Category Archives: Kentucky

The Death of John Hunt Morgan

September 4, 1864 – A Federal private ended the life of one of the Confederacy’s most legendary raiders.

John Hunt Morgan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Since escaping from Ohio State Penitentiary last year, Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan had raised a new cavalry command to raid his home state of Kentucky once more. Now commanding the Confederate Department of Southwestern Virginia, Morgan moved out from Wytheville in hopes of securing horses for the cavalry.

No horses were taken, but Morgan’s new, undisciplined raiders found time to rob at least two banks and loot Mount Sterling. Confederate authorities scheduled an inquiry to look into this matter, but before it convened, Morgan learned that Federal troopers were patrolling Bull’s Gap. Despite being ordered not to move, Morgan led 2,000 men into eastern Tennessee to intercept them.

The Confederates arrived at Greeneville on the 3rd, where Morgan set up headquarters at the mansion of Catherine Williams. Scouts warned him that Federal troopers were nearby, but he disregarded the reports. In fact, a Federal force under Alvan Gillem was just 18 miles away when Gillem received word that Morgan’s troopers were at Greeneville. Gillem reported, “I immediately resolved not to wait for him but to endeavor to surprise and attack his forces in detail before they could be concentrated.”

The Federals arrived outside Greeneville near dawn the next morning and pushed the Confederate pickets back. Since the people of Greeneville had mixed sympathies, somebody might have told the Federals that Morgan was at the Williams mansion. They rode into town and surrounded that residence.

Morgan and Captain James T. Rogers hurried out of the mansion before the Federals arrived. Rogers recalled, “He handed me one of his pistols, and said that he wished me to assist him in making his escape. I told him it was almost useless, as we were entirely surrounded. He replied, saying that we must do it if possible.” Morgan said, “The Yankees will never take me prisoner again.”

Morgan and Rogers separated, with Morgan meeting up with a brown-clad soldier whom he thought was a comrade. But the soldier was Federal Private Andrew J. Campbell, who demanded his surrender. No Confederates saw Morgan again until he was brought out into the street, dead. Rogers later acknowledged that the Federals preferred to take Morgan dead rather than alive, but he wrote, “If General Morgan surrendered before he was shot I do not know it.” Private Campbell later reported:

“I, in a loud tone, ordered him to halt, but instead of obeying he started into a run. I then repeated the order, and at the same time brought my gun to my shoulder so as to cover him, when seeing that he still disregarded me, I deliberately aimed at and shot him. He dropped in his tracks and died in a few minutes. But I did not know at that time, nor even had the least idea of, who it was I had shot.”

Basil W. Duke, one of Morgan’s longtime lieutenants (though not with Morgan at the time of his death), wrote after the war:

“His friends have always believed that he was murdered after his surrender. Certain representations by the parties who killed him, their ruffianly character and the brutality with which they treated his body, induced the belief; and it was notorious that his death, if again captured, had been sworn. His slayers broke down the paling around the garden, dragged him through and, while he was tossing his arms in his dying agonies, threw him across a mule and paraded his body about the town, shouting and screaming in savage exaltation.

“Thus, on the 4th of September 1864, in a little village of east Tennessee, fell this almost unequaled partisan leader. But not only was the light of genius extinguished then and a heroic spirit lost to earth–as kindly and as noble a heart as was ever warned by the constant presence of generous emotions was stilled by a ruffian’s bullet.”

But Morgan’s exploits would live on in poems and folklore.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12480-500; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 494; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 566-67

Forrest’s Confederates Enter Kentucky

March 16, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest launched a Confederate cavalry expedition into western Tennessee and Kentucky.

Brig Gen N.B. Forrest | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Forrest, stationed at Columbus, Mississippi, with 5,000 troopers, received orders to move north. His mission was to attack Federal outposts, recruit volunteers, capture deserters, and disrupt the Federal supply line along the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. Forrest took 2,700 of his men on the excursion.

