Barbourville in Kentucky is a small place, but its importance in the Civil war of 1861-65 is beyond measure. As far as modern battles go the Battle of Barbourville on September 19, 1861 can be classified as just more than a skirmish, but its importance rests on other factors. Firstly it was one of the opening engagements of the civil war and secondly it was the first victory of the Confederate army.
The plan for the battle stemmed from the fact that the Confederate army had received information that the federal army and its sympathisers were organizing and training recruits for the Union army .The training camp was supposed to be located at Camp Andrew Johnson near Barbourville. The aim of the Confederate army was to destroy this training camp. In this respect it was a sound military decision.
The Confederate force numbered some 5400 men under command of Brig. General Felix Zollicoffer. General Zollicoffer had two aims. Firstly, his main aim was to destroy the training camp and secondly he wanted to relieve the pressure on the army of Albert Johnston. He thus planned to kill two birds with one stone.
Unknown to the Confederate force the unionists had transferred all the recruits to Camp Dick Robinson where the Union army was gathered in some strength. On 19th September with heavy fog enveloping the area Brig.Gen Felix ordered the assault in the early morning. Brig Felix assumed the fog would act as an excellent cover for his manoeuvre. He allocated a force of 800 men for the operation.
But Clausewitz theory of concentration of force and superior numbers prevailed and the camp was soon over run by the Confederate force. Most of the Home guards after some initial resistance just fled and the Confederates were the clear winners. They were able to capture a large quantity of arms and ammunition and destroyed the buildings. The Confederate force of 800 soldiers under command of Colonel Joel A Battle advanced on Camp Andrew Johnson. They were surprised to come face to face with about 300 home guards only. No recruits were seen. The Home Guards under command of Captain Isaac Black put up stiff resistance and also removed the wooden planking of a bridge that stood in the path of the Union Force.
The Home Guards reported 1 dead, I wounded and 13 captured, while the Confederate force being on the offensive lost 7 dead. In terms of military history this battle was just more than a skirmish, yet its importance rests on the fact that it was the first victory of the Confederate force and sounded alarm bells in the Union ranks. In that respect its importance is much more than a mere skirmish. The battle is celebrated every year at Kentucky with a parade to commemorate this clash.