Chapter 20: military situation in Kentucky.
- General Johnston's arrival in Nashville. -- personal reminiscences, the defense of Tennessee. -- General Johnston's resources and theory. -- letter to President Davis. -- the Confederate line. -- Zollicoffer and Buckner. -- Buckner seizes Bowling Green. -- Federal alarm. -- Confederate advance. -- General Johnston's proclamation. -- considerations determining the line. -- the theatre of War. -- strength of armies. -- Johnston conceals his weakness, his memoranda. -- Federal plans. -- Johnston's staff.
The command intrusted to General Johnston was imperial in extent, his discretion as to military movements was unlimited, and his powers were as large as the theory of the Confederate Government permitted. He lacked nothing, except men and munitions of war, and the means of obtaining them. His army had to be enlisted, before it could be led. Subsistence could be obtained, it is true, through his commissaries; but the country was already drained of material of war to supply its first levies. Even soldiers were to be recruited only through the machinery of the States, by requisitions on their Governors; and to be armed and equipped, by demands on the empty arsenals of the Confederacy. The means which he adopted to carry out his purposes, and the causes that impeded his success, will be detailed as they arise. General Johnston proceeded to Nashville, stopping in Knoxville only long enough to confer with General Felix K. Zollicoffer, who commanded in East Tennessee, and to approve of the arrangements already made by that officer for an advance into Kentucky by way of Cumberland Gap. On the 14th of September General Johnston reached Nashville. He had been looked for with the greatest anxiety by both the people and the State authorities; and his arrival was greeted with a general and spontaneous enthusiasm. An immense multitude gathered about the precincts of the Capitol, and he was compelled to show himself to the excited concourse, and to make a brief response to their words of welcome. Although not a public speaker, his words were apt to have the ring in them that gives the key-note to popular thought. On this occasion he began :
Fellow-soldiers — I call you soldiers, because you all belong to the reserve corps.The public intelligence apprehended the twofold significance of the phrase; it was a people's war, and the whole people would be called upon to maintain it. One of the more sober journals, commenting upon it, observed:
This was a well-timed remark, and showed that, as a military man, he knew what was coming. The South will need all of her force. Every able-bodied man may as well make up his mind to it, and that soon. The great exaltation of public sentiment on this occasion had an assuring and inspiring effect on General Johnston's hopeful temperament. This was the last day that I ever saw my father — the only day after his return from California. I was on my way to the Army of Northern Virginia, in which I held a commission, and saw him for a few hours. He was, of course, full of the cares and business of that eventful day; but, in a full, free, and confidential conversation, I learned the outline of much that had happened to him, and of the matters then in his mind. He was advised by friends to put me on his staff, as I had met some disappointment at the hands of the War Department. But he thought, and I agreed with him at the time, that, for my own sake, and to avoid even the semblance of partiality, it was better for me to forego the pleasure of this association, and serve in the position I had made for myself. This decision, proper as it was in its general aspects, I have often since regretted, for obvious reasons; most of all, that I was not with him in the painful season of his reverses, for such use as I might have been to him, and for the lessons I might have learned in his example. The occasion will be my apology to the generous reader for these personal remarks. When the war began, it was at the extremities of the northern frontier of the Confederacy that the United States had massed its armies, and hither had flocked the Southern youth who had sprung to arms at the first note of the conflict. But the centre, the line of Tennessee from Cumberland Gap to the Mississippi River, had been left temporarily to such protection as the neutrality of Kentucky afforded. A few camps of instruction, in which unarmed recruits were learning the “goose-step,” were magnified by the excited apprehensions of rustics into armies of invasion, and accepted as such by opposing generals. Neutrality, so long as it lasted, served well enough as a breakwater, but when this was swept away there was a gap suddenly left, and an army had to be created to fill it. Now that the pretense of neutrality was cast aside by the United States Government, it was evident that its plans were ripe for a forward movement upon some point of this line. The time had come, therefore, when the Tennessee frontier must be protected by a competent Confederate force so placed as to be most effective, and when its detached corps must be moved in unison, or be destroyed in