War on the Big Sandy

Historical Marker #608 in Johnson County commemorates arrival of Union troops in Paintsville in January 1862. That month, those soldiers fought in the Battle of Middle Creek in Floyd County, which proved to be an important Union victory.

In December 1861, Federal troops under the command of Colonel James A. Garfield left Louisville for eastern Kentucky. Upon reaching George's Creek in Lawrence County, Garfield reported that Confederates were "digging in" eighteen miles away at Paintsville. Rebel troops under the command of General Humphrey Marshall, who were actively recruiting in the region, established a fortified camp at Hager Hill. Marshall also had a cavalry camp at the mouth of Jennie's Creek, near Paintsville.

By the end of the month, Garfield had received substantial reinforcements. Therefore, from January 5-8, he deployed his army toward Paintsville. Small skirmishes erupted as Garfield's Federals approached the Confederate camps. Rebel scouts fell back to the main camp with the news of Garfield’s advance. Marshall evacuated the area, burning wagons and supplies that could not be easily transported. So many supplies were destroyed that Garfield commented, "The vicinity of the rebel camp presents a scene of utter destruction."

The Confederates retreated southward to the mouth of Middle Creek near Prestonsburg. There, on January 10, the armies clashed in the Battle of Middle Creek. Garfield's Union troops were victorious, and Garfield—who eventually became a U.S. president—was promoted to brigadier general the following day.