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Book V:—the first winter.

Chapter 1:

The first winter.—Donelson and Pea Ridge.

THE new Southern Confederacy, notwithstanding the false impressions its first victory had created, found itself at the beginning of the year 1862 strongly organized for the defence of a territory which comprised nearly all the slave States. The South persuaded herself, as she had persuaded Europe, that all the efforts of her adversaries could not prevail against her resistance.

In fact, the North had only been able to wrest from her an insignificant portion of territory compared with the entire extent of her domain. Of the whole slave territory, the North only occupied Maryland, Western Virginia, some parts of Kentucky, the greater portion of Missouri, and certain positions along the coast. But time had enabled her to display her resources, and the war was about to assume new proportions. The volunteers, flocking from all parts, were being organized on the borders of the Potomac, the Ohio, and the Mississippi into large armies.

We shall deal first with those which were about to operate west of the Alleghanies. As we have seen, these were divided into three distinct corps. One, under General Curtis, in Missouri, had drawn close to the Arkansas frontier, towards the end of the year. The second, under General Grant, guarded the Mississippi and the mouth of the Tennessee at Cairo and Paducah. The third, under General Buell, operated in Kentucky, with its centre near Elizabethtown. The first two were under the chief command of General Halleck a wise officer, with fine organizing abilities, but who was accused of too frequently thwarting the designs of his subordinates, and of leaving them afterwards to carry out in presence of the enemy the plans of campaign he had elaborated in his office.

These armies were to find a new auxiliary, whose power was beginning to be appreciated, in the fleet which was being fitted out on the Ohio and the Upper Mississippi. Two remarkable [474] men, both of whom were to succumb under the effect of the wounds received while leading that fleet against the enemy, Commodore Foote and Colonel Ellet, had superintended its formation with all the ardor of their patriotism and all the resources of their inventive minds. We shall relate elsewhere how they gathered this fleet upon the hitherto peaceful waters of the Mississippi; the services it rendered to the Federal armies will appear in every line of this narrative. That fleet was divided into three categories: 1st. The gun-boats, some of them being old ships more or less adapted for military service, and most of them, thinly plated; the others were of new construction; they all carried powerful guns; were manned by sailors, and commanded by the brave Foote. 2d. The rams, the creation of Colonel Ellet, formed a separate division, organized by the War Department, and manned by land-troops. 3d. The transport-ships, which were large Mississippi passenger-boats bought or hired by the quartermaster for the conveyance of troops.

The facilities afforded by this fleet for the movement of armies naturally indicated the West, and in the West the courses of the Mississippi and the Tennessee, as destined to be the theatre of the first military operations of 1862. This calculation had formed the basis of the general plan drawn up by General McClellan for the beginning of the year. It was, however, in Eastern Kentucky that the struggle was renewed at first; and the successes which the Federals achieved there would have caused them to modify their plan if the force of events had not obliged them to adhere to it.

We have stated that the Confederate line of defences in Kentucky rested upon Columbus at the west, upon Bowling Green in the centre, and at the east upon the group of mountains from which the Cumberland springs to enter the plain. The first two points had become important military posts; another was established to cover the third. The position of Mill Springs, south of Somerset, had been selected for that purpose, because it was near the river at the place where it begins to be navigable. The unsuccessful attempts of the Federals at Pikeville, and in the direction of Cumberland Gap, had taught their adversaries that they had nothing to fear on that side, and that any expedition directed [475] upon East Tennessee would have to bear more to the westward, to follow the open country and avoid the defiles of the Cumberland Mountains. It would be obliged, after crossing the river, to take either the Jacksborough road through Williamsburg, or that of Jamestown (Tennessee) by way of Monticello. The entrenched camp at Mill Spring, near this last town, covered them both.

The first battle was to be fought more to the east, among the gorges of the chain which separates Kentucky from Virginia. Since the month of November, one of the small Confederate corps which occupied that chain had returned to Piketon, of which place, as we have seen, Nelson had for a while taken possession. This corps was commanded by Colonel Humphrey Marshall, whose name, celebrated in Kentucky since the Mexican war, had drawn a large number of ardent and adventurous young men to his standard. But unwieldy from excessive obesity, Humphrey Marshall in 1862 was no longer the brilliant colonel of cavalry whom we saw fighting at Buena Vista by the side of his friend Jefferson Davis. His troops, numbering two thousand five hundred men, were stationed at Prestonburg, and stretched as far as Paintsville, in the valley of the West Big Sandy River.

Notwithstanding the season, so rigorous in the mountains, a Federal brigade, under Colonel Garfield, was sent to dislodge him. Garfield occupied George Creek, on the West Big Sandy, where he could obtain his supplies by water. He started, on the 7th of January, with two thousand infantry, four hundred horses, and a few field-pieces, and carrying three days provisions. On being informed of his approach, Humphrey Marshall abandoned Paintsville and fell back upon Prestonburg, leaving a few hundred men to cover his retreat upon Tenny's Creek, which could be easily defended. The Federal cavalry, and a few companies of infantry that accompanied it, encountered this rear-guard of the enemy on the 7th of January, and attacked it without waiting for the remainder of the troops; the Confederates were put to flight after losing a few of their men. Being obliged to replenish his supplytrain before going farther, Garfield took the Prestonburg road on the 9th of January with about one thousand five hundred men. On the following morning he encountered all the forces of Marshall posted along the right bank of a little tributary of the Big [476] Sandy called Middle Creek, which the recent rains had swollen. The Confederates occupied a semicircular hill, the two extremities of which rested upon the stream. They had posted their four field-pieces on the left, and concealed their centre, in order to draw the Federals towards that point and take them between two fires. Garfield did not fall into that snare. Sending out a swarm of skirmishers, he compelled the enemy to discover himself, and as soon as he had reconnoitred his positions he sent a few hundred men to turn his left by crossing the stream near its mouth. After a brisk engagement the Federal detachment took possession of a height which commanded the positions of the Confederates. Garfield then gave the signal of attack to his right. The Confederates, being caught in their turn between two fires, began to fall back. A timely reinforcement made success certain for the Federals, and night alone prevented them from dislodging Marshall from all the heights he had endeavored to defend. The Confederate general took advantage of the darkness to retire in great haste, abandoning his depots of provisions, his wounded, and the little town of Prestonburg. The battle of Middle Creek cost him about sixty killed and one hundred wounded; the Federals had only twenty-seven men disabled. Their success was complete but barren, because, not being able to subsist at Prestonburg, they were soon compelled to return to Paintsville. No decisive operations were possible in that region.

It was some time after the check he had experienced at

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