Just more than 157 years after the Union won its first significant victory of the Civil War at a hamlet in Southern Kentucky, the site has become a national monument.
The designation for the Mill Springs battlefield in Pulaski and Wayne counties was included in a measure President Donald J. Trump signed Tuesday.
Making the site part of the national park system will guarantee continued operation and maintenance of the site, which has been controlled by a volunteer association for decades.
“It preserves the battlefield in perpetuity,” said Bill Neikirk, a Somerset businessman who has been active since the early 1990s in protecting the historic site.
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The association relied heavily on grants and donations to operate the battlefield.
Making it a national monument should provide firmer funding, as well as giving the site more prominence that supporters said will help with tourism.
“It’ll bring a lot of people to town,” said U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who lives in nearby Somerset. “There’s a huge number of people in this country that follow these battles.”
The Mill Springs Battlefield Association will transfer the site to the National Park Service under the bill, said Rogers, who arranged for $1.3 million in federal funding to build a museum and visitor center at the battlefield several years ago.
Rogers and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell pushed measures to add Mill Springs to the national park system.
The battlefield includes the museum and visitor center at Nancy, next to the Mill Springs National Cemetery; 900 acres where the battle and troop movements took place; a mass grave for Southern soldiers; and two historic houses that served as headquarters for commanders and then as hospitals.
The volunteer association owns all of the land where the battle took place around Nancy and most of the land where Union forces later shelled a Confederate camp on the Cumberland River, Neikirk said.
There also is potential that a historic gristmill in Wayne County will be transferred to become part of the property administered by the National Park Service.
Rogers attended the signing ceremony for the bill in the Oval Office.
“I’m thrilled,” Rogers said. “This has been a long, long tough fight for a lot of people.”
Trump designated another Civil War site in the state, Camp Nelson, as a national monument last year.
The Jessamine County camp was a Union supply depot and also one of the largest training sites in the country for African-American soldiers in the northern army.
The Battle of Mill Springs, also called the Battle of Logan’s Crossroads, happened after Confederate Gen. Felix Zollicoffer moved troops from Tennessee in late 1861 and set up camp along the Cumberland River in Wayne County as part of the South’s bulwark across Kentucky.
Union troops under Gen. George H. Thomas moved to a hamlet nine miles away called Logan’s Crossroads, which later became Nancy, to counter the Rebel army.
Southern soldiers marched to Logan’s Crossroads through the night, in sleet and cold rain, and attacked early on Jan. 19, according to histories of the battle.
There were about 5,900 Confederate troops against 4,400 Union soldiers, according to a history on the site of the American Battlefield Trust.
Rain, fog and smoke from gunfire made it difficult to see at times during the six-hour battle. Zollicoffer mistakenly rode his horse close to a Union position, thinking the troops were Confederates. Union troops killed him, throwing the Confederate forces into disarray.
The fight stalled into furious hand-to-hand fighting along a fence before a bayonet charge by Union troops broke the Confederate line and Southern troops fled.
There were 55 Union soldiers and 148 Confederate soldiers killed in the fight, according to the American Battlefield Trust.
Many of the fallen Confederate soldiers were buried in a mass grave.
The Union dead were buried in individual graves where their units had camped, according to a marker at the battlefield visitor center.
In 1867, the federal government established Mill Springs National Cemetery near the battlefield and the remains of Union soldiers that hadn’t been claimed by family were moved there.
The Union victory at Mill Springs was important because it boosted morale in the North after setbacks in 1861 and because it helped break the Confederate defense line across Kentucky, opening the way for federal invasions into Tennessee.