Wrapped in Flames: The Great American War and Beyond

Man, talk about a seesaw. Neither side can catch a break.

No kidding! Though to be fair this is pretty par for the course even OTL in 1862, with lots of dramatic reversals from the Peninsula to Kentucky. It was only 1863 where the tide dramatically turned against the Confederacy. Thus far events have proceeded roughly back and forth, depending on who is doing what in each theater.
Chapter 27: War Means Fighting Pt. 1
Chapter 27: War Means Fighting Pt. 1

The White House, Washington, the District of Columbia, July 1862

The infernal heat of a Washington summer seemed to infuse the capital with a gloomy haze that had little to do with the war raging across the width of the continent and across the seas. The president sat with his shirt sleeves rolled up, near neck deep in correspondence and communications. He was in a fair mood, the victory over the rebels at Centreville had pushed the Union lines as far south as the Rappahannock, and the British seemed content to remain stalled around Portland. The gloomy news of the stalemate in Canada and the contest raging on the Mississippi did not seem to perturb him despite the murmur it aroused in the city itself. The sounds of whooping and shouting could be heard from the halls as his two boys raised ruckus with their antics. Lincoln had given them near free reign in the halls of the Executive Mansion and seemed content to let them do as they pleased. Seward hoped earnestly that they might soon be sent on to the Soldier’s Home with Mrs. Keckley, but Lincoln had no desire to be parted from his children.

Seward, with his own son serving in the defenses at Baltimore, envied the president with his family close at hand. The president’s eldest son remained at his studies, despite earnest entreaties to be permitted to join the colors. With the blow the family had suffered that winter Seward was not surprised that the president was thus far averse to putting another one of his children in harms way.

The strains of the war had aged the president Seward noted. Worry lines creased his face, and his hair had gray streaks that had not been there last July. He only seemed to truly smile when he spent time with his children, or when he served some function of state and put on his immense confidence in the prowess of the nations’ soldiers. The recent meetings with the Russian and French ambassadors had been productive he seemed to think but Seward was never sure.

“I still can’t understand why you let those two cross the lines.” Seward said scowling bringing up a thread worn conversation. Lincoln looked up from his desk raising an eyebrow.

“It seems to be of little worry whether two foreign diplomats have the run of Richmond, what will they see that harms us? If anything I should like to hear the news they bear upon their return.” Lincoln replied.

“Stoeckl will no doubt be forthcoming with information, but I sincerely doubt Mercier will. The Frenchman has been more mercurial with his responses regarding everything since March. He won’t give me a firm answer on the Mexican question, and all he can do is send his ‘deepest condolences’ regarding lost trading opportunities over the blockade.” Seward grumbled.

Lincoln set down his pen.

“They seem rather upset about Mexico ever since the news about Puebla came back. Some great blow to French pride they seem to think.” Seward grinned in response.

“That may be one reason for the Emperor’s lack of firm commitment to anything. This Mexican adventure was supposed to be a parade, what they got was a farce. The Emperor may be having second thoughts about North American adventuring.”

“We can only hope he can think to invite Scott back to Paris.” Lincoln said.

“The polite reception Scott received seems the best we could hope for. His reception in Berlin was formal and polite, but the Prussians seem more concerned with European affairs than our own. They have no qualms about accepting contracts however, unlike the French.” Seward said scowling.

“The French seem more concerned with Britain’s opinion than our own. Though so long as they remain neutral in this conflict I cannot be too discomforted.” Lincoln said.

“That Stoeckl is with him is something of a relief I shall admit. St. Petersburg is enthusiastic in its support for us. I doubt the powers of Europe will follow London’s lead on any matter regarding the South without a general consensus of the great powers. So far we may rest assured that they see our war as an interesting diversion from European affairs from what Adams tells me. Should it drag on, we may be able to discomfort the British in Europe.” Seward replied. Lincoln frowned.

“Let us hope it does not drag on too long. I desire an honorable peace abroad and a conclusion to the war at home. One war was bad enough, but two wars is stretching the nation.” Lincoln sighed picking up a report. “The greenbacks are worth perhaps half their estimated value according to Chase, 150 greenbacks will buy 100 dollars in gold, and it remains steady for now, but he predicts that bond sales may drop off should we suffer any grievous reverses. I shudder to think what is happening on Wall Street as the merchants feel the pinch.”

“Or in Tamanny Hall. Fernando Wood and his ilk are making noises with Tweed in the city, and they’ve got friends from Buffalo to Albany who want Morgan out of office. The economy is making them anxious, and our own supporters feel it too.” Seward said cautiously.

“One would think the war economy would help with that, what with the facilities at Albany and the money made from soldiers. Troy is booming with the money we’ve sent so I’m told.”