A little over a week later, a detachment of Forrest’s 7th Tennessee Cavalry surprised and captured the Federal 7th Tennessee Cavalry at Union City in northwestern Tennessee. The Confederates placed logs on wheels to resemble cannon and left a note: “If you persist in defense, you must take the consequences. N.B. Forrest, Major General, Commanding.” The Confederates took 481 prisoners, 300 horses, and a large amount of supplies.

Meanwhile, Forrest’s main force continued north toward Paducah, a strategic Kentucky town near the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers which had been under Federal control since September 1861. After riding 100 miles in 50 hours, the troopers arrived outside Paducah on the 25th. The Federals, led by Colonel Stephen G. Hicks, quickly fell back to Fort Anderson, a strong fortification west of town.

Hicks had just 665 men, but they were supported by artillery and two tinclad gunboats (the U.S.S. Peosta and Paw Paw) on the Tennessee River. Forrest sent Hicks a message: “If you surrender you shall be treated as prisoners of war, but if I have to storm your works you may expect no quarter.” Forrest did not actually intend to assault the fort; he only wanted horses and supplies.

The Federals responded to Forrest’s demand by blasting the streets with their artillery, joined by fire from the gunboats. Brigadier General Mason Brayman, the overall commander at Paducah, later wrote that the tinclads–

“… shelled the rebels out of the buildings from which their sharpshooters annoyed our troops. A large number took shelter in heavy warehouses near the river and maintained a furious fire upon the gunboats, inflicting some injury, but they were promptly dislodged and the buildings destroyed…”

Colonel Albert P. Thompson disregarded Forrest’s orders and led two regiments in an assault on Fort Anderson. The Federals repelled them, inflicting 50 casualties (10 killed and 40 wounded), though Hicks claimed to have inflicted 1,500 casualties. Thompson, who lived nearby, was among those killed. The Federals sustained 60 casualties (14 killed and 46 wounded).

Meanwhile, the gunboats fired about 700 rounds. According to a gunner on the Peosta:

“We kept putting the shell and grape into them from all the guns we could get to bear. Their riflemen and some of the people of the town got into the buildings down by the river and pelted us with musket balls but we soon gave them enough of that for we directed our whole fire on them at short range with shell grape and canister and soon fetched the bricks around their eyes… They would have had the fort and the city if it had not been for us, for they were out of ammunition in the fort.”

Forrest finally withdrew the next morning, taking 50 prisoners, 400 horses, and more supplies. Before leaving, the Confederates destroyed cotton and a steamer in dry dock. Forrest’s raid had alarmed residents of the Ohio River Valley, but the Confederates failed to establish a foothold in Kentucky. They fell back toward Fort Pillow on the Mississippi.

After Forrest left Paducah, he learned from a local newspaper that his troopers had missed out on capturing 140 army horses hidden in a mill. Forrest resolved to return next month and get those mounts.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 385, 388; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 2249-79; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 409, 411-12; Harrison, Lowell H., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 552; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 477-78; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 190

Morgan’s Raid: The Northern Penetration

July 13, 1863 – Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan embarked on another Kentucky raid, but this time he crossed the Ohio River and invaded the North.

John Hunt Morgan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Morgan planned to relieve Federal pressure in Tennessee by disrupting the enemy’s supply lines in Kentucky. He originally proposed invading Indiana and riding east through Ohio and Pennsylvania before joining with General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, then still at Gettysburg. But Morgan’s superior, General Braxton Bragg, would only authorize a Kentucky raid and prohibited him from crossing the Ohio River.

On July 2, Morgan set out with 2,460 men in 11 cavalry regiments and a section of rifled guns. They struggled to cross the swollen Cumberland River and entered Kentucky near Burkeville. Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland at Tullahoma, Tennessee, had notified Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding the Federal Department of the Ohio at Cincinnati, that Morgan was heading his way.

Burnside dispatched Federal cavalry forces under General Henry Judah, but they did not react quickly enough to stop Morgan’s advance. Elements of the two forces clashed as Morgan tried crossing the Green River on the 3rd. Morgan sustained heavy losses before riding off to find another place to cross.

