The early morning dew beckoned, as the shadows seemed to dance. A far-off sound of rustling leaves gave proof that they were there in the sacred soil of Mill Springs. Silhouettes of yesterday glimmered for a brief moment and then disappeared over yonder hill.
The scene was set and the cast dyed. They were coming to once again walk upon the wind and was reflective of January 19, 1862.
The sleepy villa of Logan’s Crossroads was awakened by the sounds of war, as the artillery, cavalry and infantry of two clashing armies engaged in warfare.
It had been raining which created a mist that meandered over the land. The roads were muddy, making travel slow and hazardous. Confederate Brigadier General Zollicoller was under orders of General Crittenden to advance. Unbeknownst to them, the Federal forces under General Thomas had been reinforced by General Schoepf.
A fierce battle began with both sides yielding and then gaining ground. The Confederates seemed to have the advance and advanced but due to the saturated ground, mud, smoke from the weapons entwined with the fog, the difficulty in navigating the terrain, plus the stiff resistance of the Federal forces, the advance stalled.
General Zollicoffer led his brigade from the front. He was very near-sighted and his glasses were fogged from the weather.
Thinking that the Federal forces were Confederates who were firing upon his 19th Tennessee men, he rode in and ordered them to stop firing. His uniform was concealed by his raincoat and the visibility was poor. Neither Colonel Fry (Federal) or General Zollicoffer (Confederate) recognized each other but as Zollicoffer rode off, Captain Fogg (one of Zollicoffer’s staff members) charged out of the woods trying to warm his general. The Federal troops returned the fire, resulting in killing General Zollicoffer as well as Captain Fogg.
Though his men were confused and staggered by his death, the Confederates continued to put up a stiff resistance. At one point the battle was hand to hand with bayonets and ‘cane knives’. Finally the Federal forces were able concentrate their forces and pushed the Confederates all the way to the river. Had it not been for a steamboat known as the Noble Ellis, all would have been lost. The boat went back and forth all night to take the Confederate troops across the river to safety. At dawn’s early light, the Noble Ellis was torched so it would not fall into Federal hands. It is said that David M. Brown was the man ordered to set fire to that noble steamboat.
The horrid aftermath of battle yielded a grizzly site. An estimated hundred fifty Confederates with and fifty Federal soldiers lay dead upon the field. Confederate casualties were listed as five hundred thirty-three. The Federal After-Action Report stated that the Federal forces suffered two hundred forty-six casualties. But the battle was the first significant victory for the Union and was a moral booster.
As I traveled to the National Reenactment of the Battle of Mill Springs, I contemplated the history and that this may well be the last event held on that sacred soil honoring the men of blue and gray. The anticipation mounted after I paid my respects to Mill Springs National Cemetery located beside the museum and then stopped to pay homage to the Confederate buried upon the sacred soil of the battlefield.
Education day was upon us and everything was ready. Well over two thousand students (51 bus loads!), teachers, chaperones, and parents were greeted by several stations including lady’s attire, farming, General Lee, presentation about the Mill Spring battle, soldiers sharing stories, artillery, cavalry presentations, visit and discussions within the encampments. The students also visited the cemeteries and the history of Mill Springs was discussed.
On Saturday, there were a flurry of events on the agenda. The gates opened at 9 with the sound of Reveille. Army drill continued on the battlefield with a brisk cavalry battle that delighted the spectators. The Ladies Tea and Social was well organized and well attended. General Lee shared reflections of Arlington and the ladies in his life. He stated that, “Beside every good man is a great woman and I was blessed with the greatest, including my mother, wondrous wife, my four daughters, mother-in-law and others who molded my Christian character.” The music of Unreconstructed could be heard amongst those in sutler’s row and the spectators talked to the soldiers within the camps as well as those shopping for new apparel. Several personas walked and shared stories reflective of their character.
The Battle of Mill Springs A Field Report from the Mint Julep
Camping on the hallowed ground where the actual Battle of Mill Springs took place is an experience that affects the soul of everyone present. Also known as the Battle of Fishing Creek or Logan’s Crossroads, Confederate commander Maj. Gen. George B. Crittenden and Union commander Brig. Gen. George H. Thomas clashed here on January 19th, 1862. Knowing this is the last time that a re-enactment can take place at this historic location is very sobering. Many of the re-enactors who are camped here had ancestors who fought in the battle. Some for the Confederacy and some for the Union. There are even those among us who had forefathers on both sides of the field. With this in mind, this weekend of battling will be nothing but intense.
At sunrise on Saturday, November 2nd, 2019, blankets and saddles are thrown onto the cold backs of horses who are still half asleep. Hot breath streams out of their nostrils as cinches are tightened around their taut bellies. Orders have been given to be ready to ride in thirty minutes, so the troopers in the Confederate cavalry camp are preparing to ride. Their enemy is camped just across the valley, so the tension this morning is as thick as the fog that clings to the ground.
