'THAT DARK AND BLOODY GROUND'
~THE KENTUCKY CAMPAIGN OF 1861~
BY ADDISON HART
ZOLLICOFFER reigned supreme in Kentucky. The fifty year old Whig Politician and Newspaper Editor, called affectionately by his men 'Pap' or 'Pappy Zolly', had, with 4,000 men, taken Kentucky by storm. He had secured Cumberland Gap and Knoxville, seized Unionist presses, arrested radical Yankees, destroyed two Yankee Camps, scattering two forces of militia, and plundered a great salt works. However, his men were unaccustomed to battle, something that would bring about their downfall in the land, for opposing them was the future Rock of Chickamauga...
That Dark and Bloody Ground
In the year 1860, on December 20th, the expected occurred, Secession. First went South Carolina, then came Mississippi two weeks later, soon a tidalwave of 'Sesh' States rolled through the Southern United States. Along the Mason-Dixon Line, the border of North and South, several states became neutral, dubbed 'Border States', neither side would select an allegiance. These states were primarily Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland. The first had been contested over long before the Civil War began on April 12th, 1861, but Kentucky was new to this kind of warfare.
A relatively new state, Kentucky was best known and remembered for it's great hero, frontiersman Daniel Boone, buried first in Missouri, then in Kentucky. One of Boone's great admirers was a Frankfort born Kentuckian named Albert Sidney Johnston. Johnston, born in 1803 in the small town of Washington, Kentucky, was already a great hero of the Blackhawk, Mexican, and Texan Wars, as well as being a Colonel in the Mormon Expedition. When the Civil War began, Johnston, a good friend of Confederate President Jefferson Finis Davis, was assigned command of the Department No. 2, the Department of the West, the main defense of which was an army of ragged Tennesseans and Kentuckians known as the Kentucky Line.
When Albert Johnston reached his post in August, 1861, his men cheered as he jumped out of his coach. The tall, muscular, handsome, powerfully built man with a flowing gray mustache was the pride of Dixie and pride of Kentucky. His son, Colonel William Preston Johnston ran to him to introduce him to the tall, lanky commander of the Kentucky line. The Line's commander waddled forward and Johnston got a good look at him. He had a tall, erect, good stature. He sported a flowing black pompadour and a neatly trimmed black goatee. He introduced himself as General Zollicoffer.
Felix Kirk Zollicoffer was born in Maury City, Tennessee on the 19th of May, 1812, when America was embroiled in it's second war with Great Britain. As a youth, Felix worked on the family plantation and attended Jackson College in Columbia, TN for a year. In Paris, TN, the 16 year old Zollicoffer joined the newspaper trade and by the age of 18 he was a journeyman printer in Knoxville. In 1834 he became editor of the Columbia Observer and helped edit the Southern Agriculturist and the Huntsville, Alabama's Mercury. He was named the State Printer in 1835, when he volunteered for the Seminole War.
Zollicoffer served as 1st Lieutenant in the Tennessee Volunteers during the 2nd Seminole War. He attained that rank briefly. In 1842, back printing papers, he became editor of the Nashville Republican Banner, a large and powerful Whig organ. From 1846 to 1849, he was Tennessee's Adjutant General and comptroller. Known throughout Tennessee for his fiery editorials, Zollicoffer won himself a place as State Senator from 1849 until 1852. Staunchly Whig, Zollicoffer spearheaded the Political Campaign that put William Campbell in the Governor's Chair of Tennessee and in 1853 won himself a seat in the US House of Representatives which he held until 1859.
During his Campaign for House of Representatives, Zollicoffer had fought a duel with the editor of the Nashville Union. Though staunchly Whig, he was also a champion for State's Rights, though not a supporter of secession and attended the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and even campaigned for John Bell as president, but, despite his efforts, Tennessee seceded and he would fight for it. Governor Isham Harris made Zollicoffer a Brigadier General in Tennessee state forces in April, 1861, and then Isham wanted to transfer him with the same rank to Confederate service. Though Zollicoffer at first declined, he soon gave in to Isham. On July 9th, 1861 he received a Brigadier Generalship in the CSA and command of the District of East Tennessee, Department No. 2.
