Bridges, Fords and Ferries
Unlike the Ohio, the Kentucky River was never an important supply line for the Union Army. Because of its geology, the Kentucky acted as a barrier to the movement of supplies and men.
Much of the Kentucky River is bordered by towering walls of rock known as the Palisades. In central Kentucky there were only two wagon bridges across the Kentucky, one at Frankfort and the other just above Hickman Creek (Camp Nelson).
But bridges were not the only way to cross the river. Between Frankfort and Camp Nelson there were 50 fords and ferries. Ferries were fine for an individual or a wagon but transporting troops and supplies in any number took many crossings. Horses could ford the river in some places but wagons or men on foot could ford the river only when it was very low.
Controlling the Fords and Ferries
Mounted Confederate raiders used the fords between Frankfort and Camp Nelson to confuse and escape their pursuers. They often split up, crossing at several fords to conceal their numbers and destination. These tactics allowed them to move about freely.
The Confederate cavalry was often pursued by Union infantry. Because they were on foot, the Union troops had to cross the river on ferries. These crossings slowed them down and helped the Confederates escape capture.
By late 1862, controlling access to the fords and ferries on the Kentucky River had become an important part of the strategy of the Union army. Their goal was to protect Lexington and other important supply depots north of the river. Captain Thomas B. Brooks, Chief Engineer of the District of Central Kentucky, was given the task of developing a defensive strategy for the river.