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Chapter 26: battle of Fishing Creek.

the movement of the Federal army, which had been frustrated in November, was renewed with better success early in January. General Johnston was now confronted by Halleck in the West, and by Buell in Kentucky. With the exception of the army sent under Curtis against Price in Southwestern Missouri, about 12,000 strong, the whole resources of the Northwest, from Pennsylvania to the Plains, were turned against General Johnston's lines in Kentucky. Halleck, with armies at Cairo and Paducah, under Grant and C. F. Smith, threatened equally Columbus, the key of the Mississippi River, and the water-lines of the Cumberland and Tennessee, with their defenses at Forts Donelson and Henry. Buell's right wing also menaced Donelson and Henry, while his centre was directed against Bowling Green, and his left was advancing against Zollicoffer at Mill Spring on the Upper Cumberland. If this last-named position could be forced, the way seemed open to East Tennessee by either the Jacksboro or the Jamestown routes, on the one hand, and to Nashville on the other. At the northeastern corner of Kentucky there was a Federal force, under Colonel Garfield, of Ohio, opposed to Humphrey Marshall's command. Here it was that the fighting first began again.

General Johnston had requested Marshall to send him a regiment, but Marshall replied that “to send him a single man was to risk the ruin of his whole command;” so that the matter was dropped. Marshall had nearly 3,200 men in the district under his command, including 350 enlisted for special service in Virginia, who would not leave that State, and were, therefore, retained at Pound Gap; but all of his troops were not available. Humphrey Marshall was the grandson of one of the earliest Senators from Kentucky, a cousin of chief-justice Marshall. He was a graduate of West point, and had served in the Black-Hawk War, and afterward as a Colonel of Kentucky volunteer cavalry in the Mexican War, and at Buena Vista had won distinction. He was a very vigorous and able lawyer, a shrewd politician, and a man of wit, humor, acumen, and judgment. In fact, his mind was essentially judicial. The writer has rarely known any man who impressed him so strongly in this regard. But he was not a man of action. Besides, his unwieldy size, weighing as he did some 300 or 350 pounds, unfitted him for the field.

Marshall moved forward to Paintsville, on the Big Sandy River, about [391]

battle of Fishing Creek.

[392] the middle of December. This place was thirty-three miles above Louisa, and sixty from the Ohio River. At and near the mouth of the Big Sandy, and in the intervening region, were clustered some half-dozen towns of from 1,000 to 5,000 inhabitants each. The industries supporting this population were chiefly the working of coal and iron, with capital furnished by Ohio men. Hence, the people were generally hostile to the South. Marshall's force, when he reached Paintsville, was 2,240 in number; but his effectives were only 1,967 on January 3, 1862. The following is his force in detail:

Triggs's Fifty-fourth Virginia Regiment578
Williams's Kentucky Regiment594
Moore's Twenty-ninth Virginia Regiment327
Simms's Mounted Battalion360
Jeffries's battery (four guns)58
Worsham's company50

This force was still further reduced to about 1,600 effectives, by mumps and measles, before the engagement with the enemy.

About the same time that Marshall advanced into Kentucky, Buell organized an expedition up the Big Sandy, under Colonel J. A. Garfield. This officer moved up that river, on December 22d, with the Forty-second Ohio Regiment, the Fourteenth Kentucky, and McLaughlin's battalion of Ohio Cavalry, about 1,500 strong. After delaying a week at George's Creek, he passed on to Paintsville. He was reinforced by Bolles's West Virginia Cavalry, 300 men, and by 300 men of the Twenty-second Kentucky Regiment. While this column was moving up the Big Sandy, another, consisting of the Fortieth Ohio Regiment and three battalions of Wolford's cavalry, advanced from Mount Sterling to take Marshall in the rear. To avoid this danger, Marshall fell back some fifteen miles, and took position on Middle Creek, near Prestonburg. On the 3d of January the Confederates captured a sergeant and three men of McLaughlin's cavalry, with their horses, in front of Paintsville. On January 7th Bolles's cavalry engaged the Confederate cavalry-pickets, with a loss of two or three on each side.

On the 9th of January Garfield advanced against Marshall's position at Prestonburg, and on the next day attacked him. The engagement was not a serious one. Garfield reported that he fought all day, engaging only about 900 of his own men, inflicting a heavy loss on the Confederates, and losing only one man killed and twenty wounded. Garfield's report claimed a victory. He says:

At half-past 4 o'clock he (Marshall) ordered a retreat. My men drove him down the slopes of the hills, and at five o'clock he had been driven from every point. [393]

He also claimed to have captured stores of value. On the next day, however, Garfield retired, and fell back to Paintsville.