The next morning, Morgan demanded the surrender of a garrison on the north bank of the Green. The Federal commander replied, “It is a bad day for surrender, and I would rather not.” Morgan attacked but was repulsed, losing 80 killed or wounded out of less than 600 men. The Federals sustained less than 30 casualties, with most only wounded. Morgan withdrew to find a different crossing, moving through Campbellsville and camping near Lebanon for the night.

Morgan’s raiders attacked the Federal garrison at Lebanon after it also refused to surrender. Brutal fighting took place from house to house within the town, and the Federals finally gave in after being pushed back to the railroad station. The Confederates took over 400 prisoners and valuable medical supplies. Morgan’s youngest brother Tom was killed in the fight, with 79 others either killed or wounded. Morgan burned the town in retribution for his brother and then moved on.

The Confederates cleared out Bardstown and captured a train on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. They feinted north and east while the main force rode west through Garnettsville and Brandenburg. The troopers seized the steamers John T. McCombs and Alice Dean at Brandenburg, which they used to cross the Ohio River on the 8th.

The troops that Burnside dispatched to oppose Morgan did not arrive in time to stop him from entering Indiana. Morgan’s crossing blatantly violated Bragg’s orders not to go any farther north than Kentucky, but Morgan believed he could not fully divert Federal attention without invading the North. Panic spread among the nearby residents, as many feared that anti-war Copperheads would join Morgan’s raid.

Morgan’s forces reached the former Indiana capital of Corydon on the 9th, having covered an unprecedented 90 miles in 35 hours. The Confederates dispersed a large militia force, losing nearly 400 men in the process, and looted the town. Their practice of destroying everything in their path and robbing local treasuries ensured that they would get no Copperhead support.

During the pillage, Morgan ate at a local hotel and received news that Lee had been driven out of Pennsylvania. This thwarted Morgan’s plan to link with him. He resolved to continue moving east through Indiana and on into Ohio nonetheless. However, straggling and civilian opposition hindered the Confederate advance. Colonel Basil W. Duke, one of Morgan’s top commanders, later recalled:

“The country was full, the towns were full, and the ranks of the militia were full. I am satisfied that we saw often as many as 10,000 militia in one day, posted at different points. They would frequently fight, if attacked in strong position, but could be dispersed by maneuvering.”

Part of the reason for such an intense pursuit was, as Duke recalled, “The (Confederate) Provost guard had great difficulty in restraining the men from pillaging, and was unsuccessful in some instances.” It soon became “impossible to stop a practice which neither company nor regimental officers were able to aid him in suppressing. This disposition for wholesale plunder exceeded any thing that any of us had ever seen before. The men seemed actuated by a desire to ‘pay off; in the ‘enemy’s country’ all scores that the Federal army had chalked up in the South…”

On July 10, Morgan moved through Palmyra to Salem, less than 40 miles from the state capital of Indianapolis. Alarmed citizens gathered at the Bates House to hear Governor Oliver P. Morton read the latest dispatches, and over 60,000 men heeded Morton’s call for volunteers. Fearing that Indianapolis would be heavily defended, Morgan veered east at Salem and moved through Vienna before stopping at Lexington, where he spent the night at a luxurious hotel.

By Sunday the 12th, many of Morgan’s men had straggled and fallen out due to exhausted horses, and some were captured by pursuing civilians and militia. Nevertheless, the bulk of the force reached Sunman, 15 miles from the Ohio-Indiana border. The raiders crossed into Ohio the next day and entered Harrison, just 20 miles from Cincinnati. Federal officials declared martial law and blocked the river crossings.

Now that the armies of both Lee and Bragg were retreating, Morgan’s objective changed from destroying communications and supplies to preventing Burnside’s Federals from moving on Knoxville. However, the raid was losing its momentum as tens of thousands of volunteers joined militias to stop Morgan’s invasion.

