding of Chattanooga depends upon your cooperation.” But Bragg had problems of his own, as he explained to Smith the next day:

“We are fearfully outnumbered in this department. I have hoped you would be able to cope with General Buell’s force, especially as he would have to cross a broad and deep river in your immediate presence. That hope still exists; but I must urge on you the propriety of your taking command in Chattanooga. The officer I sent you (McCown), I regret to say, cannot be trusted with such a command, and I implore you not to entrust him indeed with any important position.”

Ignoring Bragg’s recommendation, Smith wrote:

“Buell has completed his preparations, is prepared to cross near Bridgeport, and his passage there may be hourly expected. General Morgan’s command moving on Knoxville from Cumberland Gap. Your cooperation is much needed. It is your time to strike at Middle Tennessee.”

Bragg replied, “Confronted here by a largely superior force strongly intrenched,” which could “now be enabled to unite against us,” Bragg said it was “impossible… to do more than menace and harass the enemy from this quarter. The fact is we are fearfully outnumbered in this department, the enemy having at least two to our one in the field, with a comparatively short line upon which he may concentrate.”

But Bragg did a sudden about-face on July 21, issuing orders for his Army of Mississippi to move out of Tupelo and advance on Chattanooga. He left the forces under Major Generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price in northern Mississippi, putting Price in charge of the District of Tennessee. Bragg notified President Davis, “Will move immediately to Chattanooga in force and advance from there. Forward movement from here in force is not practicable. Will leave this line well defended.”

Bragg began moving out with 35,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. The move would not be easy because Buell’s Federals blocked his path. The cavalry would embark on a 430-mile trip, moving south to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, turning east to Rome, Georgia, and finally turning northwest to Chattanooga. The infantry’s journey would be even longer, moving by train southeast to Mobile, Alabama, turning northeast to Atlanta, Georgia, and then marching northwest to Chattanooga, a distance of nearly 800 miles.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 196; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 560-61, 572; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 183; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 242; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 513; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 41-43

John Hunt Morgan’s Kentucky Raid

July 4, 1862 – Confederate Colonel John Hunt Morgan led 867 cavalry partisans on a raid into Kentucky to harass the supply line for the Federal Army of the Ohio.

John Hunt Morgan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Morgan left Knoxville, Tennessee with battle-tested troopers from Texas, Georgia, and Morgan’s home state of Kentucky. Their target was Gallatin, Tennessee, to cut the Louisville & Nashville Railroad and slow the Federal advance on Chattanooga.

By the 7th, Morgan’s troopers had completed a 104-mile ride west across the Cumberland Plateau. They had fended off Unionist guerrillas in the eastern Tennessee mountains before gaining recruits in the largely pro-Confederate town of Sparta, Tennessee. With their force now increased to about 1,100 men, the partisans turned north toward the Kentucky state line.

Morgan’s force reached Celina near the border the next day. During the night, the Confederates rode to within five miles of Tompkinsville, Kentucky, which was occupied by about 400 men of the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry. The Pennsylvanians were known for their harsh occupation of Lebanon, having vulgarly insulted the women there by telling them the only way they could maintain their virtue was “to sew up the bottoms of their petticoats.”

Early on July 9, Morgan split his command, sending one part to attack the garrison from the north while he stayed with the part that would attack from the south. The southern wing attacked first, firing on the Federals with rifles and artillery from about 300 yards. The Federals, led by Major Thomas J. Jordan, tried escaping north into the woods, but Morgan’s northern wing blocked them.

Jordan’s men broke through the northern line and fled toward Burkesville, with the Confederates close behind. They eventually surrounded Jordan and forced him to surrender. Morgan reported, “The enemy fled, leaving about 22 dead and 30 to 40 wounded in our hands. We have 30 prisoners and my Texas squadron are still in pursuit of the fugitives.” Morgan’s troopers seized “a valuable baggage train, consisting of some 20 wagons and 50 mules… also some 40 cavalry horses, and supplies of sugar, coffee, etc.”

