October 19, 1862 (Sunday)
Don Carlos Buell, commanding the now stagnant Union Army of the Ohio, had done little more than watch the Confederate Army of Mississippi retreat from Kentucky. While his force had defended the state against the Rebel invaders, the general line of thought was that he let them return to Eastern Tennessee.
On the 18th, after congratulating Buell for winning the battle of Perryville (an untruth, but one that Buell also believed), General-in-Chief Henry Halleck explained to him that the object was “to drive the enemy from Kentucky and East Tennessee.” Buell had accomplished the Kentucky part and now it was time to follow it up.
Halleck had a long list of questions for his General. Acknowledging Buell’s claims that the Confederates under Braxton Bragg could not be followed, he wondered if there wasn’t another road that would bring his army between Bragg’s army and Nashville. From there, they could force the Rebels into the Shenandoah Valley or Georgia.
Buell had wanted to move his entire command to Nashville, but Halleck saw that as retreating. “To fall back to Nashville,” he explained, “is to give up East Tennessee to be plundered.”
On this day, Halleck continued the thought. “The capture of East Tennessee should be the main object of your campaign,” he reiterated. “You say it is the heart of the enemy’s resources; make it the heart of yours. Your army can live there if the enemy’s can.”
Halleck said that he had conferred with Lincoln on the matter and this showed it. It clearly echoed Lincoln’s words to General George McClellan, commanding the Army of the Potomac. After being urged to move on Winchester, Virginia, McClellan complained that he could not support an army there due to a lack of railroad to the town. Countering that idea, Lincoln suggested that “the enemy does now subsist his army at Winchester at a distance nearly twice as great from railroad transportation as you would have to do without the railroad last named.”
And just as Lincoln was ordering McClellan to move in the near future, he, through Henry Halleck, ordered Buell. “I am directed by the President to say to you that your army must enter East Tennessee this fall, and that it ought to move there while the roads are passable.”
As with McClellan, Lincoln could not understand “why we cannot march as the enemy marches, live as he lives, and fight as he fights, unless we admit the inferiority of our troops and of our generals.”
Buell would make his reply the following day, but it would consist mostly of musings about the best places to feed the army. Through it all, he tried to defend his decision to take the army to Nashville. Rebels, said Buell, were threatening it. He could give no specifics, but did allow that it wasn’t Bragg’s force.
All of this, Buell insisted, was impossible to convey via the telegraph, but it could be cleared up in an hour’s face-to-face conversation if only Washington would allow the Army of the Ohio to move to Nashville. After some complaining about how the Rebel army was more disciplined that his own Union army, Buell ended the strange reply.
In his dispatch from the 18th, Halleck wondered if Buell’s plan to move to Nashville would facilitate another Confederate raid into Kentucky. What he didn’t know was that one was already happening.
John Hunt Morgan was, like the Confederate army, retreating into Tennessee. He wished, however, that he might ride a ring around Buell’s Army of the Ohio. The previous day, he and his men captured the small Union garrison in Lexington before moving east to the Kentucky River. They rested on her banks until they were alerted by Union artillery that Union infantry were on their way. Making a hasty escape, Morgan and his 1,800 rangers crossed the river and slipped through Lawrenceville not too long before Federal infantry entered the town.
By noon, they were in Bloomfield, roughly thirty miles west. There, they were greeted by friends and well wishers who provided all the supplies and provisions that they could gather. After about an hour rest, Morgan moved out, headed southwest towards Bardstown.
Along the way, Morgan caught wind of a Federal force in the town that was large enough to cause his column more problems than they needed. There was nothing in the town, aside from hospitals and wounded. Morgan decided to leave well enough alone and skirt the town. Coming within a mile of its streets, he threw out skirmishers who drove in the Union pickets. The Rebels then bypassed the town unmolested.
Six miles later, they made their camp. That night, Company E of the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry (CS) was sent towards Louisville to see what they could find. What they found was a wonderful bounty. They captured 150 wagons laden with supplies for Buell’s Federal army. Along with the goods, they captured the cavalry escort and rounded up some enemy stragglers.
Unable to carry much, all but two of the wagons were burned on the spot. The two salvaged wagons were of the large sutler variety and “contained everything to gladden a rebel’s heart, from cavalry boots to ginger-bread,” described Confederate cavalry officer Basil Duke after the war.
At dawn the next day, the crew of 1,800, plus the Federal prisoners, continued on their way.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 2, p623, 626-627, 636-637, 638; History of Morgan’s Cavalry by William Basil Duke; Rebel Raider by James Ramage. [↩]