- Digital history and how it is useful
- A historical “social network”
- The place in digital humanities for early career historians
- How to use the documentary project’s user guides
Want to learn how to search the new Civil War Governors site? How to use its features to build a research project for class or for family or local history? Interested in applying these 10,000+ documents to your home town or family tree?
Read our new feature in Kentucky Ancestors Online, the KHS digital magazine devoted to Kentucky families, locations, stories, resources, and migration.
Project Director Patrick Lewis examines the historical roots of a local legend from Trigg County.
The Civil War Governors of Kentucky staff is wrapping up the grant year for both of our major federal grants, from the NEH and the NHPRC. This is a good time to reflect back on what we have accomplished.
And we are now poised to enter a new grant year. What will Civil War Governors be doing between now and next October?
Civil War Governors is also going live in 2017, hosting a major scholarly conference in Frankfort and presenting at professional organizations and community groups across Kentucky.
by Tony Curtis
This might seem like an obvious topic, but there are several ways to search the Early Access website. As a matter of fact, there are three ways: (1) Use the “Browse” function; (2) Use the “Search Collection” function; or (3) Use the “Advanced Search” function. It depends on the objective of your search, as to which function best suits your particular needs.
The “Browse” function is an appropriate choice for individuals who would like to search a particular repository and/or a particular collection. For example, say you are interested in researching the first Confederate provisional governor of Kentucky—George W. Johnson—and you know that the Kentucky Historical Society houses a collection of personal papers for George W. Johnson. You would click the “Browse” button on the main menu in the top right quadrant of the website. Then scroll down until you see the “Kentucky Historical Society” repository button. CLICK. Then scroll until you find the “George W. Johnson Papers” button. CLICK. And commence your browsing of the collection at the item level.
If you would like to use the quickest search function, then you are in luck. The “Search Collection” function appears on the main screen—and every screen thereafter—for ease of user access. Just plug in your term or terms and commence your search of the entire collection. You can also narrow your search by using simple or Boolean search operators. For example, a search for Benjamin F. Buckner (no quotation marks) returns 180 search results, while “Benjamin F. Buckner” (with quotation marks) returns one search result. Searching Benjamin AND Buckner (with Boolean operators) returns sixteen search results. So try different combinations of words and operators when using the “Search Collection” function.
The most complex and most effective search function to use is the “Advanced Search” function. This is a faceted search, meaning that is allows the researcher to narrow search results by using many different criteria that have been built into the metadata by project editors. To use this search function, click the “Advanced Search” option underneath the “Search Collection” search box on any page. You will arrive at a page that allows you to target your search by using three specific keyword search fields. You can select from a list of eleven fields to narrow your search: Accession Number, Collection, Date of Creation, Dates Mentioned, Document Genre, Document Title, Editorial Note, Item Location, Place of Creation, Repository, and Transcription. Any combination of these fields will help you narrow your search. For example, say I wanted to find all documents sent to Thomas E. Bramlette from Covington, Kenton County, Kentucky, in 1865. I would conduct the following faceted search to Thomas E. Bramlette (Field: Document Title); 1865 (Field: Date of Creation); and Covington, Kenton County (Field: Place of Creation).
This faceted search returns twenty-eight search results, while a Boolean search conducted using the “Search Collection” returns fifty-six results. A simple search with all these terms and no operators returns 8,910 documents. Thus we see the benefit of the faceted search function. I would suggest experimenting with all the search functions and see which one fits your research objectives the best and it may change from search to search. Early Access currently contains just over 10,000 documents and this number is only going to continue to grow over time.
So what do you say, how about a few searches? Bet you can’t search just once.
Tony Curtis is an Assistant Editor of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.
By Tony Curtis
The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWG-K) has launched Early Access, the first stage of accessibility, allowing users to browse and keyword search over 10,000 documents. The diversity of texts and the wide array of historical themes contained in Early Access documents places CWG-K alongside the most forward-looking documentary editing projects. There are several bells and whistles, so join us for a quick tour of the new website!
The first stop is the Early Access homepage. No, that is not Santa Claus, it is Kentucky’s first Union Civil War Governor—Beriah Magoffin—a member of the Democratic Party and a supporter of Southern Rights. And there are more unidentified individuals at the top of the page showing you what to expect from these documents—a diverse collection of historical actors from Civil War-era Kentucky.
