Madison County was not immune from the death, carnage and destruction of the American Civil War. In fact, the August 29 & 30, 1862 Battle of Richmond cut a large swath right through the middle of Madison County during that unrelentingly hot, drought stricken summer.
Confederate Major Generals Edmund Kirby Smith and Braxton Bragg met at the end of July 1862 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to devise a plan to advance into Kentucky to rid Tennessee of Federal forces, as well as to procure supplies and make an effort to bring Kentucky into the Confederacy. According to Confederate cavalryman John Hunt Morgan, Kentucky had “20,000 men ready to join up”.
Known as the Kentucky Heartland campaign, Kirby Smith would move into east central Kentucky with Bragg advancing through the west central region.
Federal leaders became aware of the Confederate's intention and ordered Union Major General (and Kentuckian) William “Bull” Nelson, with a raw “army” of 7,000 newly mustered men to Lexington to help stop any Confederate advance into the Commonwealth. This force was divided into two divisions, one under the command of Brigadier General Mahlon Manson and the other under Brigadier General Charles Cruft.
Leaving Knoxville on August 17, Kirby Smith’s cavalry will reach Big Hill by August 23 and win a decisive victory over a Union cavalry/infantry force escorting a supply train bound for the Cumberland Gap. A portion of Scott’s cavalry made it to Richmond and demanded the surrender of the town. This demand was refused and with more Union infantry arriving, the Confederates withdrew southward to the main Confederate army now in the London (Laurel County) area.
The main Confederate army enters Madison County on August 29th via the Old State Road, which is now US 25/421.
Scott’s cavalry is in the lead, and they run into elements of the Union army, which is under the command of Mahlon Manson (Nelson remained in Lexington) near the intersection of Dunncannon Road and the Old State Road. Scott’s small force retired from the field, but not before losing a piece of artillery.
By this time, the lead units of Kirby Smith’s army had crossed Big Hill and were coming in sight of the small village of Kingston. Union cavalry, pursuing the Confederate troopers, ran into the main Confederate force, and have a very small battle in an area known as Bobtown. The Union cavalry retreat and rejoin Manson’s infantry north of Kingston in a small area known as Rogersville.
Knowing that he has more than just Confederate cavalry to his front, Manson send a message to Nelson about his apparent situation. Nelson, in Lexington, replies to not bring about an engagement unless you (Manson) know you can win, otherwise bring your (Manson’s) force to Lancaster, 30 miles to the west. Nelson would meet Manson and Cruft there. But by the time Nelson’s message reaches Manson, it is too late to avoid a clash.
On the morning of August 30th, Manson’s division, bivouacked at Rogersville, marched approximately one half mile south on the Old State Road and set up a line of battle just south of the Mount Zion Church. He set his artillery on both sides of the road with orders to begin firing on the approaching Confederates at 7 AM.
The Confederates Fourth Division, under the command of Brigadier General Patrick Cleburne, began moving up the Old State Road to the intersection of the Old State Road/Crooksville Lancaster Pike. Here, Cleburne would deploy his artillery on a high ridge just east of the intersection, with his infantry sheltered behind the crest.
The artilleries of both sides pounded each other for two hours, after which Cleburne would begin moving his men toward Manson’s left flank. While Cleburne’s men began increasing the intensity of fire on Manson’s left flank, the Confederate Third Division under the command of Brigadier General Thomas Churchill, arrived on the field, and was ordered to take his five regiments west on the Crooksville/Lancaster Road to a hidden ravine now know as Churchill’s Draw.
Concerned with his left weakening flank, Manson moves a large portion of his right flank troops to support the left.
As those troops were moved to the right, Churchill’s division attacked the now vulnerable right flank of Manson. Charles Cruft and his division were in Richmond, heard the artillery bombardment and began moving his troops to the sound of the guns.
As both flanks of Manson’s line begin to collapse, Cruft is able to deploy his regiment one by one into battle. Two of his regiments, one on the right and one on the left, stormed into the fray as Manson’s line collapses, and Cruft’s fresh regiments are pummeled by the attacking Confederates.
The Union force retreats to Rogersville, where Manson and Cruft agree to re-deploy one half mile north to the intersection of the Dunncannon Lane/Old State Road. Here they would form a second line.
Facing south, Manson places his battle weary men on the east side of the road, with Cruft’s men on the west, anchored by two un-engaged regiments.
About 12:45 P.M., Cruft orders his men forward and wheel to the east. This maneuver opened his right flank to Confederates hidden by a fence, who riddled the line with shot. The entire Federal line falls back in a disorganized retreat to Richmond.
Although momentum was on the Confederate side, they did not actively pursue the retreating Federals.
As the tattered remnants of the Union army entered Richmond, “Bull” Nelson arrived on the field after hearing the artillery fire in Lancaster. Nelson attempted to form a third line in the Richmond Cemetery.
Kirby Smith moved his men up the Old State Road. Not waiting for his artillery to come up (due to lack of ammunition), Kirby Smith deploys his men and attacks the Federal line. After a short time, Nelson’s right flank fails and the entire Union line falls like dominos. The shattered Union army begins to flee north out of Richmond toward Lexington.
However, earlier in the day, Kirby Smith had ordered Colonel John Scott to take his cavalry west around Richmond in hopes of cutting off any Union route of escape. Just after dark, Scott’s troopers cut off Lexington Road, and nearly the entire Union army is captured enmass north of Richmond. Nelson avoids capture, but Manson is captured when his horse falls on him. Cruft and a small number of boys in blue were able to retreat via another route north.
The Union soldiers were marched back to Richmond and those not wounded were paroled over the next few days. Most churches, schools and many private residences became hospitals for the scores of wounded, both blue and gray.
After the Battle of Richmond, Confederates units went on to capture Lexington and Frankfort.
Some of Kirby Smith’s units were part of Braxton Bragg’s force at the Battle of Perryville in early October 1862.
Many Civil War scholars call Richmond the most complete victory one side had over the other during the entire war.
Although the 1862 Battle of Richmond was the most noted Civil War engagement in Madison County, there were several other smaller skirmishes throughout the war, namely the 1863 fight on what is now Big Hill Ave. In August 1863, Confederate cavalryman John Scott (of Battle of Richmond fame) took on two Union infantry regiments while the Confederates are attempting to retreat from a raid in the state. Scott’s troopers had fought in Irvine the day before, then Paint Lick the next, losing numerous troops to capture. There were also numerous bands of bushwackers, who had allegiance to no one, raiding the area during the war.
In September 1862, the 11th Kentucky Confederate Cavalry was raised in Richmond and made up primarily of Madison County men. They rode with John Hunt Morgan for most of the war and many were killed at the Battle of Tebbs Bend, Kentucky on July 4, 1863.
Information provided by Phillip Seyfrit