Visiting the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky Battlefield
The most famous Richmond in the Civil War is of course, Richmond, Virginia. But another Richmond, this one in east central Kentucky, also was the scene of a battle involving thousands of soldiers.
In the summer of 1862, two Confederate armies under Generals E. Kirby Smith and Braxton Bragg moved north into Kentucky in an attempt to drive Union forces out of that border state, and it was hoped, convince Kentuckians who had been reluctant to join the Confederate army to change their minds (the state had regiments on both sides).
Smith marched north from Knoxville, Tennessee on August 13th setting his sights on the capture of Lexington, Kentucky. Standing in his way were a pair of Union brigades deployed a few miles south of Richmond. Smith decided to attack the Union line before it could be reinforced.
The commander of the Union line was Brigadier General Mahlon Manson, who was also one of the brigade commanders. Brigadier General Charles Cruft
commanded the other brigade. Manson’s command consisted of inexperienced troops, mostly from Kentucky , Indiana, and Ohio, who had not yet been fully trained. It did not help that the Confederate division closing in on them were veteran fighters under the command of Brigadier General Patrick Cleburne, one of the better field commanders in the Confederate army.
On August 29th, Colonel John S. Scott’s cavalry led Cleburne’s advance, meeting resistance at the town of Rogersville, about seven miles south of Richmond and ahead of the main union line. Scott’s cavalry was driven back and fighting ended late in the day.
Early in the morning of August 30th, Cleburne advanced and attacked the Union line near the Mt. Zion church, and was joined by another Confederate division under Brigadier General Thomas Churchill. Though they were inexperienced, the Federals put up a good fight until a successful Rebel attack on their right drove the Union troops back in confusion. Manson and Cruft decided to set up a new line just south of Richmond. Manson’s commander, Major General William Nelson, arrived on the scene and attempted to rally the troops. General Kirby Smith also reached the field, and sent Scott’s Cavalry around the back of the Federal line. A renewed Confederate attack broke the Federal line, but Scott cutoff the retreat and took thousands of Union prisoners.
It was an overwhelming victory for the Confederates, considered to be one of the most lopsided Rebel victories of the war. Out of 6500 Union troops, 206 were killed, 844 were wounded, and about 4300 were captured. Nelson was wounded, but managed to escape; General Manson was captured. Confederate losses were listed as 78 killed, 372 wounded, and one missing. Smith captured Lexington on September 1st and Frankfort, the state capital, on September 3rd. The Confederate invasion of Kentucky was finally turned back at the Battle of Perryville in October.
The Richmond Kentucky Battlefield
Several important sites from the Battle of Richmond are preserved by the Battle of Richmond Association, a private group that partners with other local organizations in the preservation effort. The sites are connected by a 10 stop tour route. A portion of the battle site is also located in the adjacent Blue Grass Army Depot.
The tour starts at the Rogers House, which is the Visitor Center for the battlefield. Built in 1811, the house may have been used by General Manson as his headquarters. Union troops encamped around it, and much fighting occurred in the area. The house served as a field hospital after the battle. Extensive information about the battle and its participants can be found at the visitor center, including an electric map, a film, and artifacts from the battle.
There are other buildings present on the battlefield that date back to the time of the battle. The Mt. Zion Church, located at the site of one of the Union lines, is still there and remains an active church, with its exterior similar to what it was at the time of the battle. It, too, served as a hospital.
Not far from the Mt. Zion Church is the Pleasant View House, built in 1825 and owned at the time of the battle by the Kavanaugh Armstrong family. The current structure was enlarged over the years by subsequent owners. Also on site is a small brick building that served as slave quarters. Fighting occurred close by the home, and afterword, this house also was a hospital. A 2 1/2 mile paved hiking trail with interpretive signs about the fighting in this area is also located here.
The Madison County Courthouse, in Richmond itself, also existed at the time of the battle. Union prisoners of war were held around the courthouse awaiting parole.
The address for the Visitor Center at the Rogers House is 101 Battlefield Memorial Highway, Richmond, which is the intersection of U.S. Highways 25 and 421. It can be accessed from Exit 83 of I-75.
The Civil War in Kentucky by Lowell H. Harrison
The Civil War in Kentucky by Kent Masterson Brown
The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 1: Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume XVI, Part 1