Those events had led up to this fine summer day when he met Albert Johnston, his superior. Johnston learned that Zollicoffer had followed orders well. He had taken Knoxville and secured Cumberland Gap with 4,000 men in under a month. His men loved him, calling him 'Pap' and 'Pappy Zolly'. Johnston, impressed with Zollicoffer's show of initiative, gave him a new assignment: Zollicoffer would expand Johnston's thin defensive line and organize a campaign to drive the Yanks out of Kentucky. His words were: "Preserve peace, protect the railroad, and repel invasion." Johnston would not be disappointed.
On September 18th, 1861, Johnston and Zollicoffer occupied Bowling Green, fortified it, and set to work on the creation of the Kentucky Line, which would span the Southern part of the state. Word came in from Colonel Simon Buckner's Confederate forces that they had skirmished with Federal forces under the combined command of William T. Sherman and Lovell Rousseau. It was believed that they were getting assistance from another Union Force as well, that of William 'Bull' Nelson, a large, bearded, and fiery Yankee who's temper eventually got him murdered. Colonel Buckner's force destroyed the Rolling Fork Bridge that Sherman was hoping to cross, thus prolonging Sherman's march.
Sherman eventually arrived at Elizabethtown, where he intended to cross Green River via locks near Rochester, however, before he arrived he discovered that Buckner had already blown the locks up and left. Sherman moved against Buckner's camp near Hopkinsville, however, Buckner was warned and his men were ordered to move to the Union camp near Owensboro. They succeeded, but with the temporary loss of Buckner, who had been captured. Buckner was soon released and occupied Hopkinsville after a skirmish with the Home Guards, placing a garrison there under Kentucky Militia General Alcorn. He then returned to Bowling Green.
Johnston was pleased with Buckner's success and congratulated him and his superior, Leonidas Polk, who craftily held Columbus on the edge of the Kentucky/Illinois/Missouri border. Buckner was promoted Brigadier and given command of the Central Division of Kentucky. Johnston received reports of a Union camp and garrison at Barbourville, not far from Bowling Green. Barbourville's populace was strongly pro-union and welcomed the Federals, allowing the establishment of Camp Andrew (also known as 'Andy') Johnson. There, he learned, some of the Home Guard, Sherman's men whom Buckner had recently encountered, held the town.
There were some 300 men of the Home Guard in and around Barbourville. They were under the command of Captain Isaac J. Black. The men there were well trained throughout the Summer of 1861, they felt ready to meet Johnston and anything he could send them. Zollicoffer was ready for a fight. Department No. 2 received it's baptism of fire on September 19th, 1861, as 800 men under Zollicoffer attacked, expecting to find the rest of the recruits known as the Home Guards, but, to their chagrin, only Blacks' 300 remained.
The forces Zollicoffer had committed were 20th Tennessee, commanded by Colonel Joel Allen Battle, an excellent veteran fighter. fighter He was called 'Grandpa' by his men due to the fact that he had a large, white mustache and flowing white beard. The Confederates found the training Camp and attacked, Blacks' men fighting ferociously. After the small fight, Black abandoned the Camp, his men limping away to join the rest of the Home Guards at Camp Dick Robinson. The Militia under Black had taken 15 casualties, Battle had lost 5. Camp 'Andy' Johnson was then destroyed. Johnston's bluff tactics were working. Sherman thought he needed 200,000 troops to stop Johnston's men. Sherman already outnumbered him two to one. Johnston's numbers were pitiful. Polk had 11,000 men, Zollicoffer 4,000, Buckner 4,000. Johnston placed Buckner under the command of a new officer who had just arrived in Bowling Green, William Joseph Hardee, esteemed author of Hardee's Rifle & Light Infantry Tactics. On the 20th, Johnston abandoned Mayfield and on the 22nd, in a short skirmish, Polk pushed back a small attack by several troops under Brigadier General U.S. Grant.
400 Federals encamped at Albany had made prisoners of Zollicoffer's captured men and Confederate sympathizers. This action greatly angered Zollicoffer, who ordered a detachment of Cavalry under a Captain Bledsoe to attack them. On September 23rd, Bledsoe struck, routing the Federals and capturing the Camp as well as 60 muskets.
