Brigadier General Crittenden was sent east to assume command of the right wing and found Zollicoffer was camped on the wrong (north) side of the unfordable Cumberland River. He was facing Brigadier General George H. Thomas' Federal command which was twice as large as his own. Crittenden ordered him to move back to the south bank, but in early January, Zollicoffer was still on the north side of the river. To compound problems, the Federal forces were starting to advance. Suddenly realizing his desperate circumstances, Zollicoffer launched a dawn attack on the Federal encampment at Mill Springs, Kentucky during a rain-soaked, dreary, January day. The attack failed and Zollicoffer was killed when he mistakenly rode into the Federal lines thinking the troops were his own men, although most of his command managed to escape to the south bank of the river. The battle is referred to in history as the Battle of Fishing Creek
"The Battle of Fishing Creek"
Gen. George B. Critttenden, commanding the Confederate forces in east Tennessee, under date of January 18, 1862, advised Gen. A. S. Johnston from his camp at Beech Grove, Ky., on the north side of the Cumberland river, that he was threatened "by a superior force of the enemy in front, and finding it impossible to cross the river, I will have to make the fight on the ground I now occupy." He had under his command 4,000 effective men in two brigades: The First, commanded by Brig.-Gen. Felix K. Zollicoffer, was composed of the Fifteenth Mississippi, Lieut.-Col. E. C. Walthall; Nineteenth Tennessee, Col. D. H. Cummings; Twentieth Tennessee, Col. Joel A. Battle; Twenty-fifth Tennessee, Col. S. S. Stanton; Rutledge's battery of four guns, Capt. A.M. Rutledge, and two companies of cavalry commanded by Captains Saunders and Bledsoe. The Second brigade, commanded by Brig.-Gen. William H. Carroll, was composed of the Seventeenth Tennessee, Lieutenant-Colonel Miller; Twenty-eighth Tennessee, Col. John P. Murray; Twenty-ninth Tennessee, Col. Samuel Powell; two guns of McClung's battery, Captain McClung; Sixteenth Alabama, Col. W. B. Wood, and the cavalry battalions of Lieutenant-Colonel Brauner and Lieut.-Col. George McClellan. The movement to the north of the Cumberland was made by General Zollicoffer without the approval of General Johnston. In a dispatch to the latter, dated December 10, 1861, Zollicoffer said: "I infer from yours that I should not have crossed the river, but it is now too late. My means of recrossing is so limited, I could hardly accomplish it in the face of the enemy."
General Crittenden united his two brigades, and after consulting with their commanders, decided to attack the enemy. Soon after daylight on the 19th of January, the advance was made, and after a march of nine miles, Zollicoffer in front formed his command and made the attack with the Nineteenth Tennessee. This gallant regiment charged into the woods, driving the Tenth Indiana regiment, when General Zollicoffer, under a fatal misapprehension, rode up and ordered Colonel Cummings to cease firing, believing that the attack was upon one of his own regiments. He then advanced as if to give an order, and was killed just as he discovered his mistake. This caused the Nineteenth to break its line and fall back. The Twenty-fifth Tennessee had also engaged the enemy, and Colonel Stanton was wounded and disabled at the head of the regiment which now, impressed with the same idea which had proved fatal to the brigade commander, that it was firing on friends, broke its line and fell back. Colonel Cummings, senior colonel, assumed command of the brigade; the Fifteenth Mississippi and Twentieth Tennessee were moved into action, and Carroll's brigade coming up, a general advance was made. General Crittenden in his report of the battle says: "Very soon the enemy began to gain ground on our left," when General Carroll, who was at that point, ordered "the Nineteenth Tennessee, now commanded by Lieut.-Col. Frank Walker, to meet this movement of the enemy, and moved the Seventeenth Tennessee to its support. The Twenty-eighth, Twenty-fifth and Nineteenth Tennessee were driven back by the enemy, and while reforming in the rear of the Seventeenth Tennessee, that well-disciplined regiment met and held in check the entire right wing of the Northern army. For an hour now the Fifteenth Mississippi and Twentieth Tennessee had been struggling with the superior forces of the enemy." Their valor was heroic. These regiments only abandoned their position when the forces on the left retired and exposed them to a destructive flank fire; the Twenty-ninth Tennessee came to their rescue and checked the flank movement for a time with a raking fire at thirty paces. It was here that Colonel Powell was badly wounded. Valuable service was rendered at this critical moment by the Sixteenth Alabama, but the battle was lost after three hours of fighting. Owing to the formation of the field the Confederates were unable to use artillery; the rain which was falling rendered useless the flint-lock muskets, with which more than half of them were armed; and the death of General Zollicoffer and the peculiar circumstances attending it were very demoralizing to the troops. General Crittenden retreated without molestation from the enemy to his original camp, and during the night fell back to the south side of the Cumberland river, abandoning from necessity his artillery, ammunition, wagons, horses and stores of every description. General Thomas had in action, or in striking distance, the Ninth, Fourteenth, Seventeenth, Thirty-first and Thirty-eighth Ohio regiments; the Second Minnesota, Tenth Indiana, Carter's Tennessee brigade, Tenth and Twelfth Kentucky regiments, Wolford's cavalry, and Kenny's, Wetmore's and Standarts' batteries. General Crittenden reported his loss at 125 killed, 309 wounded, 99 missing. Of this loss the Twentieth Tennessee had 33 killed, 59 wounded; Fifteenth Mississippi, 44 killed, 153 wounded; Nineteenth Tennessee, 10 killed, 22 wounded; Twenty-fifth Tennessee, 10 killed, 28 wounded; Seventeenth Tennessee, 11 killed, 25 wounded; Twenty-eighth Tennessee, 3 killed, 4 wounded; Twenty-ninth Tennessee, 5 killed, 12 wounded; Sixteenth Alabama, 9 killed, 5 wounded. General Thomas reported his loss at 39 killed, 207 wounded.
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