“A few ironclads for the lakes does not make up for mills closing across New England and sailors and ships stuck in port.” Seward cautioned. Lincoln looked weary suddenly.

“As my conscience reminds me all too often. Sometimes I lay awake at night imagining the cost of this war in blood and treasure, in sons and crops, and it is almost too much to bear. But I console myself with the knowledge it must be done if we are to save not only our nation, but our principles.”

“Hence why you were so adamant in signing the Militia Act?” Seward asked.

“I know you do not approve of such a measure so soon Seward, but how can I justify not arming men of color who wish to fight when they already serve as porters, drivers, and pioneers in many of our armies and face fire no less hot than that of white men? Ms. Keckley’s own son gave his life for our country August last. Can I deny any man the right to take up arms for what is right?”

“Little matter who is right if it drives Kentucky into the arms of the Confederacy! Missouri and Delaware would soon follow! You heard the governors, they will not even consider compensated emancipation!” Seward exclaimed. In a rare moment of temper Lincoln slammed a palm on the desk making his papers shake.

“I will go as far as I must Seward, but we both abhor that so called peculiar institution, I will save this Union whether I free only some of the slaves now, or all of them, but I will not deny a man his right to fight based on the color of his skin! Would you have me fight this war with rose water and light blows?”

There was a silence between them for a moment. Lincoln sighed heavily. “I am sorry friend Seward. I should not be short with you, you who has stood by me all this way. The war ages me, and I feel it in my bones. But I know we are fighting for things in this war that transcend our party politics.”

“In that we are agreed sir. But like you have said, timing is everything in this matter.” Seward said softly. “With Kentucky in flames and our soldiers in Canada making no progress on Montreal we need victories to sooth the people’s worried hearts.”

“There is much merit in that Seward,” Lincoln said turning his gaze out the window, as though straining to see the armies in the field “much merit indeed.”

Rusholme Villa, Canada West, July 1862

The colonial mansion a few miles outside of the city of Toronto was normally an oasis of calm for its residents, but it currently housed a considerable degree of tension. Built in an early colonial style in 1839 the spacious manor had served as the home for the Denison family for nearly 30 years as the current scion of the Loyalist descended landholders worked his way up in the society of Canada West. The home had 19 rooms housing a large family and serving as the center of a dynamic social life; having catered to distinguished colonial, military, and royal personages in their tours of the country. The manor was protected from the view of the common man passing by on the roadway through the strategic placement of forests and fields. Those fields and orchards worked by tenant farmers who made the Denison family a considerable sum of money in crops through the families dabbling in scientific farming. This all allowed the Denison’s to live like landed gentry in a distinctly Old World fashion.

Henry Dundas, the Third Viscount Melville enjoyed that style. He was quite at home amongst the spacious rooms and lands of the Denison family. It was a quaint colonial villa, and though he didn’t think it held a candle to his own families’ Melville Castle outside of Dalkeith, he had appreciated the use of its spacious facilities for planning and retreat from the dusty streets of Toronto too often to feel a contempt for it. He had enjoyed many an afternoon on the front verandas discussing hunting, politics, and war stories with his officers there. However, now he was in a far more stressful position.

The home’s owner, George Denison II, sat in the spacious sitting room alongside the other officers. Creeping gray was steadily eroding the last brown strands from his hair, and he had a very tired expression. The Denison family’s contributions to help the war effort were immense in both personal and monetary terms. George II had personally donated thousands of dollars in his efforts to arm and equip the militia battalions which had formed up around Toronto. His eldest son led their cavalry escort, another was a major in a volunteer battalion, and his youngest son served as a messenger on his staff. Then his younger brother commanded a battery of artillery in the field force. The family had been of great help in whipping up support for the volunteer battalions, and Dundas had no reason to complain about their conduct at Lime Ridge or during the withdrawal.

The other Canadian officers present had been just as helpful in their own way. Colonel James Shanley had commanded the active militia forces in the London District and done a credible job of leading his men during the withdrawal. Colonel Alfred Booker, previously commander of the Hamilton garrison and many of the surrounding units had performed admirably in organizing the defences at Hamilton and extracted his men from the city, his steady and workman like manner keeping spirits high as he led them north. They sat with him and the rest of his staff, MacDougall, Wolseley, and Laurie.

The meeting was a tense one, the cloud of defeat that had hung over the ramshackle army since the withdrawal from Hamilton lay heavily in the room. The fact that they were there to discuss only one item and its probable implications was another thing to be added to the depressing list of military problems in Canada West.

“Gentlemen, I am afraid that we will be unable to hold our position here at Toronto.” He declared solemnly. There was a collective look of pain across the faces of the Canadians, and the British officers merely nodded grimly. Denison in particular looked anguished.