Around this time, Zollicoffer had done alot of work in his assigned area. He had destroyed a second Yankee Camp at Albany, plundered a valuable salt factory, seized pro-union printing presses and destroyed them, and arrested dangerous Yankee sympathizers. He was doing well for a beginner. To add to that, Zollicoffer had again encountered Isaac Black, this time at London, and quickly drove them off with a few shots. Zollicoffer had two targets now, the large Camp Dick Robinson and the heavily fortified Camp Wildcat, positioned on the Wildcat Mountains, also known as the Rockcastle Heights or London Heights. It was garrisoned by Colonel Theophilus T. Garrard's 7th Kentucky Volunteers and Col. Frank L. Wolford's 1st Kentucky Cavalry.
Zollicoffer had 5,400 men, one brigade. Colonel James E. Rains commanded the 11th Tennessee, Col. William S. Statham commanded the 15th Mississippi, Col. Taz W. Newman commanded the 17th Tennessee, Col. David H. Cummings commanded the 19th Tennessee, Col. Battle commanded the 20th Tennessee, and Col. Sam Powell commanded the 29th Tennessee. Captain Arthur Middleton Rutledge commanded the Tennessee Battery, and there were two regiments of cavalry, the 2nd Tennessee commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin M. Brauner, and the 1st was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel F. N. McNair.
Garrard was terribly afraid of the prospect of Zollicoffer attacking. His un-organized regiment of raw recruits were slowly building fortifications atop the mountain at a point where the Wilderness Road leading to the peak begins a steep ascent into the Rockcastle Hills northeast of London. Wolford's men, who had been with Black at London, were positioned ahead of Garrard to act as scouts. As Zollicoffer's approach became more apparent, Garrard pleaded with his superiors, "...if I do not receive more troops [I intend] to abandon this place...I have no idea of having my men butchered up here where they have a force of six to one...I would like to hear from you immediately!"
Garrard felled trees along the Wilderness Road as a delaying tactic against Zollicoffer as he waited for reinforcements. They came in the form of the 33rd Indiana, 17th Ohio under Col. John Connell, and 1st Ohio Artillery Battery. More were coming from Camp Dick Robinson. The forces that were arriving were under Brigadier General Albin F. Schoepf. Until Schoepf arrived, Camp Wildcat would be commanded by Colonel John Colburn. On October 17th, 1861, Zollicoffer was sighted. Zollicoffer encountered Wolford on the Wilderness road on October 19th, and followed. They skirmished at nightfall October 20th, the next day all hell broke loose on that dark and bloody ground... (End of Part 1)
ZOLLICOFFER felt that he could not be defeated. He had won two battles, Barbourville and London, destroyed two camps, scattered militia forces that were put against him, accomplished more than most generals had in the war so far. Zollicoffer believed that nothing could stop his men now. But John Colburn was about to prove him wrong...
That Dark and Bloody Ground
Felix Kirk Zollicoffer had accomplished much in two months. He had well pleased Albert Sidney Johnston. He had wrecked two regiments of militia under Captain Isaac Black, won two battles, first at Barbourville and then at London, and destroyed two union camps. Not only had he accomplished many military feats, he had also accomplished many political ones. This Whig Politician and Newspaperman who now bore the rank of Brigadier General in the Provisional Confederate Army was a national hero.
Zollicoffer's current target was heavily defended Camp Wildcat in the Wildcat Mountains or Rockcastle Heights. It was defended by three regiments under Colonels John Colburn and Theophilus T. Garrard. Colburn was awaiting reinforcements from Camp Dick Robinson, headed by Brigadier General George Henry Thomas, a short, chubby Virginian who had "betrayed his state", as many said. The reinforcements consisted of Brigadier General Albin F. Schoepf's Brigade, Department of the Cumberland.
Albin Schoepf, a German by birth, was a new Brigadier. His command consisted of the 14th (under Col. James B. Steedman), 17th (under Col. John Connell), 31st (Col. Moses Walker), and 38th Ohio (Col. Edwin Bradley), and the 1st and 2nd Tennessee. The 1st, 2nd, 14th, and 38th were what George Thomas had to spare. The rest were still being trained at Camp Dick Robinson (Headquarters of Union operations). The chain of command of Camp Wildcat was this: 1st in command was Schoepf, 2nd was Colburn, 3rd was Garrard, and 4th was Frank Wolford.
