Encounter at Burnt Mill

Historical Marker #1915 in Webster County notes a September 15, 1861, skirmish between local Confederate-sympathizing militia troops and a Union force.

Although Kentucky had officially declared armed neutrality in May 1861, by early September Confederate forces had entered southwestern Kentucky. Under the command of Leonidas Polk, the Southerners took control of the strategically-located town of Columbus, Kentucky, on the Mississippi River. The Union army quickly countered by establishing posts in the Ohio River towns of Paducah and Smithland. With these military moves a divided Kentucky became even more fractured.

The Union army's choice of Paducah and Smithland was made, in part, due to the towns' importance at the mouths of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, respectively. Union military leaders understood the potential that the two rivers held as arteries of invasion into the Confederacy.

On September 11, the state legislature demanded that Governor Beriah Magoffin order the Confederates to leave the state. The governor vetoed the command, but the General Assembly overrode the veto. Magoffin reluctantly issued the order. However, now that Union forces were on Kentucky soil, too, the Southerners were unwilling to leave it as a prize for their enemies.

It was during these uncertain days at the end of Kentucky's neutrality that various Union and Confederate commands were rapidly raised for the war. One unit that was attempting to organize at Camp Joe Anderson near Hopkinsville was led by Colonel James F. Buckner. When the Confederates moved on Hopkinsville, Buckner moved his force north toward more friendly territory. On their march the men camped near Burnt Mill Church in Webster County. Hearing of Buckner's movement, local Confederate sympathizer Al Fowler gathered a group of like-minded neighbors and engaged Bucker's men on September 15, 1861. After a brisk skirmish, Fowler succeeded in capturing Buckner and some of his small command. Those Unionists that escaped capture made their way to Owensboro and eventually enlisted in other units forming there, including the 25th Kentucky Infantry and the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry.