As hopes for Kentucky’s neutrality faded away in the fall of 1861, Brigadier General Felix K. Zollicoffer led his Confederate army of 7,000 soldiers out of Knoxville, Tennessee, through the Cumberland Gap, and into eastern Kentucky to “preserve peace, protect the railroad, and repel invasion.” Zollicoffer, a newspaper publisher and three-term U.S. Congressman from Nashville, Tennessee, had limited military experience, serving briefly in the Seminole Wars. A brief run-in with Union forces stationed at Camp Wildcat on October 21, 1861, pushed Zollicoffer’s forces back to Cumberland Ford near present-day Pineville, Kentucky. However, this would not be the last time Zollicoffer would venture deep into eastern Kentucky with the hopes of securing the border state for the Confederacy. Meanwhile, Brigadier General George H. Thomas, a West Point graduate, veteran of the Mexican-American War, and native Virginian who remained loyal to the Union, took command of Union forces stationed at Camp Dick Robinson in Kentucky. In a few short months, the two armies under the command of these generals would meet on the field of battle.
Strategic Mill Springs
Last updated: March 16, 2020