Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Kentucky and Tennessee, 1862
Union: Major General Don Carlos Buell
Confederate: General Albert Sidney Johnston
Prelude: As the Southern States were seceding in 1861, “Border States,” which were Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware each took time to sort out their loyalties. Missouri had recently fought a series of battles and skirmishes but was firmly in the Union camp. It took an intervention be US President Lincoln to keep Maryland. There was no question about Delaware’s remaining in the Union. The wild card in all of this was Kentucky. This was a state where Slavery was legal, but wanted no part in the breakaway that was going on. Even so, they also wanted no part in raising troops for putting down their Southern brothers. As war clouds gathered, Kentucky declared itself neutral, refusing to officially raise troops for the North or South. Of course, that did not stop people from doing so. One of the well known bodies of Confederate soldiers in the Civil War was called the “Orphan Brigade,” made up of Kentuckians and attached to the Army of Tennessee. This brigade, when forced out of the state, never returned for the remainder of the war. Another unit, the 1st Kentucky (Union) Regiment had already seen action in Virginia.
The official stance of Kentucky changed when, on 4 September, 1861, Confederate troops under Major General Leonidas Polk seized Columbus, KY. The state officially allied themselves with the Union, despite an attempt by pro-Confederates to form a secessionist government. Articles of Secession were even voted on, but could not be enacted. The state would be spilt for the remainder of the war, but the Administration of US President Abraham Lincoln was pleased that as least half of Kentucky was on his side.
For the Confederacy, it was a blunder that presented an opportunity. Possession of Kentucky would give the CSA a natural border on the Ohio River as well as access to two major rivers (the second being the Mississippi) for trade and travel. Goods and services would flow down river to New Orleans, LA and then to the world. CS President Jefferson Davis saw this as advantageous to the new nation. He was also optimistic; he authorized a star on the Confederate First National flag to represent Kentucky.
Since Polk had already entered the state, it seemed good sense to put an entire army unto Kentucky. Johnston was selected to command Confederate forces in the West, with a mandate to both protect the Lower South (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee) and secure Kentucky.
Johnston was a Regular Army officer who resigned his commission while serving in California. His past service also included the Texas War of Independence and the Mexican War.
On the other side, the goals of the Federals in the area became clear; keep Kentucky secured so that operations into Tennessee could be mounted. Part of that was already done when Union forces took Paducah and Louisville. The motivation to get into Tennessee was that despite the state being admitted into the CSA, the state was actually split, with the western half pro-Confederate and the eastern half pro-Union. There was a lot of sectarian violence taking place as clashes and raids took place.
As 1861 ended and 1862 began, there was already a lot of maneuvering. Confederates under Brigadier General Humphrey Marshall had been in eastern Kentucky since 10 December, 1861, and was camped in the town of Prestonsburg. To the west, at Beech Grove, there was another force under Brigadier General Felix Zollicoffer encamped.
The Federals countered this when Buell sent a brigade under Colonel James Garfield from Louisa to Paintsville to counter Marshall. Another Union force, under Brigadier General George Thomas was sent to Somerset to counter Zollicoffer’s movements.
A Confederate force, under Major General George Crittenden, established themselves at Beech Grove, on the Cumberland River.
10 January, 1862: Battle of Middle Creek: West of Prestonsburg, Garfield formed his four regiments in line formation and pressed in their assault through wooded hills. Marshall’s three regiments held their own for a while but was soon forced to pull back. At the end of the day, both sides pulled back, each claiming victory. Garfield pulled into Prestonsburg to regroup, Marshall marched all the way to Virginia, effectively giving eastern Kentucky to the Union.
To the west, Thomas was ordered to march on Crittenden’s camp and drive them across the Cumberland.
At Beech Grove, both Crittenden and Zollicoffer were camped on a bend in the Cumberland River called Logan’s Cross Roads. The river crossing was their only way of retreat if Federal troops arrived. Still it offered a base in order to launch operations into central Kentucky. There was a slight problem, the Cumberland was in flood due to heavy rains, so crossing the river was problematic at best.
17 January, 1862: Thomas’ troops reach a spot near Logan’s Cross Roads and set up camp. Crittenden sees an opportunity to disrupt the Federal’s plans.
