Historical Markers #85 and #2093 commemorate the Battle of Middle Creek, fought near Prestonsburg on January 10, 1862. The battle was crucial in the struggle to control the Big Sandy Valley, and future U. S. president James Garfield won an early Union victory there.
In early 1862, Garfield was ordered to drive rebel troops from eastern Kentucky. After pushing the rebels from Prestonsburg, he attacked Humphrey Marshall's Confederates near the mouth of Middle Creek.
The fighting was intense as Union troops scaled the ridges toward the Southern position. Marshall's four cannons were largely ineffective, but the firepower made an impression. Garfield later wrote, "the whole hill was enshrouded in such a volume of smoke as rolls from the mouth of a volcanoe [sic], [and] thousands of gun flashes leaped like lightning from the 'cloud.'"
In an example of the fratricidal nature of the war, enemy Kentuckians fought one other. After a decisive bayonet charge by the 22nd Kentucky Union Infantry, the arrival of Northern reinforcements dissuaded the Confederates from continuing the battle.
The Union victory helped give the Federals control of eastern Kentucky for most of 1862. The fight also put James Garfield in the spotlight. Garfield, who became the 20th president of the United States, was assassinated in 1881.