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References

Brooksher, William R./Snider, David K., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 511; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 300, 303, 305-06, 308-09; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 677-80; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 322-29; 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. 375-76, 381-83, 385

Morgan’s Third Kentucky Raid

December 21, 1862 – Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan embarked on his third Kentucky raid after a successful operation and a marriage earlier this month.

John Hunt Morgan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

On December 6, Morgan’s Confederate partisans, detached from General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, advanced on Hartsville, 35 miles northeast of Nashville. They consisted of nearly 2,000 men in four infantry and two cavalry regiments. Their advance was screened by a Confederate infantry feint toward Lavergne on the Nashville-Murfreesboro road, and Lebanon northeast of Nashville. That night, Morgan’s men began crossing the Cumberland River in bitter cold.

The next day, Morgan descended on Hartsville and attacked the 3,000-man garrison under Colonel Absalom B. Moore of Illinois. The Confederates inflicted 300 casualties within an hour while losing just 125. According to Colonel Basil W. Duke of Morgan’s force, “The white flag was hoisted an hour and a half after the first shot was fired.” Moore surrendered 1,762 men, along with all their supplies and equipment. Morgan’s men then returned to Bragg’s army at Murfreesboro.

A week later, Morgan married Mattie Ready at Murfreesboro. Bragg and all his ranking officers attended the ceremony, which was performed by Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, an ordained Episcopal bishop who wore his vestments over his military uniform. The guest list was so large that the marriage had to take place in the town courthouse. The parties that followed made this the main event of Christmas and the social event of the year, even if it did hinder military discipline.

Another week later, Morgan set out for his home state of Kentucky, leading about 2,500 men out of Alexandria near Carthage, Tennessee. Morgan planned to cut the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, the principal supply line for Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland. To do this, Morgan intended to destroy the two enormous railroad trestles over Muldraugh’s Hill, near President Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace and current site of Fort Knox.

Skirmishing occurred at various points as Morgan’s troopers crossed the Cumberland and entered Kentucky on the 22nd. They rode through Glasgow on the 24th, and crossed the Green River on Christmas Day. The troopers clashed with Federals at Green’s Chapel and Bear Wallow, taking hundreds of prisoners.

The Confederates camped near Elizabethtown, north of Munfordville, on the 26th, and they launched a surprise attack on the Federal garrison there the next day. Morgan captured the entire 600-man force at Elizabethtown, and his men started wrecking track on the Louisville & Nashville. Taking Elizabethtown gave them a clear path to Muldraugh’s Hill.

The troopers captured the Federal garrison at Muldraugh’s Hill the next day. They then burned the 500-foot-long, 80-foot-high railroad trestles as planned. This wrecked Rosecrans’s supply line via the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. Morgan’s troopers skirmished with Federals at Bacon Creek before continuing eastward.

Morgan began heading back toward Tennessee on the 29th, capturing Boston and clashing with Federals at Springfield and New Haven. Federal forces in the area began assembling after their initial confusion to pursue Morgan. The Confederates skirmished outside New Haven on the 30th, and near New Market on New Year’s Eve. The raid continued into January, with Morgan having already accomplished his mission.

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References

Brooksher, William R./Snider, David K., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 511-12; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 238, 246-47; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 8, 83-84; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 236, 242-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 293-94, 299-301; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 552-53; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 85-88, 90-91

Morgan’s Second Kentucky Raid

October 15, 1862 – As the two Confederate armies pulled out of Kentucky, Colonel John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalry conducted another raid in the state.

John Hunt Morgan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Morgan’s cavalry had been assigned to Major General Edmund Kirby Smith’s rear guard as Smith’s Army of Kentucky headed back to eastern Tennessee. When Morgan discovered that the Federals were not pursuing, he requested permission to go back into the heart of Kentucky to disrupt communication and supply lines. Smith, whose army remained 25 miles southeast of Richmond, approved without consulting General Braxton Bragg, who was leading the second Confederate army out of Kentucky.

Morgan and 1,800 troopers headed northwest on the 17th. The force consisted of Lieutenant Colonel Basil W. Duke’s 2nd Kentucky Cavalry, Colonel Richard M. Gano’s 3rd Kentucky Cavalry, and Major William C. Breckinridge’s Kentucky cavalry battalion. Morgan’s first objective was to seize his vulnerable home town of Lexington.