19 January, 1862: Battle of Logan’s Cross Roads: Crittenden marched his troops all night in order to be in a good position to hit Thomas. At dawn, troops of the 15th MS encountered a picket line manned by the 10th IN. For the next hour, the Indianans held off assaults by three Confederate regiments. Two additional Union arrived to support the Indianans, but when the ammunition ran out, the Federals were forces to give ground. As that was happening, while the Confederates were closing in, Colonel S. S. Fry of the 4th KY (Union) fired his revolver into the mass on Confederates. The round hits Zollicoffer, killing him. Afterwards, the fighting became so close that at one point, Union and Confederates were struggling over a single fence.
Thomas orders artillery brought up and soon begins pounding the Confederate formations. Thomas then sends in a brigade to hit the enemy on the flank. This breaks Crittenden’s forces and what started out to be an orderly retreat was turned into a rout. The Confederates make for the riverbank while Thomas’ artillery continues pounding them.
Thomas planned to finish off Crittenden by an assault, but the Confederates managed to cross the Cumberland River that night, effectively ending the battle. They march out of Kentucky altogether and finally stopped at Gainsboro, TN.
It took a few months to rest and refit the Union forces in eastern Kentucky, as well as consolidate their gains. Most of Kentucky was now firmly in Federal hands. Plans were now being made to take the offensive into Tennessee.
11 April, 1862: A division under Union Brigadier General George Morgan left London, KY and marched toward Cumberland Ford, with plans to use that area as a spring board to capture Cumberland Gap, a natural route into Tennessee.
As the Federals reached the Ford, word reached Morgan that the Confederates had fortified the Wilderness Road, once a trail for pioneers heading west to settle new lands. Now the road was seen as a strategic position for both sides. Morgan was not going to play to the Confederates tune. He decides to send one brigade as a diversion. They head across Tennessee, into Alabama, across the Tennessee River, and finally approaching Chattanooga, TN on 7 June.
6 June, 1862; Meanwhile, Morgan splits his remaining troops into two sections, sends one into Tennessee to Big Creek Gap, then turn east to Cumberland Gap. The second group goes through Rogers Gap, into Tennessee, and then covers the first group as Cumberland Gap is approached.
Meanwhile, the Confederates panicked when word of a Federal force was spotted at Chattanooga, shelling the city. Reinforcements were rushed to the area, but those who remained behind found more Federals coming from the west.
17 June, 1862: The Confederate commander at Cumberland Gap orders the gap abandoned, falling back into Tennessee.
18 June, 1862: Morgan and his Federals occupy Cumberland Gap, now a natural invasion route into Tennessee.
The feint against Chattanooga worked. There was no longer an organized Confederate army in Kentucky, and eastern Tennessee was open to invasion. Western Tennessee was already being penetrated by Federal troops, as evident by the Union victories at Forts Henry and Donelson in February, 1862.
Even though Federal troops got close, it would be another year before Chattanooga wound be in Federal hands.
Johnston had his job cut out for him.
The country must now be roused to make the greatest effort that it will be called upon to make during the war. No matter what the sacrifice may be, it must be made, and without loss of time…All the resources of the Confederacy are now needed for the defense of Tennessee.---General Albert S. Johnston.
Colonel Garfield would be promoted to Brigadier General after Middle Creek. He would enter politics after the war and would become the 20th President of the United States. He was assassinated in 1881 by a failed office seeker.
Marshall would not receive another command and briefly left the Confederate Army. After returning to serve in the Army of Tennessee for a while, he went to Richmond to practice law, soon being elected to the Confederate Congress as a representative of a Kentucky district. After the war he resumed law practice and died in 1867.
Morgan was forced to pull back in the face of General Braxton Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky, managing to pull his troops into northern Kentucky. He served in West Virginia and Vicksburg before resigning his commission in 1863 because he was not in favor of the Union Army enlisting African-Americans as troops. Post-war he served as a Representative from Ohio. He died in 1893.
Buell would go on to command the Army of the Ohio, being involved in the Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing, TN). He was replaced after Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky and after being assigned to an out of the way post, he resigned in 1864. After the war he became a businessman. He died in 1898.
Johnston would remain in command of Confederate troops until his death at Pittsburg Landing.
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