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Union Correspondence Part 3 of 4

The Official Records pertaining to the Battle of Mill Springs, KY, January 19, 1862

Including: Letters, Photographs and other significant documents

Compiled by COL Jerry McFarland, William Neikirk, David Gilbert and The Mill Springs Battlefield Association


December 12,1861

General Orders, No. 24, Department of the Missouri

See Series I, Vol. VIII, p. 431


Lebanon, Ky.,

December 14, 1861

Brigadier-General BUELL, Louisville, Ky.:

.....I have received no letter from General Schoepf since the 10th.  An officer was here yesterday direct from the Thirty-fifth Ohio.  He left Somerset on the 12th.  General Schoepf [believed on] road at that time that the enemy was returning across the Cumberland, but he could get no positive information, as he could not rely on his cavalry.  Schoepf's position is on Fishing Creek, between Somerset and Mill Springs.

GEO. H. THOMAS, Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers


Brig. Gen. GEORGE H. THOMAS, Commanding First Division, Lebanon, Ky.

.....GENERAL:  Since my last communication things have been quiet about Somerset.

.....This evening our scouts brought in a contraband---a colored boy about 26 years of age, who states that he is or was the servant of Lieutenant Allen, of a Tennessee regiment, C. S. Army.  This boy was sent out from the enemy's camp about 1 a.m. today with the dinner of his master (Lieutenant Allen), then on picket guard, but mistaking his road, fell into the bands of our scouts.

.....This is quite an intelligent boy, and gives the following statement:  The enemy are principally on this side of the river, fortifying at a point near Mill Springs and expecting an attack from us.  His force consists of one Alabama regiment (----); one Mississippi regiment (Newman); one Tennessee regiment (Stanton); one Tennessee regiment (Murray); one Tennessee regiment (Curran); one not known (Shaw); one regiment cavalry (Tennessee), Colonel Bridgman; one regiment cavalry, Tennessee (----); three single companies cavalry, Captains Sanson, Bledsoe, and (----).  Major Helveti was shot in the arm and with 15 men of the Thirty-fifth Ohio, will be sent to Nashville today.  They have eight pieces of artillery----two brass 6-pounders, four iron guns, is not certain as to their caliber----and two short brass pieces (howitzers).  They have two regiments on the other side of the river (infantry and one company of cavalry), the latter kept as scouts.  What shall I do with the contraband?


Very respectfully yours,

A. SCHOEPF, Brigadier-General



December 16, 1861

General BUELL:


.....Latest news from General Schoepf, December 12, just received.  Enemy encamped at mouth of Fishing Creek.  He thinks they can be captured by sending a force against them from Columbia, whilst he crosses the river at Somerset and gets in their rear.

.....General Boyle writes from Columbia, December 15, that his scouts can neither hear nor see anything of the enemy in the direction of Glasgow or Burkesville.  Will send copy of General Schoepf's communication by mail.


GEO. H. THOMAS, Brigadier-General



VII. A brigade is hereby formed for duty in Eastern Kentucky, to be constituted as follows:

Eighteenth Brigade

Colonel GARFIELD, commanding

42d Regiment Ohio Volunteers, Colonel Garfield

40th Regiment Ohio Volunteers, Colonel Cranor

14th Regiment Kentucky Volunteers, Col. L. T. Moore

____ Regiment Kentucky Volunteers, Colonel Lindsey

Captain McLaughlin's squadron of Ohio cavalry and three squadrons (six companies) of the First Kentucky Cavalry (Colonel Wolford's) are attached to the brigade.

By command of Brigadier-General Buell:

[JAMES B. FRY, Assistant Adjutant-General]


Somerset, Ky.

December 18, 1861

(Received December 20, 1861)

