The Civil War, Day by Day

Confederate Winter (detail)

Battle of Mill Springs

In this important battle, the North Forged a gap in the line of Southern defense, thereby causing irreparable damage to the Confederacy’s hold on Kentucky and Tennessee. A month later, the Union victory at Fort Donelson would result in the return of both states to the North.

During the stormy winter morning of January 18, Generals Feliz Zollicoffer and George Crittenden marched their troops through almost nonexistent mountain roads toward Thomas’ encampment at Logan’s Crossroads, near Mill Springs. On January 19, the battle began at dawn, when the Southerners sited and attacked Thomas’ cavalry. Fatigued and hungry from their march, the Confederates failed to defeat the unflappable Thomas, who sent reinforcements wading across Fisher’s Creek to rout and repulse the rebels.

The Southerners suffered their final humiliation when Zollicoffer lost his direction in the heavy rain. Disoriented, the general shouted an order to a Union colonel whom he mistook for one of his own officers. The colonel shot Zollicoffer dead, leaving his demoralized soldiers to flee across the Cumberland River before Thomas could pursue them. As a result of the battle, the Union captured thousands of invaluable Confederate provisions including cannons, wagons, horses, boats and munitions. More importantly, the North was only one step away from securing Kentucky and Tennessee.

Civil War armies rarely fought in wintertime. However, they often marched in highly inclement weather. Since large numbers of Confederates were barefooted at any given time, slogging up a snowy mountainside could be a painful struggle, as seen in this detail from Mort Künstler’s painting Confederate Winter.

February's Archived Features:

Wednesday February 1, 2023
Thursday February 2, 2023
Friday February 3, 2023
Saturday February 4, 2023
Sunday February 5, 2023
Monday February 6, 2023



All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.