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Producer, videographer: Ernie Lee Martin
Reliving History (Part 1)
The Battle of Mill Springs
Though not the site of the biggest or bloodiest battles, Kentucky played a pivotal role in the Civil War. Both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis—two native sons, after all—saw this deeply divided state as critical to their plans. Holding Kentucky meant controlling access to both the Ohio River and the Louisville & Nashville railroad system, making the state a gateway to the heart of the South.
And so, after capturing Bowling Green (where local sympathizers then established a “Confederate state capital”) in the fall of 1861, the Confederates moved troops through the Cumberland Gap, fortifying a defensive line across southern Kentucky under the command of Brig. Gen. Felix Zollicoffer. In January of 1862, he sent his men into battle against the forces of Union Brig. Gen. George Thomas at Mill Springs on the Cumberland River. The Southerners had the advantage in the early going. But then Zollicoffer himself took a wrong turn in the rain and fog and was killed. As word spread, his troops fell into disarray and eventually had to retreat. It was the first of a series of Union victories that forced the Confederates back out of Kentucky and helped turn the tide of the war in the western theater.
Today, Mill Springs is a quiet rural area, known chiefly as the site of one of the world’s oldest and largest operating water-powered mills (which we visited in Kentucky Life Program 410). But once a year, Civil War reenactors from around the country converge to restage the pivotal battle. In this segment, our guide is Jackson Times editor and Civil War reenactor Stephen Bowling.
The Mill Springs battlefield is located off Kentucky Highway 90 in Wayne County, near the town of Nancy.
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Producer: Ernie Lee Martin
Reliving History (Part 2)
John Muir’s Long Walk
Think of Sierra Club founder John Muir and you think of California, not Kentucky. But the wilderness trek that first established Muir’s reputation took place back east—and it started in Kentucky.
In 1867, Muir set out from Louisville for Florida—on foot. The 1,000-mile walk, and the journal he kept, helped solidify his ideas about wilderness, humanity, and the proper relationship between them. This profile of Muir features Dr. Richard Shore of Louisville, who plays Muir in an original one-man drama, as he retraces some of those many steps.
Part of the route of Muir’s long walk is preserved as the John Muir Trail in the Big South Fork Recreation Area, which straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee border just west of the Cumberland Gap.
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