In the late fall of 1861, Confederate Brigadier General Felix Zollicoffer was given the task of guarding the Cumberland Gap, an important mountain pass located where Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky border each other. Zollicoffer set up a fortified winter camp on the north side of the Cumberland River near the town of Mill Springs, Kentucky. Major General George Crittenden, Zollicoffer’s superior, arrived at the winter camp and assumed command of the Confederate forces there. Zollicoffer had placed most of his men on the flatter terrain of the north side of the river, instead of the south side, which had higher and more defensible ground. Meanwhile, Union General George Thomas was ordered to march to Mill Springs and attack Crittenden.
With Thomas on the way, and his own troops in a less than ideal defensive position, Crittenden decided that the best defense was a good offense. At midnight on the rainy night of the 18th of January, 1862, he had his troops march northeast about nine miles to attack Thomas, who was awaiting the arrival of additional troops at a road junction called Logan’s Crossroads.
Early in the morning on the 19th, the Confederates attacked. After some initial success, Thomas’ forces repulsed the assault. The Confederates attacked a second time but that too was stopped. A Federal counterattack drove the Rebels from the field and secured victory for the Union forces.
Union losses were 262 total, with 40 killed 207 wounded, and 15 missing or captured, while Confederate losses were125 killed, 309 wounded, and 99 missing or captured for a total of 533. Thomas’ 2nd Brigade, commanded by Colonel Mahlon D. Manson was in the middle of much of the fighting, and suffered 145 of the total Union casualties. Manson’s brigade included the 10th Indiana, 4th Kentucky,14th Ohio, and 10th Kentucky infantry regiments. Of these, he 10th Indiana and 4th Kentucky were more heavily engaged. Here is Manson’s after action report on the Battle of Mill Springs, or Logan’s Cross Roads:
HDQRS. SECOND BRIG., FIRST DIV., DEPT. OF THE OHIO,
Camp near Mill Springs, January 27, 1862.
SIR: I have the honor to transmit to you the following report of the part taken by the Second Brigade in the engagement with the enemy at Logan’s field, on the 19th instant:
On the morning of the 17th instant I took the advance of all the other troops on the march from Columbia towards the enemy’s works with the Tenth Indiana Regiment, and arrived at Logan’s farm, distant about 10 miles from the rebel camp, on Cumberland River, at 1 o’clock on that day. I immediately placed a strong picket, consisting of two companies belonging to the Tenth Indiana Regiment and a section of artillery of Captain Kenny’s battery, under Lieutenant Gary, 2 miles out on the road leading to the enemy’s fortifications. About 2 o’clock on the morning of the 18th a few of the enemy’s cavalry approached and fired upon our pickets, which was returned by them, and the enemy fell back.
On the evening of the 18th instant I directed Lieutenant-Colonel Kise to send out two companies as pickets on the road to the camp of the enemy, which he accordingly did. About daylight on the morning of the 19th instant the advance guard of the enemy came in sight of our extreme pickets and opened a fire upon them. The fire was returned by the pickets, who immediately afterwards fell back to their companies. The picket companies having rallied, held the enemy in check until a courier arrived at my quarters with information that the enemy were advancing with a very large force. I caused the long roll to be beaten. The Tenth Indiana Regiment was quickly formed, and I ordered them to the support of the picket companies. I also ordered Captain Kenny’s and Captain Standart’s batteries to be got in position to meet the advancing enemy. On the arrival of the Tenth Indiana Regiment to the support of the pickets they immediately engaged three regiments of the enemy, numbering about 2,500 men, and held their whole force in check for over one hour.
As soon as I got the Tenth Indiana Regiment in position I proceeded to the camp of the Fourth Kentucky Regiment, which was about three-quarters of a mile from my camp. I woke up Colonel Fry, and ordered him to form his regiment and proceed toward the enemy. I then went to your quarters, and informed you that the enemy was advancing upon us in force. I immediately returned to the field, and found Colonel Fry, with about 300 men, in the road leading to my camp. I directed him to push forward with his regiment without any further delay and take position in the woods on the left of the Tenth Indiana, which he did, arriving there about one hour after the commencement of the battle, where his regiment did excellent service. I now gave orders to Captain Standart, of the artillery, to throw some shells over the heads of our men to the place where I knew the enemy to be, which he did with admirable effect.
