All Eyes Upon Kentucky

Saturday, September 7, 1861

“The neutrality of Kentucky has been broken by the occupation of Paducah by the Federal forces,” was the word from Richmond to General Felix Zollicoffer, a Tennessee Rebel who had raised over 5,000 recruits to put down Unionist sentiment. “Take the arms.”1

Though Zollicoffer had not been a secessionist, he threw in his lot with his state. When Tennessee went with the South, so did he. The General began to ready his troops in Knoxville.

Kentucky’s neutrality had been broken before the Federals occupied Paducah. On September 3rd, Confederates under General Pillow captured Hickman and Columbus, along the Mississippi River. Even prior to that, the Union army had officially established Camp Dick Robinson near Danville, in early July. Though Kentucky wished to stay out of the fight between North and South, it was hardly in the cards.

Also from Richmond was the order to occupy Bowling Green “with sufficient force to maintain it as early as practicable.” This was in response to an appeal from General R.C. Foster, who had raised recruits in Nashville, Tennessee, that since Paducah was held by the Federals, Bowling Green was threatened. He suggested that his force of 2,500 could secure it.

Though the suggested town was important, it was also 140 miles east of Paducah. Foster was cautioned that the Federal forces would probably move upon Southern troops at Columbus and Hickman, a mere twenty miles distant. His troops were to be held in readiness for such a move.2

General Paine was just settling into his new home at Paducah when orders to take Smithland, eighteen miles up the Ohio River, filtered through from Fremont in St. Louis. This would give Union forces complete command of the mouth of the Tennessee River. Also, it was ordered to fortify and plant artillery at Paducah, but to make no advance upon the Rebels.

With Kentucky’s neutrality officially broken by both sides, the floodgates would soon open and Kentucky would soon become contested ground. On this date, General Robert Anderson, of Fort Sumter fame, moved his headquarters of the Department of the Cumberland from Cincinnati, Ohio to Louisville, Kentucky.3


An Attempt to Find Missouri Guerrillas

Meanwhile, in Missouri, General Fremont’s declaration of martial law across the state had inspired more and more bands of guerrillas to take to the night, wreaking havoc upon the state’s Unionists. Fremont had placed General John Pope, a Mexican War veteran, in charge of northern Missouri, but the raw regiments scattered almost randomly across the state could do little to diminish the marauding.

One of the most active Rebel partisans was Martin Green, who had raised a regiment of mountain Missouri State Guard soldiers near the town of Florida. General Pope’s force of 3,000 was only twenty miles away near Hunnewell. He planned to divide his army in half and march all through the night to attack Green’s camp at dawn.

Fremont, perhaps hedging his bets, also ordered General Samuel D. Sturgis, of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, to move upon Green as well. Sturgis’ Army had been in Rolla recuperating from their defeat, but had marched to St. Charles (near St. Louis) more recently. Sturgis had dispatched two regiments towards the town of Mexico, twenty miles south of Florida, in hopes of catching Green, but feared that the railroad tracks had been torn up by Rebels.4

Neither Pope nor Sturgis knew of the other’s location. Neither was in communication with each other and neither had any real clue as to where Green was.

Green, however, received word that Union forces were moving upon him and he made plans to move his regiment to safer ground.5


“Everything remains as it was. No news as yet.”
– General Cox at Gauley Bridge to General Rosecrans in Western Virginia.

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p402. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p402 – 403. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p257. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p 475 – 476. []
  5. General John Pope by Peter Cozzens, University of Illinois Press, 2000. []


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2 thoughts on “All Eyes Upon Kentucky

  1. You’re confused in your timeline of Federal intervention in Kentucky. Back in August the President had already attempted a military coup in Kentucky by trying to Federalize General Buckner by forcing him into a Federal commission and taking the KY state milita. It was so bad that the Governor of Kentucky wrote a letter to Lincoln to stay away and quite intervening. Then a letter campaign began from folks asking the CS and neighboring states to come help them. Internally pro-confederate sentiments caused many local Kentuckians to rally. By the time General Polk arrived, all these events had already transpired. It was merely happenstance that Ulysses Grant happened to arrive after vice before Polk. But revisionists constantly re-write this history as some sort of “rebel” invasion that the Federals had to come “save” Kentuckians from. What a big bag of baloney. And I notice you don’t mention Brigadier General Tilghman and what was really going on in Paducah. Funny how that gets left out.

    1. Are you then suggesting that I’m some kind of revisionist?

      I have neither the time nor desire to give long, in depth studies of minute facets of the war. In a blog such as this, that covers the entire war, how can I?

      This post was meant to catch the reader up with a brief overview of what was happening in Kentucky. Things had to be left out, that’s the nature of an overview. But to assert that I have some strange bias is silly.

      Judging by your previous comments, you seem to have a bit of a bias yourself, no?

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