Sunday, August 29, 2010

Battle of Richmond (Ky)

Fought on August 29 and 30, 148 years ago, the Battle of Richmond (Ky) , was a decisive victory for the Confederates and one of the best examples of a "rout" in the Civil War, especially in the Western Theater. Though it has not earned the fame of the Confederate victory at 2nd Bull Run (or 2nd Manassas, if you prefer), it was a key victory for the Confederates, getting their invasion into Kentucky off to a very positive start.  After this triumph, in which the men of Major General Kirby Smith bludgeoned the still inexperienced troops of  Major General William "Bull" Nelson, the Confederate hopes of securing Kentucky, and thousands of additional recruits, for their side seemed brighter than ever. Smith soon moved onto to major Kentucky cities such as Lexington and the state capital of Frankfort in the days after the success at Richmond, while Braxton Bragg's role in this invasion was just getting started.

(As an aside, Nelson, a very large man who was wounded and temporarily captured at Richmond, may be more well-known for his manner of death than for his generalship. He got into a dispute with Union Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis at a hotel in Louisville a few weeks after the battle at Richmond. Davis confronted Nelson for what he considered to be an insult to his character, and Nelson then slapped Davis, who grabbed a pistol and shot Nelson. Davis had a powerful friend in Indiana Governor Oliver Morton, and escaped punishment for this act.)

William "Bull" Nelson, courtesy of

E. Kirby Smith, courtesy of

While waiting for Bragg's army to reach Kentucky, Smith sent a division of his troops, perhaps 6,000-8,000 men total,  under the command of Brigadier General Henry Heth (of Gettysburg fame), to threaten Cincinnati, an important trade city located along the Ohio River, about 80 miles to the north of Lexington and 100 miles from Richmond. After several days in the region with no fighting other than than a couple of small skirmishes, Heth realized the region was heavily defended by earthworks along the hills of Northern Kentucky. Union general Lew Wallace, per orders of Department of the Ohio commander General Horatio Wright, rounded up thousands of troops and tens of thousands of local militia to man these defensive positions. When Heth saw the strength of these fortifications, and received orders from Smith to leave the region, he and his men returned south to rejoin Smith's men in central Kentucky, just a day or two before Bragg and his troops crossed into Kentucky. The threat to Cincinnati had dissipated, but Kentucky was still in the throes of invasion.

Here is an article that nicely summarizes what many people call "Bragg's invasion of Kentucky" though it seems to have been Smith's idea. With Smith being mostly inactive after the victory at Richmond, Bragg's army raced Don Carlos Buell's Union troops to reach Louisville first, a race that ended with the Battle of Perryville, the bloodiest battle fought in Kentucky. This hard-fought battle shifted most attention of the Kentucky campaign (when attention can be diverted from the Antietam campaign in the East) to Bragg, his decisions and his army.

Nevertheless, the battle at Richmond gave the Confederates one of their most decisive victories in the war and provided positive (though short-lived) momentum for them in the fall of 1862. Though that momentum waned as Smith waited for Bragg, and eventually disappeared completely following Bragg's post-Perryville retreat, this battle showed that the Confederates in the West could fight well and defeat their opponents, though general perception often is that the Union dominated in this theater. Perhaps they did, but the Rebel army was very capable of taking the upper hand at times. 

Here is a link to the map of the Battle of Richmond created by the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT), which earlier this year named Richmond to its list of 2010's most endangered battlefields .

Beside helping the CWPT, support for the Richmond Battlefield can be provided through the website of the Battle of Richmond Association as well.

I have never been to the Richmond battlefield, so I think that might be a good idea for a trip one day this fall.

1 comment:

  1. Nelson was not captured after the Battle of Richmond.


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