Kentucky Civil War battles: Part I

By Russ Hatter Published:

Many Frankfort Civil War soldiers fought on both sides within the borders of their home state of Kentucky. For this and next month’s installment of our look at Frankfort in the Civil War, we will chronologically examine in-state skirmishes and battles and those local men who were participants.

This month’s column features the fighting at Sacramento, Middle Creek, Mill Springs, and Cynthiana. Part II in November will report on the battles at Richmond, Perryville, and Tebbs Bend. 

Sacramento

According to historian Lowell H. Harrison in his Civil War in Kentucky, Kentucky’s first shot in the Civil War was fired in at least a dozen different places. One of those reported incidents was a skirmish at Sacramento in far western McLean County.

A Union force under Frankfort’s Thomas L. Crittenden encountered Nathan Bedford Forrest, an untutored military genius, on Dec. 28, 1861. Frankfort’s Captain Albert Gallatin Bacon, Company B, Third Kentucky Cavalry, was killed in action (some accounts say at the hand of Forrest himself) in that skirmish.

Based on our research, we believe he was the first Franklin County soldier to die in the Civil War. The Adjutant General Reports states that he died Jan. 9, 1862, but that is an error. The Frankfort chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a national organization for Union Army veterans, was named for Capt, Bacon. He is buried in section K of the State Lot in the Frankfort Cemetery.

Lt. Col. Robert H. King, also of Frankfort, was promoted to the rank of cap­tain at the death of his friend Albert Bacon. King's service during the war was twice marred by disciplinary actions – once by a general court martial for having declared a pri­vate to be "a damned liar and a damned scoundrel."

In the fall of 1864 he called his commanding officer Judson Kilpatrick a liar. He was formally charged for this comment. Nevertheless, he served through the war, rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and ended up commanding a brigade under Gen. Kilpatrick. He died in 1866 and his pallbearers included three Civil War generals, a colonel, and a lieutenant colonel – all fellow Kentuckians. He was laid to rest beside his friend Albert Bacon in the Frankfort Cemetery.

Sgt. Bunyan Malcom was wounded, captured, and later died of his wounds at Hopkinsville. Samuel McCurdy was captured but exchanged, subsequently deserted and was arrested more than once by civil authorities for criminal acts. He was later placed in the Louisville Military Prison. Walter W. Winter survived the Sacramento battle but died of disease in 1862 at Columbia, Tenn.

Middle Creek

Kentucky’s bloodiest year in the Civil War was 1862.

On Friday, Jan. 10, at Middle Creek near Prestonsburg, forces under Brig. Gen. James A Garfield (who later became President of the United States) advanced against Confederates under Frankfort’s Humphrey Marshall.

Garfield was unable to penetrate the Confederate line or force them back, but after the engagement both sides retreated, both claiming victory.  Frankfort’s Lt. Col. George Wood Monroe of the 22nd Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, led the charge for the Union forces.

In his battle report Garfield praised Monroe for his bravery, saying that his heroic charge was “determinate of the day.” Monroe, Marshall and Crittenden are buried in the Frankfort Cemetery.   

Mill Springs

Sunday Jan, 19, on the north bank of the Cumberland River, was the Battle of Mill Springs. Confederate Brig. Gen. George Bibb Crittenden of Frankfort, realizing an on-coming attack, moved out in the darkness and heavy rain. It was in this fracas that Confederate officer Felix Zollicoffer wearing a white raincoat, was shot and killed when he became confused as to who was friend and who enemy.

The Confederates later rallied but more Federals under George H. Thomas arrived, and eventually the Confederate opposition collapsed. With difficulty Southerners withdrew across the Cumberland River during the night, leaving only the abandoned camps and supplies to the Federals.

Crittenden's troops were demoralized by the defeat, and the general was severely criticized. It was the first break in the Confederate Kentucky defense line, which ran from Cumberland Gap to Columbus on the Mississippi River. There were about 4,000 Federals on the field, with 39 killed, 207 wounded, and 15 captured or missing for casualties of 261.

The Confederates also had about 4,000 effectives, with losses of 125 killed, 309 wounded and 99 missing for a total of 533. A moderately small but strategic important battle, it presaged things to come in the West, showed weakness of the Confederate line, and boosted the Federal cause of the people of Kentucky and eastern Tennessee.

George Bibb Crittenden, brother of Thomas L. Crittenden, died in 1880 and is buried in section N of the Frankfort Cemetery.

Cynthiana

John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate Cavalry raided Cynthiana twice during the Civil War. Author William A. Penn in Rattling Spurs and Broad-Brimmed Hats tells us that the first raid occurred July 17, 1862 when Morgan, with 850 men and two cannons surrounded the town in Harrison County.

Cynthiana was defended by 345 men, which were mostly local Home Guards. Morgan’s men took the town and captured all but their leader, Lt.  Col. John J. Landrum. Among those captured was Frankfort’s John Marshall Hewitt, a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Kentucky Union Cavalry.

He escaped later that night and returned to his company. During the June 1864 rebel invasion of Frankfort, he headed a detachment that guarded the covered bridge on St. Clair.

In a letter he wrote after the war: “The war was a bitter experience to me. My father had four sons, two on each side during the war; also one son-in-law on each side. All my old school-mates and associates, as well as relations, in Kentucky were about as equally divided. One of my brothers was killed at Fort Donelson on the Confederate side.” 

Sources

This article was based on research for the work-in-progress dealing with Frankfort and the Civil War by James Prichard, scheduled for publication in 2012. Sources include Lowell H. Harrison’s The Civil War in Kentucky, E. B. Long’s The Civil War Day By Day – An Almanac 1861-1865, William A. Penn’s Rattling Spurs and Broad-Brimmed Hats, James A Ramage’s Rebel Raider – The Life of General John Hunt Morgan.

Also,  Betty J. Gorin’s “Morgan is Coming!” – Confederate Raiders in the Heartland of Kentucky, and the Hatter/Hughes/Burch 2007 Frankfort Cemetery – The Westminster Abbey of Kentucky.

Previous State Journal articles have shared Franklin County soldier involvement in battles and skirmishes outside Kentucky. The June 1864 raid on Frankfort was detailed in the May 29 State Journal edition.

If you have a Civil War Frankfort/Franklin County ancestor, it is not too late to add them to our roster that now contains over 500 men. If we have omitted your ancestor it is because we have not uncovered his service. Please notify us of any discrepancies by calling 502-696-9127 or by emailing russh@mis.net.

 

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