— Battle of Mill Springs —
Night of January 10-20, 1862
Confederate General Zollicoffer's pleas for more men and supplies to meet the strong Union force he expected went mostly unheeded. General Albert Sidney Johnston did, however, send a river steamer, the Noble Ellis
, up from Nashville for his use. Laden with provisions and clothing, the Noble Ellis
arrived at the Confederate camp located at Mill Springs on the south side of the Cumberland River. This little sternwheeler would later save the Confederate army.
After the hard fought Battle of Mill Springs on January 19th, 1862, near the present town of Nancy, the routed Confederates fled southward toward Mill Springs, closely pursued by victorious Union troops. Escape for the Confederates depended upon getting across the swollen Cumberland River to Mill Springs. As darkness fell, Union forces stopped pursuit and decided to make their final assault on the defeated Confederates in the morning. But while they rested, the Noble Ellis
and a few rowboats ferried the exhausted Confederate army across the river throughout the night.
As daylight came, the last Confederate soldiers disembarked in safety on the south bank of the Cumberland River. Its critical mission accomplished, the Noble Ellis
met a fiery end when the Confederates burned and sank the boat to prevent its capture by the Union.
A drawing on the right shows Confederate troops embarking on the sternwheeler to be ferried across the Cumberland River.
Caption: "We were on the river bank in a compact mass of excited and confused humanity. Thousands were crowded there waiting, each his turn to get on the 'Noble Ellis' as she crossed and recrossed the river. The enemy just over a mile behind who, from their battery above us on a hill, kept constantly shelling the boat as she crossed back and forth with her excited fugitive loads."
— W. J. Warsham, 19th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry