Colonel Robert L. McCook’s Report on His Brigade at the Battle of Mill Springs, or Logan’s Crossroads
In November 1861, Confederate Brigadier General Felix Zollicoffer set up a fortified winter camp on the north side of the Cumberland River near the town of Mill Springs, Kentucky. Zollicoffer commanded two brigades, each consisting of infantry, artillery, and cavalry. In January of 1862, the commander of the District of East Tennessee, Major General George Crittenden, arrived at Zollicoffer’s camp to assume overall command. Zollicoffer had moved most of his troops and artillery to the north side of the river, building fortifications there, leaving a much smaller force on the more defensible higher ground on the south side.
As Crittenden was taking command of the Confederate forces, Union General George H. Thomas was advancing on the Rebel camp. Thomas had been ordered by Major General Don Carlos Buell to attack
Crittenden and drive the Confederates back across the Cumberland River. Thomas paused his march on January 17th at an intersection called Logan’s Crossroads, about 10 miles north of the Confederate camp, to wait for reinforcements from Brigadier General Albin F. Schoepf’s command to join him before attacking the Confederates.
With Thomas’s army just a few miles away and growing stronger with reinforcements, Crittenden decided to take the offensive. With the U.S. forces to their north and the Cumberland River at their backs, the Rebels were at risk of being trapped between the Union troops and a river they did not have the means to cross quickly.
Crittenden undertook a night march in the rain, with Zollicoffer in command of the lead brigade, arriving at the Federal camp about dawn on January 19th, when they encountered Union pickets. The first shots of the battle were fired.
Thomas’ 2nd Brigade, under Colonel Mahlon D. Manson was in the forefront of the enemy assault. The fighting was back and forth with neither side gaining much ground. In the rain and smoke, Zollicoffer rode his horse into the Union line, thinking it was his own, and was killed. This caused the Confederates to drop back a bit temporarily. Crittenden then ordered an assault by Zollicoffer’s Brigade, reinforced by a second brigade under Brigadier General William H. Carroll.
Thomas then ordered forward his 3rd brigade, commanded by Colonel Robert L. McCook. This small brigade consisted of the 9th Ohio Infantry, under Major Gustave Kammerling, and the 2nd Minnesota Infantry, under Colonel Horatio Philips Van Cleve. Thomas had the 2nd Minnesota vigorously attack the Confederate center, while the 9th Ohio hit the left flank.
This turned the tide of the battle. The 2nd Minnesota slowly gained ground in the center. Captain J.W. Bishop of the 2nd Minnesota recalled the close combat:
The rain had now ceased, but the air was so thick that a man was hardly visible a musket’s length away. Suddenly, the Second’s line came against a rail fence with an open field in
its front, and a line of the enemy’s troops was dimly seen through the mist, some twenty rods [330 feet] distant in the field. The firing commenced at once, and in a few minutes the enemy’s line, just mentioned, had disappeared. It was, in fact, his second line, the first being literally under the guns and noses of the Second, only the fence intervening. The sudden arrival of the Second at this fence was a surprise to the rebel Twentieth Tennessee, which was already just arrived there, and it was a surprise also to our boys to discover, in the heat of the engagement, that the opposite side of the fence was lined with recumbent rebels. Here, as Colonel Bob McCook says in his official report, “the contest at first was almost hand-to-hand; the enemy and the Second Minnesota were poking their guns through the same fence.” This condition of things could not and did not last long after our boys really discovered and got after them; many of the enemy were killed or wounded there, but more after they got up and were trying to get away. Some remained and surrendered.
Meanwhile, the 9th Ohio was slowly pushing back on the Confederate left. Finally, the 9th performed a bayonet charge which turned the flank. The Rebel line broke, and the Confederates ran from the field toward their Mill Springs camp. Thomas advanced on the camp, along with the now arrived reinforcements under General Schoepf. Thomas deployed artillery and shelled the camp until dark, and an attack was planned for the next day. During the night, the Confederates ferried troops over to the other side of the Cumberland on multiple crossings with their limited boats. The next day, the Union troops moved in on a now abandoned camp. In their retreat, the Rebels left behind artillery, wagons, horses, and other supplies, plus their wounded. Crittenden retreated to Tennessee.
Colonel McCook filed this after action report on his brigade at the Battle of Mill Springs, or Logan’s Crossroads as it is also known:
Hdqrs. Third Brig., First Div., Dept. of the Ohio,
Somerset, January 21, 1862.
Sir: I have the honor respectfully to submit the following report of the part which my brigade took in the battle of the Cumberland, on the 19th instant:
Shortly before 7 a. m. Colonel Manson informed me that the enemy had driven in his pickets and were approaching in force. That portion of my brigade with me, the Ninth Ohio and the Second Minnesota Regiments, were formed and marched to a point near the junction of the Mill Springs and Columbia roads and immediately in rear of Wetmore’s battery, the Ninth Ohio on the right and the Second Minnesota on the left of the Mill Springs road. From this point I ordered a company of the Ninth Ohio to skirmish the woods on the right, to prevent any flank movement of the enemy. Shortly after this Colonel Manson, commanding the Second Brigade, in person informed me that the enemy were in force and in position on the top of the next hill beyond the woods and that they forced him to retire. I ordered my brigade forward through the woods in line of battle, skirting the Mill Springs road. The march of the Second Minnesota Regiment was soon obstructed by the Tenth Indiana, which was scattered through the woods waiting for ammunition. In front of them I saw the Fourth Kentucky engaging the enemy, but evidently retiring. At this moment the enemy with shouts advanced on them about 100 yards, and took position within the field on the hill top near the second fence from the woods.
