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General George B. Crittenden's Report Concerning the Battle of Mill Springs

Report of General A. Sidney Johnston, C. S. Army, commanding the Western Department. Bowling Green, Ky., January 22, 1862.

The following dispatch just received from Nashville: General Crittenden, with eight regiments of infantry and six pieces of artillery, attacked the enemy on Sunday morning, 19th instant, 7 o’clock, in strong position on Fishing Creek, 11 miles from Mill Springs. The attack was repulsed by superior numbers, and a disorderly retreat commenced after General Zollicoffer fell. The enemy followed to our breastworks and commenced shelling the camp on the right bank of the Cumberland River, which was abandoned during the night, with the loss of our artillery, ammunition, cavalry horses, teams, and camp equipments. The command is in full retreat towards Knoxville. Loss, killed and wounded on our side, about 500.

V. SHELIHA, Captain, on Staff of General Crittenden. A. S. JOHNSTON, General, Commanding. To J. P. Benjamin.


General George B. Crittenden in a pre-war Kentucky State Guard uniform.

Reports of Maj. Gen. George B. Crittenden, C. S. Army, commanding division. Headquarters, Beech Grove, Ky., January 18, 1862.

Sir : I am threatened by a superior force of the enemy in front, and finding it impossible to cross the river, I will have to make the fight on the ground I now occupy. If you can do so, I would ask that a diversion be made in my favor. I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant. G. B. CRITTENDEN, Major-General, Commanding.


Headquarters, Monticello, Ky., January 20, 1862.

Sir: On the night of the 18th (at 12 midnight) I moved my force from Beech Grove and attacked the enemy (in position about 9 or 10 miles from camp) at 7 o’clock the next morning. After a very severe fight of three hours I was compelled to retire, and reoccupied my intrenchments. The enemy advanced the same evening and opened their batteries upon us.

Finding it was impossible to remain where I was, I crossed my command to the south side of the river by a steamboat on the night of the 19th.

I am now on my march to Celina or some other point on the Cumberland River where I can communicate with Nashville. The country is entirely destitute of provisions.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant, G. B. CRITTENDEN, Major-General.


Headquarters Department of the West, Bowling Green, Ky. Division Headquarters, January 26, 1862.

Sir: I arrived at this place this afternoon, via Livingston, at which place I remained one day. My marches were slow, and during the time nothing was heard that was reliable of the enemy being on this side of the river. On the contrary, information has been brought, me that the enemy moved towards Columbia immediately after the battle. I am unable just yet to send a correct report, but I do not think my loss exceeded 300 killed and wounded. A good many men have left me on account of the country through which I have passed being the homes of a good portion of two regiments. I will in a few days, however, have them all together, when I will proceed at once to reorganize them. I would ask that the orders which I have given on the quartermasters and commissaries at Nashville be approved.

I await your orders at this point.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant, G. B. CRITTENDEN, Major-General.


Headquarters, Bowling Green, Ky. Division Headquarters, Gainesborough, Tenn., January 29, 1862.

Sir: I would most respectfully state that on the morning of the 19th of this month, at 12 o’clock, I moved from our intrenchments, on the north side of Cumberland River, and attacked the enemy in position about 10 miles from camp. The battle commenced about 7 a. m. and lasted until 10.30 a. m. the same day. The enemy had a superior force to my own, although the information in my possession previous to the battle was that their strength was a little less, or about equal. Re-enforcements were added to them during the engagement. After three and a half hours hard fighting my forces yielded to the overpowering numbers of the enemy, and, retiring, occupied our intrenchments the same afternoon. The enemy pursued me in force and established their batteries in front of my position. The range of their guns being superior to ours, together with the scarcity of provisions, and none to be had in the country, I deemed it advisable the same evening to cross the river, and took up my line of march for this place. From all the information in my possession the enemy’s loss in killed and wounded was greater than ours. We lost in killed and wounded not exceeding 300.

The enemy sought evidently to combine their forces stationed at Somerset and Columbia, and, when such junction was made, to invest my intrenchments. I deemed it proper, therefore, to make an attack before the junction could be effected, feeling confident, from the reports of the cavalry pickets, made at a late hour, that the waters of Fishing Creek were so high as to prevent them from uniting. My information in that respect was correct.

A heavy rain occurred during the progress of the engagement, and in consequence a great many of the flint-lock muskets in the hands of my men became almost unserviceable.

David Franklin McCoy of the 17th Tennessee Infantry. Notice the flintlock musket he shows in this image.

I am pained to make report of the death of Brig. Gen. F. K. Zollicoffer, who fell while gallantly leading his brigade against the foe. In his fall the country has sustained a great loss. In counsel he has always shown wisdom, and in battle braved dangers, while coolly directing the movements of his troops.

