The Confederate Heartland Offensive, also known as the Kentucky Campaign, was a Confederate invasion of the border state of Kentucky in 1862. Confederate Generals Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith planned to unite their armies in Kentucky to defeat Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio and to deliver Kentucky to the Confederacy.
By the middle of 1862, Confederate fortunes were declining in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. Union forces controlled western Tennessee and the upper reaches of the Mississippi River, as well as the southern port city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Federal forces had driven the Confederate Army of Mississippi from the important railroad hub at Corinth, Mississippi to Tupelo, Mississippi, and Union General Ulysses S. Grant was making plans to capture the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi on the Mississippi River.
On June 20, 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis relieved General P.G.T. Beauregard of command of the Western Department and replaced him with General Braxton Bragg. Hoping to end the string of Federal successes in the West, Bragg devised a plan to shift the focus of the war in the Western Theater by invading Kentucky. Bragg believed that the majority of residents in that border state supported the Confederacy and that many of them would join the Southern army if given the opportunity.
Leaving 32,000 soldiers in Mississippi to deal with Grant, Bragg moved his remaining 34,000 men to Chattanooga, Tennessee to launch his invasion of Kentucky. Once in Kentucky, Bragg planned to combine forces with Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith's 18,000 soldiers, stationed near Knoxville, Tennessee and move against the Union Army of the Ohio, which was commanded by Major General Don Carlos Buell.
Initially, events went well for the Confederates. Smith left Knoxville on August 14, 1862, and he defeated a Union garrison at Richmond, Kentucky on August 30. Bragg's army left Chattanooga in late August and on September 17, it captured an important rail station at Munfordville, Kentucky, along with 4,000 Union soldiers, at the Battle of Munfordville (September 14-17, 1862). On October 4, events were so promising that Bragg participated in the inauguration of Richard Hawes as the provisional Confederate governor of Kentucky.
Throughout September, the two-headed Rebel onslaught forced Buell back toward Louisville, Kentucky. There, soldiers from across the Ohio River, in Indiana, reinforced the Army of the Ohio. In early October, with up to 60,000 men under his command, Buell left Louisville and became the pursuer. The Confederates were unprepared for Buell's advance. Smith and Bragg had still not combined their armies, and Bragg's army was spread between Bardstown and Frankfort.
Buell sent a small force toward Frankfort to convince Bragg that the focus of his counterattack was the Kentucky capital. Meanwhile, the bulk of Buell's army departed southeast from Louisville in three columns in search of Bragg's army. On October 7, 1862, the three columns approached the small crossroads town of Perryville, Kentucky. There, the first column to arrive, commanded by Major General Alexander M. McCook, engaged 16,000 of Bragg's men, commanded by Major General Leonidas Polk. Realizing that Buell's feint toward Frankfort was a ruse, Bragg rushed to Perryville and took command by 10:00 a.m. on October 8. The battle went well for the Confederates initially. Facing stubborn resistance, the Rebels gradually drove the Federals back. As the day progressed, however, more of Buell's army arrived on the scene. Running short of supplies and ammunition and faced with the prospect of squaring off with the bulk of Buell's army on the following day, Bragg withdrew during the night, despite suffering fewer casualties and achieving a tactical victory at Perryville.
After the Battle of Perryville, Bragg retreated to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, where he finally joined forces with Kirby Smith. The combined Confederate army was now comparable in size to Buell's army. Nevertheless, Bragg lost his enthusiasm for the campaign. The Kentucky recruits that he expected never materialized, and he believed that his supply lines were too vulnerable and insufficient for his army to remain in the state. Over the objections of Smith, Polk, and other subordinates, Bragg decided to call off the campaign and evacuate Kentucky, leaving the state in Union control for the remainder of the war.
Neither of the principal commanders fared well at the conclusion of the campaign. Bragg was called to the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia to answer charges brought by his subordinates about how poorly he handled the campaign. Satisfied with Bragg's explanations, President Jefferson Davis ignored requests to relieve Bragg of his command. Understandably, Bragg's relationships with his subordinate officers were strained when he rejoined his army.
Buell's half-hearted pursuit of Bragg as the Confederates withdrew from Kentucky was the source of dissatisfaction on the Union side. On October 24, 1862, a new Department of the Cumberland was created in the Western Theater, under the command of Major General William S. Rosecrans. The Army of the Ohio was assigned to the new department and re-designated as the 14th Corps. Buell was ordered to appear before a commission investigating his leadership during the campaign. The commission met from November 24, 1862 to May 10, 1863, and it never issued a final report. From May 10, 1863 through June 1, 1864, Buell's official status was "awaiting orders." With his military reputation irreparably damaged, Buell was mustered out of volunteer service on May 23, 1864, and he resigned from the military on June 1.
Ohio units that participated in the Confederate Heartland Campaign included:
- 2nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 3rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 6th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 9th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 10th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 13th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 14th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 17th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 19th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 24th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 26th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 31st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 33rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 35th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 38th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 41st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 50th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 51st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 52nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 59th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 64th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 65th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 90th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 94th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 97th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 98th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 99th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 101st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 121st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- Battery B, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
- Battery C, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
- Battery D, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
- Battery F, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
- 6th Ohio Light Artillery Battery
- 1st Ohio Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
- 3rd Ohio Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
Cite this Entry
"Confederate Heartland Offensive," Ohio Civil War Central, 2021, Ohio Civil War Central. 26 Sep 2021 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=183>
"Confederate Heartland Offensive." (2021) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved September 26, 2021, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=183