Beech Grove Confederate Camp
— Battle of Mill Springs —
"The position ... is a fine basis for operations in front." - Felix K. Zollicoffer
Inset photo on left of Gen. Felix K. Zollicoffer
In November 1861 Gen. Felix Zollicoffer sent engineer officers Capt. Thomas Estill and Capt. Victor Von Sheliha up and down the Cumberland River to find the most practical location for a base camp. Given the natural terrain, abundant food and forage, the presence of a grist mill, saw mill, and a ferry, Mill Springs seemed the logical choice. To construct earthworks for the Confederate base, the engineers requisitioned 500 axes, 300 shovels, 200 picks and other entrenching tools from Nashville. Less than a month later, with the fortification on both the north and south sides of the river nearing completion, Gen. Zollicoffer decided to shift the bulk of his forces to the north side of the river.
In December Zollicoffer's troops began moving to Beech Grove, on the north bank of the Cumberland River. This proved to be a poor tactical move, for the Confederate line of retreat was blocked by the river. Yet Zollicoffer remained optimistic writing, "The river protects our rear and flanks. We have about 1,200 yards fighting front to defend which we are entrenching as rapidly as our few tools will allow ..." Under the direction of Captains Estill and Sheliha, the men set about constructing a second set of earthworks.
Image of soldiers with picks and shovels constructing fortifications.
Text continues on right side
The Formidible Works Were Skillfully Designed
An inset photo is captioned:
" ... the [Confederate] camp was well protected from infantry attack by breastworks, abatis, and entanglements." - Col. Judson W. Bishop, 2nd Minnesota
Contrary to charges made by Confederate Gen. George B. Crittenden following the battle, the earthworks at Beech Grove were quite formidable. Zollicoffer's engineers were capable and Capt. Sheliha, who would later become Chief Engineer of the Department of the Gulf, ensured that the earthworks were well constructed and well placed. The fortifications ran across the peninsula at Beech Grove, following a ridge. They consisted of a broken line of breastworks with redans anchoring the east and west ends of the line and another redan in the center. Behind this line was another redan located on the road for protection of the route to the ferry landing. A fourth gun emplacement was located southwest of the main line, above White Oak Creek, where a final line of fortifications protected the Confederate flanks,
The area of the earthworks and the enclosed Confederate encampment were soon dubbed "Zollie's Den" by a newspaper reporter from the New York Herald
. The earthworks were never tested. After the Battle of Mill Springs, Confederate troops retreated back to the safety of their river fortifications. Their stay was short-lived. In a matter of hours, the Confederate troops crossed to the south side of the river where they continued their retreat to Tennessee. When the Union forces attacked the next morning, "Zollie's Den" was deserted. During their hurried retreat the Confederates left behind 14 cannon, 200 wagons, 2,000 horses and mules, and all their food supplies.
A map at center is titled:
"Sketch of the ENEMY'S FORTIFIED POSITION at and opposite MILL SPRINGS, Ky to which he retreated after his defeat at LOGAN'S CROSS-ROADS by the U.S. Forces under Brig. Gen. GEORGE H. THOMAS, Jan 19, 1862. During the night the enemy abandoned his strong position and fled in disorder toward Monticello, Ky. Compiled pursuant to orders from Maj. Gen. G.H. THOMAS, U.S.A. by EDWARD RUGER, Supt. Top. Engr's office, Headquarters, Dept of the Cumberland; Drawn by A. Kilp, Top. Draughtsman."
Caption below the map:
"The river at this point makes a large bend to the south and our forces have fortified entirely across on the north side so that five or six regiments can defend the entire line on that side." — George P. Shaw, 29th Tennessee