I will as soon as possible reorganize my command. Supplies, camp and garrison equipage, &c., are coming to me daily from Nashville by steamboat.

In a few days I will make a report more in detail.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant, G. B. CRITTENDEN, Major-General.


Division Headquarters, Camp Fogg, Tenth., February 13, 1862.

Sir: I have the honor to submit the following report of the engagement of January 19, near Fishing Creek, Pulaski County, Kentucky:

On January 17 I was occupying Mill Springs, on the south side of the Cumberland River, with the Seventeenth, Twenty eighth, and Thirty-seventh Tennessee Regiments, the First Battalion Tennessee Cavalry, two companies of the Third Battalion Tennessee Cavalry, and four pieces of artillery. I was also at the same time occupying Beech Grove, on the north bank of the river, and directly opposite Mill Springs, with the Fifteenth Mississippi, Sixteenth Alabama, [Nineteenth, Twentieth, Twenty-fifth, and Twenty-ninth Tennessee Regiments, two battalions of Tennessee cavalry, two independent cavalry companies, and twelve pieces of artillery.

General Felix Zollicoffer

For some time the enemy in front of Beech Grove had occupied Somerset, 18 miles distant, with eight regiments of infantry and with artillery; and Columbia, 35 miles distant, with five regiments of infantry. On January 17 I was informed that the force from Columbia, with a large addition, making a total of from 6,000 to 10,000 men, with guns of a large caliber, under General Thomas, commanding the First Division of the Federal Army in Kentucky, was moving across my front, on the road from Columbia towards Somerset, with the intention of forming a junction with the Somerset force and attacking Beech Grove.

On the 18th, at daylight, I moved the Seventeenth and Twenty-eighth Tennessee Regiments across the river from Mill Springs to Beech Grove. On the 18th I was informed that the force under General Thomas was encamped at Webb’s [Logan’s] Cross-Roads, a point 10 miles from Beech Grove and 8 miles from Somerset, at which the roads from Columbia to Somerset and Beech Grove to Somerset unite, and that it would there await both a re-enforcement (that I was advised was advancing from tho rear) and the passage of Fishing Creek by the Somerset force. It was necessary that the Somerset force should cross Fishing Creek before it could join the force under General Thomas or approach Beech Grove, and for these purposes it had advanced from Somerset. I was advised that late and continuous rains would prevent the passage of Fishing Creek on the 18th and 19th by any infantry force.

In the then condition of my command I could array for battle about 4,000 effective men. Absolute want of the necessary provisions to feed my command was pressing. The country around was barren or exhausted. Communication with Nashville by water was cut off by a force of the enemy occupying the river below. The line of communication in the rear was too long to admit of winter transportation and extended through a barren or exhausted country.

To defend Beech Grove required me to draw into it the force from Mill Springs. From the course of the river and the condition of things it was easy for a detachment from the force of the enemy occupying it below to cross over, intercept the line of land communication, and, taking Mill Springs, entirely prevent my recrossing the Cumberland. This river (greatly swollen), with high, muddy banks, was a troublesome barrier in the rear of Beech Grove. Transportation over it was, at best, very difficult. A small stern-wheel steamboat, unsuited for the transportation of horses, with two flat-boats, were the only means of crossing.

Beech Grove was protected in front by earthworks; but these incomplete and insufficient, and necessarily of such extent that I had not force to defend them. The range of our artillery was bad, and there were commanding positions for the batteries of the enemy. Every effort had been made to provision the command, to increase the means of crossing the river, and to perfect the works for defense, under the charge of a skillful engineer officer, Captain Sheliha.

Absalom Kyle McCarty of the 19th Tennessee Infantry.

When I first heard that the enemy was approaching in front it was my opinion that I could not retire with my command—artillery, transportation, camp and garrison equipage, baggage, and cavalry horses— from Beech Grove to Mill Springs without information of such a movement reaching the enemy, and a consequent attack during the movement and heavy loss. I was out of reach of support or re-enforcement. Under these circumstances I determined not to retreat without a battle. I decided that it was best to attack the enemy, if possible, before the coming re-enforcements from his rear should arrive and before the Somerset force could cross Fishing Creek. I could reasonably expect much from a bold attack and from the spirit of my command. On the evening of the 18th I called in council Brigadier-Generals Zollicolfer and Carroll and the commanding officers of regiments and of cavalry and artillery; and there it was determined, without dissent, to march out and attack the enemy under General Thomas on the next morning. Accordingly Generals Zollicoffer and Carroll were ordered to move their brigades at midnight in the following order:

1st. The brigade of General Zollicoffer, in the following order: In front, the independent cavalry companies of Captains Saunders and Bledsoe; then the Fifteenth Mississippi Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Walthall; then the Nineteenth Tennessee, commanded by Col. D. H. Cummings; then the Twentieth Tennessee, commanded by Colonel Battle ; then the Twenty-fifth Tennessee, commanded by Col. S. S. Stanton; then four guns of Rutledge’s battery, commanded by Captain Rutledge.

