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“Hemming him in” The Battle of Munfordville Sept. 16, 1862

The Battle of Munfordville occurred between September 14-17, 1862. Today, more literature focuses on the brutal action that occurred on September 14th, and rightfully so. On the 14th, a lone Mississippi brigade under the command of Confederate General James R. Chalmers attacked a semi-isolated Federal garrison under the control of Colonel John T. Wilder on the south of the city of Munfordville and was soundly defeated. Though small compared to other battles like Perryville or Richmond, its ripple effects arguably changed how the campaign was to commence.

Nevertheless, this article would like to inform a curious reader of the actions that occurred on the 16th, the day before the Federal garrison surrendered to Confederate General Braxton Bragg's army.


Setting the Stage


Colonel Cyrus L. Dunham, Wikimedia Commons

In the hours following the Confederate defeat on the 14th, forces from both sides began to react to the developing situation. On the Federal side, more importantly, on September 15th, the Federal garrison, which was once under the command of Wilder, fell to senior in rank, Colonel Cyrus L. Dunham of the Fiftieth Indiana Infantry. Dunham, who brought along with him a conglomeration of Federal troops during the battle on the 14th, began to strengthen the garrison's defenses, bring forth ammunition, and send curriers anywhere and everywhere to inform outside forces of their situation and with an urgent plea for reinforcements. Luckily for him and the garrison, another small batch of troops arrived from Lebanon Junction under the command of Colonel Owen of the Sixtieth Indiana, increasing the garrison's numbers to roughly 4,000 men. Meanwhile, several miles south of the position, Confederates from the main army were reacting to the recent developments. Upon receiving the news of the Confederate defeat, Bragg devised a plan to neutralize the Federal threat [1].

Throughout the 15th, Bragg and his second in command, Leonidas Polk, issued orders to their divisional commanders, ordering them to advance towards Munfordville. The division tasked with leading this effort was the very one that started the commotion, Brigadier General Jones M. Withers. Withers division included seasoned officers who, in turn, commanded four Confederate brigades. After receiving word that his men were tasked with leading the advance, Withers moved his men forward. At first, they left their base around Glasgow on the evening of the 15th and moved towards Cave City, where Chalmers’ bloodied men were recuperating. After reaching the town, Withers informed his subordinates of the plan of attack in the morning. Leading the advance of his division and the army was Chalmers's bloody brigade. The stage was set for the next phase in the Battle of Munfordville [2].


September 16, 1862


Like any force under threat, Dunham ensured that a strong line of pickets covered his outer lines to the south. On the morning of the 16th, Dunham’s picket line included three companies of the Fiftieth Indiana, Companies A, B, and H, Company K of the Seventy-Eighth Indiana, and Company A of the Sixtieth Infantry, all of whom were under the command of Major Samuel T. Wells of the Fiftieth. To watch the hills and road to their south, Wells pushed his picket line to the crest of Mrs. Lewis Hill and extended it towards the Bowling Green Turnpike.


Picture shows the reverse side of Mrs. Lewis Hill. The longest one to the right. Map below shows Wells position on Mrs. Lewis Hill. Photo taken by author

Several miles to their south lay a moving column of Confederate soldiers from Withers division. Leaving their camp at around 5 a.m. that morning, Withers gave the advance of his division to Chalmers and his men. With a cavalry detachment feeling for the enemy to their front, the Confederate column moved towards the Federal garrison [3].

Map is from the Library of Congress, Showing Munfordville, Louisville and Camp Nelson Defenses. the characters shown in blue and red were added in by the author.

At roughly 9:30 am, Withers' cavalry scouts struck the Federal picket line near Mrs. Lewis Hill. Wasting no time, Chalmers sent forward a detachment of Richards Mississippi Sharpshooters, now under the command of Captain O.F. West, Richards being wounded in the action on the 14th. Upon feeling for the enemy, Chalmers met a stubborn foe who held not only the high ground but was protected by a thick forest. After his sharpshooters hit the Federal lines, he threw the rest of the battalion into the natural bastion. In the developing action, Wells' skirmishers tangled with Chalmers's men admirably well, but that was not to last. While West’s Sharpshooters tangled with the picket line, another Confederate brigade, from Withers Division arrived [4].

Brig. Gen. Johnson K. Duncan, Wikimedia Commons

At roughly 10 a.m., Confederate Brigadier General Johnson K. Duncan’s Alabama and South Carolina brigade arrived on the field. With Duncan’s arrival, Chalmers gave command of the attack to Duncan, who was senior in rank. Duncan’s military career in the war thus far was murky at best. In the spring of 1862, he had the unfortunate lot of defending the City of New Orleans and was captured after Admiral David Farragut’s Union fleet captured the city and its forts. After being exchanged, he was given command of a brigade in Withers division just as the army was leaving Chattanooga. Now, he was on the field at Munfordville, trying to redeem his stained reputation [5].

