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- The Army of the Cumberland - 3/43 -


1862 he assumed command in person of the rebel forces at Beech Grove. The fact that Zollicoffer had established his camp on the north side of the Cumberland, "with the enemy in front and the river behind," was known to Johnston, and information given by him to Crittenden. General Johnston had written Zollicoffer that the interest of the service required him simply to watch the river, and that he could do this better from Mill Springs without crossing it.

Zollicoffer, however, had crossed the river before he heard from Johnston, and replied that, while from this letter he inferred that he should not have done so, it was now too late, as his means of recrossing were so limited that he could hardly accomplish it in the face of the enemy. On his reaching the Cumberland with his command, he had sent forward his cavalry to seize the ferryboats at Mill Springs. In this they failed, and the crossing was effected on one ferry-boat, seized lower down, and barges built by his troops.

General Thomas was ordered in November to concentrate his command in order to be prepared for any movement Zollicoffer might make, and, if necessary, to attack him in his camp. General Carter with his brigade was stationed at London, Colonel Hoskins was near Somerset, and Colonel Bramlette at Columbia, all watching Zollicoffer's movements, and reporting them to General Thomas, who endeavored to stop his advance at the Cumberland River. Five hundred of Wolford's Cavalry were ordered from Columbia to reinforce Colonel Hoskins; and General Schoepff, with the Seventeenth Ohio, the Thirty-eighth Ohio, and Standart's battery, to take position on the Cumberland River at Waitsborough, where he could command the crossing. Here he was to fortify and guard the river at this point and above and below, to prevent the enemy from crossing, or from obtaining the means for doing so.

On December 2d, Zollicoffer, while building his ferries, sent some troops to shell General Schoepff's camp. A brisk cannonading was kept up for some time, when the rebels withdrew. Schoepff regarding this as a feint, and anticipating a movement of Zollicoffer's troops to cross the river, ordered two companies of cavalry under Captain Dillon to guard the ford and to give timely notice of any attempt to effect a crossing. He also ordered the Seventeenth Ohio with three pieces of artillery and another company of cavalry, all under the command of Colonel Connell, to support the cavalry under Dillon. The latter proved wholly incompetent, and failed to comply with his orders in any particular. He went into camp two miles in the rear from where he was ordered, and neglected even to post his men to guard the ford, whereby Zollicoffer was enabled to occupy the north bank of the Cumberland without opposition and without Dillon's even knowing that the movement had been made. This was only discovered on the 4th, when the rebels drove back the Federal cavalry and attacked Connell, who was advancing on a reconnoissance. Connell, in ignorance of the movement of the enemy, had reached the vicinity of the ford and found himself confronted by a strong force of rebels, who had crossed the river, and who being rapidly re-enforced rendered his situation one of extreme peril. He withdrew under cover of the night beyond Fishing Creek, without being molested. Schoepff, finding that the advance of the rebels was supported by reinforcements and that Zollicoffer's entire force was slowly crossing, which would make the enemy's force in his front largely exceed his own, asked General Carter at London to reinforce him. He also ordered Colonel Coburn with the Thirty-third Indiana to move from Crab Orchard to his support; and on the 6th established his camp in a strong position three miles north of Somerset, where he was able to command both the Stanford and the Crab Orchard roads. Here Carter reported with two regiments on the 9th, Colonel Van Deveer's regiment, the Thirty-fifth Ohio, with Captain Hewitt's battery having already arrived. On the 8th, the rebel cavalry crossed Fishing Creek and reconnoitered the Federal camps. They were fired on by Wolford's cavalry, which then fell back; and after a brisk skirmish with the Thirty-fifth Ohio they were driven back with a loss of two or three men on each side.

General Buell had ordered Thomas to keep his immediate command at Columbia, and had directed him not to send any more troops to Schoepff at Somerset, considering that the latter had sufficient force to drive the rebels across the Cumberland. Thomas was directed to hold himself in readiness to make an immediate movement, when ordered, from Columbia on the rebel General Hindman, who with some seven thousand troops was operating in that vicinity, throwing out his cavalry far in advance of his main column, and feeling the position of the Federal forces. Hindman had been ordered by General Johnston to make a diversion in favor of Zollicoffer; and when Thomas from Columbia checked Hindman's advance, the latter reported that the force under Thomas had not been weakened to reinforce Schoepff, or to strengthen the main command at Bowling Green, and that Zollicoffer was in no immediate danger.

Schoepff with his entire command on the 18th made a reconnoissance to determine the location and purposes of the rebel force. Pushing his command forward he drove their cavalry pickets in and found that Zollicoffer had been intrenching his camp, his line of fortifications extending from the river to Fishing Creek and his camp being in the angle formed by the junction of this stream with the Cumberland. Having accomplished this, and not intending to bring on an engagement, Schoepff returned with his command to their encampment north of Somerset.