2d. The brigade of General Carroll in this order: In front, the Seventeenth Tennessee, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Miller; then the Twenty-eighth Tennessee, commanded by Colonel Murray; then the Twenty-ninth Tennessee, commanded by Colonel Powell; then two guns of McClung’s battery, commanded by Captain McClung. In rear were the Sixteenth Alabama, as a reserve, commanded by Col. W. B. Wood, and the cavalry battalions of Lieutenant-Colonel Branner and Lieutenant-Colonel McClellan. Soon after daylight on the morning of January 19 the cavalry advance came in contact with the pickets of the enemy, after a march of near 9 miles, over a deep and muddy road. With a few shots the enemy’s pickets were driven in, retiring about a quarter of a mile to a house on the left of the road. From this house and woods in the rear of it quite a brisk firing was opened upon the head of the column. Skirmishers having been thrown forward, General Zollicoffer’s brigade was formed in line of battle and ordered to advance upon the enemy, whom I supposed would come out from their camp, which we were now approaching, to take position. The road here extended straight in front for near a mile towards the north.

The 4th Kentucky is shown to be cavalry on this map. This is incorrect. The 4th was infantry, but was joined here by portions of the 1st Kentucky Cavalry.

A company of skirmishers from the Mississippi regiment, advancing on the left of the road, after sharp firing, drove a body of the enemy from the house and the woods next to it, and then, under orders, crossing the road, fell in with their regiment. Following this company of skirmishers on the left of the road to the point where it crossed to the right, the regiment of Colonel Cummings (Nineteenth Tennessee) kept straight on, and, crossing a field about 250 yards wide at a double-quick, charged into the woods where the enemy was sheltered, driving back the Tenth Indiana Regiment until it was re-enforced.

Soldiers of the 15th Mississippi

At this time General Zollicoffer rode up to the Nineteenth Tennessee and ordered Colonel Cummings to cease firing, under the impression that the fire was upon another regiment of his own brigade. Then the general advanced, as if to give an order to the lines of the enemy, within bayonet reach, and was killed just as he discovered his fatal mistake. Thereupon a conflict ensued, when the Nineteenth Tennessee broke its line and gave back. Rather in the rear and near to this regiment was the Twenty fifth Tennessee, commanded by Colonel Stanton, which engaged the enemy, when the colonel was wounded at the head of his men; but this regiment, impressed with the same idea which had proved fatal to General Zollicoffer—that it was engaged with friends—soon broke its line and fell into some disorder.

Supposed location of General Felix Zollicoffer's death.

At this time—the fall of General Zollicoffer having been announced to me—I went forward in the road to the regiments of Colonels Cummings and Stanton, and announced to Colonel Cummings the death of General Zollicoffer, and that the command of the brigade devolved upon him.

There was a cessation of firing for a few moments, and I ascertained that the regiment of Colonel Battle was on the right and the Mississippi regiment in the center, neither as yet having been actively engaged, and the enemy in front of the entire line. I had ordered General Carroll to bring up his brigade, and it was now, in supporting distance, displayed in line of battle.

I now repeated my orders for a general advance, and soon the battle raged from right to left. When I sent my aide to order the Fifteenth Mississippi to charge, I sent by him an order to General Carroll to advance a regiment to sustain it. He ordered up for that purpose Colonel Murray’s (Twenty-eighth Tennessee) regiment, which engaged the enemy on the left of the Mississippi regiment and on the right of Stanton’s (Tennessee) regiment. I ordered Captain Rutledge, with two of his guns, forward in the road to an advanced and hazardous position, ordering Colonel Stanton to support him, where I hoped he might bring them to play effectively upon the enemy but the position did not permit this, and he soon retired, under my order. At this point the horse of Captain Rutledge was killed under him.

