95th Ohio at the Battle of Richmond Kentucky Part I

    For the 95th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, the disastrous Battle of Richmond, Kentucky served as the regiment's introduction to the Civil War. Mustering in a mere 8 days prior to the battle, the regiment marched on the field at Richmond with the barest knowledge of drill or military maneuvers; the enlisted men in many cases did not yet know their officers by sight, and the unit cohesion that was such a critical factor to battlefield success was altogether missing from not only the 95th Ohio, but many of the Federal regiments that fought on this field. Sergeant H. Warren Phelps of Co. H remembered that the neophyte soldiers marched off to war in the stylish soft leather boots, “having not yet learned to value the simple army shoe” and subsequently suffered from sore feet after their rapid march to Richmond from Lexington, Kentucky.
U.S. Flag Collection at Battle of Richmond Visitors' Center

    It was the end of the momentous summer of 1862, and the Confederacy was on the move from the swamps of Virginia, to the rolling hills of Kentucky, and westward towards the Great Plains. Generals Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith, each commanding an army, had decided upon an invasion of Kentucky in an attempt to turn the tides of war in favor of the Confederacy. Since the Battle of Shiloh, the Federal armies had tightened their occupation of the Upper South, taking most of the state of Tennessee, and setting themselves up on a rough line paralleling the Memphis & Charleston Railroad between the strategic points of Chattanooga in the east, and Memphis in the west. The Confederates' bold stroke would leverage the Federal army out of Tennessee, and open the way for Kentucky to formally join the Confederacy. The hope was that thousands of Kentuckians, freed of the stultifying presence of the Yankees, would flock to the Southern armies.

    Kirby Smith's army struck first, and the Battle of Richmond was the first significant battle of the Kentucky campaign. As the 20,000 men under his command marched north from Tennessee, leading elements ran into Federal troops near Bobtown and again at Kingston on August 29, 1862. The following morning, the Battle of Richmond began when two brigades under Brigadier General Patrick R. Cleburne, not yet the Stonewall in the West, slammed into Federal General Mahlon Manson's 4 regiments of Indiana troops south of Mount Zion Church along the Richmond-Kingston Pike (now Kentucky 421). Outnumbered, Manson called for reinforcements from the other Federal brigade in the area under General Charles Cruft.
The 95th Ohio was encamped on the southern outskirts of Richmond when Manson's frantic summons arrived. “I was at the commissary drawing rations for the company when I heard a very heavy cannonading in the direction of Manson’s brigade,” Sergeant Phelps wrote. “The order was soon given to fall in line by Colonel McMillen and soon the bugles were sounding ‘Fall in’ and staff officers were galloping over men in their wild excitement.”

The 95th Ohio took their first position in this field just south of Mount
Zion Christian Church along the Richmond-Kingston Pike.

                As soon as possible thereafter, the line was again formed and at 7 o'clock, we received marching orders. Taking the advance of the brigade, we were marched rapidly (a portion of the distance on the double quick) seven miles to front to a point between Rogersville and Kingston where General Manson’s brigade had already engaged the enemy,” reported Colonel William L. McMillen. The 95th marched into their first engagement at nearly full strength: 29 officers and 835 enlisted men. “Without being permitted to halt for rest or for the men to close up, we were marched at once upon the field and required to form our line of battle under a heavy artillery fire from the enemy and in advance of our own guns.” Phelps reported that the regiment arrived on the field “completely exhausted. This being our first experience in battle, we were ready to exclaim ‘Why don’t them rebels quit shooting until we get rested?’ or ‘I wish that I was home.’ Everyone no doubt thought of mother, sister, wife, or sweetheart.”

The gently rolling topography typical of the battlefield in the first phase of the battle. Humphrey's Arkansas artillery took position to the left of this area on the morning of August 30, 1862; General Mahlon D. Manson rashly ordered the 95th Ohio to charge the position shortly after their arrival on the field.

    It had been an exceptionally hot and dry summer in Kentucky. The light rainfall during the summer months left the roads thick with dust while water proved scarce. On the day of the battle, the sun beamed down harshly and temperatures rose into the upper 90s. The rookie regiment quickly found itself in a hot and desperate fight. General Manson had arrayed the four regiments of his brigade on rolling ground east of the Richmond-Kingston pike with two six gun batteries in support. Confederate troops under Brigadier General Patrick R. Cleburne had struck hard and early: Col. Benjamin J. Hill’s brigade (2nd, 5th, and 48th Tennessee regiments along with the consolidated 13th/15th Arkansas regiment supporting Capt. James P. Douglas’ Texas battery) hit the left of Manson’s brigade, while a brigade of dismounted Texas cavalry under Col. Thomas H. McCray quietly swept through a ravine around the Union right flank.

95th Ohio's last position near Mount Zion Church  circled- this map shows the latter portion of Phase I fighting. The regiment originally deployed south of the church and was ordered to charge the Confederate battery located adjacent to an old cemetery near Pleasant View Farm.  (Map from Battle of Richmond Visitors' Center)

    Cruft ordered the 95th Ohio into position in the broken woodland on the right of the Richmond-Kingston Pike near Mount Zion Church, with the 18th Kentucky on the left, the 12th and 66th Indiana regiments behind them in reserve. Manson previously had stationed the 69th Indiana in this sector, but had moved all but three companies to reinforce his threatened left. The two brigades numbered roughly 6,000 men, facing a roughly equal number of veteran Confederate troops. “In a few moments after these dispositions were made, the cannonading ceased and an advance of infantry was made, showing not only a superior front to ours but very large numbers at each flank,” Cruft wrote. “His approach was manfully resisted.”