Garrard's original purpose for being at Wildcat was to secure the ford on the Rockcastle River which flows near the Wildcat Mountains. Then he established the Camp on the Wildcat Mountain and obstructed the Wilderness road, Zollicoffer's main route. Then Garrard asked for reinforcements. He received word that Schoepf would arrive with 7000 men to counter Zollicoffer's 7000. The area around Wildcat was mainly forest. From London the Wilderness road was obstructed by felled trees. Beyond that was the lowest point of Wildcat Mountain, Colburn's position where the Headquarters and Camp were established. Colburn held that position which his regiment and an artillery battery.
Moving South-West along the mountain, the area becomes much steeper and gradually turns into Infantry Ridge, a rocky spot, dense in vegetation, where Garrard was positioned. South East of the Headquarters is the steepest point of Wildcat Mountain, a place known as Hoosier's Knob, littered with all forms of defense: abatis, rocks, trees, fallen and standing. Here was Wolford's HQ. Moving North West of Camp Wildcat HQ Wilderness Road turns into Winding Blade's Road, where the trees and darkness are thicker than anywhere before. Farther North East is Backeye Ridge.
Finally, North West of Camp Wildcat HQ, Wilderness Road turns, leading to Camp Dick Robinson. This is the route that Schoepf would be using. Zollicoffer's route is the direct road to Camp Wildcat HQ, this route is Wilderness Road, where Garrard has put into action his delaying tactics, felling trees. The trees do what they were intended to do, Zollicoffer's men are forced to work hard clearing the way of them. Meanwhile, Zollicoffer received word that Yank cavalry under Wolford had been sighted along the road. Zollicoffer finally tracks them down on October 20th. Night, by this time, has already fallen.
Colonel James Rains' 11th Tennessee and Colonel William S. Statham's 15th Mississippi are the first to attack, driving back Wolford's men with few losses. Colonel Joel Allen Battle's veterans arrive too late for the fight, but cavalry under Lt. Cols. McNair and Brauner quickly follow in pursuit, skirmishing several times. By morning, October 21st, Wolford had safely returned to Hoosier's Knob.
Zollicoffer had limited supplies, bad maps, low organization, and little cavalry to use as scouts, but he did his best. His men did nothing on the night of the 20th, except his cavalry, who were busy reconnoitering the Yankee lines. Zollicoffer's infantry were advancing. The battle line was in this position: At the head of the line was Rains, second was Statham, third was Taz Newman's 17th Tennessee, 4th in line was David H. Cumming's 19th Tennessee, 5th was Captain Arthur Middleton Rutledge's artillery battery, 6th was Battle, 7th was Sam Powell's dependable 29th TN. Ahead of them was McNair's and Brauner's Cavalry.
On the 21st, Zollicoffer broke down his regiments into battalions and split them up to attack Infantry Ridge and Hoosier Knob. At 10 am, Taz Newman's 17th Tennessee struck Hoosier Knob. After an hour and a half of heavy fighting, four companies of the 33rd Indiana and Wolford's 1st Kentucky Cavalry forced Newman to withdraw. Newman was a white haired veteran of the Mexican War and a hard fighter. He asked for help. At noon, he was joined by components of Rain's 11th, Battle's 20th, and Powell's 29th, who lead a violent up-hill assault.
Sam Powell was already known for dependability. He had served well at London a few weeks earlier. Powell was always recognizable on the field for a long, red beard that many likened to a flame upon a candle wick. To add to that, he had a long, droopy mustache that twirled madly in the air as he ran. The fighting here was very bitter. Men remembered watching the wounded fall backward down the slope into the darkness of the woods. It was a near fight and the Confederates nearly gained a foothold had it not have been for the arrival of Schoepf's brigade. The beleaguered 33rd was reinforced by the 17th and 14th Ohio.
Because of these reinforcements, the fighting on Hoosier's Ridge ended, Zollicoffer repulsed. However, he wasn't licked just yet. Colonel William S. Statham, who would later be a brigadier, took his 15th Mississippi to Infantry Ridge with D.H. Cumming's Tennessians and Rutledge's Artillery. At 2 o'clock, he launched his assault. This assault, however, also failed due to the arrival of the 17th Ohio Artillery, who poured shells into the Mississipians.
