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Opening Battle of American Civil War

By Edited Dec 16, 2015 0 0


The Civil War

In 1861 war broke out between the Southern States and the Union. The Southern States attempted to secede from the American state and the result was 4 long year of fighting, which ultimately led to the Confederate forces being crushed.

Initially the war went in favor of the Confederates and gave them hope that they will succeed in their aim. But these were flashes in the pan and once the Union forces had fully mobilized, there was no option, but a defeat for them. At the beginning of the war a small battle at Barbourville in Kentucky gave great heart to the Confederates
The Significance of the Battle at Barbourville

The Battle at Barbourville is of some material significance. In terms of numbers and strength of the forces employed it will not rank as a great battle. Maybe, one could even classify it as a skirmish. But it was one of the opening engagements of the war and gave great heart to the Confederate forces. The battle fought in Kentucky was a decisive Confederate victory. Now we can see in hindsight that this victory was important, but it raised false hopes and over all the Southern Generals failed to take further advantage of this victory.

The  general staff had received important information about the training activities of the Union army. The information which was analyzed showed that the union army was organizing and training recruits for  induction into the Union army. This training area was supposed to be located at Camp Andrew Johnson near Barbourville.

The Confederate general staff thus decided to assault Camp Andrew Johnson. It was a correct military decision and was to pay rich dividends to them in terms of morale.

Strength of Confederate Army

The commander of the  force was Brig. General Felix Zollicoffer. He had about 5400 troops at his disposal. General Zollicoffer studied the topography of the area and concluded that first he would destroy the training camp and secondly relieve pressure on the army commanded by Albert Johnston. It was an excellent idea and Zollicoffer started his campaign in earnest

The Attack on 19th September.

On 19th September with heavy fog enveloping the area Brig. General Felix ordered the assault. With fog as a cover the Commanding General initially allocated 800 troops for this attack. However, a fact not known to General Felix Zollicoffer and his commanders was that the Unionists had transferred all the recruits to Camp Dick Robinson. This was a place where the Union army was in greater strength.

Colonel Joel A Battle the commander of the Confederate force advanced in the fog. He was surprised that no regular forces were in contact and all he faced was some 300 home guards under Captain Isaac Black. They fought bravely and also destroyed an approach bridge, but could not stop the advance.

Clausewitz theory of concentration of force and superior numbers carried the day. The home guards were outnumbered and despite good leadership from Captain Black, they broke ranks and fled from the battlefield.

The camp was  over run and the Confederates were the clear winners. They were able to capture a large measure of arms and ammunition and destroyed the buildings. But as the bulk of the recruits were not there the victory was not a decisive one.


Overall the causalities’ were light .The Home Guards reported 1 dead, 1 wounded and 13 captured, while the Confederate force being on the offensive lost 7 dead. The quantum of the casualties points to the fact that this was not a great battle and was perhaps just a skirmish.

The battle was over in a short time and the Confederates occupied the battle arena. But the significance of this battle is not in terms of soldiers killed or wounded, but the effect on the morale of the South. It was a great start to their military campaign and gave them hope that they could beat the Union army.



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