Posing as a Federal colonel, Morgan had a Unionist guide him to the nearby camp of the 4th Ohio Cavalry, assigned to guard Lexington. The Ohioans were divided between a camp outside town and a camp near the courthouse. The Confederates attacked at dawn, hitting both camps from opposite directions and sustaining casualties from friendly fire in the process. After the confusion was sorted out, Morgan’s troopers captured about 125 Federals.

The Confederates left Lexington that afternoon to continue Morgan’s mission of encircling the Federal Army of the Ohio like Jeb Stuart’s ride around the Federal Army of the Potomac the previous week. As the Confederates camped near Versailles that night, Federals at Frankfort learned of their presence and moved to attack them in front and rear. Morgan found out about the surprise attack and avoided the trap by moving his force to Lawrenceburg.

Morgan entered Bloomfield on the 19th, where the pro-Confederate residents cheered his arrival and supplied his troopers with everything they needed. The horsemen then continued southwest toward Bardstown. Learning that a large Federal force was there, Morgan made camp about six miles away.

That night, Confederate foragers moving toward Louisville captured a Federal supply train consisting of nearly 150 wagons, along with the cavalry escort and some Federal stragglers. The Confederates burned every wagon except two, which, according to Colonel Duke, “contained everything to gladden a rebel’s heart, from cavalry boots to ginger-bread.”

After six days of hard riding, Morgan’s men ultimately reached Springfield in northern Tennessee, ending their second successful raid into Kentucky. The Confederates rode through six towns (Lexington, Lawrenceburg, Bloomfield, Bardstown, Elizabethville, and Litchfield), crossed two rivers (the Green and the Muddy), and encountered minimal Federal resistance. Although this raid was minor in terms of prisoners taken and casualties inflicted, it kept Federals on close guard in Kentucky.

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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. 225; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 222-23, 227; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 279-80; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 511

The Kentucky Campaign Ends

October 11, 1862 – Confederate forces ended their unsuccessful Kentucky campaign, and Federal Major General Don Carlos Buell came under harsh scrutiny for not pursuing the withdrawing enemy aggressively enough.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Following the Battle of Perryville, the two Confederate armies in Kentucky under General Braxton Bragg and Major General Edmund Kirby Smith finally linked near Harrodsburg. Smith urged Bragg, the ranking commander, to make a stand there because it offered good ground on which to meet a Federal attack. But Bragg had already directed his army to continue withdrawing toward Bryantsville.

The next day, Bragg dispatched scouts to find camping grounds around Bryantsville, indicating to the Confederates that they were leaving Kentucky. Bragg had learned of the Confederate defeats at Antietam, Iuka, and Corinth. He had sustained heavy casualties at Perryville, and he was running low on supplies after gaining hardly any Kentucky recruits. Thus, Bragg decided to retreat back to eastern Tennessee.

Bragg and Smith withdrew from Harrodsburg, leaving the town for the Federals to reclaim. Bragg’s army arrived at Bryantsville on the 13th, where he and Smith split up once again. Bragg moved toward Mount Vernon, and Smith moved toward Paint Lick. Smith reported the next day:

“My command from loss of sleep for five nights, is completely exhausted. The straggling has been unusually great. The rear of the column will not reach here before daybreak. I have no hope of saving the whole of my train, as I shall be obliged to double teams in going up Big Hill, and will necessarily be delayed there two or three days.”

Meanwhile, Buell expected Bragg to turn and attack Nashville. He moved his Federal Army of the Ohio to cut Bragg off at Crab Orchard, exclaiming, “Bragg’s army is mine!” But when Buell reached the town on the 15th, he found the Confederates had already passed through on their way to Cumberland Gap.

Buell sent Major General Thomas L. Crittenden’s corps in pursuit, but the Confederates had felled trees across the Wilderness road to block them. The Federals paved a new road and advanced to within a few miles of Mount Vernon by that night.