On the evening of the 21st, Schoepf's men heard the sounds of Confederates wagons and the footsteps of Zollicoffer's troops constantly moving on the valley floor below. The Yanks did not sleep that night because they suspected Zollicoffer was planning a new attack. In reality, however, they heard Zollicoffer's men retreating back into the Cumberland Gap. Camp Wildcat had been saved.
Total casualties in the Battle of Camp Wildcat were 78. Federal loss was 5 killed, 20 wounded. Confederate loss was 11 killed, 42 wounded. Despite the small numbers, Camp Wildcat was the first large battle fought in Kentucky. Schoepf's easy victory was highly praised by Northerners and Zollicoffer's defeat was not so highly ridiculed by Southerners. However, his men started to make jokes about him, calling him 'Granny' and "Zollie". The fight was called "Zollie's Folly." Even more personal jokes were made, some on the middle and last names of his wife: Pocahantas Zollicoffer.
Despite this, Johnston praised Zollicoffer as a good officer. Despite the Wildcat affair, he was a good soldier. However, the defeat at Camp Wildcat took the fight out of him and his men remained in the Gap for another month. During his inactivity, Colonel John S. Williams, under General Johnston, was training his men at Prestonville in the eastern part of the state, when he ran short of ammunition and fell back to Pikeville to replenish his supply. Meanwhile, Union General 'Bull' Nelson sent a detachment of twelve Ohio and Kentucky companies, 2 of cavalry and 9 of infantry, under Colonel Joshua Sill to stop Williams from reaching there.
Williams became aware of this trap and his cavalry escaped from the Yanks but his infantry was nailed down in a place between Pikeville and Ivy Mountain. On November 8th, near a road bend in the Ivy Creek, Nelson's men were struck by a terrible volley. The constricted ranks fell back in surprise as William's infantry charged out of the trees and sent some scattering for cover. Neither side gained any ground in the fight that ensued. Williams felled trees in order to ensure his men a safe escape from Nelson. Sill arrived too late for the fighting at Ivy Mountain, but he did pursue Williams, who escaped into Virginia. Sill encountered Williams only once on the 9th, when he fought a quick skirmish and then disappeared into Virginia.
The battle was indecisive, no ground was gained by either side. The men under Nelson took little under 40 casualties, and Williams took some 50, about 140 more were captured. The little fight at Ivy Mountain did not help Johnston's already worsening situation. Meanwhile, at Camp Dick Robinson, George Thomas, tired of ineffectual movements against Zollicoffer and William Sherman's nagging, took command of the campaign against the Tennessians, replacing Schoepf as commander at Camp Wildcat. He patiently waited for 'Pappy Zolly' to make his move.
Zollicoffer did move his men. He found what he thought to be a more suitable location for defense, a place called Mill Springs, or Logan's Crossroads, or Fishing Creek. This was 'Zollie's Folly.' Mill Springs was virtually indefensible. Nevertheless, in November, he moved his men to Mill Springs where he set up camp. He moved eastward from the Gap along Wilderness Road, moving to the south bank of the Cumberland and into the village Mill Springs, 250 miles from his original position. At first, his defensive position in the town was superb and his superior, Major General George Bibb Crittenden, (son of Senator John Crittenden) who was traveling down the Road in order to meet him, ordered him to stay there, Johnston's thoughts were that if the Yanks attacked that he could cross to the north side, where he would be "with the enemy in front and the river behind."
Before Crittenden arrived, however, Zollicoffer made 'Zolly's Folly', crossing the Cumberland and setting up camp at the undefendable north bank of the river. There at a loop in the Cumberland he established Winter Camp with his back to the river. That part of land from then on bore the title of 'Zollicoffer's Den." Then he set about fortifying the position known as Beech Grove. He was still there when his superior, the hard drinking Crittenden arrived. Crittenden was outraged. This position was the worst he had seen. He discovered this on his arrival in December. He realized that Zollicoffer had found the most vulnerable spot in his District. Worse still, the Cumberland was raging and uncrossable due to a steady marathon of heavy rains.
George Bibb Crittenden was a Kentuckian by birth. Son of the Politician John Crittenden (author of the Crittenden Compromise) and brother of Union General Thomas Crittenden. He graduated from West Point in 1832 and fought in the Mexican War. In October, 1861, President Davis appointed him Major General and gave him command of a Division. He had a taste for strong liquors.
