Historical Marker #1919 commemorates the Battle of Camp Wildcat, which was fought near London, Kentucky, in October 1861.
During the early stages of the Civil War, both sides actively recruited Kentucky's men of military age. Of particular importance for the Union cause was Camp Dick Robinson. Established in August 1861 near Lancaster, the Confederates feared that this recruiting camp would be a staging ground for an invasion of East Tennessee. As that region was primarily Unionist in sentiment, President Abraham Lincoln hoped to force the Confederates from that area.
To counter this threat, Confederate General Felix K. Zollicoffer's command, which was stationed at Cumberland Gap, moved into Kentucky via the old Wilderness Road. Marching northward, Zollicoffer's men camped at Cumberland Ford (now Pineville) before skirmishing with Union troops at Barbourville on September 9. After brushing the Unionists aside, Zollicoffer's men marched on London.
When news of the Confederate thrust reached Camp Dick Robinson, Union Colonel T.T. Garrard rushed men to the Rockcastle Hills in Laurel County to block the rebel advance. There, Garrard established a defensive position at Camp Wildcat. Although a lack of food and forage slowed Zollicoffer's men, by October 17, the Confederates were near the Laurel River, threatening London. Garrard was then reinforced by a Union brigade commanded by General Albin Schoepf, who assumed command of the Federal force.
On the morning of October 21, the Confederates advanced against the Union line. The Federals held the high ground and the Confederates had a difficult time attacking up the mountainous terrain. After making several attempts to storm the Union position, the Confederates fell back.
Casualties were light in what proved to be the first major engagement in the Bluegrass State. The inexperienced and entrenched Union forces suffered four killed and eighteen wounded, while the attacking Confederates had eleven killed and forty-two injured. The Battle of Camp Wildcat set the stage for another Confederate incursion by Zollicoffer, which led to the Battle of Mill Springs, fought in January 1862.