The next day, Bragg’s Confederates continued slowly withdrawing through the Cumberland Gap bottleneck without substantial Federal opposition. Crittenden’s Federals resumed their pursuit, but they lacked the speed or numbers to catch up to Bragg’s force.

Buell’s superiors pushed for a Federal invasion of eastern Tennessee, both to destroy the Confederates and to secure the predominantly Unionist region. Buell resisted, explaining to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “You are aware that between Crab Orchard and Cumberland Gap the country is almost a desert. The limited supply of forage which the country affords is consumed by the enemy as he passes.” Buell continued:

“The enemy has been driven into the heart of this desert and must go on, for he cannot exist in it. For the same reason we cannot pursue in it with any hope of overtaking him, for while he is moving back on his supplies and as he goes consuming what the country affords we must bring ours forward. There is but one road and that a bad one. The route abounds in difficult defiles, in which a small force can retard the progress of a large one for a considerable time, and in that time the enemy could gain material advantage in a move upon other points.

“For these reasons, which I do not think it necessary to elaborate, I deem it useless and inexpedient to continue the pursuit, but propose to direct the main force under my command rapidly upon Nashville, which General Negley reported to me as already being invested by a considerable force and toward which I have no doubt Bragg will move the main part of his army.

“I shall throw myself on my wagon transportation, which, fortunately, is ample. While I shall proceed with these dispositions, deeming them to be proper for the public interest, it is but meet that I should say that the present time is perhaps as convenient as any for making any changes that may be thought proper in the command, of this army. It has not accomplished all that I had hoped or all that faction might demand.”

After offering to give up his command if his superiors were unhappy, Buell explained that his army “defeated a powerful and thoroughly disciplined army in one battle and has driven it away baffled and dispirited at least, and as much demoralized as an army can be under such discipline as Bragg maintains over all troops that he commands.” Buell did not mention that he failed to destroy an enemy he outnumbered three-to-one at Perryville, and only won because Bragg pulled out afterward.

Halleck sent a stern reply in opposition to Buell’s plan to return to Nashville: “The great object to be attained is to drive the enemy from Kentucky and East Tennessee. If we cannot do it now we need never to hope for it.” In another message on the 19th, Halleck reiterated what he expected of Buell:

“The capture of East Tennessee should be the main object of your campaign. You say it is the heart of the enemy’s resources; make it the heart of yours. Your army can live there if the enemy’s can… I am directed by the President to say to you that your army must enter East Tennessee this fall, and that it ought to move there while the roads are passable… He does not understand why we cannot march as the enemy marches, live as he lives, and fight as he fights, unless we admit the inferiority of our troops and of our generals.”

Meanwhile, Bragg continued moving his Confederate Army of Mississippi through Cumberland Gap virtually unmolested, despite having to slow his movement due to the long lines of wagon trains, cattle, and other supplies taken from Kentucky. Bragg’s army was still intact, but his optimistic hopes of claiming Kentucky for the Confederacy were gone.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18173; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 225; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 739-41, 743; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 221-23; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 278-79; 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. 521; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 508-09; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 80; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 414-15

The Battle of Perryville

October 8, 1862 – The largest battle of the war in Kentucky ended in stalemate despite Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Federals vastly outnumbering General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates.

On October 7, part of Bragg’s divided force gathered on the ridge of Chaplin Hills east of Doctor’s Creek, near the small crossroads town of Perryville. Major General William J. Hardee, commanding Confederates in the area, requested reinforcements to drive off what he thought were Federal skirmishers. Neither he nor Bragg knew that 55,000 of Buell’s Federals were closing in on him.

Major General Leonidas Polk arrived with reinforcements that evening, but the Confederates still had just 16,000 men. The rest of Bragg’s army awaited a Federal attack near Frankfort that would never come. Polk took command from Hardee and held a council of war with his top officers before dawn on the 8th. They realized they faced a much larger Federal force than initially believed, so they agreed to stay on the defensive and let the Federals make the first move.