This view looking north from the Confederate position at Pleasant View Farm; Churchill's Draw was located a little further to the left of this picture. McCray's dismounted Texan cavalry brigade marched through this ravine and debouched on the Federal right flank. McCray's Texans (then under the command of Gen. Matthew D. Ector) would deliver another crushing flank attack nearly four months later in the opening moments of the Battle of Stones River, Tennessee on December 31, 1862.

    General Manson ordered the 95th Ohio to cross the road and charge Humphrey's Artillery that was moving into position 400 yards away. The order smacked of desperation dipped in the milk of folly: veteran troops would have shrunk from the assignment; raw recruits would be slaughtered trying to carry it out, and soon were. Regardless of the propriety of the order, McMillen ordered the men to fix bayonets, and marched towards the guns, passing behind and to the right of the three companies 69th Indiana still west of the pike. ”We looked in front and saw in the distance huge piles of leafy brush, behind which the main force of the rebels had been concealed with their artillery. The firing was terrific and as the enemy advanced on us, firing volley after volley, our men fell fast. Three of my own company fell dead at the first fire, and as many more from each of the other companies,” Sergeant Phelps wrote.

Interpretive maps showing the initial phases of the battle.

    “As they approached the battery, they were met by a murderous cross fire, which thinned their ranks, and created not a panic, but a momentary confusion,” reported one member of the regiment. In the ranks of Company D, the first man killed was Private John B. Huffman. Earlier that morning, Huffman gave his younger brother Peter his watch and other valuables, convinced that he would be killed in the engagement. “The regiment had been on the firing line but a few moments when a solid shot from a Confederate field piece struck Huffman squarely in the face,” reported Private James H. Burke. “It scattered his brains all over the face and hair of Sylvester Bruckner who stood on Huffman’s left in line. The incident made quite an impression on me.”

The marker on the battlefield describes the 95th Ohio's effort as "a reckless and useless charge." This author quite agrees with that assessment. Sadly, General Mahlon D. Manson, the author of the order to make this 'reckless and useless' charge, later blamed the 95th Ohio for the collapse of the Federal line in this sector. Thus Manson sought to cover up his own errors in judgment as Gen. Nelson had specifically directed him to avoid battle with his raw troops. Manson ignored the injunction and pursued the Confederates towards Kingston on August 29th; when Confederate troops threatened to overwhelm his solitary brigade, he ordered Gen. Charles Cruft to bring up his brigade as reinforcements. Cruft's men made the six mile march and reached the field in poor condition for a fight, but Manson sent them right into action to cover his right flank then ordered the 95th Ohio to charge a Confederate battery in the hopes of relieving pressure on his left. It didn't work, and the 95th Ohio suffered roughly 300 casualties in this first phase of the battle, more than 1/3 of the officers and men who went into the fight.  Roughly 170 of those casualties were men captured when Colonel William McMillen's order to withdraw was either not heard or misunderstood, and Kirby Smith had his first big bag of Federal prisoners at Richmond.

    The regiment fought for less than 40 minutes in this position before McMillen observed McCray’s Texans exiting the ravine (now known as Churchill's Draw after Confederate division commander Thomas J. Churchill), effectively outflanking his regiment on the right. Noting that other units on the field were already retreating, he determined that “it would be reckless and useless to continue our assault upon the battery, so I ordered the regiment to halt and fall back.” In the confusion of battle, several companies of the 95th Ohio did not hear the order and remained on the field, pinned down by a cross fire of musketry and artillery. Lieutenant Colonel James B. Armstrong, left in the advance with about 160 officers and men, stated that “I must acknowledge that I did not hear the (retreat) order. Those in advance with you report the order having been ‘every man save himself!”

Mount Zion Church

It was around 10:30 in the morning when the first Union line collapsed. “A few companies were brought off in tolerable order, but the panic was well-nigh universal,” reported General Cruft. “At this juncture the whole thing was fast becoming shameful. No appeals availed at first to stop officers or men.” About a mile behind the lines, Cruft and Manson had deployed their cavalry (the 6th, 7th, and 9th Kentucky Cavalry regiments with the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry regiment under the command of Brig. Gen. James S. Jackson) in front of the two reserve regiments from Cruft’s brigade to stem the tide, and the shaken regiments started to reform in a cornfield. Sergeant Phelps remembered that “we were ordered to retreat, which order we willingly obeyed. We went back two miles under a terrific fire, men constantly falling either killed or wounded. A little after noon, we were reformed to make another stand, but found that there were about 300 missing from the regiment. I was then in command of the company as all of the officers were missing.”

Shell Scar at Mt. Zion Church

    The battlefield around Mount Zion Church, and the church itself, was the subject of a tour I made last week. The battlefield is well marked with interpretive signage, and the rolling landscape (at least in this sector of this field) is only partially developed. Interestingly, the old church actually shows some scars on its southern face from Confederate shells which struck the church during the battle. The church was used as a field hospital during the battle and about 40 of the men who died there were buried in a mass grave until they were exhumed and moved to Camp Nelson National Cemetery in 1868. The general position of the Confederate line was in the area now occupied by Pleasant View Farm and Battlefield Park about a half mile south of Mount Zion Church.

Marker in front of Mount Zion Church

I will post Part II soon to discuss the Duncannon Lane and Richmond Cemetery portions of this battle. http://dan-masters-civil-war.blogspot.com/2017/07/95th-ohio-infantry-at-battle-of.html

At the end of the year, Northwest Ohio History magazine will be publishing my article entitled "A Mere Collection of Citizens: The 95th Ohio Volunteer Infantry at the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky."


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