Friday, September 6, 1861
General Ulysses S. Grant had heard, through a spy, that Confederates under General Pillow were advancing from Columbus, Kentucky to Paducah, a strategic town on the Ohio River. If the Rebels seized the town, it would be their first foothold on land bordering Illinois.1
From his headquarters at Cairo, IL, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, Grant resolved to capture Paducah first. The previous day he had planned it and late that night, he, along with two regiments of infantry and a battery of artillery was aboard five ships (two gunboats and three steamers). By 8:30am, the Union force arrived at the docks off Paducah.
The town was clearly awash in secessionist sentiment. Confederate flags flew over the buildings and the streets were buzzing with news of 3,600 Rebel soldiers, sixteen miles away, marching from Columbus. As Grant’s force was preparing to disembark, a local Rebel Brigadier-General and a company of militia, knowing they were greatly outnumbered, boarded a train, taking all of the rolling stock with them. 2
Though Grant believed that General Pillow’s men were en route to Paducah, it was not actually the case. No Confederate troops had left Columbus. Nevertheless, rumors of such a march gave let for the Federals to occupy an even more strategic town than Columbus. Paducah not only covered the Ohio River, it was near the mouth of the Tennessee River. Control of the Tennesee meant control of the center of Kentucky.
Even before Grant landed, the Rebel flags had disappeared. He order United States flags to be run up in their stead. In town, he found enough Confederate rations to feed his troops, and took control of the railroad and the telegraph office. During his short stay, he composed and had printed a “Proclamation, To The Citizens of Paducah!”
“I have come among you, not as an enemy,” began General Grant, “but as your friend and fellow-citizen, not to injure or annoy you, but to respect the rights, and to defend and enforce the rights of all loyal citizens.” The Confederates, “an enemy, in rebellion against our common Government,” had invaded Kentucky and were “moving upon your city.”
Grant was there to “defend you against this enemy… and maintain the authority and sovereignty of your Government and mine.”3
After issuing the proclamation, Grant returned to Cairo where he found Fremont’s order, written in Hungarian, to invade Paducah. General Eleazer A. Paine was appointed commander of the two regiments already in the town and another on the way. Grant ordered Paine to take “special care and precaution that no harm is done to inoffensive citizens.” The plundering of private property was also explicitly prohibited. However, Grant also ordered Pained to seize all of the money in the banks and place it aboard one of the gunboats for safe keeping if an enemy attack was thought imminent.4
The Real Battle of Western Virginia
In Western Virginia, General Wise, opposite Federals under General Cox at Gauley Bridge, believed that he was about to be flanked and cut off from the rest of the Army of the Kanawha, General Floyd commanding, seventeen miles northeast at Carnifex Ferry. Floyd had dug in and was so assured of his position being unconquerable that, when requested by Wise, sent a regiment and two pieces of artillery down to assist him. Floyd, however, knew that two more regiments would be joining him at Carnifex in a couple of days.
Throughout the night, Wise’s scouts reported seeing signal lights moving around the right flank of his command and believed that he could not only hold his position, but could attack with the added regiment, which would add about 400 to his number, bringing it to 1,600. Wise’s figures exclude the nearly 1,600 Rebel militia under Generals Chapman and Beckley, with whom he was in constant communication.
Floyd, however, did not neglect the militia and ordered the two pieces of artillery to be sent to Chapman to aid his push up the Kanawha River. He warned Wise against attacking the enemy, hoping only to keep them at bay. Floyd also warned that the regiment sent to Wise could be recalled at any time.
Countering, Wise half-heartedly agreed to give the militia the artillery pieces whenever “they can be spared.” As for the regiment of reinforcements, Wise asserted that they “will not be removed at all from this road.”5
While Floyd and his subordinate, Wise, were arguing about artillery and reinforcements, Union General Rosecrans and three brigades of infantry with artillery and cavalry were at Sutton, forty-five miles north of Floyd’s supposedly impenetrable position. On this date, he ordered his men to be prepared to move south the next morning “in the direction of Summersville” and General Floyd at Carnifex Ferry.6
- Letter from U.S. Grant to Julie Grant, September 8, 1861. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p197. [↩]
- Proclamation, To The Citizens of Paducah!, Sept 8, 1861. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p198. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p831-832. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p586. [↩]