You can start to engage documents through the “Search Collection” and “Advanced Search” functions or by using the “Explore” function moving down the right side of the page. But more on the search capabilities in an upcoming blog post, as that will require more attention. Stay tuned!
You can engage additional content through four drop down menus located in the top right quadrant of the website—“About”, “Reference”, “Browse”, and “Exhibits”. Let’s take a look at each of the drop down menus individually.
Clicking on the “About” menu will further introduce you to the project and the Early Access team. But there is more! The drop down menu also includes information about the document selection process, editorial processes, and what is beyond Early Access for the CWG-K team. Take some time to look through this information, as much of it documents the foundations of the CWG-K project—what it is and what it is not.
Moving along to the “Reference” menu, one can gain further intellectual access and historical understanding of Civil War-era Kentucky through rich governors’ biographies, detailed congressional & judicial district data, and a bibliography for further reading. The congressional & judicial data is particularly exciting! This data is the result of our original research project to map all civilian and military structures from Civil War Kentucky—the beautiful mind project drawn on large Post-it notes on our office walls. There is so much more data to share moving forward so keep visiting for future updates!
The next menu is the “Browse” function. Instead of conducting a keyword search, researchers may decide to browse our collection by repository and collection name. Click the name of the repository to start browsing our collections from the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Kentucky Department of Military Affairs Records and Research Branch, Kentucky Historical Society, Mary Todd Lincoln House, and Maker’s Mark Distillery.
And, finally, the “Exhibits” menu, which currently includes The Caroline Chronicles. Caroline’s is just one of the personally compelling and historically instructive stories that the Civil War Governors of Kentucky will help researchers and teachers tell. Hers is a story of race, slavery, emancipation; domestic service, motherhood, and gender; true crime, the law, and justice.
So where do we go from here? Early Access is the beginning of accessibility but not the end. The ultimate goal of CWG-K is to create a digital research environment within which a user can encounter the past multi-dimensionally through the documents and the powerful annotation network that links the documents together.
The next step is to deliver approximately 1,500 documents annotated and set within dense social and geographic networks. These documents, the first of a projected 40,000, will demonstrate how Civil War Governors will shape the ways researchers, students, and teachers will explore the past in the future.
To this end, Civil War Governors was awarded $62,400 in the May 2016 cycle of National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC) funding. This grant will run from October 2016 to September 2017, and will support that next phase of work: publishing an annotation interface of 1,500 fully edited and linked documents.
Tony Curtis is an Assistant Editor of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.
The Kentucky Historical Society seeks eight Graduate Research Associates (GRAs) familiar with 19th century United States history to write short informational entries for the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWG-K). GRAs will receive a stipend of $5,000 each and can work remotely from their home institutions.
Each GRA will annotate 150 assigned documents each. Each GRA must be a graduate student in at least the second year of a M.A. program in history or a related humanities discipline. In accordance with its commitment to facilitating relationships between history practitioners and organizations in Kentucky and nationally, KHS hopes that these GRA positions will help advance the professional skills of early-career historians in Kentucky and elsewhere. Preference will be given to candidates who are enrolled in graduate programs in history at Kentucky universities, though applicants worldwide are encouraged to apply. These positions are funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), a branch of the National Archives.
CWG-K is an annotated, searchable, and freely-accessible online edition of documents associated with the chief executives of the commonwealth, 1860-1865. Yet CWG-K is not solely about the five governors; it is about reconstructing the lost lives and voices of tens of thousands of Kentuckians who interacted with the office of the governor during the war years. CWG-K will identify, research, and link together every person, place, and organization found in its documents. This web of hundreds of thousands of networked nodes will dramatically expand the number of actors in Kentucky and U.S. history, show scholars new patterns and hidden relationships, and recognize the humanity and agency of historically marginalized people. To see the project’s work to date, visit discovery.civilwargovernors.org.
Scope of Work
Each GRA will be responsible for researching and writing short entries on named persons, places, organizations, and geographical features in 150 documents. Each document contains an average of fifteen such entities. This work will be completed and submitted to CWG-K for fact-checking before June 30, 2017.