“My Lord,” the Canadian colonel began “that is the abandonment of all Her Majesty’s loyal subjects in Canada West to the enemy.”

“I’m afraid I’m well aware of the consequences Colonel Denison.” Dundas said.

“This is the most populous and industrious portion of the province next to Montreal. Toronto is the largest English city in the region! Surely her factories, ports, and people can’t be given up without a fight?” He asked, the pain in his voice almost palatable.

“The position of the city is unenviable with no natural defences and little good ground to offer battle. Our squadron on the waters is ill disposed to prevent a sudden descent upon the port and its defences are not well suited to drive off an amphibious assault. I will not risk this army in a vain attempt to hold the city, nor will I subject it to the potential pillage of the enemy.”

“It may be pillaged anyways, after the barbarism the Yankee’s displayed unleashing that mad Russian on Brantford!” Booker thundered in sudden anger. The Canadians all bristled at the mention of the town.

The small town of Brantford was little more than a station on the railway, with no strategic value other than the railroad running through it. Some of his forces had retreated up that way, sabotaging the railroad behind them, and he had only left a picket there to warn him of the American advance. The Americans had come and then, according to refugees, after driving off the picket they had proceeded to completely sack the town; burning it to the ground under the orders of their Colonel Turchin. They had engaged in wanton looting and burned empty homes declaring that their inhabitants were militiamen or some of the men roving behind the lines. The fires had spread out of control, and three men who had tried to extinguish the flames had been shot dead.

The town was almost totally deserted now he heard, but it had put fire into the flagging morale of the militia under his command. Though desertion had been something of a problem after the steady retreat, he suddenly found new volunteers coming to fill the ranks, and spirits had soared as the Canadians swore vengeance on the American invaders. Defeatism amongst their officers had been replaced with a sudden steely resolve to keep fighting.

“The Americans have stopped their advance.” Denison said “Surely we might have time to fortify the city now that their General Buell seems to be cooling his heels?”

“I am afraid Colonel that would take more time than we would like.” MacDougall answered. “The ground here might be quite suitable for entrenching, but even if we had a month to dig in and fortify the city, our defences would still be unsuitable to withstand a protracted siege.”

“If we have the city elders surrender to the Americans, I’m sure cooler heads will prevail. Compared to that Russian madman, or the ruffians who burnt it in 1813 the American commander Buell seems rather reasonable.” Dundas replied.

“Perhaps he is correct.” Colonel Shanly said. “London has not burned, and thus far the occupation has been fair from all we have heard.”

There was a stark silence as the elderly colonel sat in his home and bowed his head. He looked up around his house as though he were seeing it for the last time and let out a heavy sigh. He finally returned the stares of the others and nodded wearily.

“There are still points to offer battle to the Americans gentlemen. I don’t mean to let them come so far without testing this Smith again.” Dundas said. He then gestured to a map laid out before him. “In the meantime our wounded must be evacuated, the stores shipped east, and the men must begin moving out. Port Hope is the first terminus for the railroad from Peterborough, and where I mean to join with the remaining militia from the region, it is also where Bythesea’s ships may safely put to anchor. From there I intend to move on to another position…”
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Because I just realized how difficult it is for people to follow lots of the actions I'm describing without maps, allow me to slightly alleviate that problem with this map:


Using this you can largely track the actions for Chapter 26 with McClellan's battle at Centreville. I will try and find adequate maps in the future to detail where the actions take place in the big fights.
Chapter 27: War Means Fighting Pt. 2
Chapter 27: War Means Fighting Pt. 2

The White House, Richmond, Virginia, Confederate States of America, July 1862

The three story grey stuccoed neoclassical mansion serving as the executive mansion of the Confederate States of America stood on the corner of East Clay Street, and housed the President, his wife Varnia, and their staff. President Davis’s office was tucked away on the second floor, close enough to greet important visitors, but far enough away to avoid disturbing the family. It was where the executive decisions were so often made, and to most of those decisions, the Confederate Secretary of State, Judah Benjamin, was privy. He currently wished he wasn’t quite so privy to his chief’s mood.

Though he appreciated the trust of his chief, and the faith both men held in their new nation, he understood Davis could be prickly where points of honor were concerned. His health, ever poor, also made him prone to seeming irritable, stiff, and distant. Bad news could also bring that about. However, he had been walking on sunshine since early February with news of the British declaration of war, positively elated at news of Yankee setbacks throughout the spring, and utterly overjoyed at news of Johnston’s advance on Nashville.

Unfortunately, good things never lasted.

Joseph E. Johnston had, against the Presidents wishes, withdrawn to the Rappahannock River in the face of the Union advance. He was fuming currently, teeth grinding as he glared at the letter that had been delivered, and the map on his wall showing the disposition of the armies of his nation.

