December 17, 1861
Now a fight ensued such as seldom occurs ...
- Colonel August Willich, 32nd Indiana
In December 1861, Confederate General Thomas Hindman came from Bowling Green to probe the growing Union strength at Munfordville. Hindman believed that if he could occupy the high ground here, the Union would retreat northward. On December 17, Hindman's Brigade, including Terry's Texas Rangers, occupied the heights. They were met by the German immigrants of the 32nd Indiana Infantry, who repulsed them using Old World military tactics. The Texans' namesake, Col. Benjamin F. Terry, was one of the first casualties.
Following the Union Army's earlier string of humiliating defeats at Big Bethel, Bull Run, and Ball's Bluff in Virginia, Wilson's Creek in Missouri, and Belmont in Kentucky, news of the Union victory at Rowletts Station spread in the Northern press. The news only improved when the reports of the subsequent Union success at Mill Springs and Middle Creek emerged, and suddenly the Northern resolve to fight rebounded. Lincoln could breathe a little easier-the Battle of Rowletts Station had prevented an early end to the war, and the dissolution of the Union.
The combined Union army under General Alexander McDowell McCook, encamped on the north bank of
Green River, observes the distant action at Rowletts Station and provides artillery fire in support of the Union forces.
(Battle Map Notes from Top to Bottom)
"Hindman's Legion" included the 8th TX Cavalry, the 1st AR Infantry Battalion under Lt. Col. John S. Marmaduke, the 2nd AR Infantry under Lt. Col. Joseph W. Bocage, the 6th AR Infantry under Col. Alexander T. Hawthorn, the 6th Battalion of AR Cavalry (Phifer's) under Maj. Charles W. Phifer, and Swett's Battery of the Warren (MS) Light Artillery under Capt. Charles Swett.
Col. Benjamin Franklin Terry, namesake of "Terry's Texas Rangers" is slain in the battle's opening moments.
Seeking cover among haystacks, 32nd IN Company C is surrounded by Confederates. Lt. Max Sachs refuses to surrender and is slain.
Major Charles W. Phifer's 6th AR Cavalry flanks the Union right, preventing the 32nd from reaching the high ground on Mrs. Lewis' Hill.
Firing at first from the cover of a rail fence at the edge of a wooded field, 32nd IN Companies B,F, and K pull back, leaving Co. G in position to defend against the rebel cavalry using a carrere, or "Roman Box" maneuver-a tactic they had learned as soldiers in the Prussian army.
Companies E and H of the 32nd IN hold position in reserve along the L&N Turnpike to prevent the
Confederates from advancing along the pike. Co. H repels a cavalry advance.
The commander of the 32nd Indiana Infantry Regiment, Col. August Willich, was away when the battle began. Command during battle fell to Lt. Col. Henry von Trebra. Under von Trebra, the German immigrant forces of Companies A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, and K withstood forces more than three times their number, with the support of the 1st OH Light Artillery (Cotter's Battery) firing from the north bank of the Green River.