Lieutenant Balie Peyton, Jr.
All battles have their stories of heroism and devotion to duty. All battles have the tragic death of those too young. The story of Balie Peyton, Jr., at Mill Springs is one of those stories. Peyton's story lifts the battle beyond the movement of red and blue lines on a map and brings the human tragedy of war home to all of us.
Balie Peyton, Jr., was from a very prominent political family in Tennessee. His father Balie Peyton, Sr., was a congressman and close friend of Andrew Jackson. He fought in the Mexican War and served with a young George H. Thomas in that war. Peyton, Senior was a strong Unionist and in fact was instrumental in forming the Constitutional Union Party. This party was the compromise party in the election on 1860.
When the Civil war came to Tennessee. Balie Peyton, Jr., joined the Confederate army over his father's objections. Once the two had reconciled their differences, Peyton, Sr., gave his son a sword that had been given to him for his service in the war with Mexico and with this reconciliation young Peyton went off to war.
Balie Peyton, Jr., joined the 20th Tennessee Infantry Regiment and was elected 1st Lieutenant. He began his training at Camp Trousdale at Richland Station, present-day Portland, Tennessee. His regiment moved to Virginia, but the orders were changed and they joined General Felix Zollicoffer's forces at Cumberland Gap. Peyton and the 20th Tennessee saw action at Wildcat Mountain before retreating back to Cumberland Ford and then back into Tennessee. It was from there that Zollicoffer brought his troops to Mill Springs.
On January 19, 1862, the Confederate army left the safety of their encampment on the Cumberland River and moved north to attack the Union army at Logan's Crossroads. The results of this battle would leave the Confederate army shattered. The Federal victory at Mill Springs destroyed the eastern wing of the Confederate defensive line in Kentucky.
During the height of the battle on the east side of the road, as the 15th Mississippi and the 20th Tennessee charged out of the ravine and struggled with the Union defenders arrayed along a rail fence, Lieutenant Balie Peyton, Jr., attempted to rally Company A of the 20th Tennessee and lead them in one more charge at the Union position. He yelled, "Follow me boys!" and ran headlong for the Union soldiers at the top of the rise. His men, worn out from the morning light and dispirited by the unreliability of their flintlock muskets, stayed behind. Peyton, with a saber in one hand and a revolver in the other, attacked the Union soldiers himself. The Yankees shouted for him to surrender, but he refused, firing his revolver into the blue line. Shots rang out. Peyton fell dead, shot through the head.
After the Battle of Mill Springs, General George H. Thomas had the bodies of General Felix Zollicoffer and Balie Peyton, Jr. removed from the field and sent home. At Munfordville, they were placed in metal coffins sent from Louisville by Union General William S. Rosecrans. From Munfordville the bodies were transported in an ambulance to Glasgow and from there to Bowling Green where they were taken by train to Nashville.
After arriving in Nashville on February 2, 1862, the bodies lay in state in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Long lines of people moved past the coffins to pay their respects. Nashville fell to the Union two weeks later, thus Peyton and Zollicoffer would be the only Confederates to lie in state in the Tennessee capitol during the Civil War.
"Lieutenant Balie Peyton was shot by Private Adam Wichet (Wickett), a German, in Company I. Peyton stood exactly in front of the flag, while Company D was on the right and Company I on the left of it. Peyton stood about two rods from our line, firing right oblique into Company I. A bullet from his revolver had just severely wounded Lieutenant (Tenbroeck) Stout. At this moment Lieutenant (Calvin S.) Uline caught a glimpse of him through the smoke, and as his revolver was useless, he ordered Wichet, who stood by, to shoot him. Wichet fired and Peyton breathed his last ..." - Private William S. Wells, Co. I, 2nd Minnesota Regiment (US)