“The Rappahannock, the Rappahannock? Does he intend to withdraw to the interior then when McCllelan next attacks? Where would be left to withdraw, the Carolinas?” Davis thundered. He crumpled and uncrumpled the letter in his hand as he painstakingly moved the pins representing the best known dispositions of the armies. Johnston currently sat at Culpeper Court House along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, with his troops spread out along the Rappahannock from the foot of Piney Mountain to the city of Fredericksburg, waiting on a Union attack they all knew would come.

“And still he sees fit to quarrel about seniority, or the disposition of Richmond’s defenses! Ha! If he were bold enough he would see we have no need to defend Richmond so long as the Royal Navy keeps the Yankee fleet bottled up in port. Johnston delivers us victories in Tennessee and Kentucky! He stands at the gates of Louisville and we have to fear for the safety of Richmond!” Davis paused to take a breath, and Judah butted in.

“On a different note sir, when should we meet those gentlemen from Washington?” He said. Davis face softened slightly and he turned contemplative, putting the much crumpled letter aside. Benjamin continued “They have spent much time touring the army headquarters at Culpeper, and the yards at Nortfolk, but I fear we shouldn’t put them off any longer.”

“I had hoped to meet with them on better terms.” Davis grunted. “With our armies advancing on all fronts, rather than with our men falling back through the state towards the capital. However, we must establish our foreign contacts.”

“I agree sir. The French may be the most receptive to our discussions, especially with trade resuming all along the coasts. The nations of Europe are starving for cotton, and now we can give it to them. Our leverage has returned in negotiations.” Benjamin said brightly.

“My confidence would be multiplied by victories in the field.” Davis replied.

“Think of it sir, ships from France, England, Holland, and Spain are docking in our harbors to take on cotton and tobacco, in return they bring gunpowder, rifles, timber, iron, and wines which will sustain our population. The currency is at an all time high, Memminger believes we may be able to keep it stable via a bond of some sort.”

“I thought the war tariff would provide us nicely?” Davis asked.

“We are spending yet more money on the army, and the navy needs funds if it is to expand. The call everywhere is for more money.” Judah said spreading his hands. Davis, with an age old Southern mentality against such economic interference grunted.

“That whole business was a bitter pill before Congress in April. I doubt I will gain political capital if we must fight them again on economics.” Davis rubbed his temples as he felt a familiar ache behind his eyes.

“An unfortunate necessity of our times, I daresay it is that or raise taxes.”

“Possibly,” Davis said musing “it could be done, I think that would help, but we can table that discussion for another time. Now about these foreigners?”

“The French minister, a Mister Mercier, has been very hopeful of seeing us. Delay because of the withdrawal may deter him from making a favorable report.”

“Very well,” Davis sighed as the headache subsided slightly “sent for him tomorrow at his earliest convenience.”

“There is also sir,” Judah broke in “a request from Captain Morgan to be transferred West again.”

“Where is he now?”

“It seems as though paperwork has delayed he and his men from rejoining the campaign in Kentucky and he is very, ah, eager one might say to return to his home state.” Davis broke a rare smile.

“Then send him on. I have no wish to see him languish here in the capital when he could be liberating my own home from the Yankees. I wish I could join him” Davis scowled “Instead I am here in a nest of vipers in an office I did not desire – did not request – when I could be doing my service in the field. Meanwhile we have men who care more about seniority skeedadling from a fight out in Virginia!” He said becoming vehement again. Benjamin broke in timely:

“But we now have allies, and the eyes of the world are upon us and our struggle.”

“Yes, yes Judah this is true.” Davis said looking out his window briefly. “Soon all the world will see our cause is just, and that we, like our forefathers nearly a century ago, are willing to stand against tyranny.”

“But tyranny cannot be withstood without paperwork.” Judah said as his secretary entered with a pile of correspondence. Davis felt another headache coming as he turned back to his thankless task.
As an aside, I'm rather disappointed with this update. I had many ideas that I wanted to present for my first Confederate POV (the one from the previous TL was very lacking I felt), but I'm still unsatisfied with this one. No matter how I wrote it it didn't seem to fit properly, and I'm not quite sure I captured all the relevant concerns and irritations which would vex Davis in this period, but in the interest of moving on I shall simply keep it going. There was also originally supposed to be a second Canadian narrative section, but I've scrapped it since it will probably be better later on. In hindsight this would have made a much better contribution as one big chapter, but que-cera.

Anyways, Chapter 28: War Means Killing, will be bigger, and I'm hoping to hammer it out over the coming weeks. Should be up in 4 parts covering events from Kentucky, Canada, Virginia, and Maine, which will round out August 1862.
No matter how I wrote it it didn't seem to fit properly, and I'm not quite sure I captured all the relevant concerns and irritations which would vex Davis in this period, but in the interest of moving on I shall simply keep it going.

