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The Battle of Richmond
August 23 & 24 2008
Richmond, KY

Photos by Charles Hayes

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Battle of Richmond

By Charles Hayes

Maj. Gen. Kirby Smith’s 1862 Confederate offensive into Kentucky resulted in what historian Shelby Foote termed described as “the nearest thing to a Cannae ever scored by any general, North or South, in the course of the whole war." Others describe the operation as the most complete Confederate victory of the war. It was the second largest battle in Kentucky during the war and one of the most decisive Confederate victories during the war.  Brig. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne with the Confederate army of Kentucky led the advance with Col. John S. Scott’s cavalry leading the way.  The Rebel cavalry moved north from Big Hill, traveling in the heat of Kentucky’s dog days of August. The weather was hot. The temperature was 96-100 degrees in the shade and streams were either low or dry in Madison county.

The two sides were evenly matched. The Union forces numbered 6500 while the Confederates numbered 6600 men. When the action was over, more than 4300 union troops were captured while more than 1000 were killed or wounded. Confederate losses were 118 killed, 492r wounded and 10 missing in action.

On August 29, the confederate advance met Union forces and skirmishing commenced. The Union forces were reinforced by artillery and infantry.  This forced the Confederate cavalry to retreat to Big Hill. In an attempt to keep pressure on the Confederates, Brig. Gen. Mahlon D. Manson ordered a Union brigade to march to Rogersville. Skirmishing continued when Union forces met Cleburne’s men later in the afternoon.  Manson reported the situation to Maj. Gen. William Nelson who directed another brigade to be ready to march in support. The Union forces were the 1st and 2nd Brigades, Army of Kentucky (US). Kirby Smith ordered Cleburne to attack the following morning. Kirby Smith directed Churchill to reinforce Cleburne’s forces. Cleburne moved his forces north early. His forces dispersed Union pickets when passing through Kingston. He deployed his forces against Manson’s battle line near Zion Church. Both sides were reinforced. The battle began with an artillery duel. A concerted Confederate attack on the Union right broke the battle line and the Union forces retreated to Rogersville. Both sides’ commanders (Smith and Nelson) had arrived and were directing their forces. The Union forces attempted to make a stand at first their bivouac area and later at the cemetery outside Richmond. General Nelson rallied his force but volleys from the Confederate battle line routed the union forces. General Nelson and a fraction of his army escaped.  

The Confederate victory could have been pivotal in taking Kentucky for the Confederacy but the results were nullified by the failure of Confederate forces later at Perryville.

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