On Good Friday, March 25, 1864, the Battle of Paducah, Kentucky took place. Major General Nathan B. Forrest rode into Paducah with approximately 2,500 to 3,000 troops. The goals of what is known as "Forrest’s Expedition Into West Tennessee and Kentucky" were to disrupt Federal supply lines, discourage the recruitment of African American soldiers, and to relieve the town of supplies needed by his command. Upon arrival in Paducah Forrest promptly sent word to Stephen G. Hicks, the Georgia-born Federal colonel who was in charge of Fort Anderson, to surrender the fort or to expect no quarter (Hicks had been colonel of the Fortieth Illinois Infantry before being discharged on October, 13th, 1862). Hicks refused to surrender the fort, but Forrest’s message had the desired effect: the Federals entered Fort Anderson and prepared for battle, allowing the Confederate soldiers free access to search the whole town for the needed supplies. The Federals and Confederates were involved in a six hour battle, with many of the Southerners acting as sharpshooters in nearby buildings firing upon the fort. Union gunboats Peosta (Tinclad #36) and Paw Paw (Gunboat #31) fired upon the town from the river as the battle raged on. The battle began about 4:00 P. M. and by midnight the Confederates had left Paducah. Rumors of smallpox in town may have influenced the evacuation.
Confederate Colonel Albert Petty Thompson, a member of the Third Kentucky Infantry (C. S. A.) and a resident of Paducah, was given the honor of leading the Confederate attack but was killed by an artillery round. The attack was repelled, yet Forrest was successful in one aspect; when Forrest withdrew from Paducah six hours later, he and his men were resupplied with much needed weapons, money, medicines, foodstuffs, and horses. The Confederates suffered ten killed and another forty wounded.
Many of the Federal troops at Fort Anderson were African Americans. By this point of the war if a slave made it safely to the enlistment office and signed up as a Union soldier, not only he, but his wife and children were also declared to be free persons. This was a great incentive to the African Americans, and resulted in several forts in our area being served by black artillerymen. The Eighth Regiment Heavy Artillery, United States Colored Troops, defended Fort Anderson. The Eighth U. S. C. H. A. was forming in Paducah and would be taken into Federal service on April 26th, 1864.
Colonel Hicks ordered the burning of all tall houses or buildings surrounding Fort Anderson in order that they could not be used as protection for Confederate snipers in the future. The Federals had been severely impacted by Confederate fire from the upstairs windows of these structures during the battle. While Forrest had burned military related buildings in town, Major George F. Barnes was instructed to carry out this ‘burn order’ that impacted civilians. Over sixty buildings of the Civil War era were lost in downtown Paducah because of this action. Barnes, who had been born in Davidson County, Tennessee, was a member of the Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry (U. S. A.) and would take his own life in 1898 due to financial issues. Thirty grains of morphine in a glass of whiskey is a heck of a way to go!
Prussian-born Ferdinand A. Hummel, a gunsmith on 4th Street who did a brisk business with the Federal soldiers, had his shop looted by the Confederates during the battle. However, he had taken the best weapons to his home for safekeeping prior to the event. He would later be awarded a patent for a breech loading action in 1882.
The Return of the Confederates
Forrest sent General Abram Buford back to Paducah three weeks later. An oversight was brought to Forrest’s attention by none other than Federal General Hicks himself, in a newspaper interview. Hicks was justifiably proud to have defended the fort for the Federals. The newspaper interview was grating to the Confederate commander, as the Confederates were described by Hicks as having ‘run like scared rabbits.’ Hicks also added that they had overlooked many valuable horses and mules in their hasty retreat, even mentioning the exact location where the animals were housed. After Forrest read the newspaper in Tennessee, he sent General Abram Buford back to Paducah to confiscate the animals. Little resistance was encountered by the Confederates during this surprise raid, which was conducted three miles or so outside the city limits. This action was known as the Skirmish of Paducah. I wonder if Hicks ever gave another newspaper interview?
This river town is worth a visit from the Civil War buff. Buried in Oak Grove Cemetery are Ferdinand Hummel and George Barnes along with numerous other Civil War veterans. Along Park Avenue and North 5th Street are several interpretive signs related to the 1864 battle, as well as Hiram U. Grant's proclamation upon occupying Paducah in September 1861. Paducah has dozens of murals on the flood wall along the riverfront, some of which relate to the Civil War period. In the heart of downtown is the William Clark Market House Museum, which has displays and artifacts from Paducah's Civil War period.
Paducah's own Lloyd Tilghman, he of Fort Henry and Champion Hill fame (or infamy as it were), has a large monument in a park on Madison Street, and his home is open for tours (corner of Kentucky Avenue and South 7th Street). Gunsmith Ferdinand Hummel has a marker on North 4th Street. Colonel Hicks' and General Forrest's headquarters each have a marker, and there is at least one marker to the raid. The Eighth U. S. C. H. A. has an interpretive sign and a marker.
Unlike many Ohio River towns whose hey day has long since passed, Paducah has a thriving downtown district and plenty of great places to grab a meal and a libation (Paducah Beer Works is not far from downtown and a few blocks from several of the Civil War markers. It is also less than ninety minutes from Fort Donelson National Battlefield and only an hour to Columbus-Belmont State Park, making Paducah a good hub for more Civil War exploration.
For those wanting a bit more on Paducah's role during the Civil War, John Philip Cashon authored Paducah in the Civil War in 2016 (History Press). This short work provides an overview of the Jackson Purchase as well as the events leading up to the war as it relates to the region. One chapter is dedicated to Forrest's activities at Paducah in March 1864.