Civil War Weapons
Information and Articles About Civil War Weapons used during the American Civil War
A Cannon Used During The Civil War
Many Weapons were used in the The Civil War from knives to swords along with a variety of firearms, including rifles, pistols, muskets, and repeating weapons. Also widely used was artillery including cannons. Some of the new weapon technologies used in the civil war include rifled gun barrels, the Minie ball and repeating rifles.
Civil War Cannons
Cannons played a major role in the the civil war. Some of the cannon used by union and confederate forces include the 12 pound Howitzer, the 10 pound Parrot rifle, and the 3 inch ordnance rifle. Lean more about Civil War Cannon
Civil War Guns
The civil war brought many advancements in gun technology, most notably the widespread use of rifled barrels. Popular rifles used in the civil war include the Springfield rifle, the Lorenz rifle, the Colt revolving rifle. Lean more about Civil War Guns
Civil War Swords and Sabers
Swords were still used widely in the civil war. Popular swords include the Model 1832 Foot Artillery Sword, Model 1832 Dragoon Saber, Model 1840 Light Artillery Saber, and the Model 1840 Army Non-commissioned Officers’ Sword. Learn more about Civil War Swords
The Minie Ball
The Minié Ball (aka Minie Ball) was a type of bullet that was used throughout the Civil War. Designed to expand while traveling along the rifle barrel, it increased muzzle velocity as well as providing spin to the bullet, expanding its accuracy and range. This advance in weaponry, along with outdated military tactics devised in an era of older firearms, are often cited as a reason for the large numbers of casualties of the Civil War. Learn more about the Minie Ball
Articles Featuring Civil War Weapons From History Net Magazines
Grenade!: The Little-Known Weapon of the Civil War
By Joseph G. Bilby
It was akin to shooting fish in a barrel. The Hoosiers of the 45th Illinois were pinned down in a crater that June 25, 1862, the result of a Union mine used in an attempt to blow up a section of the Rebel works at Vicksburg. The Federal attack had faltered in the reeking pit, and the Confederates had taken the opportunity to hurl ad hoc hand grenades, modified artillery shells, down up the helpless Yankees. A Union officer reported that “the enemy…with their hand-grenades render it difficult for our working parties to remain in the crater at all. The wounds inflicted by those missiles are frightful.”
While artillery shells were pressed into service during that incident, there were several varieties of Civil War grenades made specifically for their purpose. Some had an almost cartoonish appearance, with fins for aerodynamics and plungers for detonating. Others looked like deadly bocce balls. But though the grenades used by the Blue and the Gray were far from perfect—some were as dangerous to the thrower as they were to the intended target—a variety of improvised and purpose-built grenades were hurled and used in combat in numerous battles.
Grenades had been used in battle for hundreds of years before the Civil War, and were well known to the military men of the 1860s. In his 1861 Military Dictionary, Colonel Henry Lee Scott described a grenade as “small shell about 2-inches in diameter, which, being set on fire by means of a short fuze and cast among the enemy’s troops causes great damage by its explosion.” For troops attacking fortifications, Scott recommended the use of “blindages,” a French term for armored shields, as protection from grenades.
Colonel Scott suggested that forts be amply supplied with grenades, and the weapons often were staples of garrison armament. At Fort Sumter hand grenades were distributed at critical points during the 1861 siege, including the room over the gateway, to use against a storming party. Captain John G. Foster reported that he had made “complete arrangements for using shells and grenades over the parapet.” The Confederate bombardment exploded some of the grenade piles.
By 1862, grenades were being used in land warfare. In May, the commander of the 37th Ohio Infantry claimed his men were attacked by Confederates armed with grenades, and Colonel George H. Gordon of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry reported that grenades thrown by civilians from houses in Winchester, Va., killed and wounded his soldiers as they retreated through the town that same month. In April Confederate Brig. Gen. Daniel H. Hill requested that a supply of grenades be sent to his men defending the Virginia Peninsula.