General GEORGE H. THOMAS, Commanding First Division, Lebanon


.....GENERAL:  In my communication of yesterday I suggested that I intended to crowd the enemy today.  Accordingly at sunrise this morning I proceeded by two columns, one of three regiments and four pieces of artillery under my immediate command and the other of two regiments and two pieces of artillery under command of General Carter.
.....Proceeding about 3 miles, the road became impassable for artillery and the pieces were left, while I advanced with the infantry to a point about 6 miles farther and about 2-1/2 miles from the enemy's fortified position near Mill springs, at which point we came in contact with the enemy's cavalry, and a few shots were exchanged between them and a small detachment of mine under Major Coffee.
.....General Carter, advancing on the other road (to the south of my route and nearly parallel), proceeded to within about the same distance of the enemy's position, when he met with about 80 of his cavalry, but having no cavalry, General Carter could only use his artillery at long range across Fishing Creek against him, dispersing his cavalry, however, and causing him to make a hasty retreat.
.....From my own observation, as well as from reliable information obtained from different sources, it is evident that if the enemy will not come out for a field fight, which he does not seem inclined to do, he can only be taken at the point of the bayonet under many disadvantages, and a probable heavy loss of life on our side.
.....The country adjacent to his intrenchments is of that broken and hilly nature that it would be difficult to get artillery in a commanding position, and, if got there, would be in great danger of being lost unless we were positively certain of success, a retreat with any degree of promptness being impracticable.  If, however, we should drive him from his intrenchments, his next move would be to recross the river, and, if he succeeded in doing so, would instantly shell us out of his works from the commanding cliffs on the opposite side of the river.
.....Again, if I were to cross the river at Waitsborough some 12 miles above Mill Springs, and place myself in his rear on the cliffs and open on him from that point, he would then push his way unmolested to the north and east, and become a troublesome visitor along the route from Somerset to London and toward Cumberland Gap.
.....Under these circumstances I hardly know what move is best to be made.  With my present force I can hold him in check where he is, and perhaps whip him if I can coax him out, which I shall still try to do.
.....In a former communication you spoke of Wolford's cavalry joining me.  It would be extremely desirable to have at least four companies of good cavalry.  The two which I have are poorly clad and armed with only a musket, wholly unsuited to that arm of service.  Can you not give me four of Wolford's best companies; with suitable arms?  With this addition to my command I should be in a much better condition for service.  Major Coffee could command this battalion, and the two companies now here could join their regiment and provide themselves with clothing and more suitable arms.
.....I avail myself of the mail facilities between this point and your headquarters, for the reason that I have no horses suitable for express services, and the difference in time being so small that not much would be gained by using express.
.....Should anything urgent occur, however, I will forward by special express by hiring a horse.
.....I inclose a note just handed me by Colonel Hoskins, now encamped near the river at Waitsborough.


Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
A.SCHOEPF, Brigadier-General, Commanding First Kentucky Brigade




December 18,1861


.....GENERAL:  Today I took six of my companies and one section of Captain Hewett's battery and proceeded in the direction of Waitsborough, having the battery and one company on the bluff.  With the remaining five companies I proceeded to Waitsborough but saw no rebels.  I found at the river three ferry-boats, which I rendered unseaworthy before leaving my old camp, but not so much so, however, but that they can be repaired in a few hours, which I should have had attended [to] today, but hearing the cannonading at Fishing Creek, I hastened back to camp in anticipation of marching orders.
.....If it be true, as reported, that there is a rebel force of only two regiments at Mill Springs, and that their whole transportation train is at that point, would it not be well to move three regiments with one of the batteries across the river upon them at Mill Springs, while the remaining force could annoy them in front?
.....Should we gain possession of Mill Springs, I have no doubt we could shell their fortifications on this side the river, while the loss of their many stores, artillery, and transportation train at Mill Springs, consisting of several loaded wagons, would be a blow from which this division of their army could not recover.
.....I learn there is also a small boat at a point just above the shoals and one other at Steigall's, making in all five boats, in which the artillery and infantry (without baggage train) could be crossed in a few hours? and make the march to Mill Springs in four or five hours.
.....I hope you will pardon me for thus obtruding my suggestions upon you.


W. A. HOSKINS, Colonel, Twelfth Kentucky Regiment



January 1, 1862



.....GENERAL:  In compliance with your instructions I have advised Captain Fry of the state of things about Somerset today, which amounts to nothing positive relative to the enemy further than a strong probability that he has no intention of moving from the vicinity of Mill Springs unless he is crowded, in which case he will probably recross the river.  At present, however, it appears evident that he is preparing for winter quarters where he is.  Your movement may change his plans.

.....I am credibly informed that Buckner sent to him very recently requesting a few regiments to re-enforce him, which request was not complied with, Zollicoffer declining to move in that direction either in whole or in part.


Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

A. SCHOEPF, Brigadier-General, Commanding First Kentucky Brigade



January 7, 1862

General THOMAS:


.....SIR:  A rebel steamboat passed Burkesville yesterday at 12 o'clock loaded with men and cannon and other arms, clothing, etc.