The Confederates lost just one killed and three wounded. Morgan paroled all the prisoners except Jordan, who was shipped to prison in Richmond. His partisans continued on toward Glasgow that afternoon, as nearby Federals began hearing rumors that Confederate horsemen were in the state. Brigadier General Jeremiah Boyle, commanding at Louisville, notified Colonel John F. Miller in Nashville that up to 2,000 Confederates were on the loose in Kentucky and asked Miller to send a regiment to Munfordville.

Morgan captured the Federal supply depot at Glasgow the next day. He issued a proclamation hoping to inspire Kentuckians to “rise and arm, and drive the Hessian invaders from their soil”:

“Let every true patriot rise to the appeal! Fight for your Families, your homes, for those you love best, your consciences, and for the free exercise of your political rights, never again to be placed in jeopardy by the Hessian invader.”

The Confederates approached Lebanon on the night of the 11th, driving off the Federal defenders and forcing the town’s surrender around 10 p.m. Boyle asked Major General Don Carlos Buell for reinforcements: “All the rebels of the State will join him (Morgan) if there is not a demonstration of force and power sent in cavalry. The State will be desolated unless this matter is attended to.”

Boyle initially reported that his Federals had routed Morgan at Lebanon, but then he learned the truth and began panicking:

“Morgan passed around and escaped and burned Lebanon; is moving on Danville and toward Lexington. I have no cavalry and but little force. The whole State will be in arms if General Buell does not send a force to put it down… Morgan is devastating with fire and sword.”

He sent another message:

“It is certain Morgan cannot be caught without cavalry. He will lay waste large parts of the State. He is aiming at Lexington. I have no force to take him. If Buell would save Kentucky it must be done instantly. I know of what I speak.”

Residents of nearby Lexington and Louisville, and even Cincinnati, Ohio, and Evansville, Indiana, began panicking, due to either Morgan’s advance or Boyle’s frantic messages. Boyle asked Cincinnati Mayor George Hatch to “send as many men as possible by special train without delay.” The governors of Ohio and Indiana called on the War Department to send troops to stop Morgan, but Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton said the department required “more definite knowledge before it can act intelligently.”

Meanwhile, Morgan’s Confederates continued their raid, operating near Harrodsburg and Cynthiana, and skirmishing with Federals around Mackville. He reached Georgetown on the 15th, where he issued another proclamation:

“Kentuckians! I come to liberate you from a despotism of a tyrannical faction and to rescue my native State from the hands of your oppressors. Everywhere the cowardly foe has fled from my avenging arms. My brave army is stigmatized as a band of guerrillas and marauders. Believe it not. I point with pride to their deeds as a refutation of this foul aspersion. We come not to molest peaceful individuals or to destroy private property, but to guarantee absolute protection to all who are not in arms against us. We ask only to meet the hireling legions of Lincoln. The eyes of your brethren of the (Confederacy) are upon you. Your gallant fellow citizens are flocking to your standard. Our armies are rapidly advancing to your protection. Then greet them with the willing hands of 50,000 of Kentucky’s brave. Their advance is already with you. Then, ‘Strike for the green graves of your sires! Strike for your altars and your fires! God and your native land.”

However, few Kentuckians joined Morgan because they feared Federal reprisals after Morgan left. Some even joined the Federals to help drive Morgan out of the state.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 193; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 570; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 179-81; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 186-87; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 237-40; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 21-24, 26; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q362

The Battle of Mill Springs

January 19, 1862 – Federals and Confederates clashed to determine who would control the vital Cumberland Gap on the Confederacy’s fragile defensive line across Kentucky.

By this year, Confederate Major General George B. Crittenden commanded about 4,000 men in his District of East Tennessee. One of his brigades, led by Brigadier General Felix K. Zollicoffer, was assigned to block a potential Federal drive into Tennessee by guarding Cumberland Gap.

