The Battle of Middle Creek took place on January 10, 1862. Union forces led by future President, James A. Garfield, won the battle. The victory helped open the way for a Union offensive into Middle Tennessee.
Summary of the Battle of Middle Creek
In December 1862, Confederate forces moved into Kentucky to recruit soldiers and established a camp near Paintsville. Union forces led by James A. Garfield moved into Kentucky to drive the Confederates back to Virginia. On January 7, there was a skirmish between cavalry, and the Confederates were forced to abandon Paintsville. Garfield pursued them and attacked them on January 10. When Union reinforcements arrived, the Confederate forces withdrew and retreated to Virginia.
Confederate Brigadier General Humphrey Marshall led his men into Kentucky on a recruiting mission. Image Source: Library of Congress.
5 Key Facts About the Battle of Middle Creek
- Date Started: The Battle of Middle Creek started on Friday, January 10, 1862.
- Date Ended: The fighting ended on January 10, 1862.
- Location: The battle took place in Floyd County, Kentucky.
- Who Won: The United States of America won the Battle of Middle Creek.
- Civil War Campaign: The Battle of Middle Creek was part of the Offensive in Eastern Kentucky.
Overview of the Battle of Middle Creek
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.
Confederates in Kentucky
By the end of the year, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston established a thin defensive line across Kentucky to serve as a buffer zone to protect Tennessee. Johnston anchored his line in the west with 12,000 soldiers, commanded by Major General Leonidas Polk, in Columbus. Roughly 4,000 soldiers, commanded by Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman, at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, near the mouths of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers manned the center of the Confederate line. About 4,000 soldiers at Bowling Green, commanded by Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner, also secured the center of the state. The eastern end of Johnston’s line comprised 4,000 soldiers, commanded by Major General George B. Crittenden, stationed near the Cumberland Gap.
Marshall Moves Deeper into Kentucky
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. Colonel John S. Williams’ 5th Kentucky Infantry reinforced them 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.
Garfield Ordered to Stop Confederates
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.
January 7, 1862 — Skirmishing Forces Rebel Withdrawal
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 Prestonsburg.
January 9 — Garfield in Pursuit
Garfield pursued and caught his adversary on January 9.
January 10 — Garfield Leads Successful Attack
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 to Virginia.
Important Facts About the Battle of Middle Creek
Facts about the Battle of Middle Creek, including dates, casualties, participants, who won, and more interesting details you might not know. This section provides a quick overview of the battle and is for kids doing research and students preparing for the AP U.S. History (APUSH) exam.
The Battle of Middle Creek was fought between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America on January 10, 1862, during the American Civil War.
Also Known As
The Battle of Middle Creek is also called the “Battle of Big Sandy River.”
Commanders and Regiments — United States of America
- Colonel James A. Garfield, commanding Kentucky, and Ohio infantry and cavalry.
Commanders and Regiments — Confederate States of America
- Brigadier General Humphrey Marshall, commanding Kentucky infantry and cavalry.
Results of the Battle of Middle Creek
- The outcome of the Battle of Middle Creek was a Union victory.
- The victory helped the Union launch an offensive into Tennessee.
Casualties and Statistics
Union Soldiers and Casualties
- Roughly 2,100 engaged.
- 27 (killed, wounded, and missing/captured).
Confederate Soldiers and Casualties
- Roughly 2,500 engaged.
- 65 (killed, wounded, and missing/captured).
Significance of the Battle of Middle Creek
The Battle of Middle Creek was important because it helped crack the eastern end of the Confederate defensive line in Kentucky, which opened the way for the Union offensive into middle Tennessee.
Timeline of the Battle of Middle Creek
This list shows the main battles and events that took place before and after the Battle of Middle Creek, and how it fits into the chronological order of the Union Offensive in Eastern Kentucky.
- January 10, 1862 — Battle of Middle Creek
- January 19, 1862 — Battle of Mill Springs
Learn More about the Battle of Middle Creek
If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Middle Creek, take a look at the following resources: