TwHP Lessons

The Battle of Mill Springs:
The Civil War Divides a Border State

[Cover photo] Mill Springs National Cemetery
(American Battlefield Protection Program, NPS)

It was just after midnight on January 19, 1862, when Confederate troops started towards the Union army camped near the Kentucky hamlet of Logan's Cross Roads. Rain, sleet and fog filled the night, creating conditions so miserable that a Union soldier later noted, "If we had known...[the Confederates had] turned out of their comfortable tents and dry blankets and for the next six weary hours were sloshing along in the mud and storm and darkness, we could have much enjoyed the contemplation of their physical and spiritual condition. It was always some comfort to the soldier on a night such as this to think that his enemy over there, was at least as cold and wretched as he himself was."

Yet both sides were ready to fight because they realized the strategic importance of Kentucky. Kentucky was the gateway to the Confederacy's strongholds in the interior South, especially in Tennessee, and so control of the state would profoundly affect the outcome of the Civil War. As Abraham Lincoln put it, "I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky."

Largely forgotten today, and overshadowed in its own time by battles at Shiloh and Fort Donelson, Mill Springs was the first significant Union victory of the Civil War. It proved crucial to Union control of Kentucky and the interior South and shaped later developments in the war. Mill Springs was important for another reason: it revealed the deep divisions that existed throughout the border states.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. The Ohio River Valley, 1860.
 2. Kentucky and Surrounding Region

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. Kentucky's Importance
 2. The Battle of Mill Springs
 3. Remembering Those Who Died at Mill Springs

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. The Death of General Zollicoffer
 2. Mill Springs Battlefield Today
 3. The Zollie Tree
 4. Mill Springs National Cemetery

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Choosing Sides
 2. Soldiers' View
 3. Community Action

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This lesson is based on Mill Springs Battlefield, a National Historic Landmark, and one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.




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