This Day in the Civil War

Thursday Sept. 19 1861

Brig. Gen. Felix Zollicoffer, CSA, didn’t even have to fight the Federal troops near Barboursville, Ky., today, he merely “dispersed” them. This does not sound as though it were of great military importance, but in fact it was. For reasons of both geography and politics, Confederate possession of this small city provided the anchor for a good defensive arc in western Kentucky, from Columbus to Bowling Green, to the region of the Cumberland Gap. A former newspaper editor with no military training, Zollicoffer was officially commander of Confederate forces in east Tennessee.

Friday Sept. 19, 1862

Gen. Robert E. Lee, finally convinced that George McClellan was not going to attack after all, began to withdraw the Army of Northern Virginia back across the Potomac River to the relative safety of his home ground. Despite its incredible ferocity and appalling casualties, the Battle of Antietam Creek at Sharpsburg, Md., two days before had been, in military terms, a draw. McClellan had had 30,000 troops who were never used in the fighting, being kept in reserve instead. Instead of using his great superiority in numbers to crush Lee’s army out of existence or into the river, Little Mac had simply fought not to lose his own. Now he was giving extensive interviews to the newspapers about his great “victory” in driving the invader off of Union soil.

Saturday Sept. 19, 1863

Both Gen. Bragg, CSA, and Gen. Rosecrans, USA, knew that they were going to have a battle today; they just didn’t know exactly when, because neither knew exactly where the other one was. The matter was settled when Gen. George Thomas, now on the Union left (northern) flank, had the misfortune to be clambering through thick brush when they came upon the men of Nathan Bedford Forrest and the bullets began to fly. Forrest’s men, although called ‘cavalry’, actually functioned as mounted infantry, who traveled on horses but fought on foot. Fight they did today, and as units of both sides moved towards the sounds of battle, the general combat commenced.

Monday Sept. 19, 1864

For weeks Lincoln had been pressing Grant for action against Jubal Early’s Confederate cavalry force in the Shenandoah Valley. Grant had brought Phil Sheridan from the West to abate the nuisance, but even Grant had been getting impatient with his protégé lately. Today Sheridan made his move. North of Winchester, Sheridan led the largest portion of his army around Berryville, Va., and struck. Gen. Robert Rodes, CSA, was mortally wounded in the action, but the Confederate counterattack punched a hole in the Union line. Rather than retreating as was usual, Sheridan held, reformed, and struck again. A smaller part of Sheridan’s force circled around and struck Gen. Breckinridge from the north. Losses for both sides were in the vicinity of 4,000 casualties, but the ratio was vastly different: 4000 out of 40,000 total for Sheridan, 4000 out of around 12,000 for Early.

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