Hand grenades were frequently used during the summer of 1863 at the twin sieges of Port Hudson and Vicksburg. Following the 1862 capture of New Orleans, Rebels fortified Port Hudson, situated atop an 80-foot bluff on a bend in the Mississippi River and surrounded by deep ravines, in a desperate attempt to keep the river open between northern Louisiana and Vicksburg as an avenue to the trans-Mississippi Confederacy. In May 1863, Maj. Gen. General Nathaniel Banks’ army of more than 30,000 men moved north from New Orleans to attack Port Hudson, which, although well fortified, was garrisoned by only around 6,800 Confederates under Maj. Gen. Franklin Gardner. Banks’ goal was to overrun Port Hudson and proceed up the river to join forces with Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s force besieging Vicksburg. On May 27, Banks launched an all-out assault on the miles of earthworks surrounding Port Hudson. It failed miserably.
In preparation for a second attack, Banks ordered 500 hand grenades from Admiral David G. Farragut, requesting that they “be accompanied, if you please, by an officer who can explain to our men their proper management.” The U.S. Navy seems to have been the place to go for grenades on the Mississippi, because ships were routinely issued a generous supply to repel potential boarders. In April 1862, Colonel Charles Ellett requested nine cases of “parapet hand-grenades, such as would be most convenient for throwing over a bulwark, to clear the bows of the steamer in case of boarding” for his fleet of ramming ships. In February 1863, Acting Rear Adm. David D. Porter advised one of his captains to “keep your pilot-house well supplied with hand-grenades, &c., in case the enemy should get on your upper decks.”
The naval grenades were issued to Banks’ troops in time for his next attack, which took place on June 14. Special ad hoc grenadier units were created, including one of five companies from the 4th Massachusetts and 110th New York Infantry and another of 100 men from the 28th Connecticut Infantry. The grenadiers were ordered to sling their muskets, closely follow the skirmish line up to the enemy parapets, toss their grenades and continue the fight as skirmishers.
Banks’ second attack proved to be another disaster, and Port Hudson would hold out until the fall of Vicksburg made the post untenable. During the second ill-fated Yankee attack, most of the grenadiers did not get close enough to the enemy to use their hand grenades. Those who did had some of their grenades thrown back at them. That fact, along with the special training requested by Banks, suggests they may have been issued the hand grenades invented in 1861 by William F. Ketchum. Ketchum’s grenade featured a cast iron cylinder filled with gunpowder and tapered on both ends, with one end fitted with a plunger and percussion cap to facilitate detonation on impact. A dowel with four pasteboard arrowlike vanes was inserted in the opposite end to aid with the grenade’s flight. Sometimes Ketchum grenades would not strike a hard enough object to detonate, allowing them to be tossed back.
At Vicksburg the hand grenade shoe was initially on the other foot, and Confederate defenders used them to repel General Grant’s attempt to take the town by storm on May 22. According to Confederate Maj. Gen. John H. Forney, “hand grenades were used at each point with good effect” against the Union attack. The “grenades” the Rebels used, however, were not purpose-built hand grenades like those the Union Navy supplied to their forces at Port Hudson, but 6- and 12-pound artillery rounds with short fuses that were tossed or rolled onto the attackers. Colonel Ashbell Smith of the 2nd Texas Infantry reported that “to clear the outside ditch, spherical case were used as hand-grenades,” and these were the most common Vicksburg Rebel grenades, although one source states that the Confederates also used glass bottle grenades like those employed by the Russians in the Crimean War.
As the Vicksburg siege developed and Union forces pushed their trenches and saps forward and dug mines under the city’s defenses, the Rebel use of artillery shells as improvised grenades increased. The men of the 55th Illinois countered the enemy tactic of rolling grenades over the parapet by blocking them with a board held up by bayonets at the edge of the Union trench. It worked, and only one shell hurt any of those in the ditch, bursting against one soldier and killing him.
The Confederates soon improved their grenade techniques, however, organizing artillerymen whose guns were disabled or otherwise unusable into a specialized “hand-grenade and thunder-barrel corps.” The grenadiers proved very effective in repelling Union forays.
In an attempt to counter these tactics, the Federals created their own grenadier corps, initially turning to the Navy for genuine hand grenades that were supposedly more portable and easier to pitch than artillery shells. One report, however, cited that “naval hand-grenades…from their peculiar form could not be thrown any considerable distance.”