I now discovered that the enemy was bringing other threes into action, extending their lines, and attempting to outflank us upon the right. Seeing that no time was to be lost, I straightway ordered Colonel Byrd’s Tennessee Regiment to take position on the right of the Tenth Indiana Regiment, which order was about being executed, and the regiment was moving in the direction indicated, when they received an order from General Carter, commanding them to go and take position on the Somerset road, to meet any portion of the enemy that might attempt to flank us in that direction. When I saw the Tennessee regiment leaving the field I immediately informed you of the fact, when you directed me to order up Colonel McCook’s Ninth Ohio and Second Minnesota Regiments to take position on the right, which order I communicated to Colonel McCook, who moved forward with the two regiments of his brigade. You also ordered me to have a section of the battery taken upon the hill if possible, and in compliance with which order Captain Standart, with two sections of artillery, moved forward, and with great difficulty succeeded in getting upon the hill when a heavy fire from his guns was opened on the enemy.
In the mean time the Ninth Ohio, Second Minnesota, Tenth Indiana, and Fourth Kentucky Regiments had kept up an unceasing fire upon the ranks of the enemy, who now began slowly to fall back before
our advancing forces. A portion of the enemy halted at a fence, with the evident intention of making a stand, when Colonel McCook commanded a “charge bayonet,” which command was instantly repeated by Lieutenant-Colonel Kise, of the Tenth Indiana, and was splendidly executed by both regiments. The enemy now gave way and fled in every direction in the utmost confusion, being hotly pursued by all your forces in the field.
In accordance with your order I started off to the left of the road through the fields and woods, with the Tenth Indiana and Fourth Kentucky Regiments, in pursuit of the retreating enemy. I proceeded in this way until I struck the lower Fishing Creek road, about one mile from the main road leading to the enemy’s fortifications. I turned and proceeded down the road until I formed a junction with your column, and remained with you until we came in sight of the enemy’s breastworks, where I halted my brigade until you had arranged your batteries upon the hills commanding the rebel camp. After the artillery had shelled the enemy’s works for some time I received your order to move with my brigade to Russell’s house, on the north bank of the Cumberland River, and prevent a flank movement of the enemy, and gain an eminence which commanded the ferry at a point where the river divides the enemy’s camp. I immediately occupied the place specified in your order with the Tenth Indiana, Fourth Kentucky, Fourteenth Ohio, and Tenth Kentucky Regiments. Captain Kenny’s battery of artillery shortly afterwards came by your order and took position on the hill at Russell’s house with my brigade. Colonels Steedman and Harlan, of the Fourteenth Ohio and Tenth Kentucky Regiments, had, after a forced march of 18 miles in six hours, overtaken us at the point where your column halted for the purpose of shelling the enemy. I very sincerely regret that you were deprived of the services of these two gallant regiments in the battle. Their reports, which I herewith transmit to you, will fully explain why they were not with me on the morning of the engagement.
At 10 o’clock on the night of the 19th I ordered the gallant Colonel Harlan, with his regiment, to advance and take possession of a hill half a mile from Russell’s house, which overlooked the camp of the enemy, and to hold it at all hazards, and directed him at daybreak on the following morning to take possession of the enemy’s works if it were ascertained that they had evacuated them. At 3 o’clock on the morning of the 20th you directed me to send another regiment to the support of Colonel Harlan on the hill. I sent forward Colonel Steedman, of the Fourteenth Ohio Regiment. At daylight Colonels Harlan and Steedman, with their regiments, took possession of the enemy’s fortifications, the rebels having deserted them during the night. In a very short time afterwards the Tenth Indiana and Fourth Kentucky Regiments moved up into the deserted intrenchments. My brigade, after reaching the enemy’s camp, took possession of twelve pieces of artillery, a large quantity of arms of every description, ammunition, commissary and quartermaster’s stores, horses, wagons, &c., all of which the enemy had abandoned in their flight. The panic among them was so great that they even left a number of their sick and wounded in a dying state upon the river bank.
