The Coming Crisis to the Blue Grass of Kentucky
Governor James F. Robinson certainly had one clear cut advantage to his executive seat over neutral Kentucky; informational sources managed to get his attention from both sides of the line, blue and gray. From his chair in Frankfort on March 1, 1863 he felt confident that the intelligence he had received from both had been enough to write to Major General Horatio G. Wright, then commanding the Department of the Ohio with headquarters in Cincinnati.
It was reported that a heavy invasion of his state was rapidly being mounted from East Tennessee. The governor was concerned that unlike six months earlier, with the wilting and withering effect of the Unionist with her borders towards Mr. Lincoln's proclamation to free the slaves, the rebel forces now would receive an aid and countenance far beyond that which was given to them the previous fall. The understanding of the intelligence received had called for seven thousand horse soldiers under Brigadier General Humphrey Marshall and Brigadier General John Pegram to come across the border from the state of Virginia, while a second prong attack, of equal number, was to greet her from Tennessee under Brigadier General Nathan B. Forest and Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan.
Three days later Wright wrote back to the panic stricken governor regarding the reduction in federal numbers being, in part, his own view of sending all available troops to the points where the enemy now was and having done so, Kentucky had been sufficiently covered. However, if the rebels were indeed capable of mounting a force of 15,000 to invade without hindrance, than the forces covering would be inadequate and should be re-enforced. The department commander did not think such an invasion possible however; the roads systems at that particular time of the year were bogged down with rain and to sustain such a force had lead him to believe otherwise.
Brigadier General Quincy A. Gillmore commanding the District of Central Kentucky had warned Cincinnati that the intelligence gathering drew him to conclude that Pegram's forces amounted to about twelve thousand and were poised to go north; only heavy rains prevented their raid from beginning any earlier. The call for more infantry troops to defend the garden spot of Kentucky thus went out as the days passed and the picture had become clearer.
In east Tennessee covering the borders of the Blue Grass State was Major General William Rosecrans' army. The detachment of such a mounted party would leave the Confederate army to the south unprotected and open to defeat. It seemed improbable to be carried into execution. The understanding between department and army commander had always been that should the rebels decide to invade Kentucky, the army itself would tend to it.
The Army of the Cumberland depended earnestly on its communications with the Department of the Ohio. By mid March even Rosecrans had been convinced that invasion plans north of Tennessee were in progress and proceeded to warn the War Department, making suggestions that the three major cities of Louisville, Covington and Lexington be covered well for defense.
As a safety precaution, all troops in transit between departments were being held by the Department of the Ohio. The intelligence received seemed more probable once the roads began to dry out and the weather became more favorable for campaigning. Colonel John Cunningham Kelton, the Assistant Adjutant General in Washington was notified of these changes and asked for an additional number up to ten thousand to meet the threat.
In the midst of the crisis and although wearing the rank of a major general, having his appointment date of July 18, 1862; The United States Senate announced on March 12, 1863 that General Wright's appointed at such grade was refused and later revoked. It was a tell tale sign that Washington City was not pleased with his handling of the department.
The department commander wrote to Brigadier General George Washington Cullum, the chief of staff of the Armies in Washington on the 15th that the public view of the Senate's decision could only mean that all had lost confidence in his management and suggested his removal from such a post. The southern borders of Kentucky ended the jurisdiction of the Department of the Ohio; yet the armies operating in Tennessee could not survive without their direct connection to it. Manpower and supplies both were drawn from that quarter and its departmental commander would not only be required to be a genuine administrator, but a knowledgeable field commander in that Kentucky was continually being over run by raids and invasions.
The department commander ensured that the reports were correct and the value of a rebel invasion towards the state very likely. There were too many roads for an invasion to be launched upon where the Army of the Cumberland couldn't possibility cover them all. The abundance of the central part of the state could sustain an invading army enough to reconsider occupation while to launch an invasion from the state into Tennessee did not present the same advantages. With the letter came notification that it would be beneficial for the War Department to find themselves a more able commander to manage the department.
The suggestion was taken seriously in that on March 16, 1863, the General in Chief, Major General Henry Wager Halleck was ordered by the Secretary of War to reappoint Major General Ambrose E. Burnside commander of the 9th Army Corps with orders to relieve Major General Horatio Wright as Department of the Ohio commander. The General in Chief instructed the new department commander to be guided by all of the suggestions of his predecessor and suggested an offensive into east Tennessee.
With two divisions of the 9th Corps at his disposal as well as scouring the camps of rear area personnel throughout Ohio, Indiana and Illinois; General Burnside was to make any such attempt at a rebel invasion of Kentucky mighty uncomfortable for them. With the arrival of 9th corps the feeling of uneasiness settled more from a scare into a preparation. Burnside assumed command on the 25th of March
Regardless of what the opinion of the federal government had been towards panic stricken governor's concerned about invading armies; the sources of Governor James F. Robinson were correct in great detail. The raids had come in from the two directions spoken of since early March. Resources were used to the greatest extent to meet the threat. The fragile state of political affairs in Kentucky still teeter tottered over the slave issue but managed to maintain loyalty by a thread. The mistakes made with mixed sentiment in Missouri were not going to be repeated as the central government wisely handled the uncertainty of the Blue Grass State. Anywhere else the mighty arm of the federal government would have been felt but here, as politics called upon the kid gloves for Kentucky.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at firstname.lastname@example.org