detail. The occupation of Columbus by General Polk has already been related. This, and the simultaneous seizure of Paducah by General Grant, opposing two hostile armies on the soil of Kentucky, had ended the supposed neutrality of that State. With a strong body at Camp Dick Robinson, and their troops in possession of all the important points on the Ohio River, an advance of the Federals seemed imminent. Although  General Johnston had no force able to cope with that in his front, a bold forward movement and the establishment of a strong line might convince his adversary that he was beginning an offensive campaign, and thus procure such delay as was required for the levy and organization of an army. The few troops under his control, ready for service, used as a skirmish-line, would cover his real operations; and there were both moral and material advantages, for which much might be hazarded, to be secured by striking the first blow. A fertile and populous district in Kentucky would be occupied, and the semblance even of military power might keep at arm's-length the troops designed for the invasion of Tennessee. General Johnston, therefore, determined, while in reality only acting on the defensive, to obtain as many as possible of the advantages of an aggressive movement. The result proved that he had not miscalculated the effects of his policy. General Johnston arrived in Nashville September 14th, and on the same day determined to seize Bowling Green. He placed General S. B. Buckner in charge of the column of advance, telegraphing to Richmond for his appointment as brigadier-general, which was made next day, September 15th. The grounds of his intended movement were given by General Johnston to the President, the day before it was made, in the following letter:
A few days prior to Buckner's movement, General Felix K. Zollicoffer, in accordance with arrangements previously made, advanced to Cumberland Ford with about four thousand men. In the west, Feliciana, thirty miles east of Columbus, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Hopkinsville, were garrisoned with small bodies of troops; and the territory between Columbus and Bowling Green was occupied by moving detachments, which created a vague apprehension of military force and projected enterprises. These dispositions gave the Confederates, when Bowling Green was occupied, an angular base, with its extremities at Columbus and Cumberland Ford, and its salient at Bowling Green. The passes of the Cumberland Mountains into Southwest Virginia, also committed to General Johnston's care, were intrusted to about three hundred militia, enlisted in Virginia for three months for local defense. The movement upon Bowling Green was committed to General S. B. Buckner, as already stated. Buckner, after his resignation, and after some ineffectual attempts to secure the promised neutrality of Kentucky, had gone South, but with no settled purpose of taking up arms. He had refused a commission of brigadier-general; but, at General Johnston's request, he now threw himself into the cause, thinking the moment for action had arrived. Like many others who made great sacrifices for peace,  he suffered more obloquy than fiercer spirits; but the man who questions Buckner's integrity invites doubt of his own honesty or intelligence. General Johnston's instructions to him were as follows:
You will, in order to cover the northern line occupied by the Confederate army in this department, and threatened by the army of the United States, concentrate your command at Bowling Green, Kentucky, and secure and hold this important point in our line of defense . . . Secrecy in preparation and promptness in execution give the best, if not the only, promise of success; and the general is confident you will be wanting in neither.Buckner moved on the 17th of September by rail, and entered Bowling Green on the 18th, at 10 A. M. He had some 4,000 men, about 3,000 of whom were Tennessee troops from Camp Trousdale, near Nashville, and the remainder Kentuckians, composed of the Second Kentucky Regiment, Byrne's battery, and part of the Third and Fourth Kentucky Regiments, the greater part being left behind unarmed. Colonel Hawes was thrown forward with the Second Kentucky Regiment and Byrne's battery, as an outpost, to the Green River railroad bridge, where these troops staid two weeks, when they were withdrawn to Bowling Green. A train carrying some troops to Horse Cave, to reconnoitre and recruit, was thrown from the track by a displaced rail. This slight accident, of no special import, has passed into Federal history as a discomfiture that prevented the capture of Louisville, and arrested a whole plan of campaign. Buckner's movement produced an excitement out of all proportion to his force. It had all the effect of a surprise, causing the utmost confusion among the enemy. His scouts burned the bridge over Salt River, thirty miles from Louisville, in which city the wildest rumors were afloat and his vanguard was hourly expected. His advance was significantly interpreted as an answer to the defiance launched by the Legislature one week before. General Sherman says (vol. i., page 197):