I think you made the right call, the concerns and vexations of Davis would fill a book. The Confederacy was a knife edge distance from catastrophe by 1862 and remained so OTL until the Union finally did get its act together and exert enough continuous pressure to finish the job. That situation is not likely to change quickly even with a separate US-British War thrown into the mix. You should have plenty of time to explore the difficulties inherent in the CSA.

So overall I think you got the balance about right, a snapshot without overloading things.
I think you made the right call, the concerns and vexations of Davis would fill a book. The Confederacy was a knife edge distance from catastrophe by 1862 and remained so OTL until the Union finally did get its act together and exert enough continuous pressure to finish the job. That situation is not likely to change quickly even with a separate US-British War thrown into the mix. You should have plenty of time to explore the difficulties inherent in the CSA.

So overall I think you got the balance about right, a snapshot without overloading things.

Thank you, It's hard to fit all the relevant details and little tidbits of information into narrative posts without getting carried away, and also hard to feel I'm portraying some historical figures accurately sometimes! But I'm glad they seem to be working.
After an unfortunately long hiatus, Chapter 28 Part I will be up either tomorrow night or Wednesday. I warn you that I couldn't find a map to give you the full details of it, so my geography has been something of a rough approximation via Google Maps so you may get a little lost. I can happily say that Part II will also be doing a little of that, but Parts III and IV will have maps (or at least links to appropriate ones) to help you visualize what is going on.

Thank you all for your patience!
I gotta get my Wrapped in Flames fix, I gotta get it...*fidgets, eyes dart rapidly*

*sees update, gets out needle*

There we go, that's it, that's it...
Chapter 28: War Means Killing Pt. 1
Chapter 28: War Means Killing Pt. 1

"War means fighting, and fighting means killing." - Nathan Bedford Forrest

“The invasion of Kentucky was not a part of a broader coordinated strategy in 1862 unlike those that would emerge the following year. Davis had endorsed the plan, but Johnston had been led to it, rather than decisively agreeing to carry it out himself. Though his subordinates had enthusiastically pushed for the scheme, it did not take long for the limited goals Johnston had envisioned to be exceeded.

Kirby Smith, with his 6,000 men had captured Lexington, moving well ahead of Johnston’s troops, who were delayed by the repulse of Thomas’s pursuing army at Elizabethtown. Soon though, the two forces met at Frankfort on July 12th, bringing the total number of men in Kentucky to 37,000. More soldiers were drawn from Eastern Tennessee to control the supply lines leading overland to Frankfort, leaving a small number of men to police the restive eastern counties of the state.

The greatest effect of this was in Breckinridge’s stand at Elizabethtown where Thomas was stymied through a truly epic defense by Breckinridge. It was here where the Orphan Brigade stood off the attack of Crittenden’s entire division in a bloody stand up fight that earned them a just fame in and outside of Kentucky. Though merely a skirmish, Thomas was convinced that his efforts would be better served in the long march around to Louisville. Fooling Breckinridge into believing his army was sitting on his doorstep he executed a skilled, but slow withdrawal north, where he would meet with Buell and the forces hurriedly transferred up the Ohio from Grant’s army. Grant himself was moving away from Island No. 10 with all speed to the relief of Louisville, or so he believed.

The Confederate army, for all its effort, had marched well beyond its supply lines even moving to Frankfort. Johnston ordered the army be given a chance to rest, and with no adequate intelligence on Thomas’s position decided to stand firm on the defensive, much to the lamentations of Smith and Bragg who all but pleaded for an offensive maneuver to take Louisville, which they (rightly) believed was only lightly defended by local militiamen. However, Johnston would not hear it. Breckinridge’s corps was spread thin, and his own men were tired and worn, in need of resupply after a month’s skirmishing and marching to reach their current goal. The army was stretched from Franktown to Elizabethtown with tenuous control of the roadways in between, forcing the dispatch of 4,000 men from Smith’s former department. Instead he ordered two weeks to rest and refit his forces, and threw himself into the organizing of the Confederate government of Kentucky at Davis’s insistence.

Buell meanwhile, fumed in Louisville, convinced of an impending Confederate attack. Grant was perturbed to see a state of near inaction upon his arrival in the city. Buell was ponderously entrenching himself while messages of near panic inundated him from Washington, Thomas had yet to arrive, and Buell, other than being well supplied and finding a stronger position every day, seemed at a loss. Matters had not been helped by the flight of Governor Beriah Magoffin, who had taken the states gold reserves and fled across the Ohio, which had led to Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton to declare himself provisional governor of Kentucky in Magoffin’s absence, leading to political turmoil as he declared martial law on Buell's behalf.