As the Federals advanced on the 8th, a lead brigade under Brigadier General Philip Sheridan encountered Confederates guarding Doctor’s Creek. Sheridan had hoped to get water for his thirsty men during the hot autumn drought. Buell issued orders for the Federals to attack at 10 a.m., but messengers experienced delays in delivering the orders to the commanders on the field.

On the Confederate side, Bragg arrived on the field at 10 a.m. and ordered an attack on the Federal left, despite being outnumbered. Around that time, Federal Brigadier General Charles Gilbert’s III Corps moved up to support Sheridan in the center of the Federal line. An hour later, Major General Thomas C. Crittenden’s II Corps arrived on Gilbert’s right, and then Major General Alexander McCook’s I Corps deployed to Gilbert’s left around noon. Fighting began soon after.

After an artillery duel, Confederates led by Major Generals Benjamin F. Cheatham and Simon B. Buckner crossed the shallow Chaplin River north of Perryville and attacked the Federal left under McCook around 2 p.m. The Confederates expected to strike the enemy’s open flank, but by this time the Federals had extended their line so the Confederates were actually assaulting the enemy center.

The Battle of Perryville | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Ferocious combat ensued as the momentum shifted back and forth. The Federals’ top artillerist, Brigadier General William R. Terrill, was mortally wounded by a Confederate shell that exploded overhead. Many of the inexperienced Federal troops in this sector fled from their attackers, with some running over a mile. The Federals finally established strong positions atop a ridge and behind a stone wall, where they repelled three desperate Confederate charges.

Hardee then attacked the Federal center, led by Brigadier General James P. Anderson’s division. The assault stalled in the face of heavy Federal infantry and artillery fire, and the Confederates sustained heavy casualties. Private Sam Watkins of the 1st Tennessee later recalled:

“The guns were discharged so rapidly that it seemed the earth itself was in a volcanic uproar. The iron storm passed through our ranks, mangling and tearing men to pieces. The very air seemed full of stifling smoke and fire, which seemed the very pit of hell, peopled by contending demons.”

An atmospheric phenomenon called an “acoustic shadow” prevented Buell from hearing the battle, so he remained at his headquarters several miles in the Federal rear. When messengers finally brought him news of the fight, he rode to the front around 4 p.m. Buell committed less than 30,000 men to the battle, thus negating the Confederates’ numerical disadvantage.

Sheridan’s men under Gilbert helped stabilize the Federal center and drive the Confederates into Perryville. But Federal reinforcements did not arrive to help McCook until late in the day. Fighting ended around nightfall. Some of Buell’s subordinates urged a nighttime counterattack under the bright moonlight, but Buell decided to wait and renew the fight in the morning.

The Federals sustained 4,211 casualties (845 killed, 2,851 wounded, and 515 missing) out of about 27,000 combatants. The Confederates lost 3,405 (519 killed, 2,635 wounded, and 251 missing) from roughly 16,000. The Federals suffered more casualties, including two brigadier generals killed, but the Confederates suffered greater in proportion to the size of their force.

Bragg won a tactical victory, but only because Buell did not use his full strength. In addition to growing supply shortages, Bragg’s Confederates now had the burden of caring for thousands of wounded comrades. Bragg consulted with Polk and Hardee and, realizing he faced superior numbers, decided to withdraw.

Before dawn on the 9th, Bragg issued orders to fall back to Harrodsburg, with General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry protecting the retreat. Moving to Harrodsburg would prevent Buell from trapping the Confederates in Kentucky. The Federals advanced to renew the fight that morning but soon discovered the Confederates were gone.

Perryville featured missed opportunities on both sides. Buell missed a key opportunity to destroy Bragg’s smaller army, and Bragg missed a chance to win a decisive victory in Kentucky that could have attracted more recruits to the Confederate cause.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 89; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 213, 245; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18165-73; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 224; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 738-40; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 220-22; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 200; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 276; 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. 519-21; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 505-08; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 748; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 576-77; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 59-63, 67; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 414-15