After the defeat at the Battle of Middle Creek / Big Sandy on 10 January 1862, the Confederates were definitely on the defensive in eastern / central Kentucky. Kentucky was a key area for the Union to establish dominance, both politically and logistically. The long hoped for push into Tennessee by Ulysses S. Grant would be happening in February 1862, so the importance of clearing Kentucky of any serious Confederate forces was paramount to the Union. Not only would Tennessee be open to attack, but the Union would have direct access to the Cumberland Gap through eastern Kentucky and Tennessee to western Virginia. For the south, this area was also critical for supplies for the Confederacy with such staples as salt and mineral mines for ammunition.
Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer was sent to defend the Cumberland Gap and in the winter of 1861/62, he decided to occupy the area south of present day Nancy, Kentucky for winter quarters. Zollicoffer built defenses along both sides of the Cumberland River. Union General George Thomas wanted to break the remainder of the eastern Kentucky forces under General George Crittenden, Zolicoffer’s senior. When Crittenden determined that Thomas was to attack the area, he took personal command of the position.
As Thomas moved into the area in heavy rain, Zollicoffer and Crittenden thought they might be able to split Thomas’s forces by catching them off guard with the swollen Fishing Creek separating Union camps. Zollicoffer took his troops out of their defensive positions in the middle of the night for a forced march through appalling conditions to attack. The forces met at the Battle of Logan’s Crossroads, also known as the Battle of Fishing Creek (not to be confused of the North Carolina Revolutionary War battle of the same name), near Nancy, KY.
The Battle of Logan’s Crossroads
The Confederates achieved some level of surprise in the attack, but Union pickets and a cavalry patrol provided enough alert for Thomas to get his men moving. Crittenden had some early success, but three factors meant the battle was soon to sway in the Union’s favor. First, at least a regiment of Rebels had old flintlock rifles that would not fire in the deluge, so at least 1/8th of the force had to be sent to the rear. Second, Fishing Creek, although swollen, was not impassable, so Thomas was able to bring full force to bear. Finally, the Yankees had a further forces advancing to join the fray.
As if all of this was not enough, Zollicoffer got lost whilst working the lines and met up with Union Colonel Speed Fry. It is not clear as to whether both confused each other intially as friend or foe, but Fry was on the uptick quicker and recognized Zollicoffer for who he was and shot him in the chest. The loss of Zollicoffer threw panic into the closest Rebel brigade which took flight. Their panic sparked the other brigade and soon the Union rout was on. Crittenden got his troops across the Cumberland in a ragged retreat, but was to later be reprimanded on charges of drunkenness at the battle with aspersions being cast about his commitment to the southern cause. His daddy would not have been proud.
The Union was successful in pushing the line across eastern and south-central Kentucky much further south to near the Tennessee line. The stage was now set for attacking down the western ends of the Tennessee River and Cumberland River in western Kentucky and Tennessee at Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862.
The Battle of Logan’s Crossroad Motorcycle Ride
Check out the Cumberland Cultural Heritage Highway for beautiful ride around the area of the battle.