Battle of Middle Creek

Colonel Garfield [US]
General Marshall [CS]

The Battle
Middle Creek

January 10, 1862

More than a month after Confederate Col. John S. Williams left Kentucky, following the fight at Ivy Mountain, Brig. Gen. Humphrey Marshall led another force into southeast Kentucky to continue recruiting activities. From his headquarters in Paintsville, on the Big Sandy River, northwest of Prestonsburg, Marshall recruited volunteers and had a force of more than 2,000 men by early January, but could only partially equip them.

Union Brig. Gen. Don Carlos Buell directed Col. James Garfield to force Marshall to retreat back into Virginia. Leaving Louisa, Garfield took command of the 18th Brigade and began his march south on Paintsville. He compelled the Confederates to abandon Paintsville and retreat to the vicinity of Prestonsburg. Garfield slowly headed south, but swampy areas and numerous streams slowed his movements, and he arrived in the vicinity of Marshall on the 9th.

Middle Creek Map and vicinity

Heading out at 4:00 am on January 10, Garfield marched a mile south to the mouth of Middle Creek, fought off some Rebel cavalry and turned west to attack Marshall. Marshall had put his men in line of battle west and south of the creek near its forks. Garfield attacked shortly after noon, and the fighting continued for most of the afternoon until Union reinforcements arrived in time to dissuade the Confederates from assailing the Federal left. Instead, the Confederates retired south and were ordered back to Virginia on the 24th of January, 1862. Garfield's force moved to Prestonsburg after the fight and then retired to Paintsville. Union forces had halted the Confederate 1861 offensive in Kentucky, and Middle Creek demonstrated that their strength had not diminished. This victory, along with Mill Springs a little more than a week later, cemented Union control of Eastern Kentucky until Gen. Braxton Bragg [CSA] launched his offensive in the summer and fall. Following these two January victories in Kentucky, the Federals carried the war into Tennessee in February of 1862.


Union Forces
Lt. Colonel Joseph R. Brown, 14th KY INF Colonel George W. Monroe, 22nd KY INF Colonel Jonathan Cranor, 40th OVI
Major Don A. Pardee, 42nd OVI
Major William McLaughlin, McLaughlin's Squadron Lt. Colonel James Letcher, 1st KY CAV [detachment] Lt. Colonel W. M. Bolles, 2nd VA CAV

Confederate Forces
Colonel John S. Williams, 5th KY INF Colonel A. C. Moore, 29th VA INF Colonel John H. Trigg, 54th VA INF Captain W. C. Jeffress, Battery of field artillery

Battle of Middle Creek

Middle Creek Battlefield

Louisville, January 14, 1862.

Colonel Garfield, commanding Eighteenth Brigade, reports that on the 7th instant he attacked and drove the enemy from his intrench-merits at Paintsville, killing 3 and wounding several; our loss 2 killed and 1 wounded.
On the 10th he attacked the main body of the enemy, under Humphrey Marshall, posted on the hills at the Forks of Middle Creek. Skirmishing commenced at 8 a.m.; engaged from 1 p.m. until dark. The enemy was driven from all his positions, and in the night burned most of his stores and fled precipitately. Our force was 1,800 infantry and 300 cavalry. The enemy had 2,500 infantry, three pieces of artillery, and six companies of cavalry. Our loss at Prestonburg, 2 killed, 25 wounded. The enemy's loss at Prestonburg, 27 found dead on the field. He carried off his wounded and many of his killed.
We took 25 prisoners, 10 horses, and a quantity of stores. Colonel Garfield had crossed the Big Sandy to Prestonburg on the 11th.

Brigadier-General, Commanding.

[OR SERIES I--VOLUME 7, p. 21]

Prestonburg, Ky., January 11, 1862.

I left Paintsville on Thursday noon with 1,100 men, and drove in the enemy's pickets 2 miles beyond Prestonburg. The men slept on their arms. At 4 o'clock yesterday morning we moved toward the main body of the enemy at the Forks of Middle Creek, under command of Marshall. Skirmishing with his outposts began at 8 o'clock, and at 1 o'clock p.m. we engaged his force of 2,500 men and three cannon posted on the hill. Fought them until dark. Having been re-enforced by 700 men from Paintsville, drove the enemy from all their positions. He carried off the majority of his dead and all his wounded.
This morning we found 27 of his dead on the field. His killed cannot be less than 60. We have taken 25 prisoners, 10 horses, and a quantity of stores. The enemy burned most of his stores and fled precipitately..
To-day I have crossed the river, and am now occupying Prestonburg. Our loss 2 killed and 25 wounded.

Colonel, Commanding Brigade.

