With the 17th Ohio at Camp Wildcat

The Battle of Wild Cat, Kentucky was a small but important engagement fought October 21, 1861 between Confederate forces numbering roughly 5,400 men under General Felix Zollicoffer and 7,000 Union troops under General Albin Schoepf. The primary action was fought by four companies of the 33rd Indiana who held off repeated Confederate attacks from their position atop what is today known as Hoosier's Knob. Two Ohio regiments directly participated in the battle (the 14th and 17th Ohio) and Battery B, 1st Ohio Light Artillery also was engaged in silencing a Confederate battery.

I recently had the chance to visit this battlefield and it was well worth the visit. It is located agreeably close to I-75 and up a backroad on Rockcastle Mountain about three miles. The trip up was bad but there are several sections of the road that are gravel only and with a few hairpin curves, you'll need to take your time getting up there. The site of the battle itself is along a ridge and the knob; the trail is well-marked with interpretative signs. The trail can be somewhat steep at times, but there are plenty of benches along the way for you to rest up as you make your way to the top of Hoosiers' Knob. The Camp Wildcat Preservation Foundation really deserves kudos for the job they have done not only with preserving but interpreting this site. 
Union artillery atop Hoosier's Knob at Camp Wildcat battlefield

The following account was written by Captain James W. Stinchcomb of Co. B, 17th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and was published in the October 31, 1861 issue of Weekly Lancaster Gazette

Camp Wild Cat, Kentucky
October 22, 1861
Dear Lou*: On yesterday morning as I signed my name, the long roll of the drum beat “To Arms! To Arms!” I was in Capt. Ezra Ricketts’ [Co. F] quarters; dropped my letter unfolded and unsealed, met the postmaster about halfway to where my company was, hallowed to him to enclose my letter and address it to you.

I had not marched my company 100 yards before the sharp keen crack of infantry commenced about as far off as from our home to the canal bridge (about 600 yards) from where four companies of the 17th Ohio were, Company B (my company), Capt. Abraham Ogden [Co. I] , Capt. Charles H. Rippey [Co. D] , and Capt. Benjamin Getzendanner [Co. G] . We are on a hill on the extreme left with a deep ravine on our south and well-fortified behind breastworks thrown up on Sunday, Sunday night, and Monday morning.

The 33rd Indiana, Col. Coburn, with four companies, occupied the second point from us south and being the center. Here the attack was made by two regiments, the 15th Mississippi who called themselves “Hell Cats” to designate their bravery and a Tennessee regiment. They made a charge with three cheers and reached the top of the hill when the four companies opened fire and such a continual roar of musketry was enough to deafen anyone. The other six companies of our regiment had been held as a reserve when Captains Amos Whissen [Co. H], Joel Haines [Co. C], Daniel M. Rea [Co. K], and Bonham Fox [Co. E] were ordered to the relief of the Indiana boys. They reached the top of the hill just in time for Capt. Haines’ boys to get three rounds.
List of Union regiments that participated in the fight at Camp Wildcat

At this time, our cannon opened on their battery and in less than two minutes they were silenced. The Indiana boys fought like tigers- four companies against two regiments. The fight lasted about 20 minutes, ended at 10 o’clock a.m., and as the Rebels fell back leaving their dead and wounded on the field, you ought to have heard the shout that rent the air as hill after hill took up the glorious sound of victory. They retired but a short distance in a deep ravine and commenced reconnoitering to attack at some new point. We lay near our breastworks expecting to be attacked every moment. Lt. Aaron P. Ashbrook [Co. B], about a half mile in advance with the skirmishers, and having been there from Sunday about 12 o’clock in order to check their progress and formations of line. He is a noble officer whilst a large portion of our boys were actively engaged with axes, completing our breastworks.
The trenches dug by the 14th and 17th Ohio regiments remain atop Hoosier's Knob 159 years after they were dug, a rather remarkable fact. The men used bayonets, axes, and shovels to dig these works and then went to work cutting down trees to build breastworks stop them. One Kentuckian commented that the Ohioans went to work with a will and cut down more trees in an afternoon than the whole state would cut down in a month. 

About 2 o’clock they made a second attack on another hill on our extreme right and also at another point of the same hill, occupied by the Indiana boys and our four companies. This fight lasted about half an hour when the Rebels deployed around the gill in sight of our cannon. Three shells were thrown among them, each one taking effect, the last of which exploded in the midst of a large body, and from the way they scampered, evidently killed and wounded a large number. This silenced them. I forgot to tell you that in the first fight the Rebels commenced throwing shot and chains at our boys, but three shots from one of our pieces silenced their batteries and evidently dismounted their gun as it was not heard from afterwards.

The loss in both fights is six killed and 16 wounded, all Indianans and Kentuckians. We cannot yet tell what their loss is but it must be heavy. We have three of their wounded in our hospital and I saw two of their dead lying on the field, both of whom were shot in the head. They carried off during the night their dead, as there were least evening nine bodies lying near where the two lay this morning and 15 in another place, all of which are gone this morning. The enemy had 7,000 men besides 600 cavalry and six pieces of cannon. We had, when the fight commenced, our regiment, Col. Garrard’s Kentucky regiment, and Col. Coburn’s Indiana regiment. One third of Garrard’s men were in the hospital sick with measles, making for us about 2,500 men. Col. James Steadman with his regiment (14th Ohio) and battery (Capt. Garnett, Battery B, 1st OVLA) reached the field on the double quick in time to assist in winding up the fight before dinner. Since then, two Tennessee and one Kentucky regiments have arrived and another Ohio regiment and battery are now crossing the river.
Colonel John M. Connell
17th Ohio Infantry

We have now lain on our arms for three nights and but little time to eat. We have carried the victuals to the boys in the battle line since yesterday morning. Gen. Schoepf, a Hungarian, is in command, but says this kind of Indian fighting does not quite ring of scientific military fighting, and hence he left the principal part of managing to our gallant Col. John M. Connell, he having made himself somewhat acquainted with the ground before the fight commenced and the General only reaching the ground about that time. Our success is really due Col. Connell as I know he suggested to the General that the hill where the fight took place ought to be occupied when Col. Coburn was ordered to take possession at once and was not on the hill 15 minutes before the firing commenced and 15 minutes later would have given the enemy possession of the hill. Col. Connell galloped from one point to the other, and in the last fight was in rather an uncomfortable place for some time, as the bullets flew like hail around him, as I am told by some of the boys and they say John was as composed as if he were debating a question with Judge Whitman in the Courthouse.

Our Major [Durbin Ward] was in the last fight and showed himself to be a gallant officer as also Adjt. Andrew J. Davis. Col. Marshall Moore is one of the best workers on breastworks I have come across lately. He can endure as much as I can, and I know from personal observation that he is one of the most watchful officers in the army; it was through him that the reinforcements came up as soon as they did. Our boys are becoming delighted with all the field officers. We have been in strong hopes that the enemy would attack as today, as we are well fixed at every point and we can whip 20,000 of them; but we are now informed that Zollicoffer is in full retreat. I presume we will follow him up. His loss must have been very heavy. Our boys have found about 50 guns of the battleground.

No time to write more now. All well, but want sleep and rest, yet ready to follow Zollicoffer 20 miles tonight if we get the order. God bless you and the children.


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