General Marshall's report, made to General Johnston, differs radically from this. Writing from his camp in Letcher County, January 23d, he says:

General: Since I last wrote, the enemy assailed me in largely superior force, and was effectually and gallantly repulsed by the troops under my command. My loss in the action of the 10th of January is accurately stated at ten killed and fourteen wounded. The loss of the enemy was severe.

Garfield had stated that he captured one captain and twenty-five soldiers. Marshall in his report replies to this that the captain was a sick man, too ill for removal, and that the prisoners were not soldiers, but citizens who have been running ever since the war began like frightened hares-afraid to take arms, afraid to offer a single effort of resistance-and who, if pressed to it, would submit to have their ears cropped to show they have a master.

The report continues:

The firing was kept up, with some intervals, for about four hours, and was, occasionally, very sharp and spirited. My troops behaved remarkably well, had decided advantage in the situation, and maintained it throughout the day .... The enemy did not move me from any one position I assumed, and at nightfall withdrew from the field, leaving me just where I was in the morning. After he had withdrawn, I called my troops down from the hills, and pursued the march which I was executing when the enemy came in sight.

I see by the telegraphic dispatches that the enemy represents his achievement of a victory over me upon the occasion to which I am referring, and says that my troops fled in confusion, etc. I state that this is not only false, but it is an after-thought. ... H e came to attack, yet came so cautiously that my left wing never fired a shot, and he never came up sufficiently to engage my centre or left wing. His force was fired upon by the twelve-pounder howitzer, and at once cleared my front; but, concealed by a point of the hills from my artillery, confined his further efforts to assaults upon my right wing, by which he was repulsed three times.

General Marshall goes on to state that he sent forward Trigg's regiment; but the enemy withdrew, and did not dispute the ground on which the fight had taken place:

The repulse was final. It proved final, for he has never since that day sought in any manner or form to reengage.

Garfield is said to have fallen back fifteen miles to Paintsville; Marshall, seven miles, where he remained two days at the foot of a lofty mountain. He then slowly pursued his retreat. He informed General [394] Johnston that he could not advance with less than 5,000 men; and he could not procure subsistence in the mountains for the men he had. He then fell back, through Pound Gap, into Virginia. Thus Marshall's report is a denial and a contradiction, general and specific, of Garfield's report; and, as it is impossible to reconcile the discrepancies between them, the reader is left to draw his own conclusion.

While Garfield was at Paintsville, he was ordered by General Buell to advance, and got as far as Piketon in February. A month later, he advanced to Pound Gap, with 600 infantry and 100 cavalry; and, having displayed himself in force there, returned down the Big Sandy, without an engagement, and was withdrawn, with his forces, to another theatre of action.

General Felix Kirk Zollicoffer, who commanded the corps in Eastern Kentucky, was the popular idol of the hour in Tennessee, and on many accounts deservedly so. He was of a Swiss family, of knightly rank, settled in North Carolina before the Revolutionary War, in which his grandfather was a captain. His father was a prosperous farmer in Maury County, Tennessee, where Zollicoffer was born May 19, 1812. He began life as a printer, and in 1835 was elected Printer for the State. After several essays in journalism, he became editor of the Republican Banner in 1842, and was noted as a champion of the Whig party. He was then elected Controller of the State, which position he held until 1847. In 1848 he was elected a State Senator, and in 1852 a Representative in the United States Congress, to which position he was reflected. When war seemed almost inevitable, he was elected by the General Assembly of Tennessee as a commissioner to the Peace Congress, from which he returned dejected by its failure to accomplish any useful purpose. Governor Harris offered to appoint him a major-general; but he would only accept the place of brigadier, on account of his inexperience.1

It, however, fell to General Zollicoffer's lot to command a separate army. No man could have brought a more unselfish devotion or a braver heart to the task; but talents which might have rendered the highest services on another arena were here neutralized by want of adaptation to the particular work in hand. What he might have accomplished as a commander, under more favorable circumstances, it is hard to estimate. He certainly had, however, exceptional difficulties to contend with of every possible description; and the tests to which he was subjected might well have overborne native ability of a high order, if unversed in the habits and knowledge of the camp. But the habits of Zollicoffer's entire life and thought had been bent not only into a different, but into an opposite direction. He could not drill a squad [395] himself, nor was his brigade ever drilled or put in line of battle by anybody. Though he had a splendid courage, and traits that endeared him to his troops, the cast of his mind was no more military than his training. But he was a good, brave, noble, patriotic man; and his memory deserves well of his country.