The statement, coupled with the source of the grenades, indicates that the naval grenades in question were probably Ketchums, especially since the unexploded remains of some have been found by archeologists and relic hunters in the Vicksburg lines. Despite problems with those weapons, designated Yankee grenadiers, including Private William Lazarus of the 1st U.S. Infantry, assumed the job of bomb tossing. It was dangerous work, and Lazarus was killed after throwing only 20 grenades.
Confederate grenades were no more able to save Vicksburg than Yankee ones were able to capture Port Hudson, and the city capitulated on July 4, 1863. Improvised shell-grenades, however, continued to be widely used in other defensive situations by Rebel troops throughout the war, including at Chattanooga and during the Atlanta campaign and the siege of Mobile and, along with turpentine “fireballs” in the Confederate defense of Morris Island and Fort Sumter in 1863. Federals rolled grenades on Southerners trapped in a ditch outside Knoxville’s Fort Sanders in November 1863.
Aside from the Naval grenades used by Union troops along the Mississippi, primary source references to specific purpose-built hand grenades are relatively rare. One intriguing November 1864 intelligence report on the Rebel defense of the ruins of Fort Sumter relates that Confederates stationed there were issued “hand-grenades of the improved pattern” when on night guard duty. These grenades were most likely some of the 1,100 grenades shipped to Charleston from Augusta Arsenal in the fourth quarter of 1863. The body of the “improved pattern” grenade was a Ketchumlike double tapered cylinder fitted with a “sensitive tube” percussion-type detonator. Like the Ketchum, it was attached to a “guide stick” fitted with paper fins wrapped in protective cloth that was removed immediately before throwing. The Augusta Arsenal made almost 13,000 of these grenades during the last 11⁄2 years of the conflict.
It may have been these “improved” grenades that Rebel artillery chief Brig. Gen. William N. Pendleton speculated on using in an offensive mode at Petersburg in June 1864. According to Pendleton, “hand-grenades might do important service in driving off the enemy as we approach his breast-works.” He went on to ask: Have we any made? If so, of what pattern, weight, &c., and how are they put up for transportation? If none are on hand would it not be well to have some prepared very soon?” Yankees were apparently using grenades in the Richmond-Petersburg lines as well, and a month later Rebel Brig. Gen. Archibald Gracie reported that “the enemy attempted to throw hand-grenades…which fell fifteen yards short.”
In addition to the traditional lit fuse, Ketchum-style and improvised shell hand grenades, several other types of Union grenades were designed during the war, although they seem to have been used little, if at all. One was the Hanes “Excelsior” grenade, an 1862 invention of Kentuckian W. W. Hanes. The Excelsior was composed of two spheres, one set inside the other. The operator armed the grenade by unscrewing the exterior sphere, exposing the gunpowder-filled nipple-studded interior one, capping the nipples, and reassembling the weapon. A cushion between the nipples and exterior sphere was supposed to prevent the Hanes grenade from detonating unless it was forcibly thrown against a hard object, but the inherent danger of handling it seems to have limited its actual military use.
Some Hanes grenades apparently got into civilian hands, however, since a device that appears to have been an Excelsior grenade was mentioned during a September 1864 treason trial in Indianapolis of alleged Southern-sympathizing saboteurs of the Knights of the Golden Circle. According to a witness, one of the participants in the failed conspiracy “unscrewed the hand grenade and showed me the nipples on the inner shell.” The grenade was supposed to be used in conjunction with “Greek fire,” a highly flammable liquid mixture, to destroy government property.
The Adams grenade, an advanced and innovative time-fuse device developed by John S. Adams in January 1865, was also patented. It was similar in design to those the French were experimenting with at the time and a true precursor of the modern hand grenade. The Adams was spherical in shape and armed when a strap looped around the thrower’s wrist set off a friction primer that ignited a five-second fuse as the grenade left his hand. There is little information available on the extent to which Adams grenades were actually used, but some apparently made it to the field.
A rusted example was discovered by Colin Dreyden, an 11-year-old boy playing in a crawl space under an old house in Beaufort, S.C., in May 2007. The grenade, which weighed 6 pounds, was removed by U.S. Marine Corps demolition experts, who hoped to disarm and restore it for subsequent display. It proved to be inert, preventing the possibility of a Civil War hand grenade claiming one last casualty.
Joseph G. Bilby is a contributing writer to ACW. His latest book, Small Arms at Gettysburg, is scheduled for a fall 2007 release.