In December, word reached Zollicoffer of Thomas Hindman's victory over August Willich's Home Guards at Rowlett's Station and rejoiced. This had been the first victory gained by the Kentucky Line since London. Come December 25th, the rain was freezing and turning into snow. On December 31st, in terrible weather, Thomas had begun his march and Zollicoffer was still in the worst position possible...that dark and bloody ground. (End of Part 2)
THERE they stood, the rain pouring down on them, the two regiments stood literally feet away from each other, clubbing and bayoneting, few could get there guns to work in the heavy rainfall. On one side of the little wooden fence stood a veteran confederate regiment, the 15th Mississippi, it's tattered battle flag waving above the men's heads. On the other side stood a well equipped Yankee regiment, the 2nd Minnesota, unaware of the horrors of war. There they stood, dealing out death. One confederate remembered: "There was only a fence between us..."
That Dark and Bloody Ground
Felix Kirk Zollicoffer was a Southern hero now, he had accomplished much in Kentucky in the latter part of 1861. He had put together a hard hitting Confederate fighting force, kept together the delicate Kentucky Line, smashed two Yankee Militia Corps, won two battles: Barboursville, and London, and gained the admiration of his superior, Albert Sidney Johnson. But now he had thrown it all away.
In October, 1861, Zollicoffer had been whipped at Camp Wildcat, attacking a superior force placed on a mountain-top. Not only was this action suicidal for his soldiers who were mowed down on the crest of Wildcat Mountain, but it was suicidal for Zollie's military career. But that was no match compared to his latest blunder: against the orders of his superiors, he had rashly moved his men to the north bank of the swollen Cumberland River, near the village of Mill Springs.
Perhaps it was not only his poor military judgment that found him on that precarious position on the swollen river. In December, Zollicoffer had been superseded in command of the Tennessians he had fought with at Barboursville and Wildcat. Hard drinking George Bibb Crittenden was now his superior in command. Perhaps Zollicoffer was angry about this and deliberately disobeyed his orders. Whatever had happened, it was the event that destroyed the Kentucky Line.
"From this camp as a base of operations," wrote Zollicoffer to Johnston, "I hope in mild weather to penetrate the country toward London or Danville." Johnston, Horrified by Zollicoffer's mistake, quickly called for more men and supplies. He finally slapped together a brigade under Brigadier William H. Carroll, which was mainly armed with old flintlock muskets which could not be fired when wet. Carroll was constantly delayed in arriving, mainly by the heavy rains that plagued the Mill Springs area throughout winter. He left Knoxville, Tennessee on January 16th.
William Henry Carroll was born in 1810 in Nashville, Tennessee. A wealthy plantation owner and politician before the war. In the beginning of the war he was active in Militia. On October 26th, 1861, Carroll was made Brigadier General of Volunteers and was sent to Knoxville where Johnston ordered him to assemble a small army. Carroll instead formed a large brigade and placed the city under martial law due to it's mainly Northern sympathies. It was then that he was ordered to come to Zollicoffer's aide.
Crittenden finally ordered Zollicoffer to withdraw across the river. However, the River was flooding and it would be impossible for his crossing. On January 3rd, Crittenden agreed it had to be postponed.
On December 29th, 1861, Brigadier General George Henry Thomas received orders from his superior, Don Carlos Buell, to move against Zollicoffer at Beech Grove. Thomas was slow at first, he hardly moved until New Year's Day. Thomas suggested that instead of directly attacking Zollicoffer, he strike at Burkesville, cutting the supply route, but Buell would have none of it. Thomas gained a nickname "Old Slow Trot", do to the fact that in two and a half weeks of marching, he had not yet covered 40 miles. It was not the last nickname he would receive during the war.
Marching south from Lexington, Thomas too was plagued by the rains. The mud was knee deep and his men moved so slowly in it that it was like "we were pulling plows." Others described the rains as "one vast morass, the surface of which shakes by walking over it." The rains was not the only problem the roads were very bad. On January 17th, 1862, his men arrived at the hamlet of Logan's Crossroads, ten miles from "Zollicoffer's Den." the next morning he was joined by the brigade of Zollicoffer's old rival, General Albin Schoepf.