Research and writing will proceed according to project guidelines concerning research sources and methods, editorial information desired, and adherence house style. This will ensure 1) that due diligence is done to the research of each entity and 2) that information is recorded for each item in uniform ways which are easy to encode and search.
All research for the entries must be based in primary or credible secondary sources, and each GRA is expected to keep a virtual research file with notes and digital images of documents related to each entry. These will be turned over to CWG-K at the completion of the work. CWG-K will fact-check all entries for research quality and adherence to house style. CWG-K projects an average rate of one document annotated per two hours of work. Each GRA may expect to devote approximately 300 hours to the research—though the actual investment of time may vary.
Each GRA will work remotely. Interaction with the documents and the writing of annotations will take place in a web-based annotation tool developed for CWG-K, which can be dialed into from any location. CWG-K will make use of online research databases to make its work efficient and uniform. Other archival sources may be of value but are not required by the research guidelines. Securing access to the paid databases required by CWG-K (Ancestry.com, Fold3.com, and ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Louisville Courier Journal) is the responsibility of the GRA. If regular institutional access to these databases is not available to the GRA through a university or library, it is the responsibility of the GRA to purchase and use a subscription to these databases. KHS will not reimburse the GRA for any travel, copying, or other expenses incurred in CWG-K research.
In order to maintain quality and consistency as well as to foster a collegial and collaborative work culture, CWG-K will conduct weekly virtual “office hours” via Google Hangouts, during which GRAs are required to dial in, ask questions of staff, share expertise and research methods, and make connections with their peers at other universities. Virtual attendance at these office hours is mandatory, and multiple sessions may be offered to accommodate schedules.
The Kentucky Historical Society will hold copyright for all annotation research as work for hire.
A proposal should consist of at least a narrative statement of professional ability in the form of a cover letter, a CV, and two letters of recommendation. Additional supplementary materials that demonstrate capacity in the evaluation factors may also be included. Applications are due by September 16, 2016 to Tony Curtis, email@example.com.
The Kentucky Historical Society will evaluate the proposals based on the following factors:
Research Experience (70 points): Describe your familiarity with research in 19th century U.S. history. Describe some projects you have undertaken. What sources have you used? Have you been published? Have you interpreted historical research in forms other than a scholarly peer-reviewed publication? How does the proposed research project differ from those you have undertaken in the past? Describe your familiarity with the strengths and weaknesses of online research databases such as Ancestry.com, Fold3.com, ProQuest, and Google Books.
Project Experience (30 points): Describe any work you have done in the editing of historical documents. Discuss how a project such as CWG-K maintains balance between thorough research and production schedules. Have you worked on other collaborative projects in the field of history or otherwise? Describe your ability to meet deadlines and regulate workflow. Describe your understanding of and/or experience with the Digital Humanities. From what you know of the CWG-K project, how does it fit with current trends in the field? What do you hope to gain from working on the CWG-K project?
Institutional Affiliation (10 points): Additional points are available to applicants who are enrolled in graduate programs at Kentucky universities. Applicants claiming this status should discuss how they will use this experience to help build and sustain relationships among history organizations across the state and articulate why such relationships are valuable. This does not imply any relationship between KHS and the educational institution.
“Easily explored by browsing or keyword search, this superb site offers excellent resources for those whose reading, research and writing interests lay at the crossroads of the battlefield and the home front.”
By Tony Curtis
Just when you think that you have gathered all of the available information on the Caroline Chronicles (read all the documents on Early Access) you stumble across a digitized collection of the Louisville Daily Journal on archive.org. I am particularly interested in how news of the Blanche Levi murder was revealed to the public and how the ensuing case was covered by a prominent Louisville newspaper. And what did a deep dive into this collection uncover about the Caroline Chronicles? I invite you—our readers—to join me on this research trip!
