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ARTICLES Confederate Brigadier General Humphrey Marshall

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Born on January 13, 1812, in Frankfort, Kentucky, Humphrey Marshall attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and graduated forty-second in 1832.  After graduation, he served a year with the mounted rangers and dragoons.  He obtained the rank of brevet second lieutenant, but resigned his commission to study law.  He became a lawyer and practiced law in Kentucky until the Mexican War.  During the Mexican War, Marshall became colonel of the 1st Kentucky Cavalry.  After the war, Marshall returned to Kentucky and ran for political office.  In 1848, he won a seat as a United States congressman in the House of Representative and served for eight terms from 1848 to 1859.  He also served as a United States minister to China for one year.  During the 1860 election, he backed Southern Democrat and native Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge for president.

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When the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861, beginning the Civil War, Kentucky declared her neutrality.  Humphrey Marshall backed Kentucky’s neutrality, but later changed his mind, stating that Kentucky remained in the Union only because the Federal government coerced the state.  On September 4, 1861, Confederate General Leonidas Polk and his army invaded Kentucky, essentially breaking Kentucky’s neutrality.  Humphrey Marshall decided to cast his lot with the Confederacy.  On October 30, 1861, he accepted a commission as a brigadier general in the Confederacy.  Marshall fled his home state under an indictment of treason and took command in western Virginia.

Confederate Brigadier General Humphrey Marshall
“though the enemy numbered some 5,000 to our 1,500, they were certainly well whipped.”

While in western Virginia, Marshall decided to invade Kentucky.  By December 22, 1861, Marshall entered Kentucky and camped near Paintsville, in Johnson County, Kentucky.  The population at Paintsville, Louisa, Catlettsburg, Ashland, Greenupsburg, Ironton did not want the Confederates in their communities.  Marshall would regret invading Kentucky.  By January 3, 1862, Union Colonel James Garfield, future president of the United States, arrived near Paintsville with instructions to drive Marshall back to Virginia.  Marshall had 2,240 men, but disease from measles and mumps reduced his number fit for duty at only 1,967.  By January 3, Marshall reported that the Union force gathered on his front and left flank, near Paintsville.  He determined the Union force at around four thousand men.  Marshall expected to attack at Hagar’s Farm, near Paintsville, but intercepted a letter from Colonel Garfield, addressed to Colonel Cranor, commanding the 40th Ohio, that the Union forces planned to attack Marshall’s rear, while the main force attacked his front.  By January 10, Marshall learned that the Union forces moved towards Middle Creek and pursued Marshall’s forces.  At 10 a.m. the Union forces attacked Marshall.  Marshall’s paled his battery in the gorge of the mouth of the Left Fork of Middle Creek.  Williams' regiment, Moore’s regiment, and part of a mounted battalion, fighting on foot, occupied the spurs and heights on Marshall’s right.  Trigg’s regiment occupied the height covering the battery; Witcher’s and Holladay’s companies stayed in reserve in the rear of the battery.  Thomas and Clay’s companies dismounted and armed with Belgian rifles, proceeded to the opposite side of Middle Creek to the heights commanding the plain of Middle Creek and resisted any advance from the Union skirmishers from the opposite heights.

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Marshall's early ivory handled eagle head militia sword

The Union forces advanced on the heights to their right, moved to the main plain of Middle Creek, and rested the Union left at the base of the hills.  The Union forces advanced their cavalry, but Marshall’s artillery put the cavalry to flight.  The Union forces charged three times above the mouth of Spurlock’s Branch, but repulsed.

“I must be re-enforced or I must retire from this part of the State, for my command cannot procure subsistence in the mountains.”

