The Camp Wildcat Battlefield is located near the junction of the Wilderness Road and Winding Blade Road in the forested hills above the Rockcastle River in northern Laurel County, Kentucky. The battlefield is located on land that is held by the Daniel Boone National Forest and in private hands. The Battle of Wildcat Mountain was fought from the early afternoon of October 20, 1861 and ended on the night of October 21, 1861.
Battle of Wildcat Mountain: October 21, 1861 by A.E. Mathews
This action was initiated by Confederate General Felix K. Zollicoffer. The Confederate general's move into Kentucky was designed to push from Cumberland Gap into central Kentucky and gain control of the state. Union General Albin Schoepf’s troops stopped Zollicoffer at Wildcat Mountain before he could move into the Bluegrass. Schoepf had been alerted to Zollicoffer’s advance moved his forces into Laurel County and fortified the high ground near the Wilderness Road. Here 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 on October 20, 1861. The Confederates failed to gain control of the mountain and in the middle of the night of October 21, 1861 they retreated back to Cumberland Ford near present day Pineville in Bell County, Kentucky.
Union Trench on Hooiser Knob
The action on Wildcat Mountain was the earliest major battle of the Civil War in Kentucky. A force of 5,400 Union troops engaged a Confederate force numbering some 7,500. The ensuing battle inflected few casualties, but forced the Confederates to abandon any plans to attack central Kentucky and it forced them to retreat back toward Cumberland Gap. Thus the Union army claimed one of its first victories of the Civil War.
Camp Wildcat was one of only eleven battlefield surveyed in Kentucky by the Congressionally mandated Civil War Sites Advisory Commission. Until recent years the site has been preserved largely by the absence of development in this remote part of Laurel County. However, in the early 1990s the privately held battlefield lands were threatened and damaged by careless logging activity.
In 1992, to draw attention to this important Civil War site, the U. S. Forest and the Laurel County istorical Society (LCHS) improved the access road and placed a new monument at the Union headquarters sites. In addition they erected signs along the Wilderness Road and on US 25. In 1993 the LCHS donated two more monuments. These monuments identified the regiments that fought in the October 1861 battle.
The activity of the Historical Society and the Forest service spurred a group of concerned local citizens to form the Camp Wildcat Preservation Foundation. Since 1993, this group has worked to raise funds and garner local interest in the preservation and interpretation of this important Civil War site. To date they have, in partnership with the Laurel County Fiscal Court received $145,000 in ISTEA enhancement funds. They have finished a community consensus preservation and management plan, funded by a grant from the Kentucky Heritage Council.
1992 Ceremony for the Dedication