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Confederate Invasion of Kentucky
Civil War Encyclopedia >> Campaigns
Invasion of Kentucky
In July, 1862, Braxton Bragg and E. Kirby Smith agreed that Smith should move on Lexington, Kentucky from his base near Knoxville in East Tennessee. With the Army of Northern Virginia moving north in Virginia and Confederate forces in the Kanawha Valley moving west towards Charleston in West Virginia, a three-prong Confederate attack might encourage Britain and France to recognize the Confederate States of America. This is a common reason cited for the invasion, but when Bragg and Smith made plans to invade Kentucky, international politics were far from their minds. Bragg felt he could increase enlistments in the Confederate Army and Smith wanted to secure Union supplies for his hungry men. Both men wanted to reclaim Kentucky for the Confederacy.
As early as August 14, 1862, Don Carlos Buell was receiving reports that Kirby Smith was moving on Kentucky with more than 10,000 men but felt the information was a ruse, perhaps to cover an attack on Nashville. By this time, forward units of Smith's command had been moving north for 3 days. Buell was also aware that Smith was being reinforced, perhaps from Virginia.
Buell then moved veteran commander George Thomas to McMinnville to replace Nelson and guard against Bragg, now north of the Tennessee River, striking the Union line. Union commanders had good reason to be concerned about protecting Nashville...Confederate cavalry raiders (specifically John Hunt Morgan and Nathan Bedford Forrest) were known to be operating in the area.
Carter Stevenson [CS] appeared at the Tennessee entrance to the gap, a narrow east-west passage in the Appalachian Mountains on August 16. Troops under the command of Pat Cleburne took London, Kentucky on August 17, although it would not be until August 22 that a significant force had arrived. Additional Rebel forces took Barboursville on August 20.
Even with reports of enemy in the rear and knowing Carter Stevenson was at the entrance to the gap with another significant force, George Morgan [US] resolutely decided to hold the gap, writing Buell on August 25 that his men were are half rations and he could hold out for 10 days. Morgan held a good position, but when Kirby Smith showed up at the west entrance to the gap, George Morgan withdrew into the mountains to the north and Carter Stevenson occupied the Cumberland Gap.
With George Morgan out of the way, the Confederate Army of Kentucky regrouped in Barboursville, Kentucky and moved northwest. For the last 10 days Bull Nelson had been struggling to form a fighting force from a group of recruits. Nelson fanned his army out to the south of Richmond, Kentucky. Smith ran into Nelson's men in the hamlet of Big Hill, west of Berea, where he had decided to concentrate in preparation for attack Richmond. As Nelson's men withdrew to Richmond, Kentucky under increasing pressure from Smith's men, Braxton Bragg left from his base north of the Tennessee River and marched over Walden's Ridge and up the Sequatchie Valley and north to Carthage.
Don Carlos Buell thought Bragg was moving on Nashville, so he concentrated his force at Murfreesboro, centrally located between Chattanooga and Nashville. When word reached Buell that the Confederates had bypassed both Murfreesboro and Nashville, Buell assumed Bragg was on his way to Louisville and the Ohio River. Were Bragg to reach the lightly defended Kentucky transportation hub that was supplying the entire Union army west of the Appalachian Mountains or sever the supply route down the Ohio, it might be a crippling blow to Union forces in the west. When word reached Buell that Nelson had been overpowered at Richmond, Buell began a race to Louisville. Kirby Smith headed north to Lexington.
Bragg moved quickly through the rolling hills of the Cumberland Plateau near Glasgow, east of Bowling Green. Simon Bolivar Buckner came upon a Union garrison in Munfordville, put there to guard an important railroad bridge over the Green River. Buckner had spent time in the city as a youth and knew the town well. Opposing Buckner was John Wilder, a Union colonel whose experience leaned towards engineering rather than command.
