Kentucky’s motto is, ‘United We Stand, Divided We Fall’. It is on the official seal of the commonwealth and was approved by the Kentucky General Assembly on December 20, 1792. When the War Between the States began, Kentucky attempted to remain neutral. That lasted but for a short time. Then, in the western portion of the state, the commonwealth was torn asunder.
There was a time when Kentucky had two governors, two capitals, two houses of representatives and senators. There was a time when two presidents were born within its borders. There was also a time when brothers fought brothers and families were torn by their loyalties, as one chose blue and the other gray.
The year was 1861. The fall foliage was at its peak and the feeling of winter rode upon the morning mist. General Zollicoffer had sent approximately two thousand troops to displace the Laurel Home Guards. They were defending the bridge over Laurel River, approximately six miles from London, Kentucky. Upon seeing the size of the Confederate troops, the Laurel Home Guards began retreating. Several supplies and ammunition were captured.
Slowly the Confederate forces made their way towards Little Rockcastle River. On October 20, 1861, an encampment was established on the rolling fields around the tributary. Approximately two and one-half miles at the apex of the mountain were Federate forces entrenched and waiting on the advance of the Confederate forces.
On October 21, 1861, the forces under General Zollicoffer began their assault towards the place called Camp Wild Cat. The terrain was not kind. The trail was narrow and steep. The Wilderness Road lived up to its name, as pickets and sharpshooters slowed down the progress of the marching Confederates. Upon reaching about eighty yards from the heights, the rebels encountered still more resistance. Intense fire was encountered and after fighting for over an hour and a half, the rebels made a desperate charge. They were repelled. Again, they attempted to push the Federal forces from their fortifications but were unsuccessful. Around ten that night, Standart’s Ohio battery fired the last shots. The next morning the Federal forces found that the Confederates had yielded the field.
Of the seven thousand men that fought in the battle, the Federals lost four men and had thirty-three wounded. The Confederates lost eleven men and had forty-two wounded. Later the number would increase due to injury and sickness sustained while in battle.
One hundred fifty-six years to the day, the 28th reenactment of the Battle of Camp Wildcat occurred on the very ground where the Confederate army encamped. School Day was held on October 20, 2017, on sacred soil at Camp Wildcat, which was honored to have over sixteen hundred students attend. Several education stations were set up, along with artillery, a skirmish, and other demonstrations. President and Mrs. Lincoln (Tom and Barbara Wright) hosted several groups, as did President Davis (June Fields) General Lee (David Chaltas). Sutler row was full and visited by the groups of students and staff.
Saturday and Sunday witnessed picture perfect weather. Saturday portrayed the Battle of Camp Wildcat and Sunday the 1st Battle of London. Each day was opened by a welcome to Camp Wildcat, reflection on our American freedoms, salute to our Veterans, and an earnest request that all stand during the national anthem. The large crowds stood with hand over their heart or saluting, as the bugler captured the pride of our nation through his playing. Both battles were well executed, with continuous action. The crowd roared in appreciation and offered the ‘rebel yell’ in appreciation to the intense simulated battle. Under the leadership of the overall field commanders (Les Williamson, CSA and Ronnie Bowling, USA), it was proved once again that the Battle of Camp Wildcat is a premiere event worthy of national attention. The spectators went away in awe of what they had been privy to witness.
Prior to the battle on Sunday, a special dedication was held on top of Wildcat Mountain where the most intense fighting occurred. Those wishing to attend were given a ‘hay ride’ for two and one-half miles up the Wilderness Road! The ceremony began with posting of the colors by the Clay County JROTC Color Guard, welcome, moment of silence, prayer, reading of the names of those who died, singing of Amazing Grace, military salute, taps and closing prayer, all organized by Laurel Home Guard member, Gene Mobley.
A special thank you is offered to the Laurel Home Guard, Reenacting Committee, living historians, reenactors, Clay and Rockcastle County JROTC, sponsors, Laurel County Fiscal Court, and the wonderful audience that showed their appreciation for our American legacy. The Battle of Camp Wildcat is held on the 3rd full weekend in October. For more information regarding next year’s event, go to their website @ http://wildcatreenactment.com/, visit them on Face Book, contact Laurel Home Guard, 90 Deborah Ln, Lily, KY 40740, or Juanita.firstname.lastname@example.org.
-By David Chaltas