The Battle of Barbourville was one of the early engagements of the American Civil War. It occurred September 19, 1861, in Knox County, Kentucky during the campaign known as the Kentucky Confederate Offensive. The battle is considered the first Confederate victory in the commonwealth, and threw a scare into Federal commanders, who rushed troops to central Kentucky in an effort to repel the invasion, which was finally thwarted at the Battle of Camp Wildcat in October.
Brig. Gen.Felix Zollicoffer’s Confederates had moved from Tennessee in an effort to push from the Cumberland Gap into central Kentucky and gain control of the important border state. Ten days after his 5,400-man force left their base, Zollicoffer occupied the Cumberland Gap and took position at the Cumberland Ford (near present day Pineville) to counter the Unionist activity in the area. For much of the summer, Federal sympathizers had been organizing and training recruits at Camp Andrew Johnson near Barbourville. Zollicoffer was determined to seize the camp and eliminate the threat. He also wanted to relieve pressure on the army of Albert S. Johnston and divert troops away from Johnston's sector.
In a heavy morning fog, Zollicoffer sent forward a detachment of some 800 men under Col. Joel A. Battle. The camp had been essentially vacated as the recruits had been shepherded off to nearby Camp Dick Robinson, where there were several thousand Federal troops. As Battle approached the empty camp, he encountered a small force of 300 Home Guardsmen under Capt. Isaac J. Black, who hastily removed planking from the bridge to prevent passage by the Confederates. However, the weight of numbers soon prevailed and Zollicoffer had his victory. He seized the camp, destroyed the buildings, and collected arms and equipment left behind by the retreating recruits.
Black lost 1 man killed, 1 wounded, and 13 captured. They managed to kill 7 Confederates before withdrawing.