A VIRTUAL TOUR OF THE BATTLEFIELD OF MILL SPRINGS, KENTUCKY
Geoffrey R. Walden
This photo tour shows many of the main sites associated with the campaign and battle, from both the Federal and Confederate viewpoints. Many of these photos, particularly those of the battlefield itself, were taken on January 19, the anniversary of the battle (some on the 130th anniversary in 1992, and some in 1995). Click here to see the exact location of the Mill Springs battlefield.
This virtual tour of the battle of Mill Springs begins at the Mill Springs National Cemetery, located on KY Hwy. 80 in the town of Nancy, 8.9 miles west of Somerset. Established as a National Cemetery in 1866 (officially brought into the National Cemetery system in 1881), this plot contains the graves of many of the Federal soldiers killed at Mill Springs and other area actions, as well as those of William Logan, who donated the land for the cemetery, and his wife Nancy.
Standing at the southern wall of the cemetery and looking south across KY 80, one can view the battle area from the Federal viewpoint. Some sources indicate that Gen. Thomas commanded the battle from this area for awhile. The camp of the 1st Ohio Artillery was located in the orchard at the far right of the photo, with the 10th Indiana's camp a few hundred yards further to the front (in the distance). The dirt road passing through the orchards in this area (running between the barns) generally follows the course of the old road used by many of the Federal units to reach the main battle line. The wooded high ground in the center distance is the knoll just north of Zollicoffer Park, at the southern end of the rail fence that formed the main Federal battle line (the position of the 4th Kentucky and 10th Indiana regiments); the wooded high ground to the left of this (directly over the pond, about a mile distant) is the site of the Confederate last stand. The 9th Ohio Battery and one section of Kenny's Battery C, 1st Ohio Artillery were located in the immediate foreground, near the pond and barn. Standart's Battery B, 1st Ohio Artillery fired over the woods from a position on the low ridge just beyond the first treeline, near the center of the photo.
Looking south from the National Cemetery, across the battle area
The road intersection of KY 80 and KY 235 (just west of the National Cemetery), along with the KY 196 junction just down the road (where most of the Federal force camped before the battle), was Logan's Crossroads, now called Nancy. Named for William Logan's wife, the town was established in 1884. The Federal troops followed the general route of KY 235 south, as they marched to the battle area. William Logan's house stood on the left side of the road about 200 yards from the intersection in Nancy; he owned this entire area, including the battlefield. As the road bears left about 200 yards further on, the 1st Kentucky Cavalry was camped on the high ground to the right.
Zollicoffer Park -- This park and the surrounding area is the scene of much of the heaviest fighting during the height of the battle. The Confederates attacked up the road from the south and up out of the deep wooded ravine east of the park; the Federals made their main stand along a fence row just north of the park. The battle lines in this area were quite fluid, and it was here that Gen. Zollicoffer rode forward to speak with what he mistakenly thought were his own troops. The fighting here continued over two hours, until Federal reinforcements came up on both flanks of the Confederates, and the Southern soldiers, demoralized by the death of Gen. Zollicoffer and the failure of many of their outdated flintlock muskets to fire in the rain, retreated from the field. Click here to see a battle map showing the action in this area.
The main sights in the park are the monument to Zollicoffer and his men, the Confederate mass grave mound, the site of the "Zollie Tree," and the memorial cemetery to the Confederate dead. The monument and the mass grave marker were erected by the United Confederate Veterans in 1910. The memorial grave markers for the Confederate dead were erected by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1997. The mass grave in Zollicoffer Park is only one of several Confederate grave sites scattered around the battle area.
The original "Zollie Tree," a large white oak which had stood for some 150 years, marking the location of Zollicoffers death, was blown down during a storm in June 1995; a seedling of the original has been planted at the site. For several years the "Zollie Tree" was decorated by a local girl named Dorotha Burton, in memory of the fallen Confederates. This decoration led to the erection of the monuments, and is continued to this day by Dorothas descendants.
The heaviest fighting in the battle took place in a corn field bordered by a rail fence, to the north of the present Zollicoffer Park. The following view shows this area today. The area is more open today than in 1862; then, the field was smaller, and surrounded by woods. This view is looking north-northeast from the small knoll north of Zollicoffer Park. The rail fence bordering the west side of the corn field, which formed the basis of the main Union battle line, was located approximately in the center foreground of this view, running toward the left distance, ending a little to the right of the small brush and tree line at the left center of the photo. The 10th Indiana, 4th Kentucky, and 2nd Minnesota regiments fought from behind this fence, against the 15th Mississippi and 20th Tennessee regiments, who charged up out of the wooded ravine (behind the trees at the right side of the photo), and across the cornfield (cleared area in the center of the photo). Kennys Ohio Battery unlimbered in the left center of this view, and the 1st and 2nd East Tennessee and 12th Kentucky regiments advanced against the Confederate right flank from the treeline in the middle distance. The bayonet charge of the 9th Ohio Infantry occurred directly behind the viewpoint of this photo.
Main part of the battlefield
The Confederates retreated back the way they had come, along both sides of the road to the south. In the following views, looking south (from the viewpoint of the pursuing Federals, just south of present Zollicoffer Park), we can see the lower area in the center of the photos, where the 29th Tennessee Infantry fired into the flank of the advancing 9th Ohio (left photo, looking from left to right); and the 17th Tennessee Infantry advanced down the hill in the distance to confront the 9th Ohio and 2nd Minnesota (right photo). The 15th Mississippi and 20th and 28th Tennessee regiments fell back along the left side of the left photo, toward the high ground in the distance (guarded by the 29th Tennessee and 16th Alabama, on the hill in the distance), and the 19th and 25th Tennessee fell back along the road in the right photo, guarded by the 17th Tennessee. The high ground in the distance of both photos is "Last Stand Hill," where the final Confederate resistance took place.