This was universally known to be the signal for action. For it we were utterly unprepared, whereas the rebels were fully prepared. General Sidney Johnston immediately crossed into Kentucky, and advanced as far as Bowling Green, which he began to fortify, and thence dispatched General Buckner with a division forward toward Louisville.Van Horne, speaking of Buckner, says, “He advanced to capture Louisville.” The Comte de Paris tells us his purpose was-
To traverse the whole State of Kentucky by rail, so as to reach Louisville with a sufficient number of troops to take possession of that city, and to hoist the Confederate flag on the banks of the Ohio. .... It failed of success. ...  Learning that his movements were known, and that the enemy was on the watch for him, Buckner, who had already reached the suburbs of Elizabethtown, not far from the Ohio, halted, and fell back upon Bowling Green.When it is remembered that these eminent Federal military writers published their volumes more than thirteen years after the events narrated, and that the facts could have been easily learned by inquiry, it will be seen how profound and permanent an impression the misconception of the time made upon them. General Johnston's whole available force-4,000 men — a mere skirmish-line to mask his preparations from the enemy, was thrown forward with Buckner. About 4,000 more Tennesseeans were already in camp in Middle Tennessee, but not half of them were armed, and these with country rifles and shot-guns; they were not yet fully organized or equipped; and nearly half their number were on the sick-list with measles and other camp epidemics. One regiment (foreigners), at Fort Henry, was in open mutiny. Besides these troops there were also some unarmed Kentuckians in Tennessee. On taking possession of Bowling Green, General Buckner, in General Order No. 2, September 19th, particularly charged his soldiers-
To respect the civil rights of every citizen of Kentucky, without regard to political sentiments. Any invasion of these rights on their part will be visited by the severest penalties.General Buckner issued a stirring proclamation, September 18th, reciting the breaches of neutrality by the Legislature, and the despotic acts of the President of the United States, and offering to retire from the State if the Federal forces would do likewise. But, of course, this was no longer expected by anybody. General Johnston issued the following manifesto:
in determining his line of operations, General Johnston had to consider the geography of the theatre of War, the political complexion of the population, and the strength and disposition of the forces opposed to him. Each of these conditions was of such a character as to put him at a disadvantage. there were moral and political as well as physical considerations entering into the situation, which made the more advanced positions impracticable. It is true that Federal writers have constantly spoken of the ease with which the line of the Ohio River might have been taken by the Confederates, but it is always on the assumption that General Johnston had a large and well-appointed force, which was not the case. The political attitude of the Commonwealth of Kentucky gave a decided advantage to the Federal cause; but the peculiar distribution of political sentiment by geographical strata also operated to strengthen the Unionists and to disable the Southern sympathizers. An inspection of the map will reveal how powerful this influence was, and what an element of weakness it became to the Confederacy on General Johnston's line.  the Alleghany Mountains and their Western side-ranges form a huge quadrangle, extending from Pennsylvania southwestwardly into Georgia and Alabama, and embracing Western Virginia, East Tennessee, and Eastern Kentucky. Its population, the overflow by emigration of the poorer classes of Virginia and North Carolina, was rude, hardy, and ignorant. A sort of clanship, based on association and kinship, prevailed among this primitive people, who followed with blind confidence local leaders, eminent for wealth or popular arts. Hence they usually voted and acted in masses. It is sufficient to say that the United States Government, more clearly than the Confederate, appreciated the character and importance of these mountaineers, and secured the adhesion of their leaders to the Federal side. The consequence was, the loss of the whole population, from the crests of the Alleghanies to their Western foot-hills, and the creation of a disloyal and hostile section, severing the East from the West, and converting the Gibraltar of the South into a stronghold for its foes. a line from the mouth of the Big Sandy River, where West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky corner, to Bowling Green, roughly indicates the Western edge of this Union district. But a belt of country through Western Kentucky and Tennessee, from the Ohio River to the State of Mississippi, was also full of Unionists ; and, indeed, in all Western Kentucky county was set against county, and every house was divided against itself. The whole land was become a debatable