Although there were no big battles fought in January 1862, some of the small engagements turned out to be important, even if not recognized at the time. For example, the battles of Middle Creek on Jan. 10 and Mill Springs a week later in Eastern Kentucky cemented Union control of the area (at least until Braxton Bragg’s invasion of the state in September 1862), and opened the way for Union forces to enter middle Tennessee.
In the first instance, Confederate Brig. Gen. Humphrey Marshall had moved into Eastern Kentucky to recruit troops. By early January he had a force of maybe 2,500 men, but only partly equipped. Col. James A. Garfield, a young college president and state senator from northern Ohio, was sent with a brigade of about 2,000 men to drive him back.
Garfield attacked on Jan. 10, and convinced Marshall to retire. Union forces suffered 27 casualties, the Confederates 65. This small engagement resulted in Garfield being promoted to brigadier general and he would wind up being a member of Gen. William Rosecrans’ staff until after Chickamauga when, at the request of President Lincoln, he would resign from the Army to take the seat in Congress he had been elected to more than a year before.
On Jan. 21, Lecky Harper commented in the Democratic Banner on the news from Middle Creek: “The news from Kentucky shows that Humphrey Marshall made a poor fight or rather no fight at all. Many years ago we traveled in the same boat with Mr. Marshall from Louisville to Pittsburgh, and from the demonstrations on board we are of the opinion that the principal fighting he will ever engage in will be an attack on a huge cut of roast beef, or a bottle of brandy.”
The Battle of Mill Springs, although often forgotten today, was actually the second-largest battle to take place on Kentucky soil, the largest being Perryville later in 1862.