The Making of Mill Springs Battlefield

Learn about preservation efforts at the site of one of the Union's first major Civil War victories.
Split rail fence at sunset at Mill Springs Battlefield

Mill Springs Battlefield, Nancy, Ky.

Don Sniegowski

Preserving endangered battlefield land is, in the words of Trust President David Duncan, “the business of forever.” The land is saved, preserved, often restored and interpreted for today’s generations and tomorrow’s…forever. The making of Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument is one of our favorite forever stories.

The decisive Union victory at Mill Springs, fought January 19–20, 1862, came as a welcome relief to the Northern home front and a heavy blow to Confederate plans for conquering Kentucky. It was also a battle of firsts. The 9th Ohio launched the first documented bayonet charge of the Civil War during the fighting here and Felix Zollicoffer became the first Confederate general officer killed in action in the Western Theater. 

Mill Springs was also the site of the Union’s first major victory. Once identified as one of the 25 most endangered battlefields in America, it’s one of the American Battlefield Trust’s major victories, too, with 769 acres now saved. In 2019 it was officially designated a National Monument.

In the Beginning... 

Mill Springs Battlefield, Nancy, Ky.
Mill Springs Battlefield, Nancy, Ky. Photos by Jim Slaughter, Courtesy of Pulaski County Public Library, Somerset, Ky.

The charge to save this hallowed ground began in the early 1990s, initially led by the Mill Springs Battlefield Association (MSBA), which was established in 1992. The Trust was soon enlisted in the undertaking alongside the MSBA and other government partners. Through these efforts, hundreds of acres of land were preserved.

21st Century

In March 2019, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act was signed into law, expanding park boundaries at Shiloh National Military Park and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, and establishing two Civil War-related national monuments in Kentucky — Camp Nelson National Monument and Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument.

Mill Springs Battlefield, Nancy, Ky.
Mill Springs Battlefield, Nancy, Ky. Michael Byerley

An October 14, 2020, ceremony in Nancy, Ky., celebrated the long-awaited day when Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument officially became part of the National Park System. Other collaborators in the effort to establish the 421st unit of the National Park Service included Congressman Hal Rogers (R-KY), U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, the Mill Springs Battlefield Association (MSBA), and local leaders.  It was deemed “another victory for Kentucky” by Congressman Hal Rogers, who also helped establish the MSBA. 

As a longtime advocate for the protection of the site and a key supporter of the legislation that studied the establishment of a national monument at the Mill Springs Battlefield, Trust Chairman Emeritus John L. Nau said at the time of its designation:

“Protecting this important landscape at Mill Springs has been the work of decades, and the American Battlefield Trust is proud to have played a role in that process. Efforts to set aside the battlefield began in earnest with the 1992 formation of the Mill Springs Battlefield Association (MSBA) and, since then, hundreds of acres have been permanently protected through cooperative efforts between MSBA and the Trust. Watching this site evolve into a true heritage tourism destination, with miles of interpreted walking trails, restored period homes and an impressive 10,000-square-foot museum and visitor center has been exceptionally gratifying.  

“At the American Battlefield Trust, we build parks and tell stories. Now that Mill Springs has been rightfully added to the pantheon of places protected within the National Park System, more Americans will come to know this beautiful and historic place. There is no better permanent steward for this hallowed ground and the remarkable stories it allows us to tell than the National Park Service.”

We continue to strive to save important land associated with the Battle of Mill Springs, land that Trust president David Duncan says is “poised to become part of the inheritance of every American.”


Related Battles

Pulaski County and Wayne County, KY | January 19, 1862
Result: Union Victory
Estimated Casualties