It will be remembered that General Zollicoffer, having fortified the gaps of the Cumberland Range, had moved westward, under instructions from General Johnston, with the view of taking position where he could command the approaches toward both East Tennessee and Nashville from Central Kentucky; while, at the same time, he might, to some extent, protect the right of the position at Bowling Green. The lack of telegraphic communication, and the wretched character of the roads, made any rapid correspondence, much more any effective cooperation, almost impossible. Still, Zollicoffer could not be drawn in nearer to Bowling Green, without laying open to the enemy a choice of roads into East Tennessee. General Johnston desired to place Zollicoffer, with his limited supplies and half-disciplined troops, in observation merely, until such time as he could reinforce his army or incorporate it with the main body under his own command.

As Zollicoffer proceeded north, through Jamestown, Tennessee, and Albany, Kentucky, he reported that the country in Tennessee was sterile and unproductive; while Wayne and Clinton Counties, and part of Pulaski County, in Kentucky, were comparatively abundant in forage and subsistence. The Cumberland River, making a big bend to the north from Cumberland Ford, describes almost a semicircle before it enters Tennessee, near Martinsburg. At one of its most advanced salients to the north is Mill Springs, on the south bank of the river. Zollicoffer describes this point as commanding the converging roads from Somerset and Columbia, as in a fertile and well-stocked country, with provisions plenty and cheap, and as possessing the advantage of a grist and saw mill, which would aid materially in supplying food for his army and lumber for huts. He stated that there was plenty of wood and water, and that the position was capable of easy defense. Already, on the 24th of November, before he reached Albany on his march, he had been warned by snow, succeeding the cold rains, that winter was at hand.

On November 30th, Zollicoffer, writing from Mill Springs, tells General Johnston that his cavalry had failed to seize the ferry-boats on the river; but that he is “preparing to provide the means of crossing the river.” He also says, “So soon as it is possible, I will cross the river in force.” But it was not clear from the context whether he was going to cross for a lodgment, or merely on an expedition to harass the enemy.

General Johnston had written a letter to General Zollicoffer, on [396] December 4th, approving entirely of every one of his moves so far, and informing him of the steps taken to send him supplies, etc. He adds:

The most essential route to be guarded is that leading through Somerset and Monticello, as, in my opinion, most practicable for the enemy.

On the same day, General Johnson wrote again, using this language:

Mill Springs would seem to answer best to all the demands of the service; and from this point you may be able to observe the river, without crossing it, as far as Burkesville, which is desirable.

On the 9th of December Zollicoffer informed General Johnston that he had crossed the Cumberland that day, with five infantry regiments, seven cavalry companies, and four pieces of artillery, about two-thirds of his whole force, which in all reached less than 6,000 effectives. On December 10th he wrote again:

Your two dispatches of the 4th reached me late last night. I infer from yours that I should not have crossed the river, but it is now too late. My means of recrossing are so limited I could hardly accomplish it in face of the enemy.

Major-General George B. Crittenden had been assigned to the command of this district by the President. The high rank given him has been cited by Pollard, who speaks of him as a captain in the old army, as a piece of favoritism. But this is an error. He was one of the senior officers who resigned. He was a graduate of West Point, of the year 1832. He resigned, and was reappointed a captain in the Mounted Rifles in 1846, was brevetted major for “gallant and meritorious conduct in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco, Mexico,” was made a major in 1848, and lieutenant-colonel in 1856. He was a Kentuckian, of a family distinguished for gallantry and talents, and known as an intelligent and intrepid officer; and it was hoped that his long service would enable him to supplement the inexperience of the gallant Zollicoffer. Crittenden took command of the district, November 24th, and made his headquarters at Knoxville. Thither General Johnston telegraphed him to dispatch without delay the supplies and intrenching-tools sent there for Zollicoffer, and to send at once a regiment and battery to his support. He added this significant intimation, sufficient for a trained soldier: “He has crossed the Cumberland at Mill Springs; has the enemy in front and the river behind, and is securing his front.” Still, General Johnston did not contemplate any aggressive movement by Zollicoffer, after the instructions given, unless, of course, the enemy could be taken at disadvantage.