At this time I received your order to advance as rapidly as possible
to the hill-top. I ordered the Second Minnesota regiment to move by the flank until it had passed the Tenth Indiana and Fourth Kentucky, and then deploy to the left of the road. I ordered the Ninth Ohio Regiment to move through the first corn field on the right of the road and take position at the farther fence, selecting the best cover possible. The position of the Minnesota regiment covered the ground formerly
occupied by the Fourth Kentucky and Tenth Indiana, which brought their right flank within about 10 feet of the enemy where he had advanced upon the Fourth Kentucky. The Ninth Ohio’s position checked an attempt on the part of the enemy to flank the position taken by the Second Minnesota, and consequently brought the left wing almost against the enemy where he was stationed behind straw stacks and piles of fence rails. Another regiment was stationed immediately in front of the Ninth Ohio, well covered by a fence and some woods, a small field not more than 60 yards wide intervening between the positions. The enemy also had possession of a small log house, stable, and corn crib, about 50 yards in front of the Ninth Ohio. Along the lines of each of the regiments and from the enemy’s front a hot and deadly fire was opened. On the right wing of the Minnesota regiment the contest at first was almost hand to hand; the enemy and the Second Minnesota were poking their guns through the same fence. However, before the fight continued long in this way that portion of the enemy contending with the Second Minnesota retired in good order to some rail piles hastily thrown together, the point from which they had advanced upon the Fourth Kentucky. This portion of the enemy obstinately maintaining its position, and the balance remaining as before described, a desperate fire was continued for about thirty minutes, with seemingly doubtful results. The importance of possessing the log house, stable, and corn crib became apparent, and Companies A, B, C, and D, of the Ninth Ohio, were ordered to flank the enemy upon the extreme left and obtain possession of the house. This done, still the enemy stood firm in his position and cover.
During this time the artillery of the enemy constantly overshot my brigade. Seeing the superior number of the enemy and their bravery, I concluded the best mode of settling the contest was to order the Ninth Ohio Regiment to charge the enemy’s position with the bayonet and turn his left flank. The order was given the regiment to empty their guns and fix bayonets; this done, it was ordered to charge. Every man sprang to it with alacrity and vociferous cheering, the enemy seemingly prepared to resist it, but before the regiment reached him the
lines commenced to give way. But few of them stood, possibly 10 or 12.
This broke the enemy’s flank, and the whole line gave way in great confusion, and the whole turned into a perfect rout. As soon as I could form the regiments of my brigade I pursued the enemy to the hospital, where you joined the advance. I then moved my command forward under orders in line of battle to the foot of Moulden’s Hill, passing on the way one abandoned cannon.
The next morning we marched into the deserted works of the enemy, and on the following day returned to our camp. At the time of the first advance of the Ninth Ohio I was shot through the right leg below the knee. Three other balls passed through my horse, and another through my overcoat. After this I was compelled to go on foot until I got to the hospital of the enemy. About the same time I was shot in the leg my aide-de-camp, Andrew S. Burt, was shot in the side.
Too much praise cannot be awarded to the company officers, non-commissioned officers, and the soldiers of the two regiments. Notwithstanding they had been called out before breakfast and had
not tasted food all day, they conducted themselves throughout like veterans, obeying each command and executing every movement as though they were upon parade. Although all the officers of the command evinced the greatest courage and deported themselves under fire in a proper soldierly manner, were I to fail to specify some of them it would be great injustice. Lieut. Andrew S. Burt (aide-decamp), of the Eighteenth U.S Infantry; Hunter Brooke, private in the Second Minnesota Regiment and volunteer aide-de-camp; Maj. Gustave Kammerling, commanding the Ninth Ohio; Capt. Charles Joseph, Company A; Capt. Frederick Schroeder, Company D; George H. Harries, adjutant of the Ninth Ohio Regiment; Col. H. P. Van Cleve, James George, lieutenant-colonel, and Alex.
Wilkin, major of the Second Minnesota Regiment, each displayed great valor and judgment in the discharge of their respective duties, so much so, in my judgment, as to place this country and every honest friend thereof under obligations to them.
In conclusion, permit me, sir, to congratulate you on the victory achieved, and allow me to express the hope that your future efforts will be crowned with the same success.
Attached you will find the number of the force of my brigade engaged and also a list of the killed and wounded.
I am, respectfully, yours,
ROBERT L. McCOOK,
Col. 9th Ohio Regt, Comdg. 3d Brig., 1st Div., Dept. of the Ohio.
Brig. Gen. George H. Thomas,
Commanding First Division.
Total U.S. losses were 40 killed, and 207 wounded, and 15 missing, while Confederate losses were 125 killed, 309 wounded, and 95 captured or missing (although, like most Civil War battles, the totals vary based on the source). The Battle of Mill Springs was the largest Union victory up to that point in the Civil War, and together with the victory at the Battle of Middle Creek a few days earlier on January 10th, Confederate forces were effectively driven out of Kentucky until General Braxton Bragg’s invasion in the late summer and fall of 1862, which ended with the Battle of Perryville.
The Civil War in Kentucky by Lowell H. Harrison.
Holding Kentucky of the Union by R.M. Kelly. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume I. Edited by Edited by Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel.
The Mill Springs Campaign: Personal Experiences and Observations of a Company Officer By J.W. Bishop. In Glimpses of the Nation’s Struggle: A Series of Papers Read Before the Minnesota Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, 1887-1889, Second Series.
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume 7.
The Story of a Regiment: Being a Narrative of the Service of the Second Regiment, Minnesota Veteran Volunteer Infantry, In the Civil War of 1861-1865 by Judson W. Bishop.
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