After four hours of battle, Marshall stated in his official report that the Union forces withdrew and retired down Middle Creek.  He also stated that “though the enemy numbered some 5,000 to our 1,500, they were certainly well whipped.”  He also claimed that “if I had bread for my men (some of whom had had nothing to eat for thirty hours) I should have renewed the action after night; but an enemy greater than the Lincolnites (starvation) summoned me to reach a point where we might obtain food for man and horse.”  In actuality, poor ammunition made Marshall’s cannon ineffective.  By 4 p.m. Colonel Garfield received seven hundred reinforcements.  The Confederate left moved across Middle Creek through the afternoon and gathered their forces against Garfield’s left, but with Garfield’s additional reinforcements, the Confederates broke off the fight and withdrew south rather than try and turn the Union flank.  Marshall lost ten killed, fifteen wounded, and twenty-five captured.  Garfield lost only one man killed, and twenty wounded.  By January 14, Marshall fell back to Martin’s Mill on the Beaver Creek.  Marshall asked Confederate military authorities if he could withdraw from Kentucky.  He stated that Union forces could use the Sandy River to transport their troops.  The men could not live off the land and the people of the country would not feed Marshall’s troops.  Snow covered the roads, which made them impassable.  His commissaries informed Marshall that the country would be exhausted of all supplies in two weeks.

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By January 20, 1862, Union forces claimed a victory and Marshall’s forces fled in confusion.  The Confederate War Department wanted an explanation from Marshall, since he claimed he whipped the Yankees.  Marshall claimed that the Union statements were false.  Marshall stated that the Union forces did not move him from a single position.  His left wing did not even fire a shot.  Marshall claimed his artillery forced the Union forces to move to the right wing, which was repulsed three times.  He claimed that the Yankees withdrew, leaving his force in possession.  The War Department asked why Marshall did not pursue the fleeing Yankees.  Marshall stated that darkness fell upon the battlefield and he did not know the position of Union forces.  He claimed his men were hungry and weak.  He also stated that he did not know how many Yankees were held in reserve.  Marshall gave an ultimatum to the War Department: “I must be re-enforced or I must retire from this part of the State, for my command cannot procure subsistence in the mountains.”  On January 24, S. Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector General of the Confederacy, informed Marshall to fall back to Pound Gap.  On June 16, 1862, Marshall resigned his commission.

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Inscription on scabbard tip reads: “Col. H.M. Kentucky Conf. 1861.”
Braggrated Marshall in the United States Congress as a “humbug and a superficial, tho? fluent fool.”

During the Kentucky campaign of 1862, the Confederate government asked Marshall to re-accept a commission as a brigadier general.  The Confederate government felt that Marshall could arouse Confederate loyalties as the Army of East Tennessee, under Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith and the Army of Mississippi, under Confederate General Braxton Bragg marched through Kentucky.  On June 19, 1862, Marshall accepted his commission as Brigadier General.  The Confederate government ordered Marshall to march through Pound Gap into Kentucky and join Bragg’s forces.  Marshall took his time in arriving in the state and did not participate in the Battle of Perryville, on October 8, 1862.  As Bragg and Smith fell back into Tennessee, Marshal asked if he could follow his own route back into western Virginia, which Bragg granted.

Once Marshall arrived back into western Virginia, the Confederate government did not give Marshall any significant assignments.  He resigned on June 17, 1863.  On May 2, 1864, he was elected to serve in the Second Confederate Congress and became a member of the Committee on Military Affairs.  He remained with the Confederate Congress until the end of the war.

After the war, Marshall practiced law in Louisville, Kentucky.  He died on March 28, 1872.  Bragg did not have a very high opinion of Marshall.  He recalled that during the Mexican War, Marshall and his men did “some fine running and no fighting” and rated Marshall in the United States Congress as a “humbug and a superficial, tho' fluent fool.”


O.R. Series I, Vol. 7 December 23, 1861-January 30, 1862-Garfield?s and Marshall?s operations in Eastern Kentucky. No. 3-Reports of Brig. Gen. Humphrey Marshall, C. S. Army, commanding brigade, with instructions from War Department.

Faust, Patricia, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1986), 476-477.

Sifakis, Stewart, Who Was Who in the Confederacy, Vol. II (New York & Oxford: Facts on File, Inc., 1988), 195.

This specific article is under full copyright.  Copyright © 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Next Keynote Article: “Captain Edward Irvine McDowell, 15th Kentucky Union Infantry”

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