January 19, 1862
Gen. Felix K. Zollicoffer was a near-sighted newspaperman and completely out of his element as a Confedeerate brigade commander in charge of the defense of the Cumberland Gap. In November 1861, Zollicoffer led his 4,000 men deep into Kentucky and went into camp at Beech Grove, on the north side of the Cumberland River, even though his orders were to remain south of the river at Mill Srings.
On New Years Day 1862, Union Gen. George Thomas set out from Lebanon, Ky., with 8,000 men to confront Zollicoffer. Slogging through knee deep mud and a cold, constant rain, Thomas’s force arrived on January 18, 1862, at Logan’s Cross Roads, 10 miles north of the Rebel position. Zollicoffer’s superior, Gen. George B. Crittenden, arrived at Beech Grove and found Zollicoffer’s position to be indefensible with an unfordable river at his back. In addition, Zollicoffer’s troops, many armed with antiquated flintlock muskets, were undisciplined and short on supplies. Crittenden felt he could not safely retreat, so he ordered an attack.
At midnight on January 18, the Rebel force moved out on a nightmare march through the cold rain and mud and hit the Yankee camp at dawn. At first successful, the exhausted Rebels soon ran out of energy and the attack stalled as Union reinforcements came up to confront them. Zollicoffer, becoming disoriented in the pouring rain and in the close-quarters fighting, rode up to a Union unit by mistake and began giving orders. The colonel of the Union troops realized the nearsighted general’s mistake and, in plain view of Zollicoffer’s men, killed him with a point-blank pistol shot to the chest. That was the turning point of the battle.
The demoralized Rebels, many of their flintlocks inoperable in the rain, gave way. By 10:30 A.M., the battle was over and the Rebels were retreating. Crittenden, said to be intoxicated during the battle, was court-martialed and demoted to colonel for giving the North their first major victory of the war.
Fascinating Fact: The Battle of Mill Springs is also known as the Battle of Logan’s Cross Roads, Beech Gove, Fishing Creek, and Somerset. Confederate casualties totaled 533, and the federals lost only 261.