Centre News

Stuart Sanders ’95 publishes book on little-known Kentucky Civil War battle

August 1, 2013 By Mariel Smith        
Centre College "Mill Springs kept cropping up when I worked with the
Perryville battlefield," Stuart Sanders ’95 explains. "I was
especially interested since there are several Danville and Centre
connections to that battle."

Day breaks on a wet and dreary January morning in eastern Kentucky, 1862. Through the darkened and dripping woods, Union and Confederate soldiers pad on wet leaves, straining to see through the icy mist as rifle fire rings out. It is the Battle of Mill Springs, a little-known but influential event and the subject of The Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky, a newly released book by Stuart Sanders ’95.

"It's an underappreciated Kentucky battle," says Sanders, "one that helped push the Confederates out of Kentucky during a critical period of the war."

Sanders, who was a history major at Centre and currently works as the Kentucky Historical Society's professional service administrator, has a long and involved relationship with both the Civil War and Kentucky.

"I grew up in Lexington, Va., where Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee are buried," he explains. "I also worked at Lee Chapel in high school. When I was a senior at Centre, I started writing freelance articles on Kentucky battles for various Civil War magazines."

After graduation, Sanders spent almost a decade at the Perryville Battlefield Preservation Association working closely with the president, Centre's Claude D. Pottinger Professor of History Clarence Wyatt.

This newest release is not the first book Sanders has written about the Civil War. In fact, before working on his 2012 title, Perryville Under Fire: the Aftermath of Kentucky's Largest Civil War Battle, Sanders first started considering writing a book on Mill Springs.

"Mill Springs kept cropping up when I worked with the Perryville battlefield," he explains. "I was especially interested since there are several Danville and Centre connections to that battle."

Centre College General Speed Fry, a Danvillian, Centre attendee and Civil War
general who fought at the Battle of Mill Springs.

One notable connection is the 4th Kentucky Infantry, a Union regiment that was primarily recruited from Boyle County, Ky., and played an instrumental role in winning the battle. In addition, a Danville native, Centre attendee and attorney named Speed Fry was a Union officer involved in the most famous anecdote of the battle.

"The Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer was wandering through the fog in the woods and he ran into Colonel Fry," says Sanders. "They actually had a conversation, not realizing they were enemies until a Confederate soldier rode out from behind a tree and fired on Fry."

Zollicoffer was killed in the scuffle, and his death received widespread national newspaper coverage because he was one of the first generals to die in the war. Fry, who became a general later in the war, ultimately commanded nearby Camp Nelson.

For Sanders, bringing to light the influence of Centre and Danville in Civil War history is particularly fascinating, an interest of his that was nurtured during his time at Centre.

"The history faculty has always done a good job of fostering an interest in local history," he says. "Centre faculty and students appreciate the college's traditions, so an interest in local history is a logical next step.

"In addition, while studying Kentucky's 19th-century past, Centre continually comes up in my research," he continues. "I've always been interested in how Centre contributed to and influenced Kentucky history from that period."

Currently, Sanders is involved with the planning of Preservation Kentucky's Civil War sites preservation conference, which will be held in Danville this month.

"Because of Danville's historic nature and its proximity to Perryville, Camp Nelson and other big state Civil War sites, Danville is the ideal location to host the conference," says Sanders.

In the longer term, Sanders has already written another book about Perryville, due to be published in April.

"This book looks at the Battle of Perryville through the lens of a particular brigade," he says. "It will hopefully give more of a ground-level picture of what those 2,000 soldiers went through during that battle."

Centre College, founded in 1819, offers its students a world of opportunities, highlighted by the nation's premier study abroad program. Its faculty is ranked #5 in the nation for "Best Undergraduate Teaching" by U.S. News & World Report. Centre graduates go on to enjoy extraordinary success, with entrance to top graduate and professional schools, prestigious fellowships for further study abroad (Rhodes, Rotary, Fulbright), and rewarding jobs (on average 97 percent are employed or in advanced study within 10 months of graduation).

Have comments, suggestions, or story ideas? E-mail centrenews@centre.edu or contact the Communications Office at 859-238-5748.

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