This article by Joseph G. Bilby was originally published in the November 2007 issue of America’s Civil War magazine.For more great articles be sure to subscribe to America’s Civil War magazine today!
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Capturing Fort Pulaski During the American Civil WarAs a young U.S. Army lieutenant, Robert E. Lee helped to construct Fort Pulaski. As a Confederate general 30 years later, he confidently assured fort defenders it could not be breached. Union gunners were not so sure.
Battle of Chickamauga: Colonel John Wilder's Lightning Brigade Prevented Total DisasterArmed with their new, lethal seven-shot Spencer rifles, Wilder's Lightning Brigade was all that stood between the Union Army and the looming disaster at Chickamauga Creek.
Battle of Sailor's CreekThe April 6, 1865 Battle of Sailor's Creek constituted one of the darkest days in the Army of Northern Virginia's history.
America's Civil War: Horses and Field ArtilleryWorking side by side with soldiers, horses labored to pull artillery pieces into battle. Without them, field artillery could not have been used to such deadly effect.
Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman: War's Kindred SpiritsKindred spirits Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman prepared themselves for another bloody year of war as 1863 dawned.
Battle of Antietam: Controversial Crossing on Burnside's BridgeShould General Ambrose Burnside have ordered his men to wade Antietam Creek? Author Marvel undertook a personal odyssey to find out.
Battle of Stones River: Philip Sheridan's Rise to Millitary FameWhen Braxton Bragg's Confederates swooped down on the Federals at Stones River, only one division stood between the Rebels and calamitous defeat. Fortunately for the Union, that division was commanded by Phil Sheridan.
44th Georgia Regiment Volunteers in the American Civil WarThe hard-fighting 44th Georgia suffered some of the heaviest losses of any regiment in the Civil War.
Battle of Antietam: Taking Rohrbach Bridge at Antietam CreekWhile Union commander George McClellan fumed and the Battle of Antietam hung in the balance, a handful of Rebels held off Federal troops at 'Burnside Bridge.'
Battle of Champion's HillWith Ulysses S. Grant's army steadily menacing Vicksburg, Confederate General John Pemberton left the town's comforting defenses to seek out the enemy army. Too late, he found it, at Champion's Hill.
Battle of Shiloh: The Devil's Own DayAt a small Methodist meeting house in southwestern Tennessee, Union and Confederate armies met for a 'must-win' battle in the spring of 1862. No one, however, expected the bloodbath that ensued. It was, said General William Sherman, 'the Devil's own day.'
Weaponry: The Rifle-Musket and the Minié BallThe Civil War's deadliest weapons were not rapid-fire guns or giant cannon, but the simple rifle-musket and the humble minié ball.
J.E.B. Stuart's RevengeA stolen hat and wounded pride spurred Southern cavalryman J.E.B. Stuart into action. His vengeance would be swift, daring, and--unexpectedly--funny.
Union General Judson KilpatrickUnion General Judson Kilpatrick was flamboyant, reckless, tempestuous, and even licentious. In some respects he made other beaux sabreurs like fellow-cavalrymen George Custer and J. E. B. Stuart seem dull.
Battle of Wilson's CreekThe Battle of Wilson's Creek helped to keep a critical border state out of the Confederacy.
Brigadier General John Gibbon's Brief Breach During the Battle of FredericksburgAlthough overshadowed by the doomed Federal attack on the Confederate center, General John Gibbon's 2nd Division managed -- however briefly -- to make a breakthrough on the Union left.
Brigadier General Thomas F. MeagherBrigadier General Thomas F. Meagher, the colorful leader of the Irish Brigade, fought many battles--not all of them with the enemy.
Military Technology: The Confederate Floating Battery Revival During the American Civil WarPopular during the Crimean War, the floating battery was revived by hard-pressed Confederates.
America's Civil War: Fort Wagner and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer InfantryThe doomed assault on Fort Wagner won the 54th Massachusetts a place in history, but did not win the battle for the North. No regiment could have carried the fort that day.
1st Louisiana Special Battalion at the First Battle of ManassasRecruited from New Orleans' teeming waterfront by soldier of fortune Roberdeau Wheat, the 1st Louisiana Special Battalion more than lived up to its pugnacious nickname--Wheat's Tigers--at the First Battle of Manassas.