ground. The chief Confederate element, however, was contained in a narrow district along the Ohio River, fifty or sixty miles wide, almost isolated from the South, and surrounded by hostile regions. Wealthy and slaveholding, this population was much demoralized by the course of events and by Federal military occupation; and no effectual assistance could be rendered it, without an invasion in force and a Confederate army on the banks of the Ohio. As this was not possible, the only practical question was, how much territory could be included in the Southern lines, and how far these could be advanced without rashness, and without disclosing the insufficiency of the Confederate force. every circumstance pointed to Cumberland Gap as a strategic point of the first importance; and a fortified camp was established there as the right of General Johnston's line, and a barrier to the invasion of East Tennessee. the water-lines of the West were a source of great weakness to the Confederacy. The converging currents of so many Rivers, uniting at Cairo in one great flood, enabled the United States Government to collect flotillas of gunboats, which searched out every navigable stream, and overawed communities unaccustomed to War. The line of defensive works in progress at different points from Columbus to Memphis might be expected to defy this fresh-water navy; but the River system  of Kentucky itself was tributary to the North. The Cumberland and the Tennessee Rivers, rising in the Alleghanies, flow first southwest, and thence by sharp bends to the North, traversing respectively the northern and Southern portions of Tennessee, and finally emptying close together into the Ohio near its mouth. The history of the attempt to defend these Rivers by forts at Donelson and Henry will be given in detail hereafter. General Grant had possession of Smithland and Paducah, at their mouths. Indeed, the outlets and navigable waters of all the Rivers of Kentucky, the Sandy, Licking, Kentucky, and Green, were in the hands of the Federals, and gave them the great military advantage of easy communication with their base by water-ways. Green and Barren Rivers, locked and dammed, cut the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, so as to render any point in advance of Bowling Green unsafe; while Bowling Green itself, situated on the turnpike, Railroad, and River, was a good position for defense. Thus, as Columbus and the Cumberland Mountains had become the extremities of the Confederate line by force of natural conditions, so Bowling Green, likewise, became its salient. The communications to the rear of this point by railroads and by a macadamized turnpike, and the facilities for transportation by land and water, were as good and as safe as could be expected. The line was not all that could be wished; it ran through an unfriendly or lukewarm population, and it was pierced by two great Rivers, whose mouths were in the possession of the enemy; but every other line had equal or greater disadvantages. In War, as elsewhere, we must take things as we find them, not as we would have them. but to the other considerations already mentioned must be added the great disparity in the numbers and resources of the opponents. The Federal forces in General Johnston's front were everywhere about double the numbers he could bring to bear against them; and their superiority in arms, equipments, transportation, organization, and discipline, was still greater. The United States troops opposed to him were over 36,000 strong, while his own available force was less than 20,000 men. General Fremont reports that he had, September 14, 1861, at and near Cairo, 12,831 men, and at Paducah, 7,791 men; together, 20,622 men, under General U. S. Grant.1 General Robert Anderson commanded the Central Department. The fortune of War, which gave General Johnston his former room-mate at West point as his second in command, confronted him thus with his early friend Anderson as his antagonist. Anderson was able to oppose to Buckner,  at the tap of the drum, Rousseau's brigade, 1,200 strong, 1,800 home Guards from Louisville, and several companies led by Lieutenant-Colonel R. W. Johnson, under General W. T. Sherman, at Muldrough's Hill, to whom he also sent, within a week, the Sixth, Thirty-eighth, and Thirty-ninth Indiana regiments, the Forty-ninth Ohio Regiment, and the Twenty-fourth Illinois Regiment (not less than 3,000 men), making over 6,000 effectives in all.2 General Thomas had at camp Dick Robinson four Kentucky, two East Tennessee, and “several” regiments from Ohio and Indiana;3 probably 6,000 men. He had also a large auxiliary force of home Guards, useful “to protect roads and keep the disloyal element in awe.” General William Nelson had six regiments of infantry, besides cavalry and artillery, at and near Maysville, probably 4,000 men.4 here we have 34,000 volunteers; and, with home Guards, probably over 40,000 troops. to oppose this force General Johnston had, available under Polk, 11,000 troops (estimated); under Buckner, 4,000 men; and under Zollicoffer, 4,000 more. The whole force in Zollicoffer's district of East Tennessee consisted