The Battle of Mt. Sterling in June 1864 was the largest and bloodiest of the battles fought at Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, during the American Civil War. On June 2, 1864, General John Hunt Morgan launched a raid into Kentucky to divert General Stephen Burbridge's forces away from attacking the saltworks at Saltville, Virginia. Arriving at Mt. Sterling on June 8, the Confederates quickly overwhelmed the small Union garrison and occupied the town. On the following morning, however, General Burbridge launched a surprise attack against Morgan's raiders and forced them to retreat with heavy losses. Union forces then followed up their victory with another at the Battle of Cynthiana on June 12, which put an end to Morgan's raid.
Background[edit | edit source]
During the Civil War, Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, was a strategic location as well as a prosperous commercial center. Situated in Montgomery County, on the road leading from Pound Gap to central Kentucky, Mt. Sterling was long considered to be the gateway between the Appalachian Mountains and the Bluegrass region. In 1856, the town had a population of about 1,500 people and boasted, most prominently, a large brick courthouse, three or four churches, a newspaper office for the Mt. Sterling Whig, an academy, one bank, and the Highland Institute. There were also about twenty-five stores, and numerous mechanics' shops. The area had a large trade in livestock, hemp, and grain products.
Mt. Sterling's strategic location and abundance of resources did not escape the attention of the military commanders, both Union and Confederate. The town served as base for the Union Army operating in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, a supply depot, and as a point of safety for Union refugees. One Union man, James P. Holderby, said the following about Mt. Sterling in October 1864: "This town is filled with mountain men who have been driven from their homes by Guerrillas. Some of them are buying property and will make this their permanent home ... It was certainly lucky for the mountain people that this place has been held by the Union Army."
Between October 1863 and May 1864, Union forces consisting of troops belonging to the 21st Massachusetts Infantry and the 37th Kentucky Mounted Infantry took possession of a two-story brick house, a frame building, a log house and shed, and the property of John Lindsey & Son - manufacturers of furniture and coffins - in Mt. Sterling. The buildings were utilized as an office and depot for quartermaster stores and commissary supplies, and as quarters for the troops. The Ascension Protestant Episcopal Church, a well-constructed and well-finished brick building, was occupied by for "camping and hospital purposes," and the Montgomery County Courthouse was utilized as headquarters and as a makeshift fort. During the course of the war, the courthouse changed hands at least twelve times before it was burned by the Confederates on December 2, 1863.
Battle[edit | edit source]
On June 2, 1864, and with a force consisting of approximately 1,400 men on horseback and 800 men on foot, General Morgan crossed into Kentucky from Virginia via Pound Gap, and immediately headed towards Mt. Sterling by way of Troublesome Creek. Arriving from the south on the morning of June 8, Morgan and his cavalry approached Mt. Sterling from the dark fields along Camargo Road (U.S. Route 460). After pausing at daylight on a low ridge on the outskirts of town, Morgan ordered his cavalry into battle.
The Confederates advanced over the ridge and, exposed to the first of two enemy positions, were fired upon by the Union defenders. A quick battle ensued before Morgan's cavalry, with superior numbers, overwhelmed the smaller Union force, capturing around seventy-five men. Morgan's cavalry then moved quickly to attack a larger Union force encamped along the left side of Camargo Road, closer to town. In this skirmish, the Confederates captured many of the Union soldiers, including the commander, Captain Edward Barlow, and drove the remaining defenders into Mt. Sterling. The fighting was then house-to-house as the rebels moved to clear out the town.
About 380 Union soldiers were captured as result of the initial skirmish at Mt. Sterling, as well as a "large supplies of military and medical stores." After the battle, Morgan moved west with his 2nd Brigade towards Lexington, leaving Colonel H. L. Glinter in command. Later on that night, after the Confederates had settled down for the evening, some rebel soldiers broke into the house of J. O. Miller, cashier of the Farmer's Bank, and took the vault key from him. They then proceeded with robbing the bank of $62,000, money that was never recovered.
