The trip southwest from Moorehead was mostly along I-64 and I-75, so it was a easy pull of a couple of hours. Our new location was a Corps of Engineers campgrounds, Fishing Creek Campground, on Lake Cumberland. It turns out that the campground is only a couple of miles west of Somerset, which is a fair sized city. Consequently we had good grocery stores and a nice sports bar for the upcoming Auburn game. Unfortunately, we were too far from any major cities and Somerset did not have its own stations, so we were limited to PBS and a CW station out of Tennessee. Once again I am pleased with staying at a COE campground. Not only it is inexpensive, but it was very nice. The sites were very spacious with views of Fishing Creek, a tributary to Lake Cumberland. The roads were paved and the sites were gravel with a large area for picnic table and fire ring. It was strange that each site was laid out with wire cages filled with rocks that made each site look like you were staying in old Indian ruins like you would find at Bandoleer National Park in New Mexico. Those sites overlooking the river were actually constructed with these stone cages to level them for RVs. The only negative about our site, which was across the road from the river, was the slope into the site. I had to back the RV up a fair slope to the relatively level area at the top of the site. I had plenty of room in front of the truck, so I did not have much problem backing it in, although it makes it more difficult when all I can see in the rearview mirrors is the ground behind me. The other problem with the site was we had to pull all the way through the campground to get the RV going in the right direction to back into the angled site. Since the dump station was in the center of the campground next to the bathroom, this meant it was not going to be possible to dump our tanks when we left. This was only a problem for the three sites on our side of the road, but we happened to have one of them! Except for this, this is another great COE campground.
We didn’t have any specific reason for visiting this part of Kentucky, so on Tuesday we decided to check out the Richmond Battlefield for which we saw a sign for on the Interstate. We assumed it was a Civil War battlefield and expected to spend a couple of hours learning about a relatively minor battle in Kentucky. What we found was anything but the case. By all rights this should be a National Battlefield instead of a county park and they are in the process of being accepted by the National Park Service. While Kentucky is not thought of being a major player in the Civil War it was very important early in the Civil War. Kentucky choose to remain neutral in the Civil War and President Lincoln believed Kentucky to be one of the keys to the war. This neutrality did not last very long as the Union occupied Paducah and the Confederacy occupied Bowling Green in the fall of 1861. In the February of 1862, Grant captured Fort Donelson and Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Cumberland Rivers, respectively. This led to the Confederate defeat at Shiloh in April and the siege of Corinth in May. With this string of Union victories the Union had split the Confederacy in Tennessee. However, the Confederacy was far from defeated. In response, the Confederacy under the command of General Braxton Bragg led an invasion of Kentucky. This was to be a two pronged attack with Bragg leading his Army of Mississippi north from Chattanooga and General Kirby Smith leading 19,000 Confederates from Knoxville in August of 1862. Their intention was to “liberate” Kentucky from the Union “invasion” with the belief that Kentucky would then join the Confederacy and countering the Union victories in western Tennessee. Smith choose not to attack the Union garrison that were well defended in the Cumberland Gap. Instead he bypassed the Gap to the west leaving about half of his army to bottle up the garrison. With his remaining men his goal was Lexington and the Kentucky capital at Frankfort. Whereas, many of his men were veterans from Shiloh and Corinth, the Union forces under the command of General William “Bull” Nelson were raw recruits with no battle experience and little training. Knowing Smith was on the move, Nelson ordered Generals Manson and Cruft to move their brigades to defensive positions along the Kentucky River. However, these orders were delayed and by then they were south of this position in Richmond. On August 23, Confederate cavalry routed a small Union force at Big Hill and General Cleburne reached this location on August 29. At dawn on August 30, Cleburne advanced up the Old State Road towards Richmond when they came under fire from Manson’s artillery. Smith ordered him to hold this position until General Churchill could move his brigade up a draw out of sight on the Union right flank. For the next 1.5 hours they traded artillery shells until Churchill charged out of the draw collapsing the Union flank. The inexperienced Union soldiers broke and ran north towards Richmond. The rest of the day was spent with the Confederates pressuring the retreating Union forces, routing them two more times before reaching Richmond. By this time in the afternoon, Bull Nelson had arrived on the scene and made one last stand at the Richmond cemetery. The Confederates spread out into a line over a half mile wide and advanced on the cemetery. After three volleys the Union line broke yet again and they fled through the town. However, by this point Cleburne had sent his cavalry around to the Union rear and ended up capturing nearly the entire Union army. This was the most complete Confederate victory of the Civil War with the capture, wounded, and death of over 4,000 Union soldiers. Without any further resistance, Smith was able to occupy Frankfort, the only Union state capital to fall during the war. However, coordination with Braxton Bragg to the West left a lot to be desired and Smith did not continue to support Bragg. Later in October, Bragg was defeated at Perryville and consequently the Confederates ended up retreating back to Tennessee. I hate to think the reason this is not a National Battlefield is because it was a Confederate victory instead of a Union victory. It was certainly as important a battle as many that we have visited.
