Skip to main content

American Civil War and Confederate Victory at Barbourville

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.


The beginning

While undergoing the staff course at Wellington we had a brief reference to the American Civil War which we studied on a sand model. The war lasted 4 years and was the only occasion when the war was fought on the American mainland

Barbourville in Kentucky is a small place, but its importance in the Civil war of 1861-65 is beyond measure. As far as modern battles go the Battle of Barbourville on September 19, 1861, can be classified as nothing more than a skirmish, but its importance rests on other factors. Firstly it was one of the opening engagements of the civil war and secondly it was the first victory of the Confederate army.

The battle is important because it gives a false sense of superiority to the confederate army and at the same time alerted the union army to the danger of a defeat. The Union army regrouped after this and mentally steeled themselves to face the Confederate force.


Plan for the battle

The plan for the battle stemmed from the fact that the Confederate army had received information that the federal army and its sympathizers were organizing and training recruits for the Union army. The training camp was supposed to be located at Camp Andrew Johnson near Barbourville. The aim of the Confederate army was to destroy this training camp. In this respect, it was a sound military decision but the hoped-for decisive result did not happen.

The Confederate force numbered some 5400 men under command of Brig. General Felix Zollicoffer(May 19, 1812 – January 19, 1862). He was a three-term United States Congressman from Tennessee and later became an officer in the United States Army. He was a Confederate brigadier general and led the first Confederate invasion and was killed in action at the Battle of Mill Springs in 1862.

General Zollicoffer was more than a competent general. He had two aims. Firstly, his main aim was to destroy the training camp, and secondly, he wanted to relieve the pressure on the army of Albert Johnston. He died in an engagement in 1862. Zollicoffer thus planned to kill two birds with one stone. This was sound military logic.

Scroll to Continue


The battle unfolded to the advantage of the Union army and as such, the result was not decisive. Unknown to the Confederate force the unionists had transferred all the recruits to Camp Dick Robinson where the Union army was gathered in some strength. On 19th September Brig-Gen Felix, ordered the assault in the early morning with heavy fog enveloping the area. Brig Felix assumed the fog would act as an excellent cover for his maneuver. A force of 800 men was earmarked for this operation.

The 800 soldiers under command of Colonel Joel A Battle advanced on Camp Andrew Johnson. They were ready for some tough fighting. They were surprised to come face to face with about 300 home guards only. No recruits were seen. This was a bit of an anti-climax. Captain Isaac Black leading the home guards put up stiff resistance. They fought tenanciously and also removed the wooden planking of a bridge that stood in the path of the Union Force. The Confederate force was thus faced with an obstacle.

But Clausewitz's theory of concentration of force and superior numbers prevailed and the camp was soon overrun by the Confederate force. Most of the Home guards after some initial resistance just fled and the Confederates were the clear winners. They were able to capture a large number of arms and ammunition and destroyed the buildings.

The Home Guards reported 1 dead, I wounded and 13 captured, while the Confederate force being on the offensive lost 7 dead. In terms of military history, this battle was not more than a skirmish, yet its importance rests on the fact that it was the first victory of the Confederate force and sounded alarm bells in the Union ranks. In that respect, its importance is much more than a mere skirmish.

The battle had another effect as the Federal commanders became worried and rushed troops to central Kentucky in an effort to repel the invasion. They were able to achieve this at the Battle of Camp Wildcat in October.

The battle is celebrated every year in Kentucky with a parade to commemorate this clash.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 13, 2021:

Bill, so nice you commented, yes I also have a fascination for the civil war. That was a thrilling time.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2021:

I'm a Civil War fanatic. I think I've read every meaningful history book about it. It really was a fascinating war, if that adjective can be used to describe war. Excellent information and conclusion.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 13, 2021:

Thank you, Tom, the south is associated only with the slavery of the black man and in any case, they never stood any chance in the Civil War. General Grant was an excellent man and also visited India and at that time recommended that Indians should be made free. Great man. The Civil War led to the wild west which was again a very romantic era in American history. Produced some great writers like Zane Grey.

tom on June 13, 2021:

us civil war 11 states fought well,lee .stonewall jackson good,grant excellent ,maximum us deaths in civi lwar 13 years after civil war ,us recovered,wild wild west ended in 1880 1890 era,if no civilwar,north and south would be rivals,confederate agricultural economy,naval blockade,no country helped the south,south weak navy ,no supplies,first trench war civilwar,gatling gun ,frontal attacks failed, a lesson ignored,us cotton hard hit.cotton production in india increased,few movies and tv mshows,gettysburg improvement for african americans,us one million casualties.only formidable foe us beat confederate .confederate settlers in brazil,organisation csa

Related Articles