Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Millsprings Battlefield & the Wildcats

Right now we're staying at the Renfro Valley Entertainment Center, before the Grand Old Opry opened this was the haven for country music stars and was famous all across the country. They still have a big theater and put on shows all year long, there is a little village here filled with shops, restaurant and tourist type stuff.

I Googled the area and found that there was a National Cemetery and Civil War Battlefield about 40 minutes away so that was going to be our day. The Cemetery and battlefield are both named Mills Springs but the battle took place about 30 miles from this city, at the visitors center we found out that this battle went by 9 different names: Mill Spring, Fishing Creek,Logan's Crossroads, Somerset, Old Fields and a few others. The Battle is considered the first major battle in Kentucky and ended with a Northern victory, 150 Confederates and 50 Federals were killed in the 6 hour battle, the Federals are all buried in what is now the National Cemetery.

The Confederates were buried together in a mass grave about 8 miles away near the "Zollie Tree" more on that a little later. The tour of the battlefield covers about 30 miles and has 10 different stops along it and one river crossing, the second stop on the tour is at the Zollie Tree.
General Zolliecoffer was the the general in charge of the confederates, and it was at this location that during the battle he
saw some troops firing upon his men, thinking that they were part of his regiment he rode up to order them to cease fire. At the same time Colonel Fry (a northerner) was riding down to see were the southern troops were, they met in the road and due to the confusion, the smoke and snow, both men wearing slickers because of the weather neither one realizing the other was the enemy. They sat there on their mounts and Zollicoffer ordered Fry to have his men to stop firing, as Fry was giving the order to his troops to cease fire one of Zolliecoffer's Staff Officers rode out of the woods shooting at Fry and screaming "General they are the enemy" at this point Fry drew his weapon and started firing along with his troops shooting Zolliecoffer and his Staff Officer dead. Zolliecoffer's body was braced up against a tree and stayed there until after the battle, since then this White Oak was known as the Zollie Tree, this became a local gathering place for years but no effort was ever made to honor the men lying in the mass grave just a few feet away.
In 1902 a little girl, Dorotha Burton, noticed that on Memorial Day the National Cemetery had a grand ceremony and decorations to honor the Union soldiers buried there and that the Confederate dead were forgotten. Feeling that this was unfair she started decorating the Zollie Tree every Memorial Day with a flower entwined evergreen wreath and flowers on the mass grave, her and later members of her family have continued this to this day. In June of 1995 a storm destroyed the Zollie Tree, it was 15 feet in circumference, 90 feet tall and 250 years old.

A seedling was taken from this tree and was planted the next Memorial Day in the same spot so that the tradition could be carried on. We were told by the museum curator that on Memorial Day that the crowds and ceremonies at the Zollie Tree are twice the size of the one at the National Cemetery.

All this and we haven't even had lunch yet, after lunch we decided to just follow some back roads back to camp, that is until we spotted a sign, a old brown sign that read "The Old Wilderness Road and The Battle of Camp Wildcat". The Wilderness Road was the original north south route through Kentucky, starting at the Holston River and extending through the Cumberland Gap to the Ohio River. The arrow pointed to the north so thats the way we went, it starts out a nice new blacktop road for the first mile then it turns into gravel, after another 1/2 mile the sign points up the side of a mountain to a gravel road about 8 feet wide, this is the original Wilderness Road and this is what you take for the next 5 miles. Through the forest right on the side of the cliff winding around sharp blind turns just like the settlers did, until we came upon an opening which was the parking lot for the battlefield. This was a short battle where once again Zolliecoffer was driven back by the northern troops, there is a small monument and a mile long trail outlining the battle. The thing that we noticed here was the name of the battle, Camp Wildcat, in Kentucky, the Kentucky Wildcats, always wondered where that name came from. The only bad part of this venture is that we have to take the same road out, we even ran into three vehicles going the other way, very tight.

Another thing we ran across today, we're always checking out different campgrounds for future use and we came across a small county park on Lake Cumberland. If you have seen it in the news the dam that forms Lake Cumberland has sprung a leak and the Corp of Engineers has been forced to do an emergency lowering of the water in Lake Cumberland in order to save the dam and to do the repairs on it. The campground has two boat ramps for launching boats, the only problem is there is no water anywhere around, and it's going to stay this way for about 5 years until the repairs are made.
Back to camp and TIGER BASEBALL....... We live for this!!!!

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