Sunday, January 20, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Sunday, Jan. 19, 1862

The Battle of Many Names

At the beginning of 1862, the region claimed by the Confederacy stretched 3,000 miles from the Atlantic Coast to the eastern boundary of California. The lower edge of Kentucky and the bottom third of Missouri fell within Confederate lines. All in all, the Confederacy controlled an impressive portion of the continent, its northern boundary, long, smooth, and uninterrupted from the Appalachians westward.

But in the area lying between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River, that boundary is tissue-paper thin. The Confederacy simply has not placed enough troops in the area to securely hold it. Instead, like the Union, the Confederacy is obsessed with what could happen to Virginia, and especially to the Confederate capital of Richmond.

In January, a Confederate force led by Brig. Gen. Felix K. Zollicoffer perched near Mill Springs in southern Kentucky and appeared threatening to the Union area of Kentucky. But Brig. Gen. George H. Thomas spent 18 days slogging through rain and mud leading a Federal force, from Buell’s Army of the Ohio, south and by Saturday, January 18, was dug in, waiting for Zollicoffer to make the first move.

Early today, on a foggy, rainy landscape a few miles north of the Cumberland River, the two forces collide, Zollicoffer attacking, Thomas counterattacking. Then, early in Thomas’s counterattack, one of the war’s strangest stories unfolds. Moving through a foggy, smoky, and rainy landscape, Confederate General Zollicoffer and Col. Speed Smith Fry of the loyalist 4th Kentucky Infantry, part of Thomas’s force, approach each other on horseback, coming so close the two riders could have shaken hands. The men, who are wearing long coats that cover their uniforms, do not recognize each other. Assuming Fry was one of his own officers, Zollicoffer gives him an order and Fry turns to carry it out.

Apparently realizing Fry is an enemy commander, one of Zollicoffer’s officers fires at him, hitting his horse. Fry fires back, hitting Zollicoffer, and then a Union soldier shoots the general in the side. Zollicoffer falls from his horse, dead.

Meanwhile, the rain is making it difficult for the Confederate soldiers to fire their primitive muskets. With their commander dead and their weapons failing, the larger Confederate force (about 5,900 men) is routed by the Thomas’s 4,400 men. On the south side of the Cumberland River, Zollicoffer’s superior, Maj. Gen. George B. Crittenden, orders Zollicoffer’s men to abandon the battlefield and most of their equipment and retreat across the river.

And so the Confederates depart in confusion, but not without leaving behind some confusion for the history books. Originally, the Union referred to the site of the battle as Logan’s Crossroads, while the Confederates referred to it as Fishing Creek. Later, the battle came to be better known as Mill Springs, although the fighting took place nine miles away from that location.

There are at least eight other names by which the battle has been known.
Whatever its name, this relatively small battle (pictured above) has a much larger significance. It opened a hole in the Confederate defense line in Kentucky—and it foreshadowed even more serious problems for the Rebel nation.

(Ohio units participating in the Battle of Many Names and the pursuit of the fleeing Confederates on the second day, include the 9th, 14th, 17th, 31st, and 38th Infantry, Batteries B and C of the 1st Ohio Light Artillery, and the 9th Ohio Battery.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WAR: In winter quarters in western Virginia, Col. Rutherford B. Hayes yearns for news of Union successes. Unaware one is occurring at Logan’s Cross Roads, he impatiently writes in his diary, “What we need is greater energy, more drive, more enterprise….”

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—less than 3½ years from now!—will be the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, April 12 was the day Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

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