Had Zollicoffer, when he reached the Cumberland, succeeded in seizing the ferry-boats, as he attempted, and, crossing promptly, attacked [397] Schoepf at once, he would probably have met but slight resistance. Schoepf had three regiments, a battery, and some cavalry, scattered through that neighborhood. Zollicoffer, as related above, was delayed in crossing. The movements then made by his forces revealed, to a great extent, both his strength and his purposes to his adversary. While constructing his ferries he sent some troops, on December 2d, and shelled a small force of the enemy posted on the north bank, and compelled it to move. On the 4th he threw over a small cavalry-picket, which drove back the Federal horse, and caused a precipitate retreat of the Seventeenth Ohio, which was advancing on reconnaissance. Next day the pickets wounded and captured Major Helvetti and Captain Prime, engineer-officers, and along with them a corporal. On the 7th and 8th the cavalry crossed Fishing Creek and reconnoitred the Federal camps near Somerset. On the 8th, at Fishing Creek, the cavalry was fired on by Wolford's cavalry and the Thirty-fifth Ohio Infantry, but charged these forces, killing ten and capturing sixteen, inclusive of the wounded. One Confederate was wounded, and two horses killed. On the 11th an expedition sent out by Zollicoffer attacked a small body of Federals, who were posted at Lairsville, thirty miles distant toward Columbia. It routed the Federals, killing three and capturing ten. One Confederate was drowned, the only loss sustained.

In the mean time Schoepf, overawed and put upon his guard, retired three miles behind Somerset, intrenched himself in a strong position, and called loudly in every quarter for reinforcements. General Carter, who was at London, brought two regiments to his aid, arriving on the 7th. Thomas sent him a regiment and a battery, and on the 11th another regiment. Several regiments also concentrated at Columbia under General Boyle. Zollicoffer's letters correctly estimate the force of the enemy at Somerset at seven infantry regiments and some cavalry, which agrees with Van Horne's account. He expected to be attacked, but kept his force divided, five regiments in his intrenchments, and two on the south bank to protect his communications.

General Thomas's command, occupying the country east of Lebanon, consisted at this time of a division made up of sixteen infantry regiments, a regiment and squadron of cavalry, and three batteries. The force at Columbia was not included in this estimate. On the 18th Schoepf discovered, by a reconnaissance in force, that Zollicoffer was intrenching, and justly reached the conclusion that his purpose was defensive.

On the 29th of December General Buell ordered Thomas to advance against Zollicoffer, moving by Columbia, and to attack his left so as to cut him off from his bridge, while Schoepf attacked him in front. He adds: [398]

The result should be at least a severe blow to him, or a hasty flight across the river. But, to effect the former, the movement should be made rapidly and secretly, and the blow should be vigorous and decided. There should be no delay after your arrival.

On December 31st General Thomas started from Lebanon. His column consisted of eight and a half regiments; namely, Manson's brigade of four regiments, three of McCook's regiments, Wolford's cavalry, a battalion of Michigan engineers, and three batteries of artillery. Rains, high water, and bad roads, impeded their progress; so that it was the 17th of January before they reached Logan's Cross Roads, ten miles from Zollicoffer's intrenched camp.2 Here Thomas took position to await four of his regiments that had not come up. To secure himself he communicated with Schoepf, and obtained from him a reinforcement of three regiments under General Carter, and a battery. This gave him eleven regiments, and a battalion, besides artillery. The remainder of Schoepf's force must have been near by, and in supporting distance, as they joined in the pursuit. Such was Thomas's position on the morning of the 19th of January.

About New-Year's-day General Crittenden had arrived at Zollicoffer's headquarters at Beech Grove. In his letter of December 10th Zollicoffer had written as follows:

This camp is immediately opposite to Mill Springs, one and a quarter mile distant. The river protects our rear and flanks. We have about 1,200 yards' fighting front to defend, which we are intrenching as rapidly as our few tools will allow. . . . I will endeavor to prevent the forces at Somerset and Columbia from uniting. The proximity of the terminus of the railroad at Lebanon would seem to give them the means of rapidly reinforcing my front. The position I occupy north of the river is a fine basis for operations in front. It is a much stronger natural position for defense than that on the south bank. I think it should be held at all hazards. But I ought to have a stronger force.

With further reference to this position, General Zollicoffer said:

Fishing Creek runs south into the Cumberland, five miles below 3 Mill Springs, and lies between our position and Somerset. It is more than thirty miles long, runs in a deep ravine 200 to 300 feet deep, and its summit level on the east ranges from half a mile to one and a half mile distant from that on the west. There are two crossings to Somerset, seven and eleven miles from here.

Crittenden's weekly return for January 7, 1862, of the troops at Beech Grove, shows some increase of force. He had eight infantry regiments, four battalions of cavalry (seventeen companies), and two artillery-companies; an aggregate, present and absent, of 9,417 men, [399] but, numbering effectives (present for duty), of 333 officers and 6,111 rank and file. As his army was composed of the same commands on the day of the battle, the above numbers give his approximate force at that time.

