Tag: Tennessee River

Battle of Logan’s Crossroads – 19 January 1862

Background

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.

Ulysses S. Grant Begins Western Campaign 2 February 1862

Map by Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com [CC BY 3.0 or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On 2 February 1862, the Commander of the Union’s Army of the Tennessee, U.S. Grant, began the action that would lead to his being recognized by President Abraham Lincoln as a General with a bias for action. Grant launched his forces from Cairo, Illinois, through far western Kentucky towards Forts Heiman, Henry (on the Tennessee River) and Donelson (on the Cumberland River).

Grant Begins Western Campaign

Grant had a sizable force consisting of three infantry divisions, led by John A. McClernand, Charles F. Smith and Lew Wallace. There were also two regiments of cavalry and eight batteries of artillery. Grant also had Captain Andrew Foote’s squadron of seven gunboats. (troop numbers are from the excellent military history of the USA Civil War, The Longest Night by David J. Eicher)

The force, although reasonable, was not huge, so Grant had to make a decision to attack or wait for the initiative to be sent to him from his superiors. However, the western theatre (generally in Kentucky and south of the Ohio River and west of the Appalachian Mountains, but also in Kansas and Missouri) was split into three commands. Those commands were frozen by indecision on how to attack the south, so Grant might have waited forever to get his chance to attack. The known forces were unclear to both sides, as proven by the still debatable troop numbers present at Fort Donelson to weeks later. Grant chose the warrior’s path of seizing the initiative whilst others debated strategy. He proposed to his Commander, General Henry Halleck, that he proceed to take Fort Henry and open up Tennessee via the Tennessee River. The rest as they say is history. Grant’s star was on the rise.

Grant Begins Western Campaign Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Leaving Cairo, Illinois, cross the Ohio River near its confluence with the Mississippi River on U.S. Highway 51 towards Paducah, Kentucky. Take US-62 out of Paducah and US-68 down to KenLake State Resort Park on the Cumberland River (now Kentucky Lake) pretty much following the path that Grant followed to get to the Fort Henry area. Continue on KY-SR-94 down to Paris Landing State Park in Tennessee and then into the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. In the southwest corner of LBL, near the Piney Bay Campground, you can find the remains of Fort Henry. A map of the ride is here.

Grant Takes Forts Heiman and Henry on Tennessee River 6 Feb 1862

On 6 February 1862, Union forces descended on the hapless Forts Heiman and Henry on the Tennessee River near the Kentucky / Tennessee border. If there was the one action that precipitated the fall of the Confederate west militarily, this was it. With control of the Tennessee River from Illinois through western Kentucky and western Tennessee all the way down to North Alabama, the Union changed the war with one stroke.

Forts Heiman and Henry

Fort Henry was under the Confederate command of General Lloyd Tilghman, but little could any General do about a poor position and a rising river. If Grant and Foote had not taken him, the river would have. Torrential rains had made the fort almost untenable for river guns. The heights across the river at Fort Heiman were to have been improved and might have made a difference, but the lack of men and equipment meant that the construction was not complete.

Confederate hopes flooded

A few days previous, Tilghman actually thought the Rebels might inflict a terrible loss on the Yankees, if reserves could be brought down from Columbus and over from Bowling Green. In the end, Tilghman saw he had a losing hand when no re-enforcements came to his call. Tilghman decided to save the infantry and personally join a small artillery detachment to hold off the Yankees long enough to let the infantry escape to Fort Donelson. He succeeded and surrendered to Foote on a gunboat at the entrance to the fort. Grant’s infantry divisions were bogged down in mud on either side of the river after alighting from Foote’s troop transports, so they didn’t even get in place before the surrender.

Commodore Foote’s ironclads had taken a significant beating in the battle with the Confederate river guns, but Foote had a few fast timberclads continue up the Tennessee River to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to wreak havoc with Confederate shipping and railway river bridges.

Whiskey and Combined Operations

An excellent anecdote from Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville pages, 184-185;
“At fifty-six he [Foote] had spent forty years as a career officer fighting two things he hated most, slavery and whiskey. It was perhaps a quirk of fate to have placed him thus alongside Grant, who could scarcely be said to have shown an aversion for either.” But both men got along, because they both believed in combined operations fervently. Foote was quoted as saying the Army and Navy “were like blades of shears–united, invincible; separated, almost useless.”

Forts Heiman and Henry Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

If you’re in Memphis, try this ride through beautiful far west Tennessee going through the Reelfoot Lake State Park area and on to the Fort Henry area in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.

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