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Battle of Munfordville
Civil War Encyclopedia >> Battles
September 14, 1862
September 17, 1862
Battle of Munfordville

After being initially repulsed by a federal garrison of 4,000, Braxton Bragg [CS] laid a brief seige. Federals surrendered on the 17th.
  Braxton Bragg
  Confederate Invasion of Kentucky
  Simon Bolivar Buckner

Battle of Munfordville

Battle of Green River
Battle of Green River Bridge

The story of the battle of Munfordville really begins three years earlier with the completion of the Louisville and Nashville railroad bridge over the Green River south of Munfordville, Kentucky on July 1, 1859. Designed and supervised by German engineer Albert Fink, but built by local men, the bridge allowed the L&N to complete the link between the two cities. Almost 1200 feet long and 125 feet tall, the bridge was a technical marvel of its time that is still in use today.

Sidney Johnston [CS] ordered Simon Bolivar Buckner [CS] to occupy Bowling Green, Kentucky, which was taken on September 18, 1861. The following month Johnston ordered Buckner to destroy the L&N bridge, about 8 miles from Buckner's family home outside Munfordville, to prevent a surprise attack on the Confederate position around Bowling Green. Although Buckner protested the order because of the bridge's importance to his hometown, Johnston's order stood. Buckner ordered the southern end of the bridge destroyed, dropping the span into the river below.

In response to his actions, Union cavalry raided Buckner's home, taking the crops and livestock. Rebuilding the bridge became a priority for both Ulysses S. Grant and Don Carlos Buell, who intended to move south along the Tennessee River. They would need the railroad to supply their troops. On December 6, 1861, northern stone masons led by Alfred Fink began working on repairing the extensive destruction caused by Buckner. To protect the men, Buell ordered Col. August Willich to send the 32nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry under Lt. Col. Louis Von Tebra in support of the Fink and his stonemasons. On December 17, these Yankees completed a crossing of the Green River and engaged a superior Rebel force at Rowlett's Station under the command of Brigadier General Thomas C. Hindman [CS].

Site of the battle of Munfordville, south of the Green River near the 1853 Louisville and Nashville railroad bridge
Green River Railroad Crossing, south of Munfordville, KY
Alexander McCook arrived with a division of men to reinforce the Iowans following the battle. A brigade under James Negrey also arrived to defend the bridge. They began building the five-sided earth fort east of the bridge that would form the basic line of defense in the battle of Munfordville. Meanwhile, work on the bridge was completed on January 9, 1862. The next day operations directed at central Tennessee began. McCook continued to work on the fort, adding a second fort about 100 yards west of the track that featured a rolled-log wall embraced by a strong dirt embankment.

Both McCook and Negrey's services were demanded further south for the attack on Fort Henry and Fort Donelson and the Battle of Shiloh, but construction on the fort at Munfordville did not stop. Colonel John Wilder, shortly after his 31st birthday, assumed command of the garrison and continued the work on Fort Craig. Wilder was a good man for the job. He had built a career out of refitting older iron plants and the experience helped him organize the military effort to build the fort to defend the bridge.

The fort was completed as Braxton Bragg and the Army of Tennessee crossed the border into Kentucky (see the Confederate Invasion of Kentucky). Brigadier General James Chalmers and his Mississippians were leading the Army of Tennessee when they met John Scott, a Rebel cavalryman sent south by Kirby Smith in search of Bragg. Scott reported that the Green River Bridge was protected by a garrison of 1,800 raw recruits. Without orders, Chalmers agreed to return to the Green River bridge with Scott and participate in an early morning attack on the Union position.

Fog hung over the river valley, concealing from Chalmers the extent of the Union entrenchments. As the Confederate army approached, Wilder built a series of entrenchments joining the two forts. Chalmers decided to split his force so they could attack the fort and the stockade simultaneously, but the attacks were not coordinated. The first volley from the fort caught the Rebels off-guard, as did the first volley from the stockade. Chalmers men continued to advance, coming within a few feet of the Union works. He then ordered a bayonet charge against the works that were 10-feet high protected by an 8-foot ditch. The charge failed.

At about 9:30 am Chalmers decided to try a different tact and demanded an unconditional surrender from Wilder. Beginning with the words "To avoid further bloodshed," Chalmers claimed that Bragg was approaching and finished tersely with " cannot escape." Wilder did not believe Chalmers. He responded to the Mississippian that if he "...wanted to avoid further bloodshed you should keep out of the way of my guns." Wilder's response also contained an offer to allow Chalmers the opportunity to remove his dead and wounded from the battlefield, an offer Chalmers accepted.

When Bragg heard of Chalmers' attack he was not pleased. Bragg decided that to bypass the Union garrison would be bad for the morale of his soldiers, so on September 15th he began surrounding Munfordville with his army. Bragg had a secret weapon in Simon Bolivar Buckner, who had destroyed the southern end of the bridge the previous December. Buckner not only knew how to get to the other side of the Green River, he also knew the fort's weaknesses. It had been designed to repel an attack from the south, but an attack from the north would be devastating. Furthermore, the south side of the bridge was lower than the north side, meaning that well-positioned Rebel sharpshooters would have a clear field of vision into the fort. By the evening of September 16th Bragg's troops were in place.

Then occurred what author James Lee McDonough considers to be "one of the one of the very unusual events of the war." Wilder wanted proof that the Confederates were not bluffing and he wanted to delay capture as long as possible. Just prior to the investment of the fort a regiment of Indiana volunteers had arrived and Wilder hoped that Don Carlos Buell would arrive with the Army of the Ohio. On the morning of September 17, 1862, John Wilder entered the Confederate camp under a flag of truce. He then asked Buckner for advice, "I came to you to find out what I should do." It was fairly easy to prove that Bragg was not bluffing by showing Wilder the Confederate lines. Wilder agreed to surrender - at midnight. Wilder tied up the surrender with a two hour discussion of the term unconditional surrender, but finally Wilder signed. His troops surrendered on September 18 at 6:00 am.

Links appearing on this page:

Army of Tennessee
Army of the Ohio
Battle of Shiloh
Braxton Bragg
Confederate Invasion of Kentucky
December 17
December 6
December, 1861
Don Carlos Buell
Fort Henry and Fort Donelson
January 9
January, 1862
Kirby Smith
September 18
September, 1861
Sidney Johnston
Simon Bolivar Buckner
Ulysses S. Grant

Civil War Encyclopedia >> Battles

Battle of Munfordville was last changed on - May 16, 2007
Battle of Munfordville was added on - November 16, 2006

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