Since the Richmond battlefield is not a single location but spread out over miles in Kentucky as the Confederates chased the Union army throughout the day, it is more a driving tour then anything else. Also due to the fact that the Blue Grass Army Depot covers much of the actual battlefield and is inaccessible, there is not a lot to actually see. Our GPS led us to the farmhouse where the battle started on August 30. This farmhouse was in the center of the battlefield which was mostly an artillery barrage with cannonballs screaming overhead. There is a nice paved walkway around the farm with numerous interpretive signs about this first stage of the battle. There is also a side trail with an overlook of the ravine that is today known as Churchill Ravine. Only a small part of the ravine is still untouched as most of it is now a golf course. As we proceeded north, we found the next stop on the tour at the Zion Church where the Union artillery was positioned and where Churchill attacked the Union right flank beginning the Union rout. Finally, we came to the center of the “battlefield” and the Richmond Battlefield Visitor Center at what was then known as Rogersville. They have a very nice Visitor Center with interesting exhibits and videos about the battle. They had a video that was a 4-minute history of the Civil War, which was nothing more than a map and timeline that showed the progression of the war. You watch the Union/Confederate line shift over time as major battles and events explode on the map. They also keep a running total of casualties as it increases throughout the war. I had a couple of questions about the battle and ended up talking at length with the gentleman running the Visitor Center. After discussing what we have learned about the Civil War over the past 3 years and trading stories, he asked me if I would like to see their latest acquisition. After telling me the story of how they acquired it, he showed me their recent purchase of General Bull Nelson’s Commission signed by the Secretary of War, Stanton, and President Abraham Lincoln. It was in excellent condition and very neat to see. It turns out that Nelson never received this commission as he was killed just a month following his defeat by a subordinate General that criticized his lack of leadership during the battle. Once I finally got out of the Visitor Center, we only had about an hour to explore the battlefield, of which there was just the cemetery in Richmond where Nelson made his final stand before escaping. Unfortunately, the entrance gate to the cemetery was obviously too narrow for our truck, so we decided to head back to the campground after stopping at Kroger on our way back.
It looked like the week was going to be another week of Civil War battles, as we learned about the Battle of Mill Springs the day before. It turned out that this battle occurred just north of the Cumberland River and was just a couple of miles from the campground. Once again the battlefield is a county park, but in this case they have a very nice, new Visitor Center. Along with a very good video, they had a series of exhibits using mannequins and many artifacts from the battlefield. This battlefield was not as spread out, but they still had a nice driving tour of the critical locations. The Battle of Mill Springs was earlier in the Civil War in January of 1862 before Grant had captured Forts Donelson and Henry. At this point the Confederates had a thinly defended line extending across from Memphis, through Bowling Green, and ending at the Cumberland Gap. In October, General Felix Zollicoffer (what a name!) left Knoxville into Kentucky to improve their defense between Bowling Green and the Cumberland Gap. General Crittenden had ordered Zollicoffer to create a winter camp on the south bank of the Cumberland River which had high bluffs to aid in the defense. However, Zollicoffer thought a peninsula in the Cumberland River would be more defensible with water protecting three sides. He moved his army of 6500 men to the north bank and began building earthen fortifications a mile in length with three redoubts called Beech Grove. The soldiers also constructed over 3000 small wooden cabins as they expected to spend the winter there. However, the Union was concentrating their forces under General Schoepf at Somerset and General Thomas at Lebannon. To counter this position, Thomas ordered joining both forces at Fishing Creek to the west of Somerset. Once again both sides decided on attacks during some of the worst weather of the winter. Heavy rains had swollen Fishing Creek and Zollicoffer believed it was impassable. So he decided to attack Thomas before Schoepf could make the crossing and left his stronghold in Beech Grove on January 19, 1862. Thomas had pickets out south of Logan’s Crossroads to watch for any Confederate movement and so was not surprised when the leading Confederates engaged the pickets. The distance from Beech Grove to Logan’s Crossroads was only 9 miles, but it took them 6.5 hours to make the march due to the miserable conditions. Over the next hour the battle continued to grow as more troops made it from both sides and unfortunate for Zollicoffer, Schoepf had been able to cross Fishing Creek so the sides were roughly equal. Partly, due to the inexperience of both sides, the heavy rains and fog, and the smoke and noise of battle, this battlefield was mostly one of confusion on both sides. Believing some of his troops were firing on their own side, Zollicoffer moved forward to order them to cease firing. Unfortunately, these soldiers were Union and once the mistake was realized they exchanged fire and Zollicoffer was killed. Partly due to the lack of leadership with the death of Zollicoffer, the inability to effectively use artillery due to the fog and smoke, and the old flintlocks of the Confederates that misfired in the heavy rain, the Confederates never stood a chance. After a charge by the Ohio 9th Ohio who was a regiment of experienced German veterans on the Confederate left flank, the Confederate line collapsed from left to right. They beat a hasty retreat back to the defenses at Beech Grove dropping much of their gear on the way. Once back in Beech Grove, they realized their mistake. The river effectively kept them from retreating further and the low position near the river opened them up to Union artillery. The Union bombarded the camp throughout the night with plans to capture them in the morning. However, General Crittenden spent the night ferrying the remainder of his army back across the Cumberland River and by morning all the Union found were all the supply wagons and cannons. The Confederates burned the steamboat Noble Ellis so the Union had no way to pursue them further. At the time this was the greatest Federal victory in the war and was famous. However, today the battle is largely forgotten.
