Battle of Richmond Madison County Park

Location: Richmond, Kentucky

Webpage: Kentucky County Park

General Description: Still within the first year of the Civil War in 1862 the Battle of Richmond was the first complete victory by the Confederate Army.  Following the Confederate defeat at Shiloh and the Union capture of the critical railroad junction at Corinth, Mississippi the Union threatened to split the Confederate States into two pieces.  To counter these victories the Confederates embarked on a bold move to split the Union by advancing into Kentucky where they believed they would be liberating a populace strongly in favor of the Confederacy.  The attack would be a loosely coordinated two pronged attack with General Braxton Bragg leading a 30,000 man army from Chattenooga into central Kentucky and General Kirby Smith leading a 19,000 man army from Knoxville.  Unlike the Confederates who were mostly veterans from Shiloh, the Federal army were mostly untrained new recruits that had yet to see battle.  Rather than attempting to take the well defended Federal garrison in the Cumberland Gap, he bypassed the Gap to the west leaving 9,000 men to keep the garrison bottled up.  Smith advanced into the Bluegrass region of southern Kentucky meeting only slight resistance.  His cavalry routed a small Federal force at Big Hill on August 23 with the main force advancing into this area on August 29.  At Richmond, two untrained Federal brigades numbering about 6500 men under General Mahlon Manson and General Charles Cruft were ordered by General William Nelson to move west toward Lancaster and the defensible Kentucky River, however, the message was delayed and Manson instead moved south from Richmond to Rogersville.  On the afternoon of the August 29 he drove back Smith’s cavalry and was under the impression he had seen the extent of the Confederate forces in the area. At dawn on August 30, General Patrick Cleburne advanced north along Old State Road and came under fire from Manson’s artillery.  Cleburne deployed his men across the road and was ordered to wait until General James Churchill could advance from Big Hill up along a creek bed west of the battlefield to flank the Union troops at Zion Church.  While waiting the two forces exchanged artillery barrages for more than an hour and Cleburne’s veteran troops were able to repulse a Union advance on their right flank, which Churchill made his way up the creek bed on the left flank.  When Churchill’s men charges out of the ravine into the right flank of the Union forces, they began a disorderly retreat up towards Rogersville.  At White’s Farm, north of Rogersville, the Union attempted another defense and were routed again.  Sensing victory, Smith ordered his cavalry to move past their flanks to encircle the Union army before they reached the Kentucky River.  General Bull Nelson arrived on the field by 2:00 pm and rallied the Union forces to make a stand at the cemetery in Richmond with his 2200 remaining soldiers.  General Smith ordered a general advance of all units extending in a line over a half mile wide.  Three volleys broke the Union line and Scott’s cavalry captured nearly all of the Union forces.  Although wounded, General Nelson did manage to escape capture, although he was shot just a month later over an insult of incompetency in the battle by General Jefferson C. Davis.  The Union lost both brigades numbering a total of 5353 killed, captured, and missing versus the Confederates who lost 600 in the battle.  Although General Smith continued on to capture Frankfort, the only Union state capitol to fall in the Civil War, he failed to adequately coordinate with General Bragg to the west.  When Bragg’s army was defeated at Perryville on October 8, 1862, the Confederates withdrew back to Tennessee.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) The Visitor Center located south of Richmond at what was once the small town of Rogersville, is at the middle of the battleground.  The Visitor Center has a very nice video about the battle with exhibit rooms giving a very good historical context for the battle, as well as, the aftermath. Be sure to pick up the brochure about the battle which contains a driving tour.

VisitorCenter

2) The first stop on the tour is at Bobtown where the Confederate cavalry led the pursuing Union cavalry into a snare on August 29.  This is also where the Confederates camped before advancing north to engage the Union forces the following day.

3) The next stop is the center of the first phase of the battle on the morning of August 30, where the artillery barrage lasted from just after 7 until almost 9 am.  Except for Confederate snipers positioned at the farm house, there was not much action at this location except for the screaming cannon balls flying overhead.  A short paved walk circles the area with many interpretive signs about the battle and a spur to a monument overlooking Churchill’s ravine where he led his men around the right flank of the Union position at Zion Church.  When they charged out of the ravine, the Union broke and began retreating north towards Rogersville.

4) The next main stop on the tour is the Battle of White’s Farm where the Union regrouped and advanced into the Confederates beginning a 45 minute battle ending at 1:30.  After heavy losses the Union was again routed and the race to Richmond was on.  This Roger’s house where they regrouped is the location of the Visitor Center.

BattlefieldTerrain

5) The Union army made one final stand in the Richmond Cemetery, once overall Federal commander, General William “Bull” Nelson finally arrived on the battlefield.  The highly demoralized troops withstood three volleys from the Confederate line that extended over a half mile, before collapsing from right to left.  The Union soldiers panicked and ran through the streets of Richmond attempting to escape.  However, by this point the Confederate cavalry had encircled them and most were captured.