At Midnight, January 18th, Zollicoffer's men were awakened and ordered forward, with cavalry under Captain William Bledsoe, Capt. Q.C. 'Ned' Sanders, Capt. B.E. Roberts, Lt. Col. Ben Brauner, and Lt. Col. George McClellan guiding them moved forward to Thomas's camp. Following him was the new brigade under Carroll, whose muskets weren't working due to the rain. A force under Col. Moses White was attempting to cross the river from Mill Springs. At six in the morning, under a heavy rain, and in pitch blackness, a muzzle flash was suddenly seen moving in the direction of Thomas's camps, followed by a loud report. Mill Springs had begun.
McClellan's cavalry had found the pickets of an old enemy, Col. Frank Wolford. After a few more shots they were driven back and the 10th Indiana, commanded by Lt. Col. William Kise and first regiment of Col. Mahlon Manson's brigade, opened fire. Wolford's cavalry rode up to support. Zollicoffer was in control, Crittenden was too drunk to command, having downed much Kentucky Bourbon. Zollicoffer was wearing a white canvas overcoat and was now clean shaven, having recently shaved off his black goatee. It was now January 19th.
Zollicoffer was up against four brigades. The 2nd Brigade commanded by Manson, the 3rd Brigade commanded by Col. Robert L. McCook, the 12th brigade commanded by Col. Samuel Powhattan Carter, and then Schoepf's brigade, which was too far from the fighting to be of any help to Thomas. Unlike his enemy, Zollicoffer had all his men in a relatively close position and were crashing down on each Union regiment, one by one, while Thomas was spread out and harder to control.
Manson called for help. He rode to the 4th Kentucky regiment, shouting for it's commander, Col. Speed Smith Fry, but he was nowhere to be found. He then moved the regiment into the fray in person, on the way gathering up the 2nd Minnesota under Col. Horatio Van Cleve. By the time the 4th arrived, Manson found Fry and quickly ordered him to get to his men. Fry then doubled-quicked them into position. There they received murderous assaults. Then Manson rode to Thomas to inform him of what was happening.
Zollicoffer was busy ordering more men forward when the drunken Crittenden arrived. Crittenden ordered that he be given command of the attack. Zollicoffer was not going to argue and rode off towards his men. It should be noted that Zollicoffer's eye-sight was not very good and it was made worse by the darkness and the rain. Colonel D.H. Cumming's 19th Tennessee opened fire on the 10th, driving them back. Replacing the Indiana boys was Fry's 4th. Joining the 19th was the 15th Mississippi under Lt. Col. Edward Walthall, the 20th Tennessee under Col. Joel Battle, and the 25th TN under Col. Sidney S. Stanton.
Zollicoffer suddenly realized that the 19th was firing into fellow Confederates and rode to Col. Cummings shouting: "Those are our men! We must not fire on our own men!" Col. Cummings shouted back: "Of course not, I would not do so unintentionally." He then ordered his men to cease fire. Suddenly, Lt. H.M.R. Fogg, Zollicoffer's aide, cried out a particularly bad choice of words: "General! It's the enemy!"
Hearing those words, Col. Speed Fry suddenly realized that the man he had taken for Manson was actually Zollicoffer. He raised his pistol at Zollicoffer's breast and fired. Fogg fired at the same time, killing Fry's horse. Zollicoffer and Fry tumbled off their horses at the same time. Suddenly Fry's men opened fire and forced the 19th back as well as emptying Fogg's saddle. Fogg, shot through the breast, died shortly afterward. The volley also wounded Col. Cummings.
Felix Kirk Zollicoffer was dead. His men suddenly became demoralized and disorganized. They fired in all directions, friendly fire became a major threat, and many of the Confederates could not operate their flintlocks and so were forced the club their enemy to death in order to be effective with them. Many were simply discarded in favor of a bowie knife, brass knuckles, or a bayonet used as a sword. As Fry stood up, he was hit by a ball in the thigh and had to be dragged back to the Medical Wing. His men propped Zollicoffer and Fogg up side by side against a large white oak tree, known forever as the 'Zollie Tree'.