General Crittenden informs the writer that, as soon as he learned that Zollicoffer had crossed the river, he sent a courier post-haste ordering him to recross. When he arrived at Mill Springs he found Zollicoffer still on the north side, waiting his arrival before retiring. Crittenden immediately detailed parties to construct boats, but they were not ready when he learned of Thomas's approach.

His first intimation to General Johnston of Thomas's approach was the following letter, written January 18th:

sir: I am threatened by a superior force of the enemy in front, and, finding it impossible to cross the river, I shall have to make the fight on the ground I now occupy. If you can do so, I would ask that a diversion be made in my favor.

A diversion was made by Hindman, on the receipt of this, but with no important consequences, as the next day decided the fate of Crittenden's army.

Crittenden's letter was inaccurately worded, and must probably have referred rather to the impossibility of removing his stores and artillery than to the feasibility of retiring with his troops from the position at Beech Grove. He had a stern-wheel steamboat sufficient for the latter purpose, though probably not available for the former. In fact, on the morning of the 18th, he did take over three regiments from the south to the north bank of the river; and between midnight and daylight on the 19th his whole army, though demoralized, and with many wounded, was carried over by it. His supplies were scanty, but not exhausted; and, though his communications with Nashville were threatened by Thomas's approach, he had time and means to retire upon supports more easily before than after a battle, though not without such loss of artillery and prestige as no general would incur except in the most desperate circumstances.

It was stated apologetically, after the battle, that the ground in front of the intrenchments gave no range for the Confederate artillery, and yet offered no formidable obstacle to an infantry assault. This would imply a serious error in the estimate of the strength of their position by the Confederate generals — in Zollicoffer's selection, and Crittenden's maintenance of it. Another statement was, that the Confederate force was insufficient to man the intrenchments. Zollicoffer states the length of his line at 1,200 yards. Six thousand men would fully man 2,000 yards, and, according to the Confederate notions, double that distance. Crittenden, however, arrived at the conclusion [400] to assail Thomas after a full consultation and the unanimous approval of his officers.

While awaiting the attack of the enemy, a heavy winter rain falling, Crittenden learned that a rise in Fishing Creek was inevitable, and would separate Thomas from Schoepf. It was afterward alleged that he was deceived by a treacherous guide, but this rumor is sufficiently accounted for by the ill-success of the expedition, and an incident related by General Walthall which will be given in its place. Crittenden, therefore, came to the sudden resolution of marching out and attempting to take the enemy in detail, attacking Thomas first. He called a council of officers, however, and laid the matter before them. All of them were in favor of the movement under the circumstances, and many of them thought the attack the best thing to be done under any circumstances. General Crittenden's special error was not in attacking at Logan's Cross Roads, instead of defending Beech Grove; it was in being caught on the north side of the river, and having to fight at all. General Johnston's instructions looked to a defensive campaign by that corps, and there was nothing in its condition to warrant an aggressive movement.

It is apparent to us now that Thomas, after thirty-six hours delay at Logan's Cross Roads, would be in full communication with and supporting distance of Schoepf, and that to surprise or rout him there was almost hopeless; but such was not the information on which Crittenden acted, and we should guard our censure of the general who leads his whole force to attack, even when he fails.

The men had been standing all day in the trenches exposed to a constant and pelting rain, and, having been suddenly called to arms and hourly expecting an attack, had had neither time nor opportunity to prepare food. They were now hurriedly put in motion. At midnight, on the 18th of January, the Confederate army marched against the enemy in this order: First, with Bledsoe's and Saunders's independent cavalry companies a-a vanguard, Zollicoffer's brigade ; thus Walthall's Fifteenth Mississippi Regiment in advance, followed by Rutledge's battery, and Cummings's Nineteenth, Battle's Twentieth, and Stanton's Twenty-fifth Tennessee Regiments. Then came Carroll's brigade, as follows: Newman's Seventeenth, Murray's Twenty-eighth, and Powell's Twenty-ninth Tennessee Regiments, with two guns under Captain McClung, and Wood's Sixteenth Alabama Regiment in reserve. Branner's and McClelland's battalions of cavalry were placed on the flanks and rear.

A cold rain continued to fall upon the thinly-clad Confederates, chilling them to the marrow, but they toiled painfully along. The road was rough, and very heavy with the long rain following severe freezes. Unencumbered with artillery, the infantry would have made [401] poor progress in the darkness, rain, and mud, but, as the guns from the first began to mire down, the foot-soldiers were called on to help them along. Hence it was six o'clock, or daylight, before the advance-guard struck the enemy's pickets, two miles in front of the Federal camps. It had been six hours getting over eight miles, and the rear was still fully three miles behind.

