Battle of Middle Creek (January 10, 1862)

Also Known As: Battle of Big Sandy River

Updated: October 24, 2016

The Battle of Middle Creek of also known as the Battle of Big Sandy River, was fought in Floyd County, Kentucky on January 10, 1862.

Shortly after the outbreak of the American Civil War (April 12, 1861), the Kentucky Legislature enacted a Declaration of Neutrality (May 16, 1861), intended to keep Kentucky out of the conflict. By September, both the Confederacy and the Union violated Kentucky's neutrality and had soldiers stationed in the border state. By the end of the year, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston established a thin defensive line across Kentucky aimed at providing a buffer zone protecting Tennessee. Johnston's line was anchored in the west by 12,000 soldiers, commanded by Major General Leonidas Polk, in Columbus. The center of the Confederate line was manned by 4,000 soldiers, commanded by Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman, at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, near the mouths of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Also near the center of the state were 4,000 soldiers at Bowling Green, commanded by Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner. The eastern end of Johnston's line consisted of 4,000 soldiers, commanded by Major General George B. Crittenden, stationed near the Cumberland Gap.

In December 1861, Confederate Brigadier General Humphrey Marshall and a brigade of Kentucky and Virginia volunteers set out for Kentucky to recruit new soldiers for the Rebel cause. They were reinforced by Colonel John S. Williams’ 5th Kentucky Infantry when they reached Pound Gap on the Virginia-Kentucky border. The combined force then marched down the valley of the Big Sandy River and established a camp near Paintsville.

When word of Marshall's movements reached Major General Don Carlos Buell, Union commander of the Army of the Ohio, he ordered Colonel James A. Garfield, commanding the 18th Brigade, to move against Marshall and drive him back to Virginia. In early January 1862, Garfield organized his troops and advanced from several locations in the north toward Paintsville. On the morning of January 7, Garfield's cavalry skirmished with Marshall's cavalry near a Rebel camp at the mouth of Jenny’s Creek, forcing the Confederates to abandon Paintsville and to fall back to Prestonburg. Garfield pursued and caught his adversary on January 9. At 4 a.m. on January 10, Garfield's soldiers broke camp, poised to attack the Rebel force. Their assault began shortly after noon and continued for several hours. When Union reinforcements arrived, Marshall withdrew to the south. On January 24, he and his soldiers retreated back to Virginia.

Estimated casualties at the Battle of Middle Creek were twenty-seven for the Federals and sixty-five for the Rebels. Combined with the Union victory at the Battle of Mill Spring a week later, Garfield's triumph at Middle Creek cracked the eastern end of the Confederate defensive line in Kentucky, opening the way for a Northern offensive into middle Tennessee.

Among the Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Middle Creek were:

Infantry units:

40th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

42nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Cavalry units:       

McLaughlin's Squadron


Cite this Entry

MLA Style

"Battle of Middle Creek," Ohio Civil War Central, 2019, Ohio Civil War Central. 6 Dec 2019 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=192>

APA Style

"Battle of Middle Creek." (2019) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved December 6, 2019, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=192

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