Though Buell knew where his enemy was, until Thomas arrived he had few options…” On the Shores of the Mississippi: The Western Theater of the Great American War, Francis MacDougal, University of Boston, 1996


The flight of Governor Magoffin greatly increased the Union's difficulties

“Grant had only brought three divisions (McClernand, Wallace, and Hurlbut), as Sherman held the supply lines in western Kentucky, but all told this was only 19,000 men from VIII Corps, leaving the city in potential peril from the larger Confederate army. Thomas’s arrival on the 17th of July was well timed. He too only had three of his divisions from the stronger IX Corps, but with the casualties he had suffered throughout the spring and summer campaigns even his force had dwindled to 27,000 men. However, combined the two corps mustered some 46,000 men between them.

This was larger than Johnston’s force could hope to be, especially with its needs to garrison Kentucky, maintain the stalemate outside of Nashville, and trap Pope’s army in place on the Mississippi. However, Buell remained cautious, much too cautious for the liking of those in Washington. He dithered until the beginning of August until Lincoln finally prompted the cautious general to march with a firm order to do so. Buell acquiesced, but took his time in planning his attack.

The roads south of Louisville teamed with Confederate riders, but the Federal position was secure north of the Salt River. Cautiously Buell dispatched Thomas to establish a secure advance position at Shepherdsville just north of the river on the Bardstown line, insuring a secure supply line to the south. Scouting by the Union cavalry, despite intense skirmishes, revealed that the two Confederate forces were still separate, with the majority of the Confederate army still at Franktown, and only Breckinridge’s Corps nearby still entrenched at Elizabethtown.

Buell now, in an uncharacteristic fit of optimism, determined to strike effectively. He brought Grant’s corps south, leaving the security of Louisville to local militia and the “100 day men” called up in response to the emergency by the governors of Indiana and Ohio, and brought his full force to bear on what he assumed to be Breckinridge’s unsupported corps. In crushing or capturing Breckinridge, he opened the way to Nashville again, and would leave Johnston with no choice but to withdraw south, and abandon his efforts in the Bluegrass state…

…though the name of the informant who brought the information through the Bluegrass Corridor to Johnston in Frankfort where he had finished installing Confederate governor George W. Johnson, and begun building Fort Johnston on the hills over town, the effect is well known. In a hurried departure he moved swiftly, bringing with him Bragg’s Corps, and Smith’s attached division. His aim was to unite with Breckinridge’s troops and bring Buell to battle, and hopefully to fight the deciding battle for Kentucky.

The Federal army made good time but halted at the little crossroads of Bardstown. It was here Buell sought to establish his main supply depot to march on Breckinridge’s isolated position. The little town of 1,500 residents was the major crossroads in the region, well known for the picturesque locale of Federal Hill which had inspired Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The town itself served as crossroads for Louisville bringing goods up the Bardstown road. It was here the two forces would meet.

Buell had proceeded south down Bardstown Road, while Breckinridge advanced along the Elizabeth Pike, Johnston had taken the most circuitous route through Shelbyville. However, other than ordering Breckinridge to reconnoitre Bardstown, Johnston was little aware of the presence of the Federals south of Shepherdsville. For all this though, Buell again displayed signs of slowing down as he gathered his forces at Bardstown, allowing the Confederates to become aware of the Federal Army’s dispositions.

Thomas’s IX Corps (Robert McCook, Alexander McCook, Crittenden’s Divisions) was positioned south of the town along the steep banks of Town Creek overlooking Beech Fork, anchoring the line against any advance from Breckinridge’s Corps. Robert McCook had the ground where the two bodies of water cordially met, while Alexander McCook held a U shaped bend in the terrain which anchored the line with Grant’s, Crittenden’s battered division was the reserve.

Grant’s VIII Corps held the small gulley through which Town Creek burbled. They overlooked the picturesque Federal Hill home, and were charged with scouting out the roads leading west. McClerland’s division held the extreme left of the Federal position, anchored on rocky gully north of the town, while Wallace’s division formed the center, and Hurlbut’s men held the line connecting with Alexander McCook’s division. There was a laxity in the Federal dispositions.

They were assured they knew Breckinridge’s location, and reports from scouts that he was advancing simply put Thomas’s men on alert, while Grant’s commanders, tired from marching, allowed their men to sit, and no entrenchments were made. News that Breckinridge’s force was approaching from the west did not concern Grant, he happily told Buell "I have scarcely the faintest idea of an attack being made upon us, but will be prepared should such a thing take place." Even Thomas seemed uncharacteristically blasé to the possibility of Breckinridge launching an assault.

And so on the night of August 9th, neither side was prepared for the bloodbath which would follow the next day.