When the Mississippians under Walthall, followed by Battle's Tennessee Regiment, encountered the Federal pickets, they met no resistance, and, pressing rapidly forward in obedience to orders, increased the interval between themselves and the next regiment in the column to about one mile. It was thus that Walthall's and Battle's regiments came upon the first line Thomas had thrown forward to receive them.

General Thomas's troops were encamped on each side of the road, with a wood in their front from one-fourth to a half a mile through. In front of the wood were fields about 300 yards across, and beyond this, again, a low ridge parallel with the wood. The Confederates promptly crossed the ridge and fields, and found a force in the edge of the wood in their front. This consisted of the Fourth Kentucky and Tenth Indiana Regiments. General Crittenden had warned them, in the council of war, of the danger of firing into their friends, especially as many of the Southern troops wore blue uniforms, and to avoid this risk they had adopted as a password “Kentucky.” The morning was dark and misty, and nothing could be seen of the opposing force except a line of armed men. The skirmishers reported to Walthall that this was Battle's command. Walthall made his regiment lie down behind a slight elevation, and, going forward to some high ground, hailed the troops in his front, “What troops are those?” The answer was, “Kentucky.” He called again, “Who are you?” and the answer came as before, “Kentucky.” He then went back and got his colors, and, returning, once more asked the same question, and received the same answer. He then unfurled his flag, and immediately the Federal line opened upon him with a volley. He turned to order forward his regiment, and found that Lieutenant Harrington, who had followed him without his knowledge, was lying dead by him, pierced by more than twenty balls. The flag was riddled, and the staff cut, but Colonel Walthall was untouched. It was this incident that led to the belief that the password was betrayed to the enemy by the guide; but the answer, coming from the Fourth Kentucky, was the natural and proper one.

The Mississippians drove this regiment from its cover, and, after a severe struggle, it fell back fighting. In the mean time the Tenth Indiana Regiment, coming to the aid of the Fourth Kentucky, was met by the Mississippians and Battle's Twentieth Tennessee, which [402] had formed on their right. A strenuous combat ensued at the forks of the road, Wolford's cavalry supporting the Federal troops. The Ninth Ohio also became engaged; but, after a desperate conflict, the whole Federal line was driven back. It now appeared as if the Southern troops, having carried the rest of the field, were about to win the crest of a hill, which was the key to the position. Just then the Second Minnesota came up, and held the ground until the beaten regiments could rally upon it, which they did with spirit. The Confederates still seemed for a good while on the point of gaining the summit, where the Federals made a desperate stand, but were unable to carry it.

In the mean time the Nineteenth Tennessee had come up on the left of the Mississippians, and found itself opposed in the woods to the Fourth Kentucky, which had returned to the conflict. In the darkness of the morning it was difficult to distinguish between the Federals and Confederates, many of the latter still wearing blue uniforms. General Zollicoffer was convinced that the regiment in his front was Confederate, and peremptorily ordered the Nineteenth Tennessee to cease firing, as they were firing upon their own troops. He then rode across toward the Federal line to put a stop to the firing there. Just as he entered the road, he met a Federal officer, Colonel Speed S. Fry, of the Fourth Kentucky, and said to him quietly, “We must not shoot our own men.” General Zollicoffer wore a white gum overcoat, which concealed his uniform, and Colonel Fry, supposing him to be a Federal officer, replied, “I would not, of course, do so intentionally.” Zollicoffer, then, pointing to the Nineteenth Tennessee, said, “Those are our men.” Colonel Fry then started toward his regiment to stop their firing, when Major Fogg, Zollicoffer's aide, coming out of the wood at this instant, and clearly perceiving that Fry was a Federal, fired upon him, wounding his horse. Fry, riding away obliquely, saw his action, and turning, discharged his revolver. The ball passed through General Zollicoffer's heart, and he fell exactly where he had stood. Zollicoffer was near-sighted, and never knew that Fry was an enemy. His delusion was complete, as Major Fogg and others had remonstrated with him about going to the front. Major Fogg was also wounded.

