PRESTONSBURG – Muskets fired as men in uniforms marched during the 8th Annual Battle of Middle Creek Reenactment over the weekend. Hundreds gathered to watch the civil war reenactment of the battle fought between the Confederacy and the Union in 1862.
According to local historians and local experts on The Battle of Middle Creek, the battle was fought on land owned by Henry Clay Fitzpatrick. The land was passed on to his son, Hiram Fitzpatrick, Floyd County Clerk, who later passed it on to his son, Henry D. Fitzpatrick, Sr. and daughter Osa F. Ligon. Henry D. Fitzpatrick Jr., president of Bank Josephine, and Ligon’s daughter, Sallye Clark, acquired the property from their family. Eventually, the land was acquired by Franklin D. Fitzpatrick Jr., son of Henry D. Fitzpatrick Jr., who founded the Middle Creek National Battlefield Foundation and also took ownership of the historical farm.
The battle is significant in not only county and state history but national history. The battle raged between unknown Ohio college professor James A. Garfield, leader of Union soldiers, against Brig. General Humphrey Marshall, Commander of the First Kentucky Cavalry during the Mexican War and leader of confederate soldiers as each leader led their troops into battle.
The win by the Union led by James A. Garfield launched him on a military career that eventually led to the White House Presidency. The loss brought into question the competency of Humphrey Marshall due to the revered military leader being defeated by the unknown inexperienced Col. James Garfield.
The confederate soldiers were cut off from supplies and food. With his soldiers starving, Marshall worried they could no longer physically fight fearing that his hungry men would desert him if they remained on the battlefield. Marshall burned his heavier wagons and retreated southward, using the left fork of the creek as his escape route. He knew that food for his men and forage for his horses could be obtained at a farm near what is now Hueysville along the Big Sandy River.
Garfield’s win at Middle Creek earned him a promotion to Brigadier General. It also demonstrated the long supply line the confederacy required over the mountains from Virginia made it impossible for the Confederates to hold their position in Eastern Kentucky for more than a few weeks. Soldiers and horses were starving and unable to fight as the result of this insufficient supply line.
Garfield demonstrated how the Big Sandy River could be used against future threats by the Confederates from Southwestern Virginia. It is believed the Confederates never regained the advantage which they surrendered as a result of the Battle of Middle Creek.
The largest and most important Civil War battle fought in Eastern Kentucky, resulted in the establishment of The Middle Creek National Battlefield Foundation, Inc., a non-profit corporation. The organization is composed of individuals who love history and wish to preserve the nationally significance of the Civil War battlefield.
“I love history and especially learning that something that had such an impact nationally occurred right here in our county is exciting,” said Leah Branham, who hails from Prestonsburg. “This is something Floyd County should really promote and use as a tourist draw to the area. So many people are interested in this type of thing. Hundreds of people came out to watch this reenactment and it really wasn’t even advertised. I am glad I got to come and enjoy this with my daughter as not only a fun but also educational opportunity.”
Preserving the nationally significant battlefield for not only history buffs, but for the educational purposes for all students is exactly what the Middle Creek Foundation hope to do. According to members of Middle Creek Battlefield Foundation, the trail is the first phase in what they hope to be a series of interpretations of the battlefield site. The group has made several strides in the development of the battlefield which include a Confederate Loop Trail and Union Loop trail with interpretive signage, information station with historical depictions of the battlefield and the Civil War in Eastern Kentucky, a four-mile auto tour stopping at Graveyard Point, former site of the Garfield Place, May House, and the former site of the May House Grist Mill, parking will be easy as the foundation also added a 20 car and four bus parking area at the battlefield site. As funds become available, the group hopes to add a visitor’s center, a research library, and a multi-media theater.
“It is important to keep history alive and pass it on to future generations,” said Michael Warrix, President of Friends of Middle Creek. “The purpose is to educate others about the Battle of Middle Creek and the significance it had on American history, and also to let people know, this historical site is in our backyard.”
To get ready for Battle of Middle Creek Reenactment, the group begins planning and working on the details in June. Weapons have to be cleaned and in working order, uniforms may need alterations or repair. Planning of the event has to be organized with vendors coming in to sell various items. Whatever the need, the group has someone ready to take on the responsibility. They do however encourage others to get involved in the reenactment.
Participants say being on the battlefield during the reenactment is overwhelming. Some ghost hunting groups believe the blood stained battlefield remains along with the soldiers who lost their lives during the battle.
For more information about the Battle of Middle Creek, visit www.middlecreek.org.
Andrea Saddler is a reporter for The Floyd County Times. She can be reached at (606) 886-8506.