Barely able to see the horse and rider in front of them, they move out in columns of two to face their destiny. Stopping to rest on a ridge, they hear the familiar clang and ping of sabers echoing through the dense fog that covers the low ground before them. Then it happens. Bursting from the vapors of the earth-bound cloud at a full gallop are the troops of the Union cavalry. Plunging headlong down the slope of the ridge, the Confederates scream their “Rebel Yell” and the Battle of Mill Springs has begun.
What started out as a reconnaissance patrol has turned into a vicious skirmish. Complete with pistol and saber duels, the early morning air is filled with sounds of battle. The shrillness of the bugle reverberates as both the Confederate and Union commanders issue orders to charge forward or to fall back. For well over an hour both cavalry commanders try to outwit one another, but to no avail. With ammunition running low on both sides, a stalemate is inevitable, which leads to the blue and gray both withdrawing from the field.
By 2:00 PM the fog has lifted and Confederate artillery opens fire from its perch on a lofty hill. Reacting promptly, Union artillery returns fire as blue clad cavalrymen advance toward the Rebel gun placement. Just before reaching the knoll of the hill, Confederate horsemen charge forward and collide with their advancing enemy. A desperate struggle ensues until the boys in blue break rank and begin to fallback down the steep slopes. Being raked with cannister and overwhelmed by enemy pistoleer, the Union cavalry retreat to the safety of their infantry lines that are marching onto the field.
The battle grows by the minute as the Confederate infantry stride over the crest of the ridge and open fire on the ocean of blue uniforms that form a wall before them. Refusing to faulter, the Union forces stand their ground until their flanks are engulfed and their only choice is to fallback. With the assistance of an effective cavalry surge, the Confederates begin to push their enemy and gain significant ground. Unable to match their foe’s momentum, the Union commander has to relinquish the filed to his adversary. Needing to resupply and retrieve his wounded, the Confederate commander decides not to pursue the retreating forces before him and retires his men for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
On Sunday, just before the crack of dawn, Confederate and Union troops are on the move to try and outflank one another. Plagued by thick fog once again, confusion and mayhem are prevalent in the ranks of the blue and gray. Heavy artillery fire shakes the earth and the constant thud of horse’s hooves can be heard in the confines of the dense cloud hovering around the combatants. Line commanders are screaming orders at the top of their lungs to men who are wide eyed and rattled by their inability to see their enemy clearly. Temperatures plunged overnight, so fingers are cold and stiff, and bone joints are feeling the pain of every maneuver. Failing to accomplish their main objective, Confederate and Union officers become disillusioned by the mask of fog and return their troops to camp.
At 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon, the final faceoff is destined to take place and a victor will be named. Both sides are war torn and ragged from their last three confrontations, but true grit and determination are still ever present. Spotting their enemy on a hill, Confederate infantry starts a long frontal approach while their artillery tries to weaken the Union position. Sending his cavalry on a wide sweep, the Confederate commander hopes to keep enemy cavalry busy and ineffective.
Receiving reinforcements, the Union commander has a different battle plan. He will let the exhausted Rebels come to him on his high ground and hopefully deal a final deathblow. To his front, his artillery is very effective in raking the field with cannister and thinning the ranks of Confederate infantry. On his flanks, his cavalry is keeping the Rebel horsemen in check and unable to move the line of skirmish.
Determined to take the hill in front of him, the Confederate commander sends unit after unit up the hill, only to be met by a devastating volley. To his left, his cavalry is being repulsed and his flank is dissolving. His outnumbered artillery is unable to slow the tide of blue uniforms dominating his left. Desperate to carry the day, he sends another assault up the hill only to watch his men cut to shreds.
Seeing his opportunity, the Union commander throws his infantry troops forward and the route begins. Panic rips through the ranks of the Rebels and the casualty count climbs quickly. Faced with the impossible, the Confederate commander hopes to end further bloodshed and calls for a full retreat in order to save the rest of his valiant men. Huzzahs echo across the valley as Union troops celebrate their victory.
For the organizers of the Battle of Mill Springs 2019 Re-enactment, huzzahs and “Rebel Yells” to you for such a great event. The last event on the original battleground was the best.
Thanks to the EMTS, local Police, Volunteers and others who contributed so much of their time to make this event successful. Special thanks to all the reenactors, living historians and those men and women behind the scenes to make this last event on the sacred soil of Mill Springs so wondrous. The Atlanta Campaign did a magnificent job in coordinating and organizing such a large national event. Special thanks to the command staff as well as Rob Van, Brian Merchke, the town of Nancy, The Grand Armies of the Republic, Citizens Companion, and Camp Chase Gazette.
Photos by Vonda Dixon