The Nineteenth Tennessee now stood waiting for orders, without firing a gun, until it was flanked and broken. In the mean time the Twenty-fifth Tennessee entered the wood without direction, and engaged the enemy. Immediately its colonel was severely wounded; and, being without support on either flank, it, too, suffered and retired. The remainder of the column had come up and taken position in reserve, and toward the left of the field Murray's regiment, which last entered the fight, now experienced the same fate with the Twenty-fifth Tennessee. Rutledge's battery, which had been for some time in position in reserve, retired under orders, as is said, of General Crittenden, without [403] having fired a gun. The Federal right, in pressing upon the front and left flank of the Tennesseeans, was able to come to very close quarters without much loss, while their adversaries suffered a good deal, owing to the disparity in arms. The Tennesseeans were armed with old flintlock muskets, which having got wet were almost useless. Nevertheless, the Federal line was arrested at about one hundred yards' distance, and held at bay some twenty minutes. The Confederate line then gave way, and was allowed to retreat without pursuit. On the Confederate right, Walthall's regiment had continued its struggle with the Second Minnesota, and Battle's regiment had held Carter's brigade at bay, until these three regiments closed upon its flank and almost in its rear, and it, too, retired. Walthall, now finding one of these regiments almost across his path, and his command nearly surrounded, also withdrew his men, having with him in his retreat a portion of Battle's regiment, under Captain Rice.

The Mississippi Regiment and Battle's Twentieth Tennessee had borne the brunt of the day. The former had lost over 220 men out of 400 who had gone into battle. The Twentieth Tennessee lost half as many more, those two regiments thus suffering over three-fourths of all the casualties on that day. They had the advance, and were better armed than the other troops. But, had they been supported by the remainder of the column with half the valor and determination which the same troops subsequently exhibited on other fields, the result would probably have been different. Their inferior arms, want of discipline, bad handling, and fatigue, sufficiently account for their ill-success.

The defeated army was followed by the victorious Federals nearly to the intrenchments at Beech Grove. In the pursuit, if their cautious advance can be so called, checked as it was repeatedly by a rear-guard formidable even in defeat, the Fourteenth Ohio and Tenth Kentucky, with General Schoepf's whole brigade, joined. Approaching the intrenched camp at Beech Grove, General Thomas opened an artillery-fire on it, to little purpose, however. He also made his arrangements to assault it next morning.

The situation of the Confederate army was now extremely perilous. In its disorganized condition it could not have resisted the combined attack of Thomas and Schoepf. There was but one thing to be done, and that was to get away. The troops remained quietly in the intrenchments until midnight, and then between that hour and daylight escaped, by means of a steamer and some barges at the landing, without having excited the suspicions of the enemy. Crittenden got his whole force safely across the river, including all the wounded able to travel; but he was compelled to leave behind him all of his badly wounded, all of his cannon, his supplies, and, indeed, whatever constitutes the equipment [404] of an army. Having thus saved the remnant of his command, he burned his boats, and moved his tired army, on the Monticello road, toward Nashville.

The condition of the Confederate army was truly deplorable. On the night of the 18th it had marched ten miles; and on the 19th, after a fierce battle, had retreated to its camp. That night it had stood at the breastworks till midnight, then crossed the river; and now, without sleep and without food, it struggled through the rain and cold of a winter night to reach some place where it might be secure from assault. For several days the troops endured terrible hardships. The scanty supplies of a wasted country, hastily collected and issued without system, were insufficient for the subsistence of the army; and, though the commissary department made extraordinary efforts, many of the troops had nothing better than parched corn to sustain life. Crittenden marched his army through Monticello and Livingston to Gainsboro, and, finally, by General Johnston's orders, took position at Chestnut Mound, where he was in reach of relief from Nashville. During his retreat his army became much demoralized, and two regiments, whose homes were in that neighborhood, almost entirely abandoned their organization, and went every man to his own house. A multitude deserted, and the tide of fugitives filled the country with dismay.

The battle fought at Logan's Cross Roads, also called the battle of Fishing Creek, or of Mill Springs, was most disastrous to the Confederate arms. General Thomas lost 39 killed and 207 wounded in the five regiments most hotly engaged. The casualties are not reported in other organizations. General Crittenden thought the Confederate loss was about 300. It was estimated by some as high as 500. At the time, it was stated in the Confederate accounts that the loss was 115 killed, 116 wounded, and 45 prisoners. This could not have included many of the wounded who escaped with the army. Van Horne says: “He lost, in killed, wounded, and prisoners, 392 men. Of this aggregate, 192 were killed.” The writer is not aware of the data on which Van Horne bases his statement, but is inclined to think his estimate of the aggregate loss nearly correct. In every point of view, the large number of killed compared to the wounded is a very striking fact, and indicates fighting at close quarters, and the superiority of the firearms of the Federals. Van Home also reports the capture of “twelve pieces of artillery, a heavy amount of ammunition, a large number of small-arms, 150 wagons, more than a thousand horses and mules, and abundant quartermaster and commissary stores.”