Wasting no time, Duncan ordered Chalmers to direct a section of William H. Ketchum’s Mississippi artillery to bombard the Federal skirmishers in the woods while also sending forward the 7th Mississippi Infantry to support West’s Sharpshooters. At the same time, Duncan moved forward to the right, his brigade, now under the command of Colonel Arthur M. Manigault, and ordered his men to move north alongside the Bowling Green Pike. Captain Cornelius I. Walker of the 10th South Carolina recalled, "We arrived within range of the guns about 10 a.m. Chalmer’s Brigade moved around to our left to take position on the right of the enemy’s works which consisted of a bastion fort, mounting 4 pieces of artillery, on the left a stockade work, and a simple redan on the right. The two nearly connected by a line of entrenchment. The railroad was on the right (left) and the main turnpike road running on the left (right). Our Brigade advanced up the Turnpike Road…” Colonel John W. Frazer, 28th Alabama Infantry, said, "On reaching the range of the guns on the fortifications on the 16th instant this command was moved in line of battle to the left of the position previously occupied by the battery of Captian Waters and halted supporting the battery. Before the battery opened fire the regiment was ordered to move by the right flank and take position on the side of the mountain on the right of the Munfordville road. Here it rested in line for an hour or more, when, in accordance with orders, we marched to the brow of the mountain to support our skirmishers." Manigault advanced the Tenth South Carolina and its skirmishers up the road. At the same time, he swung around his brigade's three other regiments, the Nineteenth South Carolina, Twenty-Eighth Alabama, and Thirty-Fourth Alabama Infantries, towards the right of the road. Though the Tenth South Carolina faced little to no opposition, their presence alone began to add pressure upon Wells' skirmishers. Granted, they were met with a light canister and grape shower from the main Federal line, causing some men to duck. To draw fire away from his moving lines, Duncan ordered David D. Waters' Alabama artillery forward to fire upon the Federal artillery, which worked. Captain Walker wrote, "At this time our Artillery (Waters' B'ty) opened on the enemy over the trees, merely to draw their attention from the movements the other three regiments of the brigade were making towards the enemy's left." Due to this support, Duncan’s men reached roughly 500 yards from the Federal lines using a massive belt of timber to their front as cover. Reportedly, during this movement, Bragg and his staff arrived just in time to watch Manigault’s Carolinians move forward and remarked to the colonel, “That’s worth looking at, Colonel. Your regiment does you honor.” Meanwhile, with more Confederate pressure mounting, Wells pulled back his worn-out Federals back to their entrenchments, where the main Federal line waited for what they deemed a likely assault, this time even bigger [6].


Map is from the Library of Congress, Showing Munfordville, Louisville and Camp Nelson Defenses. the characters shown in blue and red were added in by the author.

Learning from the mistakes from the 14th, the Confederates would not oblige the Federal's offering of another useless slaughter but instead followed Bragg's orders to pen in the Federal defenses. In the grand scheme of things, Bragg wanted Withers' men to distract the Federal garrison long enough for the main thrust of the army to swing around the Federal defenses to cut off the garrison effectively. With the Federals falling back before them, Chalmers and Duncan’s brigades solidified their lines in the adjoining woodlots and hills surrounding the garrison. During this movement, a constant rate of fire was kept up upon the Federal lines near the railroad bridge to pen in the Federals. According to Dunham, much of the Confederate attention on the 16th was focused on the Federal stockade rather than Fort Craig; Dunham stated, “The object evidently was to avoid the fieldwork on our left, known as Fort Craig, from which he had been so fatally repulsed on Sunday, and, under cover of the woods to approach and carry by storm the breastworks on our right; but the promptness and energy with which he was met seemed to deter him from the attempt.” [7]

While both sides shot away at each other, Duncan’s men slowly settled into their position in and around the woodlot near the Carden's Toll Gate House. To ensure no surprises, Company B of the Tenth South Carolina was thrown forward in the timber to aid West’s Mississippians, who took up positions in between Mrs. Lewis Hill and the woodlot. Further, on the brigade's right, a company from the Nineteenth South Carolina was thrown forward as skirmishers. Colonel A. J. Loythoe, 19th SC, recalled, "…the general commanding the brigade assigned it to a position on an eminence on the right of the road. In passing to it the regiment was for a short time exposed to the fire of grape and shell. One man, a private in Company I, had his haversack strap cut by a grape-shot. The regiment was placed in the position to which it was assigned, when one company was thrown out as skirmishers. This company soon became engaged with the pickets of the enemy at long range." Captain Walker of the 10th South Carolina recalled, “... Col. M [meaning Arthur M. Manigault] threw out Co. B as skirmishers to protect our only exposed side, our left flank and feeling perfectly secure we rest upon our arms a little out of the road under some apple trees.” [8]

With his men securely on the right, Duncan ordered Chalmers's main body to rest along the highest of Mrs. Lewis Hill and await further developments. Thus, between 11 am and 3 pm, sides near the Stockade peppered away at each other.


