Mill Springs: the Battle for the Ohio Country Begins

At sunrise on 6 February 1862, a small Confederate army under George B. Crittenden attacked a small Federal force under George H. Thomas near Fishing Creek on the Cumberland River in Kentucky, about a week’s march from Nashville, the capitol of Tennessee.  As Civil War battles go this one was fast and microscopic, but it had momentous consequences for the war, all out of proportion to its size and remote location.

The Confederates, in an attack that would be eerily similar to the attack two months later at Pittsburgh Landing, marched through the rain and fog with ancient weapons, poor organization and even worse discipline to surprise the Federals before their breakfast.  Initially successful, the Confederates were stymied by rallying Federals under Thomas himself, and the death of Felix Zollicoffer, Crittenden’s second-ranking officer.  As the Confederates abandoned the battlefield, in their hasted to cross the Cumberland they abandoned precious artillery (about two batteries’ worth) and supplies, as well as their wounded.  The bulk of the fighting, where less than a thousand casualties were incurred, was done by noon.  The battle is best known as Mill Springs if you’re a Yankee, or Logan’s Cross Roads if you’re a Confederate.

Tactically inconsequential, it made both the Richmond and Washington governments pay closer attention to the Ohio country, where fully a quarter of the population lived.  The Confederacy, for their part, sent PGT Beauregard, the victor of Mananas, to assist Confederate commander Albert S. Johnson in the fight to preserve the area.  The Union sent more troops and gunboats to aid Henry W. Halleck, the Federal commander.  Soon, while George B. McClellan whipped the Army of the Potomac into shape, a new general’s star rose in Middle Tennessee: a quiet, unassuming officer named US Grant.

The Devil”s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War by John D. Beatty, describes the run up to the momentous April 1862 battle in the pine barrens of Tennessee.  “No study of the war in Middle Tennessee is complete without consideration of Beatty’s ideas,” one critic said.  Available in paper and PDF at fine booksellers everywhere.

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