Buell now finding that the only rebel force encamped in Eastern Kentucky was that under Zollicoffer, and deeming it important that he be driven from the State, modified his previous order to Thomas, and on December 29th directed him to advance against Zollicoffer from Columbia and attack on his left flank. He also ordered Schoepff to attack him in front. Two days later Thomas started from Lebanon with the Second Brigade, under command of Colonel Manson, and two regiments of Colonel McCook's brigade, Kinney's battery of artillery, and a battalion of Wolford's cavalry. Heavy rains, swollen streams, and almost impassable roads impeded the movement of the troops so that it was not until the 17th of January that they reached Logan's Cross Roads, ten miles from the rebel encampment. At this point Thomas halted his command and awaited the arrival of the Fourth and Tenth Kentucky, the Fourteenth Ohio, and the Eighteenth United States Infantry, detained in the rear by the condition of the road. He communicated at once with Schoepff, and the same day the latter reported in person. General Thomas directed Schoepff to send him Standart's battery, the Twelfth Kentucky and the First and Second Tennessee regiments, which were to strengthen the command on the immediate front until the arrival of the regiments in the rear. Thomas placed the Tenth Indiana, Wolford's cavalry, and Kinney's battery on the main road leading to the enemy's camp. The Ninth Ohio and the Second Minnesota were posted three-quarters of a mile to the right on the Robertsport road. Strong pickets were thrown out on the main road in the direction of the enemy, with cavalry pickets beyond. Our pickets were fired on and had a skirmish with the rebel pickets on the night of the 17th. On the 18th, the Fourth Kentucky, a battalion of the Michigan Engineers and Wetmore's Battery also reported to Thomas.

Crittenden, on learning that Zollicoffer had crossed the Cumberland, had sent at once an order by courier, post haste, directing him to recross; but on his arrival at Mill Springs he found Zollicoffer still on the north bank, waiting his arrival before retiring. Crittenden gave orders at once for the construction of boats to take his command across the river; but they were not ready when he heard of the approach of General Thomas on January 17th.

On the 18th, Crittenden reported to General Johnston that he was threatened by a superior force of the enemy in his front, and that as he found it impossible to cross the river, he should have to make the fight on the ground he then occupied.

His weekly reports showed eight infantry regiments, four battalions (seventeen companies) of cavalry, and two companies of artillery, making an aggregate of 9,417 men. His circular order of the 18th, directing the order of march in his advance to attack, shows that his army was on the day of battle composed of the same companies, and that his force was about the same.

At midnight, on January 18th, in a heavy winter rain, the Confederate army marched out to battle with Bledsoe's and Saunders's independent cavalry companies in advance. Zollicoffer's brigade of four regiments, with Rutledge's battery of artillery, followed. Then came General Carroll's brigade of four regiments, one in reserve, with McClung's battery of artillery, Brauner's battalion of cavalry on the right, and McClellan's battalion of cavalry on the left, with Cary's battalions in the rear. After a six hours' march through the rain and the mud, the advance struck our cavalry pickets at six o'clock, in the early gray of a winter morning, two miles in front of the Federal camp. Wolford's cavalry slowly fell back, reporting the enemy's advance to Manson, who immediately formed his regiment--the Tenth Indiana--and took position on the road to await the attack. Manson then ordered the Fourth Kentucky, Colonel Speed S. Fry, to support him; and reported to Thomas, in person, the advance of the rebels in force, and the disposition he had made of his troops to meet the attack. General Thomas directed him to return to his brigade immediately, with orders to hold the enemy in check until the other troops could be brought up. Orders were given to the other commanders to form immediately, and in ten minutes they were all marching to the battle-field, except the battalion of Michigan Engineers and a company of the Thirty-eighth Ohio, detailed to guard the camp.

The rebels, in their advance, opened the attack with Walthall's Mississippi and Battle's Tennessee regiments, which as they moved forward, forming the right of the rebel line, encountered the Fourth Kentucky and the Tenth Indiana, formed on the first line to resist their attack in the edge of the woods to their front. The Tennessee regiment endeavored to flank the Fourth Kentucky on the left, while the latter regiment was resisting the rebel attack on the front in a most obstinate manner. Carter's Tennessee brigade was ordered up in position to meet this flanking movement with a section of Kinney's battery; and the attempt of Battle's regiment was checked.

Orders were sent to Colonel McCook to advance with the Ninth Ohio and the Second Minnesota regiments. These regiments coming up occupied the position of the Fourth Kentucky and Tenth Indiana, who by that time were out of ammunition. As soon as this disposition of these troops had been made the enemy opened a most determined and galling fire, pressing our troops at all points. General Thomas's command returned the fire with spirit, and holding their position the contest was maintained for half an hour on both sides most obstinately.

At this time, General Zollicoffer, being in the rear of the Nineteenth Tennessee regiment of his command, became convinced that the Fourth Kentucky (Federal) regiment was a part of his brigade, ordered the Tennessee regiment to cease firing, as they were shooting their own troops. He then rode to the front, where he met Colonel Fry, the commanding officer of the Fourth Kentucky. Zollicoffer stated to Fry that both commands belonged to the same side, and that firing should stop. To this Fry assented and started to order the Fourth Kentucky to cease firing, when one of Zollicoffer's aids coming up,


The Army of the Cumberland - 3/43

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