Johnston had brought 35,000 men together to assault the Federal position, however, he only had Bragg’s 2nd Corps and Smith’s “Division”, totalling some 22,000 men, while Breckinridge had only 12,000 men in his corps. They were separated by terrain, and Johnston’s plan had been improvised in a midnight meeting with Bragg and Smith. Smith advised an audacious morning assault, which Bragg approved of. Breckinridge was given vague instructions to pin Thomas in place while Johnston’s force hit the Federal left, with the instruction to listen for the sound of guns in order to begin his attack. The plan was for the attack to begin at 6am.

It was an audacious plan, but it came apart almost immediately.

Smith, eager as ever, attack half an hour early the morning of the 10th. His men had stolen a march on McClernand’s men who were camped across the creek, and while they were cooking their breakfasts the eerie wailing noise of the rebel yell caught them. The Confederates surged forward, across the creek and up the slope into the midst of the Union camp. Such was the shock that the leading elements were already across the creek and charging up the slope when the Federal pickets rallied to fight back. The two elements, under the command of Thomas J. Churchill and Patrick Cleburne, completely overran McClernand’s position in an hour, taking over 3,000 prisoners, including the shocked general himself who was captured trying to rally his command. Cleburne would distinguish himself with his command running over the federal camp.

With Smith’s overeager attack Bragg was forced to commit himself early, and his men roared across the creek into the better prepared Wallace’s position. In spite of being more prepared, they too were caught up in the ferocity of the rebel charge, and soon were breaking. By 6:45am the Federal right was completely unanchored, and Buell himself was caught up in what was rapidly becoming a route. Grant was meanwhile attempting to rally his men, but with McClernand captured, and Wallace caught up in the route he was casting about wildly for some semblance of order.

Thomas on the other hand, had been expecting an attack, and the terrain on his side of the battlefield offered an advantage. The steep slopes meant that it was suicide for Breckinridge to assault him, and so he had simply started an artillery duel to keep Thomas pinned in place, demonstrating with his former brigade. Thomas, quickly became wise to what was happening, and moved Crittenden to support Hurlbut, who was now fighting for his life on the outskirts of town. Crittenden arrived, and shored up the line, which was stalemating around what would be called “bloody gully” by the troops, a short gully which lead the town. Smith had his force harassing the retreating Federals, while attempting to support Bragg who was hoping to force Hurlbut’s line.

Crittenden’s arrival prevented this, and the attacks soon stalemated. By 11:25 Johnston himself appeared and rallied the men for another attack. He committed the whole of Bragg’s corps to the assault, and in a great wave they surged forward, but broke themselves on the teeth of federal firepower. The whole time Breckinridge continued his desultory artillery duel with Thomas’s gunners, doing nothing to support the battle itself. Johnston would remain with the men until 1pm when he belatedly realized that he had had no contact with Breckinridge since the night before, and attempted to reassert control over the army.

Thomas meanwhile understood the predicament he was in. The left flank was completely upended, and while his frontage was secure, he could not stay in his position forever. The appearance of a bloody Grant, who had had his horse shot from under him, convinced him the left was in total peril. Though he knew Breckinridge offered him no real danger, he could not risk the army by leaving his front uncovered, and with no reserve to call on he had few options Buell and the remainder of McClernand’s, and the majority of Wallace’s divisions were fleeing far to the north, and there was little to be done except withdraw.

By 1pm he ordered the withdrawal of Hurlbut’s division from the line, while Crittenden took up that position. Johnston had bloodied himself on the line, and neither Bragg or Smith’s men were up for another assault. Belatedly he contacted Breckinridge’s men ordering a general assault on the flank, but the terrain made it a massacre. The greatest tragedy was the heroic Orphan Brigade advancing, only to be repulsed with heavy losses. Breckinridge was heard to cry “My poor orphans!” upon seeing the wounded stream to the rear in the aftermath of this costly assault. Thomas would skillfully extract IX Corps from the fighting, moving quickly north towards Shepherdsville.

The Battle of Bardstown was costly. Buell had brought two corps south with 45,000 men, but the Federals having suffered 13,000 casualties, with over 3,000 captured and 2,000 dead. The Confederates were little better, as of the 35,000 who had marched to battle, 10,000 were casualties. It was the bloodiest battle in the West so far, and it would send shockwaves through Washington and Richmond.

