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.