Very soon the enemy began to gain ground on our left and to use their superior force for flanking in that quarter. l was in person at the right of the line of Stanton’s regiment, the battle raging, and did not observe this so soon as it was observed by General Carroll, who moved the regiment of Colonel Cummings, then commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Walker, to the left, to meet this movement of the enemy, and formed the Seventeenth Tennessee, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Miller, to support the regiments on the left. The regiments of Murray, Stanton, and Cummings were driven back by the enemy, and, while reforming in the rear of the Seventeenth Tennessee, that well-disciplined regiment met and held in check for some time the entire right wing of the Northern army. These regiments on my left and on the left of the road retired across the field a distance of about 250 yards, and there for a time repulsed the advancing enemy. Especially the regiment of Colonel Stanton, partially rallied by its gallant field officers, formed behind a fence, and, pouring volleys into the ranks of the enemy coming across the field, repulsed and drove them back for a time with heavy loss. For an hour now the Fifteenth Mississippi, under Lieutenant-Colonel Walthall, and the Twentieth Tennessee, under Col. Joel A. Battle, of my center and right, had been struggling with the superior force of the enemy.

I cannot omit to mention the heroic valor of these two regiments, officers and men. When the left retired they were flanked and compelled to leave their position. In their rear, on the right of the road, was the regiment of Colonel Powell (Twenty-ninth Tennessee), which had been formed in the rear and ordered forward by me some time before. General Carroll ordered this regiment to face the flanking force of the enemy, which was crossing the road from the left side, which it did. checking it with a raking fire at 30 paces. In this conflict Colonel Powell, commanding, was badly wounded.- The Sixteenth Alabama, which was the reserve corps of my division, commanded by Colonel Wood, did at this critical juncture most eminent service. Having rushed behind the right and center, it came to a close engagement with the pursuing enemy, to protect the flanks and rear of the Fifteenth Mississippi and Twentieth Tennessee, when they were the last, after long fighting, to leave the front line of the battle, and, well led by its commanding officer, in conjunction with, portions of other regiments, it effectually prevented pursuit and protected my return to camp.

Owing to the formation and character of the field of battle I was unable to use my artillery and cavalry to advantage in the action. During much of the time the engagement lasted rain was failing. Many of the men were armed with flint-lock muskets and they became soon unserviceable.

On the field and during the retreat to camp some of the regiments became confused and broken and great disorder prevailed. This was owing, in some measure, to a want of proper drill and discipline, of which the army had been much deprived by reason of the nature of its constant service and of the country in which it had encamped. During the engagement, or just prior to it, the force under General Thomas was increased by the arrival, on a forced march, of a brigade from his rear, which I had hoped would not arrive until the engagement was over. This made the force of the enemy about 12,000 men. My effective force was four thousand. The engagement lasted three hours.

My loss was 125 killed, 309 wounded, and 99 missing, as follows:

The loss of the enemy, from the best information I have and statements made by themselves, may be estimated at 700 killed and wounded. It was larger than mine from the fact that my regiments on the left, after first being driven back, fired from the cover of woods and fences upon the large numbers advancing upon them through the open field, inflicting heavy loss and sustaining but little.

Confederate cemetery in Somerset, Kentucky where the Confederate dead were buried.

My command retired to Beech Grove without any annoyance in the rear by infantry or cavalry. On the return, one piece of artillery, of Captain Rutledge’s battery, mired down and was left.

To myself, to the army, and to the country the fall of General Zollicoffer was a severe loss. I found him wise in council, heroic in action. He fell in the front, close to the enemy, and they bore off* his body. Of his staff, Lieutenants Fogg and Shields were mortally wounded and have since died. They displayed conspicuous courage. Lieutenant Bailie Peyton, jr., commanding Company A (of Battle’s regiment), was killed in the heat of the action. Adjt. Joel A. Battle, jr., was badly wounded while in front with the colors of his regiment, which he seized when the bearer was shot down. Lieutenant-Colonel Carter, a distinguished officer of this same regiment, was taken prisoner. Colonel Battle commanded with marked ability and courage. Colonel Statham, of the Fifteenth Mississippi Begiment, was absent at the time of the battle on furlough. His regiment was most gallantly led by Lieutenant-Colonel Walthall. The reputation of the Mississippians for heroism was fully sustained by this regiment. Its loss in killed and wounded, which was far greater than that of any other regiment, tells sufficiently the story of discipline and courage. The already extended limits of this report will not permit me, even if I had them at band, to enumerate the individual acts of courage with which this regiment abounded. Suffice it to say that it is entitled to all praise.

General Carroll, in his dispositions and conduct during the engagement, manifested both military skill and personal valor. My assistant adjutant-general, A. S. Cunningham, and my aides, Lieuts. W. W. Porter and H. I. Thornton, displayed throughout the action intelligence, activity, and courage, and were of great service to me. Happening with me at the time, Maj. James F. Brewer volunteered as my aide and was very active and gallant during the battle. Surgeons Morton, Cliff, and Dulany, unwilling to leave the wounded, remained at the hospital and were taken prisoners by the enemy.