While the press would proclaim it a great Confederate victory, it was a pyrrhic one, and also inconclusive. Though Johnston had inflicted more casualties than he sustained, Buell’s army remained in the field to threaten his, and he could not afford the same losses, and would slowly chase the Federals only two days later, stopping just south of Shepherdsville on the banks of Salt River. The immense casualties taken would lead to pointed questions in Richmond and Washington, which would have ramifications further down the line…

…The biggest winner of the battle would be General Thomas. He was hailed as the savior of the army, and the press dubbed him “The Rock of Bardstown” for having extracted his command from such a precarious position. The Confederate press quickly dubbed him “The Bastard of Virginia” for both betraying his state, and for his performance and the fact his family had cut all ties with him when he elected to remain loyal to the Union. Though Thomas would accept the former name, he firmly clamped down on the bastard nickname as he felt it unsuitable for publication, though his troops would use it affectionately for the remainder of the war. Even after the war a veteran could proudly proclaim “I served with the Bastard!” to his fellows and be applauded; save in Kentucky and Virginia where it excited a ferocity to provoke bar brawls until well after the turn of the century…” The Fight for Kentucky, George Gates, University of California 1979


Speaking of bastards...

“…the events at Fort Donelson where Forrest had managed to withdraw to Nashville with his cavalry command and a few odds and ends had ensured that he entered the public view. His attitude in the evacuation of Nashville had earned him a hard reputation in Tennessee, but his daring raids drawing away Thomas’s attention from Johnston’s advance into Kentucky had ensured he would remain in Tennessee with Hardee’s corps to bedevil the Yankees…

…The stalemate around Nashville which had lasted from late in May well into August. While our fellows twisted Buell’s tail and gave the Yankee’s a licking they would not soon forget we sat in front of Nashville daring Wood to attack us. Forrest was much in evidence in this period. General Hardee made use of his talents drawing Yankee attention away from the fortifications near the city, raiding and burning, driving Wood to distraction.

Perhaps our greatest feint came with our great ride around the flank, which would make even the Knight of the Golden Spurs proud. Though Breckinridge sat on the rail line leading to Nashville, rolling stock still picked up what goods could come in through the river and down to the city. Hardee desired such shipments should cease, and so ordered Forrest to raise a hue and a cry throughout the region and burn whatever we couldn’t carry. Forrest obliged.

We crossed the Tennessee on the 9th, and rode north to Springfield. Aided all the while by patriotic citizens who desired to see our Confederacy of States stand victorious. Forrest was well aware of Federal blockhouses and patrols and we crossed the country with relative ease, shooing away Yankee patrols or capturing them and releasing them with all sorts of contradictory information. Such was their terror that we reached Franklin Kentucky with little trouble. We had torn up ten miles of track at Springfield, and now we proceeded to spend two days tearing up twenty miles of track to discomfort the Yankee occupiers in Nashville…


Forrest's depredations made the Union position in Nashville untenable

…so when Wood departed Nashville on the 18th of August and Hardee could liberate the city, I felt we had played no small role in driving the Yankees from her soil. I could only hope that great ass Pope was next to be dealt a blow.” I Rode With Forrest, Ephraim S. Dodd, Houston, 1899
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More stalemate in Kentucky, and the cost for that stalemate is proving ruinous for both sides. But the ending of the siege of Nashville should let the south get a much needed win. Poor Thomas though, the guy was stuck between a rock and a hard place, hopefully he winds up happy in the end.
More stalemate in Kentucky, and the cost for that stalemate is proving ruinous for both sides. But the ending of the siege of Nashville should let the south get a much needed win. Poor Thomas though, the guy was stuck between a rock and a hard place, hopefully he winds up happy in the end.

I've developed a real soft spot for Thomas thanks to Shattered Nation, and reading more about his historical exploits. He's really quite an underappreciated character in the Civil War considering all he accomplished. Here he's suffered some setbacks (and technical defeats) but he's on his way up the ladder, while one or two people might be on their way out.

Well stalemate is about all I think the Confederates could hope for at the moment, as there's 40,000 Union troops who might be better used in Kentucky off gallivanting in Canada, which is stretching the resources out West to their limits, to say nothing of what is happening in the Pacific and Arizona...
I've developed a real soft spot for Thomas thanks to Shattered Nation, and reading more about his historical exploits. He's really quite an underappreciated character in the Civil War considering all he accomplished. Here he's suffered some setbacks (and technical defeats) but he's on his way up the ladder, while one or two people might be on their way out.

Well stalemate is about all I think the Confederates could hope for at the moment, as there's 40,000 Union troops who might be better used in Kentucky off gallivanting in Canada, which is stretching the resources out West to their limits, to say nothing of what is happening in the Pacific and Arizona...
Good, another Shattered Nation fan. Have you read House of the Proud yet?
Good, another Shattered Nation fan. Have you read House of the Proud yet?

Read and reviewed! It was an excellent sequel novel, and I really liked the effort to look at post-war Confederate politics. I think it captured the characters involved well, and I could only hope to capture 1/10th of the detail that the author put in.