In late 1861, Zollicoffer moved his troops north of the Cumberland River and camped at Beech Grove, near the hamlet of Mill Springs. He hoped to take firmer control of the Somerset area and move closer to Brigadier General Simon B. Buckner’s Confederates at Bowling Green. Both Crittenden and General Albert Sidney Johnston, overall Confederate commander of the Western Theater, had ordered Zollicoffer to fall back to the more defensible southern bank, but rising waters made it too difficult for him to re-cross the river.

Major General George H. Thomas | Image Credit: Histmag.org

General George H. Thomas | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Major General Don Carlos Buell, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio, reluctantly complied with directives from both President Abraham Lincoln and General-in-Chief George B. McClellan to advance toward eastern Tennessee. He directed Brigadier General George H. Thomas to lead 4,000 troops in attacking the Confederates and driving them back across the Cumberland. Thomas left Lebanon and methodically advanced to Logan’s Crossroads, about nine miles from Mill Springs. Zollicoffer, his back still to the river, disregarded reports that Thomas was approaching.

Crittenden, as ordered by Johnston, arrived at Mill Springs on the 16th with reinforcements, raising the Confederate total to about 4,000 men. Crittenden was to bring Zollicoffer’s men back across the Cumberland, but winter storms had destroyed most of the vessels used to cross the river, making a return too difficult at that time. Thomas learned that Crittenden and Zollicoffer were isolated north of the Cumberland and ordered the brigade of Brigadier General Albin Schoepf to move from Somerset and reinforce him.

As Thomas rested his men and awaited the reinforcements, Crittenden learned of the Federals’ approach and weighed his options. Determining that his force was too weak to defend north of the Cumberland, Crittenden started arranging to try crossing the river. However, he then received intelligence that Thomas could not cross Fishing Creek, leaving part of his force isolated as well. Crittenden changed his plans and resolved to launch a preëmptive attack. He planned to destroy the Federal left at dawn on the 19th, and then confront the remaining force beyond the flooded creek.

Crittenden’s men advanced late on January 18 in heavy rain and sleet. The two brigades were commanded by Zollicoffer and Brigadier General William H. Carroll. They were unaware that some of Schoepf’s men had managed to cross Fishing Creek and join Thomas at Logan’s Crossroads. Thomas and Schoepf planned to attack the next day, unaware that the Confederates were advancing northward to assail them.

Slowed by the heavy rain and mud, the Confederates lost the element of surprise but attacked during a heavy morning storm nonetheless. The Federals were momentarily driven back, but they soon took up strong positions. When the 10th Indiana ran out of ammunition and fled, Thomas replaced them with the 4th Kentucky, which held their ground along the edge of a ravine with help from the rain and fog. The fighting raged back and forth, with the better-rested Federals eventually gaining the advantage.

The Battle of Mill Springs (Harper's Weekly) | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Battle of Mill Springs (Harper’s Weekly) | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Zollicoffer, nearsighted and easily identifiable in his white raincoat, rode upon a Unionist Kentucky unit that he believed was one of his to order them to stop firing into their own men. The Federals surrounded him and, when he tried to escape, shot him dead.

Crittenden directed Zollicoffer’s remaining men and Carroll’s brigade to launch a general frontal assault. However, Thomas employed Schoepf’s reinforcements and easily repelled the attack. This, along with the fact that the rain began rendering the Confederates’ old flintlock muskets useless, caused their line to waver. As Federals advanced to push back the enemy right, the 9th Ohio attacked the Confederate left with a bayonet charge, collapsing their line and compelling them to flee in a disorganized rout.

Thomas did not immediately pursue due to the foul weather and fatigue. This enabled the demoralized Confederates to return to their Beech Grove defenses on the Cumberland. The Federals reached these defenses before nightfall, but Thomas deemed them too strong to attack and instead bombarded them with artillery. That evening, Crittenden held a council of war and decided to cross the Cumberland as best they could before Thomas found out.