"Last Stand Hill" -- This hilltop was the area where the last organized Confederate units held back the advancing Federals until the frontline Confederate units could make their escape. This vantage point allows a good view of the field from the Confederate side, both near the beginning of the battle (as Zollicoffer's Brigade crested the rise that had been defended by the 10th Indiana Infantry), and near the end (as the 17th Tennessee and 16th Alabama regiments formed the rear guard of the retreating Confederates). Gen. Crittenden directed the battle from this area. After pushing the 10th Indiana and 1st Kentucky Cavalry regiments off this hill, Zollicoffer's Brigade advanced down both sides of the road, the 19th and 25th Tennessee regiments into the woods on the left of the road, and the 15th Mississippi and 20th Tennessee regiments into the deep ravine on the right (just beyond the curve). Zollicoffer Park, where Gen. Zollicoffer mistakenly rode into the Federal line and was killed, is just behind the trees in the center of the photo. The ridgeline used by the 9th Ohio Infantry to turn the Confederate left flank appears beyond the trees at left center, extending toward the road in the center. Rutledge's Confederate artillery was stationed near this viewpoint, across the road on the forward slope of the hill (possibly where the barn is today). The 17th Tennessee Infantry was located here at the camera position, fighting forward toward the low ground, then retreating back on this side of the road. The 9th Ohio Infantry made its famous bayonet charge from the ridgeline at left center, past the trees and into the low area, forcing the 19th and 25th Tennessee regiments to retreat. The 16th Alabama Infantry advanced from the high ground on the right of the road, toward the low ground in center of the photo, where the 29th Tennessee Infantry was firing into the flank of the 9th Ohio (where the trees are in the center of this photo, across the road to the left). These two Confederate regiments then retreated back to this high ground, after most of the 15th Mississippi and 20th and 28th Tennessee regiments had escaped out of the ravine in the right and center distance.
Looking north from "Last Stand Hill"
The Confederates retreated back down the road to their entrenchments and camp at Beech Grove. This old chimney marks the remains of a period house, located just south of the main Confederate camp area at Beech Grove, thought to have been used by Gens. Zollicoffer and Crittenden as their headquarters. The other photo shows a reconstruction of a Confederate winter cabin (not located at Mill Springs), showing the likely appearance of many of the Confederate cabins in the Beech Grove camp (although most probably did not have such elaborate brick chimneys).
When the Confederates first arrived in this area in November 1861, they camped at Mill Springs, on the south side of the Cumberland River. In this view we see the restored mill from which the site takes its name (the present mill was built in 1877 on the site of the original 1840 mill). The Beech Grove camp was located across the river to the north (left of the photo the river is much higher today than in 1862, due to the creation of Lake Cumberland).
Mill Springs Mill, overlooking Lake Cumberland
Zollicoffer established his Mill Springs headquarters in the Thompson Brown house (sometimes called the Lanier house, after a later owner), and dug a semicircle of fortifications around the southern perimeter of Mill Springs, along the higher ground in the center distance of the right photo (the higher ground begins just beyond the barn at the right). (The Brown house was subjected to Federal artillery fire during the Confederate retreat, and was also occupied by the Federal forces following their victory at Mill Springs.)
The West/Metcalfe house, built around 1800, was the first brick house in this part of Kentucky, and was used by the Confederates as a hospital. Several soldiers who died here in December 1861 and January 1862 are buried in the family cemetery near this house. It is located about one mile south of Mill Springs.
West / Metcalfe House, south of Mill
When the Confederates advanced to attack the Federals, they hoped to find only two or three of Thomas regiments at Logans Crossroads, with no reinforcements from Schoepfs forces at Somerset. However, unknown to the Confederates, several of Schoepfs units had made a daring crossing of Fishing Creek, swollen by recent rains, and were on hand to fight in the battle. This photo shows the crossing point of Fishing Creek today, with an engraving based on a period sketch for comparison (the water level is much higher today because Fishing Creek has been impounded by Lake Cumberland; this location is today a boat launch ramp in Pulaski County Park).
Of course, no virtual tour can ever be a real substitute for an on-site visit. For those who wish to schedule an actual visit to the battlefield, please contact the Mill Springs Battlefield Association at firstname.lastname@example.org. MSBA can give you much more detailed information, including a pamphlet for a driving tour of the area, and can arrange for a guided tour of the battlefield. Visit the MSBA homepage at http://www.pchs.pulaski.net/millspng/index.htm.
Just where was the battle of Mill Springs?
The battle took place in western Pulaski County, Kentucky, which is located in south-central Kentucky. The battlefield site is located today on Ky. Hwy. 235, just south of the town of Nancy, which is on Ky. Hwy. 80. You can reach Nancy from the Cumberland Parkway (there is a marked exit about four miles west of Nancy), or you can follow Ky. Hwy. 80 about eight miles west from Somerset, which is the closest city. Somerset is located at the intersection of the Cumberland Parkway / Ky. Hwy. 80, and US 27.
Location of the Mill Springs Battlefield
All text and modern photos copyright © 1998, Geoffrey R. Walden; all rights reserved; photo of Dorotha Burton Hudson from the Louisville Courier-Journal "Magazine," 26 February 1961.