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Famous Guerrillas In Kentucky

John Hunt Morgan

When in May 1862 Major General John C. Breckinridge, leader of Kentucky Secessionists, asked Adam Johnson and Bob Martin, two young Kentuckians serving as scouts with Forrest's cavalry in Mississippi, to go into the Bluegrass State and gather recruits, they readily agreed. As reward he promised them the command of all the troops they raised.

Disguised as "peaceable civilians" they made their way into western Kentucky. To their disappointment they found the Southern sympathizers reluctant to enlist: They wanted a leader of proved ability. Consequently the 28-year-old Johnson, who had been an Army scout in Texas before the war, decided to give them such a leader - himself.

First, aided only by Martin and another man, he ambushed the Union provost guard on the main street of his hometown of Henderson, killing ten. The Federals reported that 300 guerrillas made the attack! Next, having attracted some recruits, he surprised a Union detachment near Madisonville and drove it from its camp. Convinced that they faced overwhelming forces, the Federals evacuated Henderson, which Johnson promptly occupied, hoisting the Confederate flag from the courthouse. Now dozens of men began to join up.

To arm his recruits, on July 18 he crossed the Ohio River with a small force and seized an arsenal at Newburgh, Indiana, bluffing the local home guards into non-resistance by threatening to bombard the town with two "cannons" which he had constructed out of a log and a stovepipe and placed in a prominent position on the opposite shore! This exploit threw lower Indiana and Ohio into a panic and caused the Federals to mass troops in the principal Ohio River towns and along the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. Moreover, it brought "Stovepipe" Johnson, as he henceforth was called, enough additional recruits to form a 300-man battalion, which he named "The Breckinridge Guards."

During the rest of the summer Johnson's irregulars scoured west Kentucky, skirmishing with Union militia, burning bridges, destroying enemy supplies, attacking Federal garrisons, and even seizing a couple of steamboats! In so doing they took hundreds of prisoners and tied down large numbers of Northern troops, thereby aiding the Confederate invasion of Kentucky under General Braxton Bragg.

In October, following the failure of Bragg's campaign, Johnson returned to Confederate lines. Having now enough men to form a regiment, he went to Richmond and obtained a commission as colonel of the 10th Kentucky Partisan Rangers. Then, evading an attempt by Bragg to incorporate his regiment into the regular army as infantry, he joined Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan's cavalry.

In 1864 Kentucky threatened to do what it had failed to do either in 1861 or 1862 - stage a mass uprising against Federal rule. The Emancipation Proclamation, the recruiting of Negro troops for the Northern Army, and military interference with elections aroused bitter resentment even on the part of Unionists. At the same time Confederate guerrillas increased in number and activity, and efforts by the governor to suppress them by levying fines on Secessionists failed miserably. By summer the situation was so bad that Lincoln placed the state under martial law and the departmental commander, Major General Stephen G. Burbridge, began executing four Confederate prisoners for every Union soldier or citizen killed by bushwhackers. These drastic measures, however, merely alienated more Kentuckians, who in November voted 61,000 to 26,000 for the : Democratic "peace" candidate, George B. McClellan, over Lincoln.

To combat bushwhackers the Union authorities in Kentucky had to rely mainly on inadequately equipped and poorly disciplined Home Guards, as most of the regular troops had been sent to bolster Sherman in Georgia. The Home Guards often persecuted and plundered alleged Rebel sympathizers from motives of personal gain or vengeance, and naturally their victims retaliated in kind. Virtual anarchy prevailed in much of the Bluegrass State.

John Hunt Morgan and "Stovepipe" Johnson sought to exploit these conditions by making new raids. Morgan struck first, but Burbridge defeated him at Cynthiana on June 12 and drove him back into southwest Virginia. Johnson, who penetrated western Kentucky the following month, was also unsuccessful, being routed, blinded, and captured in a fight at Grubb's Crossroads on August 21. A short time later, September 4, Morgan was surprised and killed at Greeneville, Tennessee - probably after being taken prisoner, for the Federals had branded him and all of his men outlaws.