America's Civil War: Guerrilla Leader William Clarke Quantrill's Last Raid in KentuckyWhen Confederate fortunes plummeted in Missouri, fearsome guerrilla leader William Clarke Quantrill and his band of hardened killers headed east to terrorize Union soldiers and civilians in Kentucky. It would be Quantrill's last hurrah.
Ambrose Bierce's Civil War: One Man's Morbid VisionFor Ambrose Bierce, the enemy was not really the gray-clad host at the other end of the field, but death, and the terror of death and wounds.
USS Monitor: The Crew Took Great Pride in Serving on the Famous ShipThe crew of Swedish Inventor John Ericsson's Monitor took great pride in serving on the renowned 'cheese box on a raft.'
Firebrand in a Powder Keg: Nathaniel Lyon in St. LouisWhen secession fever threatened Missouri, a hotheaded gesture by a Yankee touched off riots but helped keep the state in the Union.
America's Civil War: Front Royal Was the Key to the Shenandoah ValleyThe pretty little town of Front Royal, in the Shenandoah Valley, had a strategic value that belied its size. As Stonewall Jackson knew, it was the key to the valley, the state of Virginia and the war itself.
Eyewitness Account: A Tar Heel at GettysburgAfter capture, Lawrence D. Davis had to undergo being reviewed by 'big & fat' Ben Butler.
America's Civil War: Pre-dawn Assault on Fort StedmanLed by select groups of sharpshooters, the weary, muddy troops of the Army of Northern Virginia made one last desperate push to break out of Petersburg.
Second Battle of Bull Run: Destruction of the 5th New York ZouavesThe Texas Brigade tide bore down on the isolated 5th New York Zouaves at Second Bull Run. A fine regiment was about to be destroyed.
Immortal 600: Prisoners Under Fire at Charleston Harbor During the American Civil WarKnowingly exposing helpless prisoners to artillery fire seems unconscionable. War, however, has a way of fostering inhumane behavior.
Battle of Gettysburg: Union Cavalry AttacksAfter the conclusion of Pickett's Charge, ill-advised Union cavalry attacks killed dozens of Federal horsemen and a promising brigadier general.
Battle of Antietam: Carnage in a CornfieldMr. Miller's humble cornfield near Antietam Creek became the unlikely setting for perhaps the worst fighting of the entire Civil War.
Major General George Stoneman Led the Last American Civil War Cavalry RaidEven as General Robert E. Lee was surrendering at Appomattox, a vengeful Union cavalry horde led by Maj. Gen. George Stoneman made Southern civilians pay dearly for the war. It was a last brutal lesson in the concept of total warfare.
Battle of Resaca: Botched Union AttackWilliam Tecumseh Sherman waited expectantly to hear that his accomplished young protégé, James B. McPherson, had successfully gotten astride the railroad at Resaca and cut off the Confederate line of retreat. Hours went by with no word from McPherson. What was 'Mac' doing in Snake Creek Gap?
Martha Derby Perry: Eyewitness to the 1863 New York City Draft RiotsThe wife of a bedridden Union surgeon was a horrified witness to the New York City Draft Riots of July 1863.
America's Civil War: Assault at PetersburgSixth Corps Yankees stumbled out of their earthworks and toward the muddy pits of the Army of Northern Virginia. It was the beginning of the end at Petersburg.
Battle of Gettysburg: Fighting at Little Round TopThe Battle of Gettysburg, and perhaps the fate of the Union, was decided in one hour of desperate fighting on the rocky ledges of Little Round Top.
America's Civil War in War Tennessee's Hickman CountyMidnight justice, 'devilish brutality' and coldblooded murder sometimes characterized the Civil War in border regions.
Battle of Perryville: 21st Wisconsin Infantry Regiment's Harrowing FightThe green 21st Wisconsin found slaughter at the 1862 Battle of Perryville, Kentucky.
Sullivan Ballou: The Macabre Fate of a American Civil War MajorMajor Sullivan Ballou gained fame for the poignant letter he wrote to his wife before the First Battle of Bull Run. Not so well known is that after he was mortally wounded in that fight, Confederates dug up, decapitated and burned his body.
Eyewitness to America's Civil War: William W. PattesonTeenager William W. Patteson fled his Virginia farm and fought at the Battle of Cedar Mountain.
