On the 29 of August 1862, the Confederates under Major General Smith encountered the U.S. army under Brigadier General Manson near Richmond in Madison County. Instead of retreating as they had been ordered to make a stand along a geologic feature — the Palisades of the Kentucky River — the U.S. troops engaged under clear skies. During the major action on the 30th, the U.S. force was routed, about 4,000 U.S. troops were captured, and the Confederates quickly occupied most of the Bluegrass Section of Kentucky. It was a disastrous outcome for the U.S.
By August, the drought of 1862 was in full effect. Crops were "suffering" and the grass in the pastures was dry enough to burn. Water for the livestock was becoming scarce. It was very dry in the Richmond area as the two armies converged. The last rain of significance (0.58 inch) had fallen on 14 August from a violent thunderstorm. The sprinkles on the 21st (0.02 inch) and the 23rd (0.02 inch) were hardly enough to settle the dust. During the night of 27 August, an evening shower produced 0.26 inch of rain, most of which would have infiltrated quickly into the dry soil. Dusty conditions would have returned rapidly during the sunny days that followed. The first combat began about 2 p.m. on 29 August 1862. Joseph McDowell Mathews, the President of the Jessamine Female Institute in Nicholasville in Jessamine County, measured the temperature at 65°F under a clear sky at 7 a.m. but by 2 p.m. it had warmed to 82°F under scattered clouds. A very light breeze was blowing toward the northeast, the relative humidity was 60%, and the pressure was 29.06 inches. That evening the temperature had cooled to 75°F by 9 p.m. and the relative humidity had risen to 68%. By the next morning ( Saturday 30 August 1861), it was a pleasant 68°F but with a rather sultry 90% relative humidity and still only a very light breeze moving toward the northeast. The broken sky conditions continued through the day and as the temperature reached 86°F at 2 p.m., the relative humidity had fallen to 59% with the pressure remaining steady at 29.18 inches. During the night after the battle, it had only cooled to 77°F by 9 p.m. under a cloudy sky and the relative humidity had soared to 81%. No doubt it was an uncomfortable night for troops of both armies.