Expecting Buell to relieve his besieged garrison, Wilder did his best to delay, giving Buell more time. When the Confederate surrender demand arrived, Wilder asked Buckner what he should do. Buckner, who at first refused the request, decided to escort Wilder around the Rebel camp, after which Wilder surrendered. Meanwhile, Buell was quick-stepping his men to bypass Bragg (and Wilder) and sacrifice the 5,000 man garrison in Munfordville. Buell arrived in Louisville before the Army of Tennessee, but Wilder never forgave his commanding general for his action.
One of the reasons Buell beat Bragg to Louisville was that Bragg had decided to head to Bardstown, southeast of Louisville, rather than confront the Army of the Ohio. The Army of Tennessee commander felt that taking the communications and transportation hub of the United States Army would be a mistake because of Buell's numbers. Once in Louisville, Buell regrouped his troops until the end of September, then advanced slowly from Louisville. It was during this regroup that Buell lost division commander Bull Nelson to a bullet fired by a brigadier, Jefferson C. Davis at the Galt House.
After witnessing the inauguration of a Confederate governor of Kentucky (Richard Hawes) in Frankfurt on October 4, Bragg was forced to withdraw south because of the presence of the Army of the Ohio. Outside Perryville Bragg's men were desperately searching for water in the parched Kentucky Piedmont.
William Hardee's men had been surprised by the amount of Union contact over the last couple of days when they made camp on October 6. Perryville was a welcome relief for the troops that had been marching through drought-stricken Kentucky. With Chaplin River and its tributaries they found the one thing an army must have - water - and The Army of Tennessee was short of. Joe Wheeler had been skirmishing with the Yankees for the better part of the day, but did not really have a feel for their troop strength or concentration. Hardee, unwilling to march with an enemy of unknown strength to his rear decided to entrench and requested additional support from Leonidas Polk. Polk sent a division under Patton Anderson and a brigade under Pat Cleburne.
Opposing the veteran Confederate commander was the III Corps under the command of Brigadier General Charles Gilbert, who was doing a poor job of standing in for the late Bull Nelson. His men quickly developed a distaste for the recently promoted Gilbert, who was selected to replace Nelson simply because Gilbert had graduated from West Point. As they advanced to Perryville searching for water, it was Gilbert's men that Wheeler had been skirmishing with before the battle. Gilbert's men crossed Peter's Creek early on the morning of October 8th and engaged the Confederates. This was the start of the Battle of Perryville.
Before this engagement Buell decided to concentrate his widespread forces northwest of the small Kentucky town of Perryville because of the availability of water to quench the thirst of his soldiers. To the left of Gilbert he ordered the Union I Corps under Major General Alexander McDowell McCook, in command of a corps mostly comprised of raw recruits, to the right a corps under Brigadier General Thomas Crittenden. When word reached Buell of Gilbert's engagement he began preparing to attack the Rebel line, but decided to delay the attack at mid-morning when his troops were have trouble getting to the battlefield.
The Rebels, too, had been planning an attack, and the Confederates began a general movement forward about 2:00pm. It was McCook, on the Union left, who would absorb most of Leonidas Polk's [CS] attack on that October afternoon, while Gilbert was giving orders to Phil Sheridan to preserve ammunition (per his commander, Don Buell). Finally, at 3:30 pm, after General Hardee had joined the attack against McCook's Corps, did Gilbert send assistance, a brigade under Colonel Michael Gooding. Fighting would continue until nightfall with additional Union losses before they finally firmed their line. Bragg decided to withdraw and Buell claimed victory. It was the largest engagement fought on Kentucky soil.
Bragg and Smith ended up in Harrodsburg, where Smith tried to get Bragg to fight. Bragg felt that the entire state of Kentucky was against him and wanted to return to the relative safety of Knoxville. As the rear guard engaged some of Buell's forces, the armies headed to Big Hill, then London, before leaving the state through the Cumberland Gap. Soon, the Army of Tennessee was heading west to Murfreesborough.
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Army of Northern Virginia
Confederate Invasion of Kentucky was last changed on - November 19, 2006
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