I resumed position at Beech Grove early in the afternoon. The enemy followed and took positions in force on my left, center, and right. On my left they proceeded to establish a battery, which was not ready before nightfall. They opened with two batteries—one in front of my center and one on my right. Captain McClung and Lieutenant Falconet, commanding a section of the battery of Captain Butledge, replied to the battery of the enemy in front. From the right the enemy fired upon the steamboat, which, at the crossing, was commanded by their position. Their first shots fell short; afterwards, mounting a larger gun, as it grew dark, they fired a shot or two over the boat, and awaited the morning to destroy it. The steamboat destroyed, the crossing of the river would have been impossible.

I considered the determination in the council of war on the previous evening to go out and attack the enemy virtually a determination that Beech Grove was untenable against his concentrating force. That it was so untenable was my decided opinion. With the morale of the army impaired by the action of the morning and the loss of what cooked rations had been carried to the field, I deemed an immediate crossing of the Cumberland River necessary. With a view to retiring from Beech Grove, I had already some days before ordered the transfer of trains and unused horses and mules to Mill Springs.

On the evening of the 19th I called in consultation General Carroll, Colonel Cummings, engineers, artillery, and other officers, and it was considered best by all to retire from Beech Grove.

LIbrary of Congress map of the Confederate works at Moulden's Hill.

Modern view of the same area. The waterways have changed due to the creation of nearby lake.

I directed at once that the crossing should be effected during the night, with every effort and artifice to insure perfect concealment from the enemy and the success of the movement. Great difficulty attended the movement from the high and muddy banks and the width and heavy current of the river, the limited means of transportation (the small steamboat and two small flats) and the immediate presence of the enemy in overwhelming force. I ordered the men to be crossed over—first, by commands, in designated order; then the artillery to be crossed over; then what could be crossed of baggage and mules, horses, wagons, &c. I directed the cavalry to swim their horses over. Time only permitted to cross the infantry under arms, the sick and wounded, one company of cavalry mounted, the rest of the cavalry dismounted, the artillery men, and some horses. Many cavalry horses, artillery horses, mules, wagons, and eleven pieces of artillery, with baggage and camp and garrison equipage were left behind.

Much is due to the energy, skill, and courage of Captain Spiller, of the cavalry, who commanded the boat, and continued crossing over with it until fired upon by the enemy in the morning, when he burned it, by my directions.

On the morning of the 20th I had my command—nine regiments of infantry, parts of four battalions and two companies of cavalry (dismounted), my sick and wounded, parts of two artillery companies, (without guns or horses), and six pieces of artillery (manned)—on the south side of the Cumberland River, at Mill Springs. On the other side, at Beech Grove (without any means of crossing), were twenty-seven regiments of infantry, with cavalry and artillery, of the enemy.

Any further collision was now prevented, but the want of commissary stores compelled me at once to move to Gainesborough, lower down on the river, a distance of 80 miles, and the nearest point where I could have communication by water with Nashville and could obtain supplies.

My march was through a poor country, over very bad roads. It was hard to obtain the necessaries of life along the route, and from scant subsistence and difficult marching my command suffered greatly. Maj. Giles M. Hillyer, of my staff, division commissary, with untiring energy and marked ability, exhausted every effort in the management of his department, and supplied whatever could be obtained, in some instances sacrificing the forms, prescribed for purchase and distribution to the exigencies of the occasion and the necessities of the command.

James Hagan Morrow of the 19th Tennessee Infantry.

From the fatigues of the march and the want of proper food many were taken sick. I am much gratified to commend especially the care for the wounded and sick, under most embarrassing circumstances, on the field and on the march, under the efficient charge of the accomplished medical director of my division, Dr. F. A. Ramsey.

From Mill Springs and on the first stages of my march many officers and men, frightened by false rumor of the movements of the enemy, shamelessly deserted, and, stealing horses and mules to ride, fled to Knoxville, Nashville, and other places in Tennessee. To prevent this I used every endeavor, and was laboriously assisted by my staff and other officers of the command.

I am proud to say that the field officers of all the commands, and some commands almost entire, and the main body of each command, remained ready to do their duty in any emergency, except one battalion of cavalry—which had not been in the battle, of which the lieutenant-colonel, together with some other officers and some privates, were absent on furlough—of the body of which being present only one captain, several officers and men—in all about 25—did not run away.

From Gainesborough I have moved my division to this point, where it is refurnished and drilling, and I have the honor to report that it is ready for any service to which it may be assigned.

G. B. CRITTENDEN, Major-General Provisional Army Confederate States.


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