America's Civil War: John Mosby and George Custer Clash in the Shenandoah ValleyWhen Civil War's John Singleton Mosby's Partisan Rangers clashed with George A. Custer's Union Cavalry, the niceties of war were the first casualty. Reprisal and counter reprisal became the order of the day.
Battle of Chickamauga: Union Regulars Desperate StandCivil War Brigadier General John King's disciplined brigade of Union Regulars found itself tested as never before at Chickamauga. For two bloody days, the Regulars dashed from one endangered spot to another, seeking to save their army from annihilation.
Battle of Stones River: Union General Rosecrans Versus Confederate General BraggAmerican Civil War Union General William Rosecrans bided his time, waiting to attack Confederate General Braxton Bragg's Rebel army at Murfreesboro, 30 miles south of Nashville.
America's Civil War: Union's Mission to Relieve Fort SumterFor three long months, Civil War Major Robert Anderson and his besieged troops waited for reinforcements at Fort Sumter. Back in Washington, Union naval officer Gustavus Fox raced against time to organize just such a mission.
Battle of Chickamauga: 21st Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry and Their Colt's Revolving Rifles'My God, We Thought You Had a Division Here!' The 21st Ohio Infantry's unique repeating weaponry was its salvation - and nearly its undoing - at Chickamauga.
Battle of Gettysburg: Confederate General Richard Ewell's Failure on the HeightsFor the second day in a row, Confederate General Richard Ewell inexplicably failed to take the offensive at Gettysburg. 'The fruits of victory, Robert E. Lee lamented, had not been gathered.
Did Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell Lose the Battle of GettysburgAfter disobeying Robert E. Lee's orders to avoid a general engagement at Gettysburg, Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell received an order to 'press those people.' His failure to do so created a controversy that survives to this day.
America's Civil War: Digging to Victory at VicksburgTo the armies at Vicksburg, picks, shovels and manual labor proved as valuable as bullets and bombshells.
America's Civil War: Struggle for St. LouisThe dark clouds of civil war gathered over the nation as two aggressive factions -- the Wide-Awakes and the Minutemen -- plotted to gain political control of Missouri and its most important city, St. Louis. As is often the case, political power began at the end of a gun.
Battle of Kernstown: Stonewall Jackson's Only DefeatA furious Stonewall Jackson watched impotently as his proud Confederates stumbled down the hillside at Kernstown, Va. 'Give them the bayonet,' Jackson implored -- but no one obeyed.
America's Civil War: Savage Skirmish Near SharpsburgWith Robert E. Lee's wily Confederates waiting somewhere in the vicinity of Antietam Creek, Union General George McClellan ordered I Corps commander Joseph Hooker to advance and turn the Rebel flank. But McClellan, for once, was too quick to move, and Hooker soon found himself in an unexpectedly vicious fight.
Second Battle of Winchester: Richard Ewell Takes CommandOne month after Stonewall Jackson's death at Chancellorsville, Robert E. Lee turned to Stonewall's trusted lieutenant, Richard Ewell, to cover his invasion of the North. Was 'Old Bald Head' up to the challenge?
America's Civil War: XI Corps Fight During the Chancellorsville CampaignDisliked and distrusted by their comrades in the Army of the Potomac, the men of the XI Corps would find their reputation further damaged by a twilight encounter with Stonewall Jackson's troops in the dark woods at Chancellorsville.
Joseph Scroggs: Observations From His Diary About the 1864 Petersburg CampaignExcerpts from Joseph Scroggs' diary provide his observations on the service of Negro troops under his command on the Civil War battlefields.
Battle of Chancellorsville: Day OneNew Union commander 'Fighting Joe' Hooker planned to encircle Robert E. Lee at the Virginia crossroads hamlet of Chancellorsville. The plan seemed to be working perfectly, until....
Battle of VicksburgUlysses S. Grant thought his formidable Army of the Tennessee could take Vicksburg from a 'beaten' foe by direct assault. He was wrong, thanks to near-impregnable fortifications, renewed Southern spirit, and surprisingly suspect Northern generalship.
Battle of CorinthThe strategic railroad town of Corinth was a key target for Confederate armies hoping to march north in support of General Braxton Bragg's invasion of Kentucky.