nominally of ten regiments of infantry, seventeen companies of cavalry, and a six-gun battery of six-pounders; but only five regiments, the artillery, and twelve companies of cavalry, were in condition to move into Kentucky-less than 4,000. there was not a quartermaster or engineer in the command, and the arms and equipments were very poor. At Pound Gap, 300 Virginia militia, enlisted for three months, constituted the sole defense. Thus, General Johnston's available force, from the Big Sandy to the Mississippi, was only about 19,000 men. it is thus apparent that the real question to be determined was not as between an offensive and a defensive campaign; this had already been settled by the physical and political considerations mentioned, and by the preponderance in the Federal strength, organization, and resources. The real questions were, how and where to maintain the semblance of a force sufficient for defense until an army could be created. it has been alleged that Louisville might have been captured by a bold stroke. This is possibly true; but this event, so much dreaded by the Federals, must have been followed by a concentration of their troops, by the precipitate retreat and demoralization of the Confederates, and by an exposure of weakness that must have led to disaster. It is evident that, until an adequate force could be collected, actual collision was to be avoided. The strength of the Confederate line has been recognized by their adversaries; and there can scarcely be a doubt that it was the most judicious that could have been adopted under the circumstances.  among General Johnston's papers are certain memoranda, intended as the basis of his reply to an inquiry instituted by the Confederate Congress as to why he did not inaugurate an offensive campaign. Though applying to his conduct at a later period, they contain substantially his reasons for the adoption and maintenance of the defensive line established by him. With the explanations already given, these ought to settle the question:
in another rough memorandum, General Johnston States that Buckner's force was at first only 4,000 strong. He adds:
arrived 14th of October; took command, 28th. Force, 17th of October, about 12,000; same on 28th. Enemy's force reported by Buckner, on 4th of October, advancing, 12,000 to 14,000; 28th of October, estimated at double our own, or about 24,000. the enemy's force increased much more rapidly than our own; so that by the last of November it numbered 50,000, and continued to increase until it ran up to between 75,000 and 100,000. force was kept down by disease, so that it remained about 22,000. Tennessee was threatened on four lines: by the Mississippi, the Cumberland and Tennessee, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, and East Tennessee. These four approaches were covered, as far as possible, by the three corps already mentioned: Polk at Columbus, Buckner at Bowling Green, and Zollicoffer at Cumberland Gap. The enemy was much the stronger, and was operating on interior lines. It was desirable to strengthen the centre; but Zollicoffer required all of his little army for the service in which he was employed, and more too. Its successes in Western Virginia and Missouri had encouraged the United States Government to plan an invasion of East Tennessee, which should cut the only Confederate line of Railroad communication between Virginia and the South West of the blue Ridge, and stir up the disaffected inhabitants to insurrection. Already two regiments of East Tennesseeans had found their way to camp Dick Robinson; and, at that time, the presence of a United States army would have roused a numerous and warlike population in revolt against the Confederacy. Van Horne says ( “army of the Cumberland,” vol. I., page 37):
General Thomas suggested to General Anderson the importance of concentrating for an advance to Knoxville, Tennessee, to seize the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad, destroy all the bridges East and West from Knoxville, and then to turn upon Zollicoffer, while in the passes of the Cumberland Mountains, and, by getting between him and his supplies, effect the capture or dispersion of his army. The desirableness of this movement was enhanced by the fact that Nashville had recently been made a base of supplies for the Confederate army in Virginia. Its success would sever the most direct connection between the Confederate armies East and West, and relieve from tyranny the loyal people of East Tennessee.the same pages show that this design was kept constantly in view, and demonstrate the necessity for a Confederate army in that quarter to guard the entrances to the land. It certainly never had force to spare. on the 15th of September, 1861, in orders no. 1, General Johnston assumed command of the department, and Lieutenant-Colonel W. W. MacKALLall was announced as assistant adjutant-general and chief of staff. A little later, order no. 2, as follows, was issued:
The appointments of “volunteer aides” were made chiefly to secure intelligent advice on the political affairs of the department, each State of which was represented on the staff.