.....I send 300 cavalry to heights on this side to intercept it, if possible.  I will move with 300 of Third Kentucky and the Nineteenth Ohio to an advantageous position at the mouth of Renick's Creek, 2-1/2 miles above Burkesville, on the Cumberland.  I shall move the whole force here to Burkesville.  It is only 4 miles farther from Glasgow than Columbia.  I am not willing to see the Cumberland surrendered, without a struggle, to Zollicoffer and the rebel invaders.  If this movement is wrong, it can be censured.  I know it will be right if we whip the scoundrels, and wrong if otherwise.  More boats are expected up.  If we delay much longer the enemy will have time to bring his re-enforcements from Texas and Louisiana.

.....We have no cannon, and must rely on our rifles to take off the men from the boats.  With one piece of artillery the boats could be torn to atoms or sunk.

.....Can you not send me a section of a battery?  I have ordered your commissary to supply rations to the troops about to move.



J. T. BOYLE, Acting Brigadier-General



January 7, 1862

(Received January 8, 1862)

Brig. Gen. GEORGE H. THOMAS, Commanding Eastern Division

.....GENERAL:  I have received your instructions of January 1, 1862, yesterday.

.....On the 1st I made a sketch of the enemy's position and a statement of my views of an advantageous attack.  You have received from General Buell orders how to attack; I send you this now not as a suggestion but as information of the country surrounding the enemy.  The position at Somerset, while it may be regarded as a strong position for a force of 7,000 or 10,000 infantry, with one or two batteries, is assailable with a less force, from the fact that there is no one point of sufficient strategic importance upon which the whole force could be concentrated and command the surrounding heights.  It is also rendered assailable from the number of approaches to the place, passable roads for infantry, cavalry, and artillery leading into Somerset from every direction.

.....The same may be said of the position of the rebel forces stationed at Mill Springs, upon the south side of the Cumberland River, and at Beech Grove, upon the north side of the river.  At Mill springs the rebel force is represented as numbering 3,000, at which point they have constructed earth fortifications upon three sides; the north angle of the square being fortified by the precipitous bluffs of the Cumberland River.

.....The area embraced within said fortifications cannot be less than 400 acres, making a line to be defended of [15] miles.  The fortifications on the north side the river extend across a narrow neck of land between the main Cumberland River and White Oak Creek, and consist of intrenchments about 1 mile in length.

.....The timber upon the north of the intrenchments for a distance of three-fourths of a mile has been thrown so that there is no approach except by the narrow road in front, while the hope of a flank movement is futile, as the precipitous bluffs of the Cumberland upon the east and those of White Oak Creek upon the west render a flank movement of infantry impossible.

.....Had we a force of 10,000 men at this place we could then station behind fortifications at the two crossings of Fishing Creek (Hudson's and Salt works), 2,500 each, while with the remaining force of 5,000 we could cross the Cumberland at Waitsborough upon coal-barges, with which a bridge could soon be constructed, and by a forced march of the 5,000 infantry and two batteries secure the position A, which commands both the Mill Springs and Beech Grove encampments; also the crossing at Mill Springs.  Once the fire was opened upon them at Mill Springs, should they attempt to recross, the forces from the north side the Cumberland having only three small flats of capacity insufficient to cross 50 men each and requiring fully one-half hour to cross and recross, the whole force would fall an easy prey to us.  They have also a large quantity of army stores collected at Captain West's, consisting of bacon, wheat, corn, etc., while their main transportation train at Mill Springs, consisting of 1,000 wagons, horses, mules; and cattle, is certainly an object of acquisition.  Should Zollicoffer not attempt to recross the Cumberland upon our opening fire upon Mill Springs, but remain an idle spectator until that place was reduced, our guns could then be turned upon him, and the distance across to his encampment from point A not exceeding 1-1/4 miles, it would be within range of our guns.

.....The movement above indicated is preferred from the fact that it will in the first place secure a position which will command both encampments, and at the same time cuts off the retreat of the forces at Mill Springs, while, should Zollicoffer attempt to escape by abandoning his intrenchments and a move north, he would either fall upon our strong position at Fishing Creek or else move in the direction of Jamestown either of which would prove alike disastrous to him.

.....I would suggest that the movement should be made without baggage train, and, as position A is distant from Somerset only 18 miles, we might move down to the Cumberland at Waitsborough and make a feint by throwing up fortifications until night-fall, when our boats should descend to that point, the bridge be constructed and the crossing effected in about four hours.

.....In the meantime a reliable force, consisting of one or two companies, should be crossed at the north of the South Fork of the Cumberland, and fall into the main road at Weaver's, 7 miles from Waitsborough, returning in the direction of Waitsborough, taking in the rebel pickets as they return, which if accomplished, the position A could be secured by a march of three hours from Waitsborough.  I inclose you the sketch referred to in my letter.


Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

A. SCHOEPF, Brigadier-General