Picture facing north west is the modern day view of the what would have been the woods Duncan's Brigade held. Also is the site of the Dec. 1861 Battle of Rowletts Station. Photo Taken by author

By 3 p.m., the firing that vibrated between the two sides slowly ceased. Dunham, unsure of whether the Confederates in the woodlot to his front had retreated, decided to send a probe into the woods. Tasked with this almost suicidal duty was the already worn-out Company A of Fiftieth Indiana, who, after receiving the order, crept forward cautiously from their works, and crossed the rolling hills that blanketed their front and into the fabled forest. Captain Andrew Jackson Burrell, who led the company, soon discovered a relaxing picket line of the Tenth South Carolina, who, during the four-hour-long intermission, disregarded the danger and took advantage of the break to attend to more concerning duties of resting and eating. With the element of surprise, Burrell at once opened fire upon the South Carolinians and, in turn, spooked the rest of the regiment. Captain Walker, 10th SC, wrote, “ All was quiet when we were awakened from our repose by the crack of the enemy’s rifles, and the whizzing of their balls around and amongst us. Co. B had become careless and the enemy came up on them and fired past them and at us.” Colonel Manigault reacted with electric speed while the South Carolinas reformed their lines. The closest support to the South Carolinians was the Nineteenth South Carolina picket line and, in the reserve, the Twenty-Eighth Alabama Infantry. Without wasting a moment, orders were issued to the picket line company of the Nineteenth South Carolina and two companies from the Twenty-Eighth Alabama to aid the reforming South Carolinians [9].


Map is from the Library of Congress, Showing Munfordville, Louisville and Camp Nelson Defenses. the characters shown in blue and red were added in by the author.

Meanwhile, Captain Burrell, realizing the element of surprise was gone, decided to hold his men in the forest. In minutes, his left platoons were hit by three companies from the Nineteenth South Carolina and Twenty-Eighth Alabama Infantry. Undeterred, Burrell sent word back for more support. Dunham quickly sent Company G under Captain Isaac Carothers from the same regiment to aid the lone company. Under intense fire, the Carothers men deployed as skirmishers and, for a moment, stabilized the skirmish line in the forest. However, this brief firefight did not last. After the Tenth South Carolina reformed, Manigault sent them to flush out the Federals. Facing a new superior foe, Burrell withdrew his company and Carothers to the trenches under the cover of a supporting fire from the mainline. In an action that lasted less than thirty minutes, the action in the woods was over, and Dunham was now sure of a superior foe to his front and decided not to send out any probing lines to his front for the rest of the day. From then on, both sides traded a lively fire with one another until roughly 4:30 p.m., when only sporadic artillery fire dominated the area [10].

By 5 p.m., the firing between the two opposing sides subsided, and a flag of truce was seen between the two lines. In the resulting series of events, the Confederate entangling of the Federal garrison was complete. After a series of exchanges, the garrison surrendered to Bragg and his army the following day. Though the actions on the 16th were minor compared to the primary battle on the 14th, they were undoubtedly just as important in forcing the Federal garrison to surrender to the Confederate army. Further, Duncan’s ability to react to a developing situation promptly and pin in the Federal garrison long enough for the rest of the army to arrive at least showed his leadership abilities.

The casualties on the 16th were incredibly light; the Federals recorded roughly one, and the Confederates recorded around four wounded [11].


 

Sources

  1. Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Volume 16, Chapt. 28, pt. 1- pg. 964

  2. O.R. Vol. 16, Chapt. 28, pt. 2- pg. 820-832; The True Cost- Charles Lemons; O.R. Vol. 16, Chapt. 28, pt. 2, pg. 768, shows that Duncan was given command of Manigaults Brigade on August 21, 1862, by special orders No.5

  3. O.R. pt. 1- pg. 965, 979

  4. O.R. pt. 1- pg. 979, 965; Times differ when the action occurred; Chalmers states it started at 8 a.m. Dunham says it began at 9:30 a.m.

  5. Great Things Are Expected of Us: The Letters of Colonel C. Irvine Walker 10th South Carolina Infantry C.S.A, United States, University of Tennessee Press, 2009. Edited by William Lee White & Peter S. Carmichael, Google Books, pg. 22; Warner, Ezra J.. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders. United Kingdom, LSU Press, 2006. pg. 78

  6. O.R. pt. 1, pg. 979, 983, 988; Walker 10th SC. Pg. 22; A Carolinian Goes To War: The Civil War Narrative of Arthur Middleton Manigault. University Press of South Carolina, reprinted-1992 Edited by R. Lockwood Tower, pg. 38

  7. O.R. Vol. 16, Chapt. 28, pt.2, pg. 833; pt. 1 965, 979

  8. O.R. Vol. 16, Chapt. 28, pt. 1, pg. 988; Walker 10th SC, pg. 22

  9. O.R. Vol. 16, Chapt. 28, pt. 1, pg. 965; Walker 10th SC, pg. 22; O.R. Vol. 16, Chapt. 28, pt. 1, pg. 983, 988.

  10. O.R. Vol. 16, Chapt. 28, pt. 1, pg. 965; Walker 10th SC, pg. 22

  11. O.R. Vol. 16, Chapt. 28, pt. 1, pg. 965, 979, 983, 988. Masterson, K. Brown, "Munfordville: The Campaign and Battle along Kentucky's Strategic Axis" The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society Vol. 97 No.3, 1999, pp. 247-285 https://www.jstor.org/stable/23383994

  12. Quote from Manigaults' book pg. 39

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