Following Morgan's and Johnson's debacles, scores of their followers scattered over the state and took up bushwhacking. Among them was 21-year-old Jerome Clarke. Son of a distinguished Kentucky family - his uncle had been the Democratic candidate for governor in 1855 and his cousin Pauline was John Mosby's wife - he had enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861 and served gallantly under Morgan. Beginning in September he participated in the capture of a railroad train, helped hold up a stagecoach, and along with Ike "One , Arm" Berry's gang robbed the Harrodsburg bank. Yet there was nothing extraordinary about these affairs, nor did he head a large force of his own. Instead he directed various independent guerrilla bands as an agent of Colonel Jack Allen, commander of a Confederate cavalry regiment, who was trying to prepare the way for an invasion of Kentucky by Hood's army.

But as fate would have it, George D. Prentice, editor of the Louisville Courier, was waging a vendetta against Burbridge out of resentment over the general's attempt to swing the forthcoming election to the Republicans. When he learned that a slender, long haired guerrilla - Clarke - was operating successfully in central Kentucky, he had a brainstorm: He would belittle and discredit Burbridge by making the public believe that this particular guerrilla was a mere woman and that the state's military commander, with all his soldiers, could not cope with "her"! So the Courier played up the doings of "Sue Munday," a name borrowed from a Louisville Negro woman of unsavory reputation. In a matter of weeks "Sue Mundy" was the most famous guerrilla in Kentucky and the Federals, who soon discovered "her" true identity, launched an all-out campaign to apprehend Clarke.

Following Todd's and Anderson's deaths Quantrill staged a comeback. He collected about fifty guerrillas who had remained in Missouri (among them Frank and Jesse James) and in December led them down through Arkansas, across the Mississippi into Tennessee, and then in January up into Kentucky. Here was a promising field for new ventures in bushwhacking - conditions were chaotic, there were lots of Southern sympathizers, and other guerrilla bands offered ready-made allies.

In Kentucky Quantrill and his men became nothing more than bandits who wore Federal uniforms while pretending to serve the Confederate cause. They stole horses, looted villages, and murdered soldiers and civilians. The closest they came to conducting something approaching a valid military operation was for a while in February when they teamed up with "Sue Mundy" to burn a railroad depot and destroy a wagon train. Several times pursuing Home Guards attacked them, but they managed on each occasion to escape, although not without some losses.

The Union commander in Kentucky, Major General John M. Palmer, who replaced Burbridge in February, concluded that because of the aid and information provided the bushwhackers by pro-Confederate civilians, ordinary troops never would be able to suppress them. Therefore he sent spies who pretended to be Southern men into the countryside and gave Edwin Terrill, leader of a band of "Federal guerrillas," a special assignment to get Quantrill dead or alive.

The first fruit of Palmer's strategy was the capture on March 12 of Jerome Clarke, alias Sue Mundy, in a barn near Webster where he and two other partisans were tending a wounded comrade. A drumhead court-martial tried him in Louisville, and although no actual evidence linking him to a specific crime was produced, he was hanged March 15. Editor Prentice of the Louisville Courier had earlier predicted that his newspaper would prove to be a "noosepaper" for Sue Mundy. In a sense not intended, he was correct: Had it not been for the publicity given him by the Courier, Jerome Clarke would never have become an object of special attention and summary execution.

Terrill dogged Quantrill all spring, occasionally coming close but never quite catching him. Then, on the morning of May 10, he swooped down on the Missourians at a farm near Bloomfield. Fleeing on foot, Quantrill fell face downward in the barnyard mud with a bullet in his back that left him paralyzed below the chest. Terrill's men hauled him in a wagon to Louisville where he died on June 6 in the military hospital. On July 26 - three months and seventeen days after Appomattox - most of the surviving bushwhackers whom he had led to Kentucky gave themselves up at Samuel's Depot outside of Louisville. If they rightly can be regarded as such, they were the last Confederate soldiers to surrender.

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Initial Guerrilla Action | Guerrilla Companies | Mosby's Effectiveness | Famous Guerrillas In Kentucky | Latter Stages Of The War | Kansas-Missouri Border | Halleck Declared All Guerrillas Outlaws | Quantrill And His Men | New Peaks Of Savagery | Bitterness Survived | Survivors Of Guerrilla Organizations
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