The loss of my brigade in killed and wounded is as follows: Tenth Indiana Regiment, 11 killed and 75 wounded; Fourth Kentucky Regiment, 8 killed and 52 wounded; total, 19 killed and 127 wounded.
The enemy’s loss in killed and wounded cannot be short of 800, and some intelligent prisoners estimate it as high as 1,500 in killed and wounded and drowned in crossing the river.
The officers and men under my command behaved themselves with coolness and courage during the entire engagement. Their gallantry and bravery never were excelled upon any battle-field, and seldom equaled. In justice to the enemy I must say they exhibited a courage and determination worthy of a better cause. General Zollicoffer, who commanded a part of their forces, fell while leading on his men, his body pierced by three bullets.
I cannot close my report without mentioning the names of Lieutenant-Colonel Kise and Maj. A. O. Miller, of the Tenth Indiana Regiment, who gallantly and bravely led forward their men and withstood the whole force of the enemy solitary and alone for one hour. Oliver S. Rankin, quartermaster of the Tenth Indiana Regiment, with his characteristic bravery and energy, organized his train for the purpose of advancing or retiring as the circumstances might require, and promptly supplied the men of the Tenth Indiana Regiment with cartridges, from 60 to 75 rounds of which were fired by them during the action.
Capt. A. C. Gillem, division quartermaster who promptly organized an ammunition train and moved it on to the field, and by his untiring exertions contributed greatly to our success, is deserving of the highest praise.
Capt. George W. Roper, division commissary, merits great praise for his services on the field of battle and for so promptly organizing his provision train, which supplied the men with rations when they were almost exhausted.
Capt. R. C. Kise, my assistant adjutant-general, who was of invaluable service to me in assisting and arranging the troops on the field and communicating my orders, is entitled to the highest praise and honors.
Capt. D. N. Steele, brigade quartermaster, and Capt. D. N. Nye, brigade commissary, for the faithful performance of their duties, are entitled to credit.
The gallant Col. R. L. McCook, commanding the Third Brigade, I shall ever remember with feelings of gratitude and admiration for the prompt manner in which he sustained me in the hour of trial.
To Major Hunt of the Fourth Kentucky Regiment, who exerted himself in cheering on his men and giving them every encouragement and assistance, great honor and praise should be accorded.
In justice to my own feelings I cannot close this report without congratulating the commanding general of this division on the splendid victory achieved over the rebel forces by the troops under his command at Logan’s field. The number of the enemy’s forces engaged in battle must have been over 8,000 men, while the Federal force actually engaged did not exceed at any time over 2,500.
All the papers and plans of the late General Zollicoffer have fallen into my hands, which I have preserved for the future use of the Government.
All of which is respectfully submitted.
MAHLON D. MANSON,
Colonel, Comdg. Second Brigade, First Division, Dept. Ohio.
Brig. Gen. GEORGE H. THOMAS,
Commanding First Division, Department of the Ohio.
Manson’s estimate of Union strength was low; Thomas had approximately 4000 to 4400 men. The victory at Mill Springs was the first one of significance for a Union army in the Civil War, driving Crittenden’s army from the field and out of Kentucky. Manson was promoted to Brigadier General in March of 1862. He was wounded twice during the war, first at the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky in October 1862, and again at the Battle of Resaca in May 1864 during the Atlanta Campaign. He left the army at the end of 1864 and returned to civilian life.
Generals in Blue by Ezra J. Warner
Holding Kentucky for the Union by R. M. Kelly. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume I, edited by Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion Series I, Volume 7.