Image above: Gates to Mill Springs National Cemetery, 2005, David W. Haas, Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Spotlight on Lesser Known History
Mills Springs Battlefield National Monument, Kentucky
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On this page we're going to Spotlight the lesser known historic sites and attractions that dot the history landscape across the USA and are worth a visit if you're in their area. And while they may be lesser known, some are very unique, and will be that rare find. You'll be, at times, on the ground floor, or maybe even know something others don't. It'll be fun. Visit them.
Mill Springs Battlefield, Kentucky
The Union had not been doing too well during the first days of the Civil War. They had been soundly defeated at Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie in Charleston. There had been the first battle at Bull Run with troops racing in defeat back toward Washington, Wilson's Creek, the debacle at Ball's Bluff, where no major battle in 1861 had been won by the Federals. Yes, some count Cheat Mountain as a major victory, but that was a stretch. It became more and more important that the Union commanders could take control of Kentucky, and the need for a victory there, a major victory, was imperative. Today, the Mill Springs Battlefield has become a National Monument after years of stewardship by an association dedicated to the task. And there the story is told. Image above: Lithograph of the Battle of Mill Springs, 1862?, Currier and Ives. Courtesy Library of Congress.
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Info, What's There Now, History Nearby
Mill Springs Battlefield, Virginia
It was January 19, 1862 when the course of events shifted to this eastern Kentucky town. Amazingly, the efforts to preserve the battlefield were haphazard from the standpoint of the federal government. The Mill Springs National Cemetery was utilized directly after the battle with additional lands added in 1867, where there was a Union soldiers only policy. Confederate soldiers were buried one mile away in today's Zollicoffer Park, which was directed by the county.
Through the efforts of the Mill Springs Battlefield Association and the American Battlefields Trust, aka Civil War Trust, today there is more than 790 acre preserved to tell the story of the battle and the men who fought there.
Today, there is a full Visitor Center and Museum with the Combat of the Cumberland exhibit, a twenty minute film, plus restrooms and orientation. Zollicoffer Park still exists, also part of the monument and includes trails to historic sites.
Image above: Fenceline on the Mill Springs Battlefield, 2017, Trinitarian Creek. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons C.C. 4.0. Below: Two Confederate Generals in command at Mill Springs; Brigadier General Felix Zollicoffer (left) and Major General George Crittenden (right). Zollicoffer photo from the William Emerson Photo Album, prior to 1862. Crittenden photo, 1911, Francis Trevelyan Miller, editor, the Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
Where Is It
Mill Springs Battlefield, the newly minted Mill Springs National Monument, is located at 9020 West Highway 80, Nancy, Kentucky, 42544. That is eight miles west of Somerset, Kentucky. The National Cemetery is directly next door to the battlefield.
What is There Now
Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument
Since its designation as a National Monument on March 12, 2019, the National Park Service has been administering the site in cooperation with the Mill Springs Battlefield Association, which built the museum in 2006. The Visitor Center and Museum has orientation, exhibits, and a film about the battle. A driving tour with ten stops takes you to various locations, including the Mill Springs National Cemetery and Zollicoffer Park, which also has its own trails. Farther away from the main battlefield are the Brown-Lanier House, headquarters for both sides at one time or another during the war, and the Mill Springs Mill. Nine miles distant is the Beech Grove Fortified Encampment site.
There is also a gift shop and picnic areas.
When Open and How Much
The Visitor Center is open Wednesday through Sunday year round, but check with the site as there are many changes since becoming a National Monument just last year. There is no fee to enter. When the Visitor Center is closed, driving tour guide pamphlets can be found just outside the front door.
Fees subject to change.
Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument
Mill Springs Battlefield Association
For the Kentucky enthusiast, you're close to sites that will make you sing and dance, Nashville, as well as other Civil War sites, Perryville and Camp Nelson, and underground wonders and overground, Mammoth Cave and Cumberland Gap, plus a whole lot more.
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Prior to the Battle
As the end of the first year of the war approached, Cumberland Gap was begin guarded by the Confederate soldiers under Brigadier General Felix Zollicoffer. Their line extended to Columbus. He chose, in November, to make Mill Springs his winter headquarters. As January approached, Union Brigadier General George Thomas was ordered to break up the line of Zollicoffer and his superior, Major General George Crittenden. Union troops arrived at Logan's Crossroads on January 17, but they did not go unnoticed. The Confederates attacked just after midnight on January 19. It was a wet and muddy march from the camp as the attack began.
Photo above: Interior of the Mill Springs National Cemetery, 2005, David W. Haas, Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress.
During the Battle
General Thomas had been expecting additional troops under Brigadier General Albin Schoepf to arrive earlier, but a later arrival allowed Schoepf's men to surprise the Confederates. It was foggy with dim light in the early success of the Rebel force, although the loss of General Zollicoffer, who thought a Confederate officer was approaching instead of the Union man who killed, began to change the course of the battle. A second rally by the Confederates under Crittenden, who failed to use his cavalry, eventually caused their retreat, at first to their encampment at Beech Grove, with Thomas following. Now, Crittenden's troops had their backs to the river, and by morning, he had chosen to cross by steamboat, leaving most of his cannons, weaponry, and most of his horses behind. There were five thousand nine hundred troops available for the Confederates that day; four thousand five hundred for the Union.
Outcome of the Battle
This decisive victory caused the Confederates to abandon their position in eastern Kentucky, and allowed for invasion of Tennessee by Union troops. It rallied the moral of the Federal Army by gaining their first major victory and paved the way for General Grant to win further battles at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson.
The Confederate hopes for a neutral Kentucky faded with the Mill Springs and subsequent battles. Today you can follow the conflict with guided tours of self guided driving tours, which take you to sites such as the Visitor Center, Mill Springs National Cemetery, Zollicoffer Park, Last Stand Hill, Confederate Field Hospital, Timmy's Branch, Moulden's Hill, Beech Grove, Ferry Landing, Mill Springs, and the West-Metcalfe House.
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