A steamboat and two makeshift barges ferried the Confederates across the river through the night. In their haste, they left 12 cannon and most of their sick and wounded, horses and mules, provisions, and equipment. Thomas did not realize that they had escaped until the next day, after they had destroyed their ferries and were on their way toward Gainesborough, Tennessee, 80 miles distant.

The Federals sustained 261 casualties (39 killed, 207 wounded, and 15 captured or missing), and the Confederates lost 533 (125 killed, 309 wounded, and 99 captured or missing). Federals buried their dead in individual graves and the Confederates in unmarked pits. Thomas posted a guard at Zollicoffer’s body to prevent soldiers from desecrating it. The body was later returned to the Confederates, who mourned his loss and buried him in Nashville.

Although the battle (alternately called Mill Springs, Logan’s Crossroads, or Fishing Creek) was relatively small, it marked the first significant Confederate defeat in the war. It also sparked charges of drunkenness and disloyalty against Crittenden that would persist in the coming months.

The virtual destruction of Crittenden’s army left the eastern flank of Johnston’s tenuous defensive line across Kentucky unprotected. However, the harsh mountainous terrain in that region, along with Buell’s contention that eastern Tennessee was strategically unimportant, kept the Federals from immediately exploiting the opening. Thomas ultimately withdrew, but the Federal victory emboldened Unionists in eastern Kentucky and Tennessee.

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References

Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 850; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 115; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12474; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 114; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 177, 179; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 96, 99-100; Harrison, Lowell H., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 123; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 277; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 161-62; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 305; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 55-56; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 228-29, 232-33; Sword, Wiley, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 495

The Middle Creek Engagement

January 10, 1862 – A skirmish erupted in the continuing Federal effort to secure southeastern Kentucky.

Following the Ivy Mountain engagement in November, Confederate Colonel John S. Williams had withdrawn from Kentucky into Virginia. Since then, Brigadier General Humphrey Marshall led another Confederate force into southeastern Kentucky and resumed volunteer recruitment. But by January 3, just 1,967 soldiers of Marshall’s 2,240-man force were fit for duty. In addition to dealing with disease and food shortages, the troops also lacked small arms and artillery.

James A. Garfield | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

James A. Garfield | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Learning of Marshall’s efforts, Major General Don Carlos Buell, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio, dispatched a brigade of about 1,110 infantry and 450 cavalry under Colonel (and future U.S. President) James A. Garfield to drive him back into Virginia. Garfield’s force left Louisa and began advancing southward toward the Confederates at Paintsville.

Garfield occupied Paintsville on the 6th as Marshall’s men withdrew southward to Middle Creek, about two and a half miles west of Prestonburg. Marshall reported that he sought to prevent Garfield from reaching Big Sandy’s west fork, where he could be supplied and reinforced by water. But the elements did more than Marshall to accomplish this goal, as creeks, bogs, and rough terrain slowed Garfield’s advance.

The Federals camped at Abbot’s Creek, which ran parallel to Middle Creek, on the night of the 9th. Garfield summoned reinforcements from Paintsville as he planned to continue southward to the mouth of Middle Creek the next day. From there he would turn west to confront Marshall. Garfield moved out at 4 a.m., reaching Middle Creek four hours later and clashing with enemy cavalry.

As the Federals pushed westward, Marshall deployed troops on the hills east and west of Middle Creek. Garfield directed attacks on both hills, seeking to turn the Confederate right. Poor ammunition rendered Confederate artillery ineffective. Confederates tried turning the Federal right, but neither side gained an advantage until 4 p.m., when Garfield received about 700 reinforcements.

Marshall disengaged and withdrew southward; both he and Garfield claimed victory and exaggerated their opponent’s losses. Garfield reported 21 casualties (one killed and 20 wounded) while Marshall reported 50 (10 killed, 15 wounded, and 25 captured). Buell commended Garfield by promoting him to brigadier general. The Federals occupied Prestonburg and then returned to Paintsville.

