Union Victory in the West — January-June 1862
After their resounding victory at Manassas, Virginia on July 21, 1861, many Confederates expected a fast and victorious end to the war. It was not to be. During the first half of 1862 Confederates in the west suffered a crushing series of defeats. They were forced out of Kentucky, Forts Henry and Donelson fell, and Nashville was abandoned. The defeat at Shiloh, Tennessee in April was followed by another at Pea Ridge, Arkansas and the loss of Island Number Ten in the Mississippi River. By June the Confederacy had abandoned Memphis. The Southern cause in the west was well on its way to defeat and, for a time, the rebellion itself seemed doomed.
inset: The capture of Island No. 10 on April 7, 1862 as depicted by artist William Torgerson
The Confederacy Fights Back — Late Summer 1862
In late June the Confederacy, far from admitting defeat, seized the initiative. A series of offensives was launched with three goals - to regain lost territory, demoralize citizens in the north, and win badly needed recognition overseas. Robert E. Lee marched north, determined to win a victory on northern soil. Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith invaded Kentucky to take the Commonwealth and to recruit much needed volunteers for the army. In Mississippi, Earl Van Dorn was ready to move north, through West Tennessee and into Kentucky.
The Union Gains the Advantage — September-November 1862
In the wake of these bold actions the Union lost the advantage it had so dearly won. By early September the South held the initiative in every major theater of war and, for a time, victory again seemed close at hand. Then, one by one, the offensives crumbled. On September 18, Lee withdrew his battered army from the battlefield at Antietam Creek in Maryland. In early October, William Starke Rosecrans defeated Van Dorn's force at Corinth, Mississippi. Less than a week later, Don Carlos Buell met Braxton Bragg at Perryville, Kentucky. After a day's fighting Bragg withdrew from the field and into Tennessee, taking Kirby Smith's army with him. By late November, Rosecrans was at Nashville making preparations to pursue Bragg and Ulysses S. Grant had pushed south in preparation for an offensive against Jackson and Vicksburg.
The Confederate Raids — December 1862
To delay or stop Grant and Rosecrans, the Confederate command planned three deep penetration cavalry raids that, if successful, would sever Federal supply lines. John Hunt Morgan would strike the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, which supplied troops in Nashville and to the south. Earl Van Dorn and Nathan Bedford Forrest's targets were the depot and railroad vital to Grant. Van Dorn would destroy the Union supply depot in Holly Springs, Mississippi and Forrest would cripple the Mobile & Ohio Railroad between Columbus, Kentucky and Jackson, Tennessee.
inset: portraits of Earl Van Dorn, Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan.