LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — In writing about the Battle of Wildcat Mountain the first issue seems to be how to spell the name of this battle. Both Clark and Dyche refer to it as Wildcat, as does the website of the Camp Wildcat Preservation Foundation and regional writer David Owens in his book “Baptism in Blood: The Camp Wildcat Affair.” I noticed, however, that Kenneth A. Hafendorfer, in his book about this battle of the Civil War, calls it “The Battle of Wild Cat Mountain.” This book is a more comprehensive, somewhat scholarly, discussion of the battle so I don’t discount Hafendorfer’s spelling. Maybe he knows something that the rest of us don’t.
All of these writers are in agreement that this battle was the first Union victory in Kentucky and significant for that reason, if no other. Any Laurel Countian who is interested in the Civil War’s local connections knows about Wildcat Mountain and many had ancestors who fought there.
On October 21, 1861, my great-grandfather, Christopher C. Cromer, was among those who participated in this battle. Like so many others who enlisted in Co. K, Kentucky 7th Infantry, Chris was young, inexperienced, and had never traveled farther than a few miles from his home. He had only been a soldier for one month, having been mustered in with the 7th’s Laurel County contingent on September 21 at Camp Dick Robinson. We can only imagine how frightened and unprepared these men felt as they took their places on that mountain more than 150 years ago.
Hafendorfer writes: “Over 8,000 Federal and Confederate soldiers faced each other in this conflict at Wild Cat Mountain in the southeast part of the state. The daylong fight ended with Brigadier General Felix K. Zollicoffer’s Southern army being forced to abandon any thoughts of driving Brigadier General George H. Thomas’ Federal force under Brigadier General Albin Schoepf from its forward base along the vital Wilderness Road that led south into East Tennessee.”