October 21 This day during the American Civil War

October 21, 1861 – The Battle of Camp Wildcat was one of the early engagements of the American Civil War. It occurred October 21, 1861, in northern Laurel County, Kentucky during the campaign known as the Kentucky Confederate Offensive. The battle is considered one of the very first Union victories, and marked the second engagement of troops in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Brigadier general Felix Zollicoffer’s Confederates moved from Tennessee in an effort to push from Cumberland Gap into central Kentucky and gain control of the important border state. Zollicoffer with some 5,400 men occupied Cumberland Gap and took position at the Cumberland Ford (near present day Pineville) to counter the Unionist activity in the area. He readily brushed aside home guard troops near Barbourville in a what is now known as the Battle of Barbourville. Alarmed by the Confederate incursion, Brig. Gen. George H. Thomas sent a detachment under Col. Theophilus T. Garrard from Camp Dick Robinson at Lancaster to secure the ford on the Rockcastle River, establish a camp at the heavily forested Wildcat Mountain, and obstruct the Wilderness Road passing through the area. Colonel Garrard informed Thomas that if he did not receive reinforcements, he would have to retreat because he was outnumbered seven to one. Thomas sent Brig. Gen. Albin F. Schoepf with what amounted to a brigade of men to Colonel Garrard, bringing the total force to about 7,000. The Union general awaited the Confederate troops who had to pass the stronghold to proceed into central Kentucky.  The two sides clashed in a brisk battle in the late afternoon of October 20, 1861. On the morning of October 21, soon after Schoepf arrived, some of his men moved forward and ran into Confederate forces, commencing an intense firefight. The Federals repelled repeated Confederate attacks, in part due to fortifications, both man-made and natural. The Confederates withdrew during the night and continued their retreat to Cumberland Ford, which they reached on October 26. A Union victory was welcomed. Schoepf reported 4 Union soldiers killed and 18 wounded in the Battle of Camp Wildcat. Zollicoffer reported 11 Confederates killed and 42 wounded or missing.

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