The Battle of Mill Springs, 1863

Yep, you are thinking I made a typo as everyone knows that the Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky took place on January 19th, 1862. But what you might not know is there was a second battle near Mill Springs during the summer of 1863.


The war in Kentucky was a series of short campaigns, costly campaigns, and incessant actions between smaller forces. These smaller actions are overlooked by most who study the war, and often involve units that do not grab commonplace attention. Even after the Heartland Campaign of 1862, there were many incursions, mostly in the guise of mounted raids, into Kentucky. But even beyond the various raids, Confederates in one form or another seemed to have a constant presence within the Bluegrass State.


Over the summer of 1863, while the main armies were facing each other south of Murfreesboro, John Pegram, in charge of cavalry brigade, maintained a presence south of the Cumberland River. Having been defeated at Dutton's Hill in March (that battle took place just north of Somerset), Pegram gathered his forces and kept pressure on the Federals in the region. One small action was the June 9th, 1863 encounter near Mill Springs.

General location of the Battle of Mill Springs, 1863 - War of the Rebellion Atlas. Volume I. Plate IX

The National Tribune. September 1st, 1887, carried this detailed account of one man's participation in this action.


MILL SPRINGS.

The Second Fight at that Place, in June, 1863.

Editor National Tribune: J. C. Scruggs, Co. C, 2d Tenn., inquired what regiment was relieved by his, June 9, 1863, near Mill Springs, Ky. As I was in that engagement I will tell what I know. That day was a memorable day to me. In the morning of June 9, part of Co. F, 45th Ohio M't'd Inf., and Co. C, 7th Ohio Cav., were sent out on the Monticello road with orders to feel of the enemy. They went to Monticello, Ky., some 20 miles from Mill Springs. We had quite a force at Somerset and on the s0uth bank of the Cumberland River at Newell's Ferry. Wolford's Brigade, to which the 45th Ohio belonged, was ordered to the front in support of the two companies already out on the Monticello road.

About 2 o'clock an order came for reinforcement for the two companies. The 45th Ohio being in front, put spurs and arrived near Capt. West's farm.[1] Co. K was in front. I was Orderly Sergeant, and in command of the company. Maj. G. E. Ross, commanding the regiment, ordered me to deploy my company across the road. Before the order was given to dismount, the rebels were coming around the turn of the road in fours front. Nearly every man of Co. K filed with me across the road on the west side in the thick wood and rocks. One or two took charge of the horses. We opened fire and the first file of rebels fell, and I did not see how many more; but we stopped their advance. Cos. K, G and H of the 45th, with Co. F, which had been fighting the rebels for several hours, and Co. C of the 7th Ohio Cav. were all the force on our side until relieved near sundown by the 1st and 2d East Tenn., with a battery. Gen. Pegram was in command of the rebel force. We could hear every command the rebels gave. We drove them back over half a mile. Our force was about 250, while the rebels had many more than that. Serg't Charles Smith and a Corporal, and one or two men of Co. H, 45th Ohio, were lying behind a log. Gen. Pegram ordered them to surrender. Serg't Smith's gun was the only one loaded, and he fired, hitting Gen. Pegram in the ankle. Our men were overpowered and captured, and while at Monticello that night some of Pegram's men took Serg't Smith out of jail to shoot him, because he shot the General. He was saved by the timely assistance of a young lady. A few nights after Serg't Smith made his escape and returned to the regiment. It was a severe battle and a great victory, considering the odds against us. Maj. Ross was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel, and I was made Second Lieutenant. I lost some of the bravest men that ever went to battle, and many wounded. Capt. Case, of Bellefontaine, O., who was in command of Co. C, 7th Ohio Cav., as well as all others engaged, will bear me out in this slight narrative of this engagement.[2] Col. Ross died in June, 1887, at Chicago. If Serg't Smith is yet living I would like to have him write me. - Almon Bradford. 45th Ohio, South Charleston, O.[3]

The West-Metcalfe House

Ironically the aforementioned Sergeant Smith had written about his own involvement at Mill Springs four years prior in The National Tribune, March 15, 1883:


A Brave Confederate Colonel.

To the Editor National Tribune:

One brave man who fell during the late war I can never forget. In the battle of Monticello, Kentucky, between Colonel Wolford's brigade and General Pegram's forces, I was ordered to take a squad of men and hold a portion of ground on our left. I found the rebels pressing me so hard that I was obliged to fall back a short distance, yet firmly contested the ground. Presently I saw an officer on a splendid black charger ordering his men forward. I fired at him three or four times. He said to his men, "If you won't advance, then follow me," and dashed in front of his regiment and charged up to where I was behind a log, and, covering me with his revolver, said, "You are the man that shot me and wounded my horse, too." He gave a command to have me taken to the rear, and then fell off his horse, as he had fainted. I was taken to General Pegram, who tried to find out from me how many men were opposed to him. I would not tell him. I was put in Monticello jail, and several times the lady who had charge of the jail came and told me that the neighbors told her that Colonel Ashby's men intended to take me out at night and hang me, as I had wounded their colonel. The word got to our lines, and Wolford's men captured that night twenty-two rebels, and would have shot them if Ashby's men had carried out their design. About dark a company of men marched up to the jail and stacked arms. The captain came up to me and said he enlisted to fight Yankees and not to guard them. But Colonel Ashby sent for him and ordered him to take his company and protect me, as his regiment should not have the stain on it of hanging a true soldier, and if his men had fought half as well as I did they would have carried the day. I am satisfied that by our holding our position it prevented the rebels from advancing, as I saw enough men when I went in their rear to have carried the day. Their line did not advance any farther. The leader died from lock-jaw a short time afterwards. I was sent over to Knoxville with Corporal Dernette, under a strong guard, and from there was taken to Libby.[4]

Serg't C. H. S..

Company H, 45th O. V. M. I.

Richview, Ill., Feb. 26.



[1] The West house still stands, known today as the West-Metcalfe House. It was used as Felix Zollicoffer's first headquarters prior to the 1862 Mill Springs battle, and is in the process of being restored.


[2] Captain Franklin S. Case was actually in the Second Ohio Cavalry. He joined the Second at a second lieutenant, promoted to first lieutenant on May 10th, 1862, and was made captain May 19th, 1863. He was wounded in the action at Mill Springs (also known as Monticello). In June 1864 he would be captured at Reams Station. He is buried in Bellefontaine City Cemetery, Logan County, Ohio.


[2] Charles H. Smith was still living at this time. He would pass away on March 2nd, 1908 in Florida, and is buried at the Cycadia Cemetery in Tarpon Springs.


[3] Augustus H. Dernette enlisted as a nineteen year old corporal in Company H on August, 9th, 1862. He was exchanged on the same date as Sergeant Smith. Dernette would later be promoted to sergeant on May 1st, 1865, and muster out with the Forty-Fifth at Camp Harker, Tennessee on June 12th of that same year.

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