Six days later, Garfield’s Federals routed the rest of Marshall’s forces at Pound Gap. These victories at Middle Creek and Pound Gap earned Garfield the nickname “Hero of the Sandy Valley.” Marshall received orders to return to Virginia a week later, giving the Federals firm control of southeastern Kentucky with a path opened to eastern Tennessee.

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References

Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 97; MiddleCreek.org; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 299; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 491

The Kentucky Sovereign Convention

November 18, 1861 – Delegates assembled for the Kentucky “Sovereign Convention” at the pro-Confederate town of Russellville, near the Tennessee border.

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The convention included representatives from all 68 counties who opposed the Federal military invasion of their state. Henry C. Burnett, a lawyer, state legislator, and new colonel of the 8th Kentucky Infantry (Confederate), presided. The convention’s purpose was to consider declaring independence from what they perceived to be the illegitimate Unionist state government and seceding from the U.S.

Two days later, delegates unanimously approved an ordinance of secession:

“Be it ordained, That we do hereby forever sever our connection with the Government of the United States, and in the name of the people we do hereby declare Kentucky to be a free and independent State, clothed with all power to fix her own destiny and to secure her own rights and liberties.”

The ordinance also declared that “the people are hereby absolved from all allegiance to said government, and that they have the right to establish any government which to them may seem best adapted to the preservation of their lives and liberty.”

A new provisional state constitution was approved; under Section 15, a commission was appointed to negotiate with Confederate officials to have Kentucky join the Confederacy. Delegates selected George W. Johnson, the convention organizer from Scott County, to be provisional governor. Johnson had been a Unionist who opposed abolition. Bowling Green was designated the provisional state capital.

Kentucky, like Missouri, now had two opposing governments. But the new pro-Confederate state government had little chance of conducting any business with much of the state under Federal occupation.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 96; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 712; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 83; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 296; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 211; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461

The Ivy Mountain Engagement

November 8, 1861 – Brigadier General William “Bull” Nelson’s Federals won a minor victory in eastern Kentucky but failed in their ultimate goal of destroying the enemy.

Brig Gen William "Bull" Nelson | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Brig Gen William “Bull” Nelson | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Since late September, Nelson had raised a force of about 5,500 troops with the mission “to end treason” in eastern Kentucky. Nelson’s men occupied Prestonburg on their way to confront Colonel John S. Williams, who had recruited about 1,010 Confederate volunteers around Piketon, 28 miles southeast of Prestonburg.

Nelson sought to stop Williams from recruiting men and cut off his line of retreat into Virginia. He sent a force under Colonel Joshua W. Sill (a regiment, a small battalion, and cannon) from Louisa on a circuitous route behind Williams’s troops near the state line. Meanwhile, Nelson led three regiments and two batteries down the state road directly toward Williams at Piketon.

Nelson moved out at 5 a.m. on the 8th. The Confederates, most of whom had only shotguns or flintlock muskets, quickly fell back toward Ivy Mountain as Williams sought to buy enough time to escape into Virginia. Confederate cavalry skirmished briefly with the advancing Federals before falling back. Williams had not finished evacuating when the Federals approached, so he positioned his men at a gorge between Ivy Creek and Ivy Mountain, which overlooked a sharp bend in the state road northeast of Piketon.

As the Federals blindly rounded the bend, the Confederates opened fire, and an 80-minute engagement ensued in which both sides mostly used small arms. Nelson could not use his numerical superiority or his artillery because of the road’s narrowness. Moreover, Sill’s Federals never arrived in Williams’s rear as planned.

The Confederates managed to break away and continue their retreat, felling trees along the way to slow their pursuers. The Federals advanced four miles before halting for the night in heavy rain. Williams reached Abingdon, Virginia, the next day. Sill remained at Louisa, unable to stop him. Nelson reported that his men sustained 30 casualties (six killed and 24 wounded). The Confederates lost 75 (10 killed, 15 wounded, and 50 captured or missing). Although Williams had been defeated, his force remained intact.

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References

Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 79, 81; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 135; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 387-88