The Battle of Richmond, 1862

August 29–30, 1862

The Battle of Richmond was fought between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America from August 29 to 30, 1862, during the Civil War. The outcome of the battle was a Confederate victory. The battle is most famous for being considered by scholars as the most complete victory by one side over the other during the war.

William Bull Nelson, General, USA, Civil War, LOC

Union Major General William “Bull” Nelson was shot in the thigh and barely escaped being captured at the Battle of Richmond. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Battle of Richmond Quick Facts

  • Date — August 29–30, 1862
  • Location — Richmond, Kentucky
  • Opponents — United States of America (USA) and Confederate States of America (CSA)
  • USA CommandersWilliam “Bull” Nelson, Mahlon Dickerson Manson, Charles Cruftm James S. Jackson
  • CSA Commanders
  • Edmund Kirby Smith, Patrick R. Cleburne, Thomas James Churchill, John S. Scott
  • Winner — Confederate States of America

Battle of Richmond Overview and History

On July 31, 1862, Confederate Major General Kirby Smith traveled from Knoxville to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to meet with the newly-named commander of the Army of the Mississippi, General Braxton Bragg. There, the two generals developed plans to end the string of Federal successes in the West during the first half of the year by launching a two-pronged invasion of Kentucky.

Smith Enters Kentucky

Following their meetings, Smith returned to Knoxville and began preparing his forces for the planned offensive. On August 14, 1862, he headed north out of Knoxville with a force of roughly 15,000 soldiers. Two days later Smith passed through the Cumberland Gap into southern Kentucky. Leaving roughly 9,000 soldiers behind to guard the gap, Smith headed north with 6,000 seasoned infantrymen and 850 cavalry that would soon be known as the Army of Kentucky.

Smith Decides to Move to Lexington

On August 18, 1862, Smith’s army marched into Barbourville, Kentucky, and discovered they were in hostile territory. With little prospect of receiving comfort or much-needed supplies from the local citizens, Smith informed Bragg on August 20, 1862, that:

I find I have but two courses left me—either to fall back for supplies to East Tennessee or to advance toward Lexington for them. The former course will be too disastrous to our cause in Kentucky for me to think of doing so for a moment. I have therefore decided to advance as soon as possible upon Lexington.

Federals at Richmond, Kentucky

With Brigadier General Patrick R. Cleburne’s infantry brigade and Colonel John S. Scott’s cavalry leading the way, the Army of Kentucky headed north along Old State Road (modern US 25/421). On August 29, when Cleburne received reports of Union troops moving his way he sent Scott’s cavalry ahead during the morning to investigate. While skirmishing with Union pickets, Scott discovered a large federal force about fifteen miles north near Richmond.

The Union force in front of Cleburne and Scott was Major General William “Bull” Nelson’s Army of Kentucky, which comprised two infantry brigades commanded by Brigadier General Mahlon Dickerson Manson and Brigadier General Charles Cruft, plus a Cavalry Brigade commanded by Brigadier General James S. Jackson. Because Nelson was away, Manson had field command of the 6,800 Federals at Richmond.

August 29 — Both Sides Plan to Attack the Next Day

On the afternoon of August 29, 1862, while Nelson was in Lexington, Manson’s brigade encountered the lead elements of Smith’s army south of Richmond. Despite Nelson’s previous instructions to fall back rather than risk a general engagement, Manson decided to attack Smith the next morning.

On the other side, Smith chose to do the same. He ordered Cleburne to attack in the morning, assuring him that Churchill’s division would reinforce him.

August 30 — Confederates Attack First

Both sides were up and stirring by 4 a.m. on August 30. Cleburne’s soldiers marched north before dawn and encountered Union pickets in front of Manson’s forces near Zion Church about one mile south of Rogersville and six miles south of Richmond. Manson quickly ordered Cruft’s brigade forward to secure the federal line.

Smith Stalls Federal Advance

As the Federals began slowly advancing against Cleburne’s right flank, Kirby Smith arrived between 7:30 and 8:00 along with Churchill’s brigade. Soon thereafter, Churchill launched an attack against the Federals on Cleburne’s left flank designed to remove pressure from the Confederates who were falling back on the right. Gradually, the Union advance stalled, and the Confederates began pushing the Federals back until both sides occupied their original positions.

A Mass Disorganized Federal Retreat

At about 10:30, the confidence of some inexperienced Federal troops on the right faltered. Individual soldiers turned and ran, leading to a mass disorganized retreat. Union officers reorganized their fleeing soldiers at Rogersville, but their attempts to hold a new line proved futile. Manson apprised Nelson that:

We have had severe battle this morning from 8 to 11; had to fall back, but are in good shape now; will fall back farther, near to town (Richmond). Enemy in large force and perhaps flanking us; some regiments behaved well, some badly. You should come at once with all reinforcements you can.

Nelson Injured Trying to Rally His Troops

Nelson quickly headed south to join his beleaguered army, but his presence made no difference. In his after-action report written the next day, Nelson recalled that:

I went on to Richmond, and arrived upon the field about 2 o’clock and found the forces entirely disorganized. After much labor I succeeded in rallying them and forming a new line of battle, but the line was hopelessly broken and scattered and I was left on the field and am now having a ball cut out of my leg.

Battle of Richmond Outcome

The Battle of Richmond was a resounding Confederate victory. Nelson barely escaped, but most of his 6,500 soldiers were not as fortunate. The Union Army of Kentucky suffered 5,553 casualties, including 206 killed, 844 wounded, and 4,303 captured or missing. In contrast, the Confederate Army of Kentucky suffered 451 total casualties, including seventy-eight killed, 372 wounded, and one missing.

On August 31, 1862, Nelson’s superior, Major General Horatio Wright, dejectedly informed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that “Nelson has been badly beaten, I fear, in an encounter with the enemy near Richmond, Ky.; his force being, as he says, hopelessly broken and scattered.” Many Civil War scholars deem the Confederate triumph at the Battle of Richmond as the most complete victory one side had over the other during the entire conflict.

The Confederate victory eliminated Union resistance to the Confederate invasion in central Kentucky. On September 2, 1862, Kirby Smith rode into Lexington unopposed, announcing that “We come not as invaders but as liberators.” The next day, the Army of Kentucky marched into Frankfort and hoisted the Confederate flag over the state capitol building. Smith’s triumph at Frankfort marked the only Confederate occupation of a Union capital during the Civil War. Despite the totality of the Confederate dominance at the Battle of Richmond, the engagement has been overshadowed in history books by another Confederate victory 500 miles to the east at Manassas, Virginia, on August 30, 1862 — the Second Battle of Bull Run.

Battle of Richmond Facts

Campaign

Military Forces Engaged

  • USA — Army of Kentucky (USVA)
  • CSA — Army of Kentucky (CSA)

Number of Soldiers Engaged

  • USA — Roughly 6,800
  • CSA — Roughly 6,500

Estimated Casualties

  • USA — 5,353 (206 killed, 844 wounded, and 4,303 captured or missing)
  • CSA — 451 (78 killed, 372 wounded, and one missing)

Battle of Richmond Timeline

This list shows the main battles and events that took place before and after the Battle of Richmond, and how it fits into the chronological order of the Confederate Heartland Offensive.