The death of Zollicoffer was a great blow to the Tennesseeans. He was more than a mere popular leader; he was a patriot, full of noble and generous qualities. His people felt his death as a personal bereavement, and still cherish his memory with tender and reverent regret. His [405] fall and the Confederate slaughter were treated with indecent and ferocious exultation by camp-followers who wrote for the Northern press, and by others. But a better and more generous spirit also prevailed, which, it is to be hoped, more truly represented the feelings of the brave men who won the victory. Zollicoffer's body was borne into a tent, by Thomas's orders, and identified by Colonel Connell, of the Seventeenth Ohio, and others who knew him. An eye-witness, writing to the Cincinnati Enquirer, thus describes him:

A tall, rather slender man, with thin brown hair, high forehead somewhat bald, Roman nose, firm, wide mouth, and clean-shaved face. A pistol-ball had struck him in the breast, a little above the heart, killing him instantly. His face bore no expression such as is usually found on those who fall in battle-no malice, no reckless hate, not even a shadow of physical pain. It was calm, placid, noble. But I have never looked on a countenance so marked with sadness. A deep dejection had settled on it.

General Zollicoffer's body was embalmed, carried around by Lebanon, and sent by General Buell through his lines under flag of truce. A negotiation for an exchange of prisoners was begun by General Buell, during which he accepted a proposal of General Johnston to exempt from captivity surgeons in charge of the wounded. General Buell's conduct and this correspondence evince that the usages and amenities of civilized warfare had not been forgotten in these armies.

Crittenden had a lot still harder for a brave soldier than that of his dead colleague. Skulking slanderers were charging him, up and down the country, with cowardice and treasonable correspondence with the enemy. He was also charged with drunkenness; but the writer has the evidence of impartial witnesses, who saw him on that day, that he was perfectly sober. No shadow of doubt rests, in any fair mind, on his simple fidelity, his spotless integrity, and his dauntless courage. Though unfortunate, he was a stout soldier and an honorable gentleman. With most of his troops, personal devotion to a leader was almost essential to success. He was new and strange to them; and, when Zollicoffer fell, they were ready to despair.

One circumstance in connection with this battle, which has not been sufficiently pointed out, deserves consideration. It is the great disparity in arms. While the Federals were fully equipped and well supplied with good weapons, the Confederates, with the exceptions already mentioned, had but few good arms; the remainder, old squirrel-rifles and fowling-pieces. Such disparity makes an incalculable difference in effectiveness of fire; and, with anything like equal numbers and equal prowess, such effectiveness must decide most battles. Raw troops, decimated before they can bring the enemy within range, become disheartened and demoralized, and are beaten before they strike a blow. Such was the case in this instance with most of the Southern troops. [406]

Crittenden's attack on Thomas was as much a surprise to General Johnston as the result could have been to the defeated commander. His line was broken; his position at Bowling Green apparently turned on that flank, and an army on which he counted demolished. His correspondence, however, shows no vestige of reproach, no trace of harshness that might add to the pain of his unsuccessful subordinate. This biography has evinced that he was singularly tolerant of the faults of others, and he was too wise to treat calamity as a crime. It is true that Crittenden, stung by popular clamor, demanded a court of inquiry, which was subsequently ordered by the Secretary of War. But General Johnston's letters make no allusion to the defeat. That was past. His whole attention was turned to saving what could be saved of that army; and all his letters were directed to the business of restoring its efficiency — to its proper location, to its commissariat, transportation, rearmament, and reorganization.

General Johnston, in writing to General Crittenden, February 3d, after enumerating the various steps taken for his assistance, closes thus:

When Colonel Claiborne returns, I shall be informed of all the wants of your command, and take measures to have you amply provided.

Writing about the same time to the adjutant-general, he concludes his letter:

I have taken every measure necessary to reorganize and place immediately on an efficient footing the command of Major-General Crittenden.

Schoepf followed Crittenden to Monticello, and then returned. Thomas did not pursue his victory, for reasons sufficiently obvious. The season of the year, the rugged and exhausted country, drained of its supplies, the almost impassable roads, and the danger of concentration against him by forces of whose strength he was ignorant, made a further advance hazardous. Moreover, his troops could be more efficiently employed on another field, and he was recalled by General Buell to take part in a combined movement against Bowling Green. Before his command reached there, the condition of affairs had changed; and it was moved round by water, in the early days of March, to Nashville, which, by that time, had fallen into Buell's hands.

1 These facts are taken from a spirited sketch in Ware's Valley Montily (April, 1876), by General Marcus J. Wright.

2 The particulars of Thomas's movements are from his official reports, and from Van Horne's “Army of the Cumberland.”

3 Probably a slip of the pen for above.

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