The leaves of autumn welcomed the visitors attending the Battle of Wildcat’s school days, Battle of London and Camp Wildcat. Once again, the weather was picture perfect and several hundred children, teachers and chaperones came to learn of the events that transpired within the region. Several stations surrounded the knoll with the barn being the focal point. History was brought to life by those living historians and reenactors. Cannons fired to the delight of the children. A small skirmish hinting of things to come, was offered to the spectators. President and Mrs. Lincoln, General Lee, Medical staff, black smith, and others afforded the students a glimpse into the 1860s.
On Saturday, October 20, 2018, the Laurel Home Guard presented a reenactment of the 1st Battle of London. The scenario was loosely followed but as always, was intense in the action. During officers’ call, Colonel Les Williamson reviewed the scenario and asked all present to ‘mix it up’ and keep the action hot. He would not be disappointed. Both battles were intense and there was not one moment of lull in the action. The following report is a synopsis of the events that occurred. For more detailed information about the 1st and 2nd Battle of London, read, Our Honored Dead: History of the National Cemetery at London, Kentucky, by Danna C. Estridge.
FIRST BATTLE OF LONDON
On August 17, 1862, the promise of fall was in the air, but the summer still held the high ground. At 2 p.m., the temperature was 72 degrees. (KY Climate Center: provided by Ralph Phillips as noted in the Camp Wildcat Observer, Volume 157, No.29) The War Between the States was had not reached its zenith either. Kentucky was the focal point of both sides, realizing that this state was one of the keys to winning the war.
On that Sunday morning, Federal troops were encamped at the Laurel Seminary in London, Kentucky. Approximately two hundred soldiers belonging to the 3rd Tennessee were camped in the area. Their commander was Colonel Leonidas Houk. Having received dispatches that all was clear, he sent out thirty men to work on the road, while over fifty remained on picket duty. The dispatches proved to be false.
Confederate Colonel John Scott had received word of the federal position and led approximately five hundred cavalry troops on an all-night ride to surprise the enemy. The morning of August 17, 1862 began with musket fire from the union pickets. The fighting became intense and Colonel Houk’s men, under the command of Captain McNish, found themselves surrounded by Confederates. Realizing the desperate situation facing his command, Colonel Houk ordered a bayonet charge, temporarily relieving his men. They escaped through the Union camp, leaving a bounty of items for the Confederate Cavalry. Another unexpected event was the capture of ninety-eight Federal convalescing troops that was headed to Colonel Houk. The skirmish was a complete Confederate victory.
The schedule of events for Saturday included Officers’ Call, presentations by President Lincoln (Tom Wright), President Davis (Juney Fields), General Lee (Dave Chaltas) and a cameo appearance by General Longstreet (Dan Carr). The Ladies Tea was once again a huge success. Then came the battle! A large crowd gathered to watch an intense fight from start to finish. After the battle, the troops marched forward and offered a three-volley salute during the pass and review. Colonel Williamson honored the five reenactors that has passed during the year along with God, Country and our American Veterans. He also announced that a special memorial service would be held on the mountain honoring Sgt John Kuhn. The crowd was invited to attend and/or visit the encampments. At 8 P.M. an amazing barn dance was held.
THE BATTLE OF WILDCAT
Sunday proved to be a lovely fall day. Officers met over breakfast and discussed the scenario of the Battle of Wildcat. Church service was held in the barn and was conducted by Brother Juney Fields. A memorial service was held at the original battlefield (2 miles on the Wilderness Trail). Again, the historical figures spoke as the crowd began to gather for the Battle of Wildcat. The reenactment was held on the very grounds where the Confederate troops bivouacked. The event occurred on the date of the original battle (October 21) and promised to be spectacular. No one was disappointed as the men and women in the field offered one of the best battles this fielder had seen in this year’s adventures! The Battle of Wildcat account was recorded by Laurel County historian Ernest Lee Andes. Also, author and historian, David Owens, possesses vast knowledge of the Battle of Wildcat. The following is a brief synopsis of the battle.
On October 21, 1861, General Zollicoffer led five thousand five hundred men along the Wilderness Road in an effort to uproot the Federal forces at Camp Robinson. In his way was Brigadier General Schoepf and a force of seven thousand men fully entrenched on Round Hill.
Early on the morning of October 21, 1861, the armies clashed. Four companies of the 33rd Indiana possessed the high ground, as the 11th and 17th Tennessee attempted to displace them. After furious fight, Federal reinforcements led to the Confederates withdrawal. Other troops were engaged around South Rim and Round Hill. The federals had fortified the high ground to the point of it being impenetrable.
The fighting was intense, and each side fought bravely. All along the valley and heights of the famous trail the sounds of sabre, shot and shell could be heard. Four times the Confederate forces challenged the heights and four times they were repulsed. Around ten o’clock that night the last rounds of artillery shells were fired. The battle resulted in not only a federal victory but ended General Zollicoffer’s Cumberland Campaign. The casualties on both sides were greatly exaggerated. The official count of Federal soldiers killed was five and twenty wounded. The Confederates suffered eleven dead n forty-two wounded or missing.
Special thanks to the Laurel Home Guard, reenactors, JROTC, and all who gave of their time to help put on another successful event honoring our American legacy. The Battle of Wildcat is held annually on the 3rd weekend in October. For more information or if you wish to join the preservation efforts contact the following: The Laurel Home Guard: Juanita Westerfield, 90 Deborah Lane, Lily, KY or www.wildcatreenactment.com
By David Chaltas