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CHAPTER III

THE TENNESSEE LINE

CHAP. IIL

IN
N the State of Kentucky the long game of po-

litical intrigue came to an end as the autumn of 1861 approached. By a change almost as sudden as a stage transformation-scene, the beginning of September brought a general military activity and a state of qualified civil war. This change grew naturally out of the military condition, which was no longer compatible with the uncertain and expectant attitude the State had hitherto maintained. The notes of preparation for Frémont's campaign down the Mississippi could not be ignored. Cairo had become a great military post, giving the Federal forces who held it a strategical advantage both for defense and offense, against which the Confederates had no corresponding foothold on the great river. The first defensive work of the latter was Fort Pillow, 215 miles below, armed with only twelve 32-pounders. To oppose a more formidable resistance to Frémont's descent was of vital importance, which General Polk's West Point education enabled him to realize. But the Mississippi, with its generally level banks, afforded relatively few points capable of effective defense. The one most favorable to the Confederate needs was at

Polk to

Columbus, in the State of Kentucky, eighteen miles CHAP. III. below Cairo, on a high bluff commanding the river for about five miles. Both the Union and Confederate commanders coveted this position, for its natural advantages were such that when fully fortified it became familiarly known as the “Gibraltar of the West.” So far, through the neutrality policy of Kentucky, it had remained unappropriated by either side. On the first day of September, General Polk, the rebel commander at Memphis, sent a messenger to Governor Magoffin to obtain confidential information about the “future plans and policy of the Southern party in Kentucky,” explaining his desire to“ be ahead of the enemy in Sept. 1, 1861. occupying Columbus and Paducah.” Buckner was IV., p. 179. in Richmond, proposing to the Confederate authorities certain military movements in Kentucky, "in advance of the action of her Governor.” On Sep- Topt. 8, 1861. tember 3d they promised him, as definitely as they Iv., p. 100. could, countenance and assistance in his scheme; and soon after he accepted a brigadier-general's commission from Jefferson Davis. Before his return to the West, General Polk had initiated the rebel invasion of Kentucky. Whether upon information from Governor Magoffin or elsewhere, Polk ordered General Gideon J. Pillow with his detachment of six thousand men, which the abandoned Missouri campaign left idle, to cross the sept. 5, 1861. river from New Madrid, and occupy the town of iv., p. 180. Columbus.

The Confederate movement created a flurry in neutrality circles. Numerous protests went both to Polk and the Richmond authorities, and Governor Harris hastened to assure Governor Magoffin

Cooper to

Harris, Polk, and

Polk to

IV., pp. 188,

189.

IV., p. 180.

Davis to Polk, Sept.

4, 1861. W. R. Vol.

Polk to
Davis,

CHAP. III. that he was in entire ignorance of it, and had ap

Hourlisto pealed to Jefferson Davis to order the troops withSept. 1, 1861. drawn. Even the rebel Secretary of War was

mystified by the report, and directed Polk to order Polk, sept. the troops withdrawn from Kentucky. Jefferson w. R. vol. Davis, however, either with prior knowledge, or

with a truer instinct, telegraphed to Polk: “The

necessity justifies the action.” In his letter to IV., p. 181. Davis, General Polk strongly argued the propriety

of his course. “I believe, if we could have found a respectable pretext, it would have been better to have seized this place some months ago, as I am convinced we had more friends then in Kentucky

than we have had since, and every hour's delay 1861.w.k. made against us. Kentucky was fast melting away Vol. Y., D. under the influence of the Lincoln Government."

He had little need to urge this view. Jefferson Davis wrote him: “We cannot permit the indeterminate

quantities, the political elements, to control our Tv., p. 188. action in cases of military necessity”; and to

Governor Harris,“ Security to Tennessee and other W.'r parts of the Confederacy is the primary object.

To this all else must give way.” Further to strengthen and consolidate the important military enterprises thus begun, Jefferson Davis now adopted a recommendation of Polk, that “they should be combined from West to East across the Mississippi Valley, and placed under the direction of one head, and that head should have large discretionary powers.

Such a position is one of very great responsibility, involving and requiring large

experience and extensive military knowledge, and Aug.29,1861. I know of no one so well equal to that task as our III., p.888. friend General Albert S. Johnston.” Johnston, with

Davis to Polk, Sept.

15, 1861.

Davie to Harris, Sept. 13, 1861.

Vol. IV.,

p. 190.

Polk to

Special
Orders,

Vol. IV.,

P. 406.

Johnston to Davis,

the rank of general, was duly assigned on Sep- CHAP. III. tember 10 to the command of Department No. Two, covering in general the States of Tennessee, Arkansas, part of Mississippi, Kentucky, Missouri, 1961. W.'r. Kansas, and the Indian Territory. Proceeding at once to Nashville, and conferring with the local authorities, Johnston wrote back to Richmond under date of September 16th: “So far from yielding to the demand for the withdrawal of our troops, I have determined to occupy Bowling Green at once. . . I design to-morrow (which is the earliest practicable moment) to take possession of Bowling Green with five thousand troops, and prepare to support the movement with such force as circumstances may indicate and the means at 1861. W.R. my command may allow.” The movement was pp. 193, 154. promptly carried out.

Buckner was put in command of the expedition, and, seizing several railroad trains, he moved forward to Bowling Green on the morning of the 18th, having sent ahead five hundred men to occupy Munfordville, and issuing Cooper, the usual proclamation that his invasion was a 1861. W.'R. measure of defense. Meanwhile the third column pp. 413, tis. of invaders entered Eastern Kentucky through Cumberland Gap. Brigadier-General Zollicoffer had eight or ten thousand men under his command in Eastern Tennessee, but much scattered and badly armed and supplied. By his active supervision he somewhat improved the organization of his forces, and acquainted himself with the intricate topography of the mountain region he was in during the month of August. Prompted probably from Kentucky, he was ready early in September to join in the combined movement into

CHAP, III. that State. About the 10th he advanced through

Cumberland Gap with six regiments to Cumberland Ford, and began planning further aggressive movements against the small Union force, principally Home Guards, which had been collected and organized at Camp Dick Robinson.

The strong Union Legislature which Kentucky elected in August met in Frankfort, the capital, on the 2d of September. Polk, having securely established himself at Columbus, notified the Governor of his presence, and offered as his only excuse the alleged intention of the Federal troops to occupy it. The Legislature, not deeming the excuse sufficient, passed a joint resolution instructing the Governor “to inform those concerned that Kentucky expects the Confederate or

Tennessee troops to be withdrawn from her soil IV., p. 288. unconditionally." The Governor vetoed the reso

lution on the ground that it did not also embrace the Union troops, but the Legislature passed it

over his veto. Governor Magoffin now issued his Ibid., p. 287. proclamation as directed. Polk and Jefferson Davis

replied that the Confederate army would withdraw if the Union army would do the same. To this the Legislature responded with another joint resolution, that the conditions prescribed were an insult to the dignity of the State, “ to which Kentucky cannot listen without dishonor,” and “that the invaders must be expelled.” The resolution further required General Robert Anderson to take instant

command, with authority to call out a volunteer Sept. 20, force, in all of which the Governor was required to Ibid., p. 288. lend his aid. Kentucky was thus officially taken

out of her false attitude of neutrality, and placed

W. R. Vol.

Sept. 13,

1861.

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