[OR -- SERIES I--VOLUME 7, p. 29]

Floyd County, Kentucky, January 14, 1862.

....On the morning of the 10th I learned from my pickets that the enemy was passing in force from Abbott's Creek to Middle Creek, and were apparently pursuing me, the Fortieth Ohio having effected a junction with the rest by passing down Paint Creek. I was on my way to this place, because it is the nearest point to my camp of January 8 at which I could get meal to make bread. I permitted my transportation train to move along the road I was traveling, and I halted and formed my command for battle.

The enemy came in sight about 10 a.m. and we engaged about 12 m. He was very slow in making his advance and general dispositions. I send inclosed a sketch of the ground upon which the battle took place, from which you will see that my battery was at first placed in the gorge of the mouth of the Left Fork of Middle Creek.
Williams' regiment, Moore's regiment, and part of the mounted battalion, fighting on foot, occupied the spurs and heights upon my right; Trigg's regiment occupied the height covering the battery; Witcher's and Holladay's companies in reserve in rear of the battery; Thomas' and Clay's companies, dismounted and armed with Belgian rifles, thrown forward on the opposite side of Middle Creek to the heights commanding the plain of main Middle Creek, and resisted any advance of skirmishers from the opposite heights.

The enemy, having come through a defile to the left of main Middle Creek, first deployed a large force on the heights to his right, then advanced a regiment to the middle of the plain, covered by cavalry, and rested his left and his reserves at the base of the hills, which were manned by my right. Our lines thus rested at an acute angle to each other. He first advanced his cavalry and center, but three discharges of artillery put the cavalry to flight, and if they did anything more during the day it was done on foot. We plainly heard the command to "Force the cavalry forward," but the cavalry did not make its appearance again. The enemy charged up the points above the mouth of Spurlock's Branch three times, but were repulsed with great loss.

In the evening I shifted our smooth-bore 6-pounder, so as to bring it to the summit of the dip in the hill occupied by Trigg's regiment, and obtained a fair flank fire at the enemy, while occupying a piney point in front of Moore's regiment. This soon attracted a hot fire upon the gun, but no further damage than the shooting of one of the artillery horses through the head.

After an action which lasted about four hours the enemy withdrew his force, it then being night, and retired down Middle Creek, on the route to Prestonburg, whence, the next day, he retraced his steps to Paintsville.

I submit herewith Colonel Moore's report, and will send others as soon as the officers make them out. They have been called for, but are not yet prepared. I send Dr. Duke's report of casualties. I think our loss will amount to 11 killed and 15 wounded; not more.
I can only say to you, general, that my troops acted firmly and enthusiastically during the whole fight; and, though the enemy numbered some 5,000 to our 1,500, they were certainly well whipped. If I had had bread for my men (some of whom had had nothing to eat for thirty hours) I should have renewed the action after night; but an enemy greater than the Lincolnites (starvation) summoned me to reach a point where we might obtain food for man and horse.

I pursued next day my march to this place, distant from the scene of action some 16 miles, which I accomplished in three days. My scouts informed me the enemy was at the same time returning to the points on the Sandy whence he came to disperse the "rebel force" I have the honor to command.

This is the first mill where I could get bread. I halted here and pitched my camp, perfectly satisfied that unless the enemy shall be strongly re-enforced he will not seek to renew our acquaintance.....


[OR-- SERIES I--VOLUME 7, pp. 46 - 50]

January 13, 1862.

SIR: The present being the first opportunity which has presented itself since our engagement with the enemy at the Fork of Middle Creek, in Floyd County, Kentucky, on the evening of the 10th instant, I will now give you briefly a hasty report of the part taken and the consequences resulting therefrom to the three under my command. The Twenty-ninth Virginia Regiment was the greater part of the time--that is, during the battle, which lasted some three hours--in the head and front of the fire, and all, without a single exception, so far as my information extends, conducted themselves in the bravest and most gallant manner. The loss to my regiment was 5 killed and 7 wounded.

In this my brief and imperfect report I ought not, perhaps, to make any invidious distinctions by mentioning the names of any of my men or officers, who conducted themselves most gallantly in the battle; but I think my whole command will bear me out in giving to Lieut. Col. William Leigh, Maj. James Giles, and to Lieut. William J. March, of Captain Bryant's company, great credit for the gallant and daring part acted throughout the entire engagement.
In conclusion, I will say that all acted nobly and achieved for themselves a reputation and a name which old Virginia may and will be ever proud to honor.

Colonel, Commanding Twenty-ninth Virginia Volunteers.

[OR SERIES I--VOLUME 7, p. 61]

  • Estimated Casualties: 92 total (US 27; CS 65)


    U.S. National Park Service
    U.S. Library of Congress.

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