Trembling in Our Very Boots: A Hoosier Describes Mill Springs

Lieutenant Thomas A. Cobb of the 10th Indiana Infantry was stirred to battle by the long roll echoing in the cold, shadowy morning of Sunday, January 19, 1862. "At 7 o'clock, our encampment was alarmed by an attack upon our pickets, " he wrote. "The long roll beat and regiments began to form. The 10th Indiana being the first formed and nearest the post of the pickets which were from our regiment. We waited not for other regiments but went at a double quick near a mile to the relief of our pickets."  Once Cobb and his comrades arrived, they could just make out of the fog a solid line of gray and butternut:  General Felix Zollicoffer's army. "Here we were, one regiment contesting the ground against eight regiments."

Lieutenant Cobb's letter appeared on page 3 of the February 19, 1862 edition of the Cadiz Democratic Sentinel published in Cadiz, Harrison Co., Ohio. The letter was addressed to Cobb’s uncle Samuel Foreman and published at Foreman’s request.

Captain Thomas Augustus Cobb, Co. A, 10th Indiana Volunteer Infantry

Camp Mill Springs, Cumberland River, Kentucky

February 5, 1862

Dear uncle:

          Once more I avail myself of an opportunity to pen you a note, letting you know something of what the 10th Indiana is doing in Kentucky. I will speak briefly of the battle near this place on Sunday, January 19th.

On Friday evening previous to the battle, we encamped about 10 miles from the enemy’s fortifications, awaiting a sufficient force to make an attack upon their works. On Sunday morning at 7 o’clock, our encampment was alarmed by an attack upon our pickets. The long roll beat, and regiments began to form, the 10th Indiana being the first formed and nearest the post of the pickets, which were from our regiment. We waited not for other regiments but went at a double quick near a mile to the relief of the pickets. When we arrived, our pickets were driven in and to the rear of the line of pickets when we formed and opened fire upon the advancing Rebels, who responded with musketry which made us tremble in our very boots. Here we were- one regiment contesting the ground against eight regiments. We held our position for 30 minutes before another regiment came to our assistance. The 4th Kentucky came promptly up and opened upon the enemy upon our left, which kept us from being surrounded and perhaps cut to pieces.

The 10th Indiana was in the front line of the Union position at Mill Springs and was among the first regiments assault by Zollicoffer's force. The "Mississippi bull pups" Cobb refers to was the 15th Mississippi Infantry.

It was not long till the 2nd Minnesota and 9th Ohio came up when the battle waged fiercely.  They tried to drive us from our position by a gallant charge but our men never flinched, but poured such a volley of musketry into the advancing ranks of the enemy that they were ordered to fall back after getting to within a few paces of our lines. We were then ordered to advance, forcing the Rebels back under continued fire for near a mile, when they fled precipitately, leaving their wounded on the field, flinging knapsacks, haversacks, clothing, guns, and everything that would have a tendency to impede their progress in flying before our forces. We hotly pursued them until near sundown when we had driven them inside their entrenchments.

One of the Confederate flags that Lieutenant Cobb may have seen on the morning of January 19, 1862 was this flag belonging to Co. K of the 15th Mississippi. The slogan of the Oktibbeha Plow Boys was "Victory of Death!" 

We lay during the night on our arms awaiting the return of day to attack their works, our forces having been augmented by Gen. Schoepf to 14,000 troops with 22 pieces of artillery. At day break, we could see from the hill we occupied during the night, the Rebels crossing the river on a steamer and several barges which formerly carried supplies from Nashville to this point. A few shells from our batteries soon dispersed the Rebels, who burned the boat and fled, as I have since learned, to the state of Tennessee to take refuge in the mountains. The battle raged from 7 a.m. to 10:30, when they left the field in wild confusion. Along the road was left two cannon, with many guns, wounded men, etc.

General Albin F. Schoepf

Inside the fortifications and at the river was left 14 cannon, some with horses yet hitched as they were driven the evening previous, 1,400 horses and mules, many wagons, some 2,000 stand of small arms, with all their stores, camp equipage, officers’ clothing, swords, books, private letters, together with regimental and company books and papers, which is good evidence that nothing but terror and commotion prevailed during the night. Their loss is about 400 killed, wounded, and taken prisoners. The loss on our side was 39 killed and about 175 wounded, some of whom have since died. The Rebel general Zollicoffer was killed.

Never did I expect to be a witness to so great a victory. It was complete. Though I had been very unwell for some time, I was in the hottest of the engagement from first to last and after the fight pursued the enemy six miles, with nothing to eat but a biscuit I picked from a haversack some poor Rebel left on the field. Bravely did our troops stand the fire of the chivalrous Mississippi bull pups, as they termed themselves, and boasted that they wanted to fight us one to three. I believe they are satisfied that we can whip them one to two. Well may I boast of my native state (Ohio). The 9th Ohio regiment has won laurels as well as the 10th Indiana, 4th Kentucky, and 2nd Minnesota.


Lt. Thos. A. Cobb



Most Popular Posts

Arming the Buckeyes: Longarms of the Ohio Infantry Regiments

Dressing the Rebels: How to Dye Butternut Jeans Cloth

Bullets for the Union: Manufacturing Small Arms Ammunition During the Civil War

The Cannons are Now Silent: The Field of Death of Tupelo

The Vaunted Enfield Rifle Musket

Straw Already Threshed: Sherman on Shiloh

Federal Arms in the Stones River Campaign

Escape of Captain Henry H. Alban of the 21st Ohio Infantry

Knapsack Compression: Wilbur Hinman recalls the first step of becoming a veteran

Federal Arms in the Chickamauga Campaign