While the Confederates were sacking Mt. Sterling, General Burbridge was closing in on them with his main body of approximately 2,500 men. After making an extraordinary ninety mile march from the Forks of Beaver Creek to Mt. Sterling in thirty hours, Burbridge arrived at the town undetected late on the afternoon of June 8. Conscious that his men were exhausted from the march, Burbridge decided to let his men rest and wait until 4:00 AM on the next morning to launch a surprise, pre-dawn attack.
When the main battle began, the 45th Kentucky Mounted Infantry led the Union attack. Like Morgan the day before, Burbridge attacked Colonel R. M. Martin's encampment along Camargo Road, trampling the occupants as they were sleeping in their tents. Hearing the sound of battle, Colonel Glinter rallied his men and brought up a force from his camp along Levee Road, but both he and Martin were driven through town by the advancing Union forces. The Confederates mounted a counterattack shortly thereafter, but they were repulsed and successfully driven out of town.
The following description of a skirmish during the battle is from The Union Army: Cyclopedia of battles, Volume VI (1908):
|“||Owing to a misunderstanding of orders one of the howitzers was run to the front and became mired, completely blocking the movement of the troops in the center, but the two wings moved forward and charged, while the Confederates were enabled to move up and capture the howitzer. A charge by a company of 12th Ohio recaptured the gun and after a two hours' fight along the whole line the Confederates were driven back. Later they rallied and [counter] attacked, but were again repulsed.||”|
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
After raiding Lexington, where they captured 2,000 horses, Morgan and his men marched to Cynthiana and arrived on June 11. They quickly defeated and captured the town's 400-man garrison, but on the following day were attacked and routed by Burbridge's troops, who captured the rebels' baggage train and sent them fleeing into the mountains in several directions.
Figures for the amount of casualties suffered by Union forces are widely different, although the battle is accepted as having been a bloody one. At the least, eight Union soldiers were killed, twenty others were wounded, and fifty others went missing in action. However, other sources say that as many as thirty-five Union soldiers were killed and another 150 wounded. Figures for the amount of Confederate casualties are consistent: Fifty-two killed, 120 wounded, and 150 taken prisoner.
After the battle, wounded soldiers were treated at a field hospital on a hill overlooking town. Today the site is occupied by the Montgomery County High School. Also, a theater and bowling alley now lie in the area along Camargo Road, where the Union and Confederate camps were located. Some effort has been made to preserve the battlefield, and several historical markers have been erected to commemorate the town's Civil War history.
See also[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- "Eastern Kentucky Civil War Battles". http://civilwar.morganco.freeservers.com/ekbattles.htm. Retrieved September 4, 2013.
- "Eastern Kentucky and the Civil War: Mt. Sterling - An Important Military Base During the Civil War". http://eakycivilwar.blogspot.com/2011/07/mt-sterling-important-military-base.html. Retrieved September 4, 2013.
- "The battle for historic preservation - Central Kentucky News". http://articles.centralkynews.com/2009-10-29/news/24921040_1_bowling-alley-historic-preservation-field-hospital. Retrieved September 4, 2013.
- Mellish, Gordon (2009). Guerrilla War In Kentucky: Burbridge and Berrys. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 1425183697.
- "Battle Summary: Cynthiana, KY". http://www.nps.gov/history/hps/abpp/battles/ky011.htm. Retrieved September 4, 2013.
- Cyclopedia (1908). The Union Army: Cyclopedia of battles, Volume VI. Federal Publishing Company.
- Union Regiments (1897). The Union Regiments of Kentucky. Courier-Journal Job Printing Company.
- "The War for Southern Independence >> The Civil War in Kentucky". http://www.researchonline.net/kycw/kybattles1864.htm. Retrieved September 4, 2013.
- "Battle of Mount Sterling, June 9th, 1864: Yahoo Groups". http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/SnedekerCousins/conversations/topics/2686. Retrieved September 4, 2013.
- "Historical Markers - Mt. Sterling, Kentucky". http://www.mtsterlingtourism.com/historical-markers.html. Retrieved September 4, 2013.
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