THE BATTLE OF WILDCAT MOUNTAIN
BY DONEVON STORM
Twas the fall of 61. October of Eighteen Hundred and Sixty One.
The War of Brothers and Fathers, Men and Boys. Sons of the South and Sons of the North.
Some wore Blue and some wore Gray; their blood ran Red just the same.
Colonel Garrard at the Rockcastle River Ford. Outnumbered and outmanned at the dawn of a great Civil War.
Gaurding a mountain that contained a road, a Wilderness Road used for nigh a hundred years.
That road was carved out by that great explorer Daniel Boone. In the County of Laurel these men’s fates were sealed.
General Zollicoffer also had his eye on that road. Bringing his Army up through the Cumberland Gap. His 5400 Sons of the South bore a heavy load.
When Old Zolly and his men routed the Homegaurd at Barbourville; Brigadier General George Thomas knew that Wildcat Mountain was where the North must make its stand, or Old Zolly would roll uncontested into Bluegrass Land.
That mountain was tall and that forest was thick, but beyond that ford lay open ground. General Thomas knew if Zolly made it through; the Gray’s would have their way.
Garrard outnumbered seven to one. General Zollicoffer picked up his pace, to get to Wildcat Mountain before the setting of the evening sun.
Had Old Zolly known what was to come, he would have fought when he reached the vale. For had he pressed his way up the hill, Garrard’s retreat would have sealed the deal.
The North’s retreat would have opened the way for Zollicoffers’ army to have taken the day.
Fate is fickle and war is a fog, and Zollicoffer ordered his men to make camp in the bog. As night fall fell
Old Zolly would say “October 20th was not to be the day, but October 21st will surely go to the Gray!
The Sons of the South were tired from their march, but visions of victory danced in their heads as they lay down to sleep in their makeshift beds. “Tomorrow holds victory the scouts have assured.”
But fate has a way of being uncertain; you never know what fate lay behind life’s next curtain.
You see Brigadier General Albin Schoepf’s brigade rode all night from Lancaster towards the fray.
Their Blue Coats looked black in the October moonlight. Hell bent to reinforce Garrard by the first ray of light.
October 21st, 1861. On Wildcat Mountain in the County of Laurel, many a family would meet with their sorrow.
For Husbands and Sons, Brothers and Lovers, would shed his life’s blood on that fateful day. The Ultimate Sacrifice for their countries they paid.
Where Schoepf and Zollicoffer engaged in a battle of wits. Their men carried out their orders with muscle and grit. With Sinew of Arm and Strength of Leg. With groans and shouts and powder in Kegs.
Seven Thousand Union and Five Thousand Gray, would never be the same after this fateful day.
Schoepf had Hoosiers and Buckeyes to boot.
Zolly had Tennessee and Mississippi Infantry.
Kentucky had men on both sides of the battle, herded to War like so many Cattle.
Schoepf made his stand on Hoosier Knob, Colonel John Coburn was up to this job; he had four companies from the Indiana 33rd Infantry.
The Tennesseans rushed up the hill into the Abyss. The Kentucky Blue Coat Cavalry and the Ohio Infantry moved in to assist.
Company D’s McFerrin was the first casualty that day. ”Captain I’m shot, I’m a Dead Man” he’d say! His life’s blood commingling with the forest and the field. His Spirit left his body, his Ghost he did yield!
Colonel Tazwell Newman led a Tennessee charge, but the 17ths gallantry was to no avail. They couldn’t knock the Buckeyes and the Hoosiers off that forested knob.
General Zollicoffer wouldn’t give up the fight that easily, he still had the 15th Mississippi and the 2nd Tennessee Cavalry.
Up the Winding Road he ordered his men to go. “Straight to Garrard’s Headquarters, I’ll end this fight!” But the 17th Ohio and the Kentucky Homeguard were fully entrenched.
They fought tooth and nail, the Blue and the Gray, no option left now, but to prevail.
At the most fortunate moment the 38th Ohio arrived on the road. They saved Garrard’s Headquarters and all of its trove.
Zollicoffer’s men fought with their heart and their soul, but couldn’t break through those tough Union lines. All over the hill and vale lay countless lives, the cries and groans rang out as soldiers lay there and died.
The South pulled back to their camp in the bog, and the Union dug in for a long sleepless night, expecting again another vicious fight.
That battle they waited for would never occur, General Zollicoffer retreated back to his home. His brave men to rest and recuperate.
Twenty-Two casualties for the Blue, and Fifty Three for the Gray, was the tally for men killed and wounded that day.
All in all Kentucky’s first battle was won on that October Day. Victory for the Blue and not for the Gray!
General Schoepf had his victory and Colonel Garrard was saved, but General Zollicoffer wasn’t done just yet! “The Bluegrass state may be safe today, but I’ll be back!” Old Zolly would say.
The people of Laurel County have made a decree. “Remember the men who fell on Wildcat Mountain! Their life’s blood flows in Freedoms Great Fountain!”
Dedicated to the men and women who fought, and served on both sides of that great conflict known as the Civil War.
A Special thank you to Bill Branstutter who inspired me to write this poem in remembrance of the sacrifice made by those brave men and women that fought so selflessly and gallantly for their respective countries.
May God Bless those men and women who have laid their lives on the alter of freedom!