From the Visitor Center, which is also the location of the Mill Springs National Cemetery, we proceeded south towards the Cumberland River. The first stop on the tour was the Confederate Cemetery where General Zollicoffer was killed. The white oak he was leaned against while he died was known as the “Zollie Tree” until it was killed by lightning in 1995. In the early 1900s it was decorated faithfully with a wreath by Dorotha Hudson, a tradition carried on for three generations. This was in response to the recognition of Union deaths on Memorial Day every year. Unlike the Union dead who were moved to the National Cemetery following the war, the Confederates were simply put into a mass grave at this site. Today there are individual gravestones serving as place markers, both of which are still at this location. There is a nice trail that goes around the ravine the Confederates used to try and attack the Union at the fence line, mostly unsuccessfully since their muskets would not fire. From here the tour follows the retreat of the Confederates down to Beech Grove. At Beech Grove you can still see some of the depressions of the thousands of wooden huts since they would sink them into the ground for insulation against the winds. However, there is no evidence of the earthen fortifications since the Union army destroyed and filled them in following the battle. While the next stop on the tour was the ferry landing where we ate lunch overlooking Lake Cumberland, it was not the last stop on the tour. The tour continues for two more stops on the other side of the Lake, but since it was a 30 mile drive back to Somerset in order to cross the lake, we decided against it. The other two stops were old homes used as headquarters and hospital following the battle, as well as, a working grist mill at the small town of Mill Springs. It is interesting to note that for the Union the battle was known as Mill Springs, which was to the south of the actual battle and for the Confederates it was known as Fishing Creek which is to the north of the battle. Why would both sides name the battle based on locations they never reached or occupied? Why was it not know as the Battle of Logan’s Crossroad where it was actually fought?
Thursday was another beautiful day, but I was not able to convince Kal to make the over an hour trip north to the Battle of Perryville. Instead she wanted to do something different so we headed southeast to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. As the name implies this state park is along the Cumberland River in the Boone National Forest. We had heard that the falls on the river were well worth the time to visit and was even known as the “Niagara of the South.” While it is a fantastic waterfall, it is only 65 feet and 100-300 feet wide depending upon the amount of water. It is horseshoe in shape, but it is nowhere near as impressive as the sheer size of Niagara Falls. Of course, all they have in Kentucky is a major river, whereas Niagara Falls has a series of Great Lakes to feed it. We began our exploration of the falls with a mile hike around the fancy lodge at the top of the plateau created by the CCC in the 1930s. It was a nice walk, although the long set of stairs back up to the lodge was more than we had bargained for. After driving back down to the river we took a look at the falls. Besides the fact that they are a well known falls, the real reason for their international fame is the “moonbow.” On a clear night of a full moon, especially during the winter and spring when the air is crisp, you can see a phenomenon called the moonbow. This is essentially a rainbow caused by the moon reflecting off the spray. While you can sometimes see colors, mostly it is described as a white band of light over the river. Unfortunately, we had missed the full moon for the month and we were not about to stay until after dark, so we did not see the moonbow. We are disappointed too, but you just can’t do everything. In any case, after a long lunch in the picnic area overlooking the river, we headed back to the campgrounds.
Friday was our day for laundry and cleaning the RV, so it was a day spent in the campground. Saturday would be a day for watching college football, however, they don’t show much on PBS or CW. So if we wanted to watch any football, we had to find a sports bar. After checking with a couple from the area in the campgrounds, we found a local sports bar in Somerset named Muggsbee’s. The game was not until 6:30 so I had most of the day to work on this blog. We choose a nice booth with a great view of the game on three TVs and ordered a late dinner. Auburn was playing Arkansas and from the first was in control of the game. However, after LSU came back the week before, we were not going to leave until it was certain. This was a large sports bar broken up into three areas. We were eating in the middle area, but the front area was turned into a dance floor during the second half of the game. Suddenly we had very loud disco music to deal with along with occasional lights from a disco ball. Thankfully, they did not turn out the lights or the TVs in our area of the bar, so we could still watch the game when not covering our ears. Still it was an interesting way to watch a football game and Auburn won handily. So all was good!!
Sunday was just another day in the campground as the weather continued to worsen with forecasts for rain overnight and through Monday.