Confederate Defense Line
Late in 1861, Confederates sought to prevent Union forces from occupying strategic points in Kentucky and Tennessee, to maintain rail shipments of vital Confederate supplies from Virginia south and west and to set up bases for future offensive thru Kentucky and Ohio to divide eastern and western Union states. With those aims the Confederate Defense Line was formed from the Big Sandy Valley in east Kentucky thru Cumberland Gap, Mill Springs on Cumberland River, Bowling Green on L&N Ry. to Columbus, Ky. on the Mississippi River.
The Forces Move In
Brig. Gen. Felix K. Zollicoffer in Nov. 1861 built CSA bases at Mill Springs and across Cumberland at Beech Grove, as part of plan. Maj. Gen. George B. Crittenden took command Dec. 13, 1861. On Jan. 11, 1862 Union forces under Brig. Gen. George H. Thomas started from Lebanon, Ky. to join the Federals under Brig. Gen. Albin Schoepf at Somerset and to attack the Confederate base at Mill Springs. On Jan. 19 Gen. Crittenden moved out with his CSA troops to prevent the Union forces under Gen. Thomas from joining US army at Somerset.
Battle of Mill Springs
In first hour, Gen. Zollicoffer was killed, which threw his CSA regiments into confusion. Rallied by Gen. Crittenden, battle continued three hours. USA reinforcements arrived, CSA retreated, fighting all day to reach river. They evacuated camp during night and withdrew into Tennessee. Casualties: CSA 125 killed, 309 wounded and 99 missing; USA 39 killed and 207 wounded. Large quantity of supplies abandoned by CSA, as well as 150 wagons and more than 1,000 horses and mules. Battle also called Logan's Cross Roads or Fishing Creek.
The way was opened for the Union to advance into Eastern Tennessee. Lack of provisions, bad roads and difficulty of crossing river made such advance impractical. Gen. Thomas' command joined Gen. Buell's Union force in move on Nashville. This Mill Springs victory with defeat of Brig. Gen. Humphrey Marshall by Col. James A. Garfield in the Big Sandy Valley broke the right section of the Confederate Defense Line. Thus began a series of events bringing Union control of Kentucky and upper Miss. River in first year of war.