Civil War Wiki
Felix Kirk Zollicoffer
Personal Information
Born: May 19, 1812(1812-05-19)
Place of Birth: {{{place of birth}}}
Died: January 19, 1862 (aged 49)
Place of Death: {{{place of death}}}
Birth Name: {{{birth name}}}
Other Information
Allegiance: United States of America
Confederate States of America
Participation(s): {{{participations}}}
Branch: United States Army
Confederate Army
Service Years: {{{service years}}}
Rank: Brigadier General
Service number : {{{servicenumber}}}
Battles: Second Seminole War
American Civil War
- Battle of Barbourville
- Battle of Wildcat Mountain
- Battle of Mill Springs
Other work: {{{otherwork}}}

Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (May 19, 1812 – January 19, 1862) was a newspaperman, three-term United States Congressman from Tennessee, officer in the United States Army, and a Confederate brigadier general during the American Civil War. He led the first Confederate invasion of neutral Kentucky and was killed in action at the Battle of Mill Springs, the first Confederate general to perish in the Western Theater.

Early life and career[]

Felix K. Zollicoffer was born on a plantation in Bigbyville in Maury County, Tennessee, son of John Jacob and Martha (Kirk) Zollicoffer. He was a descendant of immigrants from Switzerland who had settled in North Carolina in 1710. His grandfather George had served as a captain in the Revolutionary War, and had been granted a tract of land in Tennessee as a reward for his military service. Young Zollicoffer attended the "field schools" in the area and spent one year at Jackson College in Columbia, Tennessee. He left school at the age of sixteen, became an apprentice printer, and engaged in newspaper work in Paris, Tennessee, from 1828–1830. When the paper failed, he moved to Knoxville in 1831 and spent two years as a journeyman printer working for a local newspaper there. He became editor and part owner of the Columbia Observer in 1834. He was elected State Printer of Tennessee in 1835. On September 24, 1835, he was married in Columbia to Louisa Pocahontas Gordon. She would bear him fourteen children, but only six lived through infancy.

He also edited the Mercury in Huntsville, Alabama. Volunteering for the army in 1836, he served as a lieutenant in the Second Seminole War in Florida. He returned home and became the owner and editor of the Columbia Observer and the Southern Agriculturist in 1837 and the editor of the Republican Banner, the state organ of the Whig Party, in 1843.

The latter role engaged Zollicoffer in political circles, and he soon was named as Comptroller of the State Treasury from 1845–1849, as well as serving as Adjutant General for the state. He was a delegate in the State Senate from 1849 until 1852 and was a delegate to the Whig National Convention in 1852, supporting the candidacy of General Winfield Scott. Zollicoffer was elected as a Whig to the Thirty-third United States Congress and reelected as a candidate of the American Party to the Thirty-fourth and Thirty-fifth Congresses (March 4, 1853 – March 3, 1859). During the first campaign, he fought a duel with the editor of the rival Nashville Union newspaper.[1] He declined to be a candidate for renomination in 1858 and retired to private life. He strongly supported fellow Tennessee moderate John Bell (CU) for president in the election of 1860.

With war clouds threatening and firebrand Tennesseans pushing for the right to secede from the Union, Zollicoffer served as a member of the peace convention of 1861 held in Washington, D.C. in an effort to devise a means to prevent the impending war. Although a strong supporter of states rights, Zollicoffer was not in favor of secession.

Civil War[]

When Tennessee seceded, Zollicoffer offered his services to the Provisional Army of Tennessee. Despite his brief combat experience, he was appointed as a brigadier general by Governor Isham Harris. On July 9, 1861, he transferred to the Confederate States Army with the same rank and was given command of a department within the District of East Tennessee on August 1. In July 1861, Harris ordered Zollicoffer and 4,000 raw recruits to Knoxville to suppress the East Tennessee resistance to secession. In September, he led a force of 5,400 men from Tennessee through the Cumberland Gap along the Wilderness Road in an effort to seize central Kentucky. After winning the first Confederate victory in the commonwealth at the relatively minor Battle of Barbourville, he suffered a reversal at the subsequent Battle of Wildcat Mountain and was forced to retreat back into rural eastern Tennessee, an area that was unsympathetic to the Confederate cause. Zollicoffer treated peaceful Unionists fairly but imposed harsher measures after Union guerrillas burned several railroad bridges in November.

Although Zollicoffer's main responsibility was to guard the Cumberland Gap, in November 1861 he advanced westward back into southeastern Kentucky to strengthen control in the area around Somerset. He found a strong defensive position at Mill Springs and decided to make it his winter quarters. He fortified the area, especially both sides of the Cumberland River. On December 8, he was superseded by the arrival of Maj. Gen. George B. Crittenden, who assumed command of the department, but retained Zollicoffer as commander of the 1st Brigade in his army.

Union Brig. Gen. George H. Thomas received orders to drive the Confederates across the Cumberland River and break up Crittenden's army. He left Lebanon and slowly marched through rain-soaked country, arriving at Logan's Crossroads on January 17, where he waited for Brig. Gen. Albin F. Schoepf's troops from Somerset to join him. Two days later, they attacked Crittenden and Zollicoffer at the Battle of Mill Springs.

The southern bank of the Cumberland River at Mill Springs was a bluff and a strong defensive position, whereas the northern bank was low and flat. Zollicoffer chose to move most of his men to the north bank where they would be closer to nearby Union troops, incorrectly assuming that it was more defensible. Both Crittenden and Albert Sidney Johnston ordered Zollicoffer to relocate south of the river, but he could not comply—he had insufficient boats to cross the unfordable river quickly and was afraid his brigade would be caught by the enemy halfway across.

Zollicoffer's men were routed from the field. Some accounts claim that Union Colonel Speed S. Fry shot Zollicoffer as the battle waned. He had inadvertently wandered into the Union position, thinking they were Confederate soldiers with his nearsightedness and the gathering darkness. He was struck several times by enemy bullets and soon died from his wounds.


The Federals respected Zollicoffer's body; he was embalmed by a Union surgeon and was eventually returned to Tennessee and finally interred in the Old City Cemetery in Nashville.

Zollicoffer Park[]

Zollicoffer Park, a Confederate cemetery containing a mass grave of the Confederate fallen, lies just outside of Nancy. (There is also a Union cemetery located in Nancy, Mill Springs National Cemetery, the oldest of all National Cemeteries still receiving burials other than Arlington National Cemetery). This public park receives at least two memorial events each year, one on January 19, ("that somber sabbath morn") and the other on Memorial Day. There have also been re-enactments of the Battle of Mill Springs.

See also[]



External links[]

  • Tennessee Gen Web
  • Wikisource-logo.svg "Zollicoffer, Felix Kirk". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1889.