The 25th Tennessee replaced the 19th, and Stanton was suddenly gripped by the same thought that Zollicoffer had, were they firing on their own men? He rode forward to find out and was wounded and disabled at the head of the regiment. On a hill overlooking the Confederates, Capt. Henry Wetmore's 9th Ohio Battery suddenly opened a deadly fire with their Parrot Guns. The 20th Tennessee moved up and fixed bayonets and down the line near a wooden fence, the 15th Mississippi pulled out foot long bowie knives that glinted in the rain and started a charge against the 2nd Minnesota Infantry under Col. Van Cleve. Van Cleve's 500 men were suddenly struck by Walthall's 854 Mississipians.
Fighting behind and in front of the fence was terrible, those who could fire their guns did so at men only feet away. A Mississipian recalled firing his musket a foot away from a Yank, blowing his head off. The Yanks leveled devastating fire, cutting several men in half. It was then the Mississipians pulled out their bowies. A Union Sergeant suddenly shouted an insult to a Mississipian across the fence. The Mississipian responded by driving the knife through his body. One man recalled: "There was only a fence between us."
Van Cleve's superior, Col. McCook, rode up to him to inform him of the approach of 628 men under Major Gustave Kammerling (the 9th Ohio Infantry), when a Reb fired at his chest, knocking him off his horse. McCook's wound proved so bad that he was put out of action until August, where he fought against the Confederates during the 2nd Kentucky Campaign and was again wounded. When he was sent to a hospital in Tennessee, he was caught and murdered by Guerrillas.
Coming up on the right was Col. Carter's 12th Brigade with three regiments and Wolford's Cavalry. The 19th Tennessee was moved back into battle to meet Carter's lines. The 19th was now commanded by Lt. Col. Frank Walker, replacing the wounded Cummings. Despite four more regiments sent to it's aide, it was driven back.
At the fence, the 15th Mississippi and the 20th Tennessee had held out valiantly against the superior forces of the enemy and were being decimated. They were forced to withdraw from a flanking fire from the 9th Ohio, which in turn received a flanking fire from the 29th Tennessee under the brave Col. Sam Powell. Powell, his long red hair flying in the wind, charged the 9th out of it's position and took the fence once more as the 15th and the 20th returned.
Thomas would not be beaten. Schoepf's men finally arrived to turn the tide of the battle. As the 2nd Minnesota again approached the fence, it received a raking fire at 30 paces by Powell's 29th. Here, however, Powell fell, struck by a ball. His wound was not fatal, but he had to be carried off the field. At 10 a.m., Schoepf was committed to the fight. By the time he arrived, the battle was over, Crittenden retreated to Beech Grove. His losses were 125 killed, 309 wounded, and 95 captured or missing. Of these, the 15th Mississippi had taken 44 killed, 153 wounded.
Thomas lost less men. 45 dead, 207 wounded, 15 captured, 8 missing. The Confederates escaped across the Cumberland in the sternwheeler Noble Ellis.
Crittenden would be cashiered out of service for drunkenness. Schoepf would see little action and after October, 1862, followed Crittenden. William Carroll was also arrested for drunkenness by his superior, Braxton Bragg and was dishonorably discharged from service. Isaac Black never reached any rank greater than Captain and he too was cashiered out of service. William Nelson would be murdered by one of his generals in September, 1862. William Sherman later gained a name at Shiloh and served throughout the war as a Major General.
George Thomas would become a great Northern hero and would be called 'The Rock of Chickamauga. Simon Buckner would eventually become a Lieutenant General and would fight throughout the war. Don Carlos Buell was sacked after his disgrace at Perryville in October, 1862. Albert Sidney Johnston died of wounds three months after receiving word of the defeat of Mill Springs at a place called Shiloh. The Kentucky Line died on January 19th, 1862.
The defeat at Mill Springs did not discourage Southern sympathizers in Kentucky. In later 1862, Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith launched a second Kentucky Campaign. Two armies, one under Braxton Bragg and the other under Don Carlos Buell would meet outside a small Kentucky town on October 8th. The town was called Perryville. On February 27th, 1862, a Union private named John H. Burch wrote this letter:
"I have been in the U.S. service for 4 months and have been marching ever since and was in the battle of Mills Springs and hoped to whip that old devil Zolly Coffer. I saw him when he fell in the field of battle. George, I tell you there was no fun in fighting. To hear the balls whistling over your head and cutting your clothes off and seeing men fall like hay before a scythe, it will scare a fellow a little. Battle is no chance for dodging. All we have to do is put our trust in God and keep our powder dry."
This Page last updated 01/26/02
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