Battle of Ivy Mountain

Historical Marker #164 near Prestonsburg commemorates the Battle of Ivy Mountain, an early Union victory in the Civil War.

The first year of the conflict brought several reverses to Union forces. In the summer of 1861, the first large battle of the war, fought at Manassas, Virginia, had forced a hurried retreat to Washington D.C. A Confederate victory at Wilson's Creek in Missouri also deepened early Union discouragement. In addition, another rout in northern Virginia, at Balls Bluff, in October, saw the Union armies searching for any military positives.

An early Union victory was achieved at a skirmish at Camp Wildcat in Rockcastle County, Kentucky, in October. Then, in an attempt to further disrupt Confederate movements in eastern Kentucky, General William T. Sherman ordered Union forces under the command of William "Bull" Nelson to confront the enemy. Nelson amassed a force of 5,500 men consisting of Ohio and Kentucky volunteers and marched the troops south to Floyd County to secure the Big Sandy River Valley region.

Although Confederate colonel and native Kentuckian John S. Williams commanded a larger force at Piketon (Pikeville), the battle was fought against Nelson by an ill-equipped and undermanned Confederate detachment led by Captain Andrew Jackson May. Fought on November 8, 1861, the engagement only lasted about an hour and a half. After May retreated from Nelson's advance, the Confederates made a stand at the foot of Ivy Mountain, near two tributaries of the Big Sandy River. In a tactical move, Nelson divided his men and outflanked the Confederate troops, forcing them to withdraw.

Casualties of the engagement included six dead Union soldiers with another twenty-four wounded. Confederates lost ten killed, fifteen wounded, and forty more were declared missing. As a result of the fight the Union forces captured Piketon. The Confederates continued their retreat out of the state into southwestern Virginia via Pound Gap. With the Confederates out of the region, Nelson left the Big Sandy Valley to command other forces. When Confederates entered the area again in January 1862, this time under command of General Humphrey Marshall, they were defeated at the Battle of Middle Creek by a force led by Colonel James A. Garfield.

Images

Gen. William Nelson

Gen. William Nelson

William "Bull" Nelson, pictured here, commanded the Union forces at Ivy Mountain. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Gen. John S. Williams

Gen. John S. Williams

This carte de visite image is of General John S. Williams who was in overall command of Confederate troops in eastern Kentucky at this time. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Nelson Letter

Nelson Letter

This letter was written by William Nelson to John Blair Smith Todd about happenings in Kentucky just after the Civil War started. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Big Sandy Valley

Big Sandy Valley

The Battle of Ivy Mountain was fought near two tributaries of the Big Sandy River. A section of the Big Sandy River Valley is shown in this postcard. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Prestonsburg

Prestonsburg

This photograph shows Prestonsburg in Floyd County. Prestonsburg changed hands a number of times between Confederate and Union forces during the Civil War. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Katie Crawford-Lackey, “Battle of Ivy Mountain,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed March 29, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/475.

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