The Battle of Richmond Kentucky was fought on August 29 & 30, 1862, and was part of the Confederacy’s most concerted effort to capture the Commonwealth of Kentucky, its men and much needed material, for the Southern cause, as well as forcing the Union to retreat out of middle Tennessee and other key Confederate states.
The Confederacy’s plan called for Major General Edmund Kirby Smith to move his force of approximately 19,000 men into the state using what is now the I-75 corridor. Meanwhile, Confederate General Braxton Bragg would move his approximate 35,000 man army around Nashville and into the commonwealth using the current I-65 corridor. Kirby Smith and Bragg would operate independent of each other.
Kirby Smith would sidestep a poorly supplied Federal garrison at Cumberland Gap and move into the Bluegrass State in mid August. Confederate cavalry defeat Union troops at the Battle of Big Hill on August 23, but will retire due to the arrival of Federal forces in Richmond under the command of Major General William “Bull” Nelson.
Nelson’s inexperienced army was under the commands of Brigadier Generals Mahlon Manson and Charles Cruft. They had about 6,000 to 7,000 men to match an equal number of Confederates.
By August 29, Kirby Smith’s cavalry will encounter a portion of Manson’s force, and Manson’s cavalry will pursue the retreating Confederates to an area near Bobtown were they will discover Confederate infantry under Brigadier General Patrick Cleburne.
Manson will move his force south from Rogersville (near the Battle of Richmond Visitors Center) early on August 30, while Kirby Smith and Cleburne will move the Confederates north toward the village of Kingston. Manson will order his artillery to fire on the Confederates about 7 AM. The Battle of Richmond has begun.
Cleburne will move his infantry into position to try and pressure the Federal’s left flank. While this is occurring, Kirby Smith's other divisional commander, Brigadier General Thomas Churchill, will move his men through a hidden ravine (now known as Churchill’s Draw), to out flank the Federal right. These coordinated movements doomed the Federals even with reinforcements under Charles Cruft arriving on the field. The Federal force suffered heavy losses and retreated to Rogersville. Overall Federal commander Bull Nelson was in Lexington headed to Lancaster but by now is on his way to Richmond.
By noon, the Federals had formed a second line about a mile north of the Rogers House. The Confederates moved on this line and engaged the Federal right. After a short but fierce fight, the Federal line again retreated in poor order for Richmond five miles away.
By late afternoon, Bull Nelson has arrived and has formed a third line within sight of Richmond in the town cemetery. As Confederates advanced, the boys in blue fired a fierce volley into them. The Confederates attacked the Union right and center, causing the right flank to collapse. The entire Federal line quickly fell apart, and the Union boys skedaddled into the streets of Richmond. Bull Nelson is wounded but escapes.
Earlier in the day, Kirby Smith had ordered most of his cavalry to ride west to occupy the roads west and north of Richmond. With the entire Federal army now in retreat, the Confederate cavalry captured most of the exhausted Union boys north of Richmond. The Battle of Richmond was over.
The Union soldiers were paroled, or released with conditions, over the next several days, and the armies moved on. Several of the Confederate units at Richmond would fight at the Battle of Perryville in early October. After this fight, the Confederates retreated back to Tennessee, abandoning any hope for Kentucky.