The Civil War – Action in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi

Submittted by C,J. Johnson

During the War Between the States, the last half of December 1862 was busy, with fighting in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi. On December 18, General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his troops raided an area in Union–held western Tennessee.

Although Union scouts spotted part of the Rebel force on their approach toward Lexington, Tennessee, Union Colonel Robert Ingersoll’s troops were surprised, with many being captured and the rest scattering. Not only did Forrest capture about 150 men, but also supplies, horses, weapons, and artillery at the Battle of Lexington. General Forrest then headed toward Jackson, Tennessee, but discovered heavy defenses at the city. He continued into Kentucky.

About the same time, General John Hunt Morgan and more than 3,000 cavalrymen and artillery left Tennessee on the 22nd of December, planning a raid into Kentucky to aggravate troops and disrupt Union supply lines. This became known as Morgan’s famous “Christmas Raid.”

By Christmas Eve, the men had traveled 90 miles, and engaged Union forces outside Glasgow, where they captured prisoners and several holiday turkeys. In less than a week, Morgan’s men had cut telegraph lines and poles, burned and destroyed supply depots, disrupted supply lines, destroyed railroad tracks, and occupied a few towns.

Union forces where highly dependent on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, which was busy to capacity shipping men and supplies, and was heavily protected as well. Morgan and his cavalry reached the targeted pair of 100 foot tall railroad trestles, just south of Louisville, around December 28. He ordered an artillery barrage on two nearby Union stockades, captured hundreds of Union prisoners, and burned the trestles.

Meanwhile, General Earl Van Dorn put an end to Grant’s first effort to capture the river city of Vicksburg. Grant’s plan was to move one force headed by Sherman down the Mississippi River to attack the city from the north, while Grant would move troops from western Tennessee through the state to arrive at Vicksburg.

At first, things went well, as Grant’s force went into northern Mississippi. However, his supply line suffered when Van Dorn and three cavalry brigades took the Union supply depot at Holly Springs on December 20.

They ran off the Yankees and captured Union materials and supplies, destroying what they could not carry away.

Van Dorn and his men stayed around for a few days, cutting telegraph lines and tearing up rails before a Union cavalry force began their pursuit. In two weeks, the Rebel raiders had ridden 500 miles, returning on December 28 after wrecking havoc on Grant’s plans to take Vicksburg. This raid was the highlight of Van Dorn’s military career.

Grant wasn’t the only Union general having problems. On December 29, General Sherman failed his part of the attempt to take Vicksburg, when he ran into the Confederates at the Battle of Chickasaw Bluffs, just north of Vicksburg. Sherman was unaware of Grant’s problems at Holly Springs.

Sherman and 37,000 troops outnumbered the 6,000 Rebels entrenched in the defenses at Vicksburg, but the Confederates had the high ground. The Confederate numbers doubled as reinforcements arrived. After a couple of days of skirmishes, Sherman ordered a frontal assault on the Rebel stronghold on December 29.

However, the Yankees never had a chance of taking the position held by the Rebels. Casualties were high for the Union side, about 1,800, while the Confederates only lost about 200. Chickasaw Bluffs taught Sherman a hard lesson about frontal assaults. The Battle of Chickasaw Bluffs was the beginning of the lengthy Vicksburg campaign.