The Confederate position along the heavily wooded ridge overlooking Middle Creek was a strong one. To avoid exposing his troops to the combined fire of all the Confederate regiments, Garfield chose to assault the south end of their line rather than march his troops further up the valley and launch a conventional assault on the entire Confederate line.
Garfield's forces consisted of approximately 1,800 Ohioans and Kentuckians. As the rebels raked his position, Garfield ordered Capt. F.A. Williams to lead three companies of the 42nd Ohio (1) across the freezing waters of Middle Creek and advance up the rocky spur opposite Graveyard Point, towards the position held by Col. J.S. Williams's 5th Kentucky. At the same time, he sent two companies of Kentuckians (2) along the ridge extending from Graveyard Point towards the left end of Marshall's line, anchored by dismounted cavalry companies commanded by Clay and Thomas. Captain Williams's assault was driven back by a sudden, heavy volley from the 5th Kentucky. The Confederates then counter-attacked, but the Ohioans repulsed them with a single volley that left seven rebels dead.
Garfield then detached two more companies of the 42nd Ohio and one company of the 14th Kentucky, (3) placed them under Maj. Don A. Pardee, and ordered them to cross the creek and support Captain
Williams. Fighting "Indian fashion," this combined force moved farther up the valley and began advancing up the spur known as "Piney Point" towards Moore's 29th Virginia, which held the ridge on the 5th Kentucky's left flank.