The Levi family appears at various points in the newspaper from August 1862 until September 1863. Willis Levi—a steamboat engineer—first appears listed as a survivor of the Steamer Acacia disaster on August 30, 1862:
And again with his brother Elias Levi in an auctioneer advertisement on January 30, 1863:
The Levi’s are being mentioned regularly with this advertisement for their auctioning services, and Elias is even covered anonymously through a printed Jefferson County Sheriff’s advertisement for the sale of John West(ly)—Caroline’s husband. We see the original in the Jefferson County Court books in previously discovered documents. Elias Levi bought John West(ly), aged 25, on April 27, 1863 for $245:
But what about the death of Blanche Levi—daughter of Willis and Anne Levi? The first mention of the death of Blanche occurs in the April 22, 1863 obituaries, her death occurring one day earlier. The obituary is brief, giving her age, when the funeral will occur, and a brief bible verse:
The newspaper then falls silent for ten days. Not one mention of Blanche, the Levis, or Caroline—until May 2, 1863, when the newspaper prints, “For two weeks past we have withheld giving publicity to one of the most horrible and treacherous deeds ever committed in this city, in order to give the officers ample time to ferret out the guilty parties.” They announce “the wretch”—Caroline—was arrested and faced arraignment that same morning. Showing the inherent racial bias of society, the newspaper supposes that Caroline could not have committed without accomplice, stating, “It was believed that the girl had been instigated to this deed by some fiend in human shape, but diligent investigation has been made, and no accessory has as yet been discovered. There is something very mysterious about the crime, from the fact that no cause whatever had been given to the girl to prompt her to wreak her vengeance in this horrible crime. If she has an accomplice we sincerely trust that the wretch will be brought to justice.”
This article also references Caroline’s status, they define her as “a contraband negro, from Tennessee, in the employ of Mr. Willis Levy.” Much like the previously discovered documents, Caroline’s status is constantly in flux. On May 2, 1863, the “Police Proceedings” section—the Civil War-era police blotter—announced “Caroline, a slave of James Deman, charged with poisoning a child of Willis Levi. The slave being too sick to be brought into court, the witnesses were recognized to go before the grand jury of the Circuit Court.” This gives us more insight into Caroline’s status, but it is also contradictory information. What was Caroline’s status—self-emancipated woman, contraband, slave, or a free woman of color (f.w.c.)? I am afraid newspaper coverage does not clarify Caroline’s status and as we concluded in prior research, her status remains inconclusive. It is unknown as to what the newspaper means by “too sick”.
On May 6, 1863, the grand jury of the Jefferson Circuit Court returned an indictment against “Caroline (a slave)”.
The June 10, 1863 Louisville Daily Journal announces the “Commonwealth vs Caroline (a slave)” case for trial as a part of the June 1863 docket of the Jefferson Circuit Court—the trial to be held on Wednesday, June 17, 1863.
Further mention of Caroline’s case does not appear until June 19, 1863, when a guilty verdict is announced: “The negro woman who poisoned the family of Mr. Levi, of this city, some months since, from the effects of which one of his children, a sweet little girl, died, was yesterday convicted of murder in the first degree in the court now in session here. She will doubtless be hung.”
The next mention of Caroline is not until August 14, 1863—almost two months later—announcing when she is to be hanged “at the corner of Eighteenth and Broadway streets” in Louisville. And again on September 8, 1863, following a month long respite.
On September 11, 1863, Caroline is granted a second respite “for a few days” by Governor Thomas E. Bramlette “on account of some newly discovered testimony which may have some bearing on her case.”
And the new evidence convinced Governor Bramlette in favor of executive clemency, as the final mention of Caroline occurs on September 25, 1863, under the headline “Pardoned.”
So what have we learned from the Louisville Daily Journal coverage? The Levis were active members in the Louisville business community. We have more concrete dates on the death of Blanche Levi and the chronology of Caroline’s case. We know that the newspaper purposefully withheld any coverage of the case to allow for time to investigate the facts of the case and to arrest any suspects. The newspaper coverage further complicates Caroline’s status for us—Caroline inhabited many different worlds depending on time and place. We also learn that there is no additional coverage of “one of the most horrible and treacherous deeds ever committed in this city”—no editorials, no letters to the editor . . . Nothing. So once again, a set of research questions has led us to more research questions—some of the questions remain, others have been developed. The search continues and we will update you as new evidence is uncovered.
Tony Curtis is an Assistant Editor of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.
by Matthew C. Hulbert
In 1860, Edward M. Samuel, 53, was a respected businessman and the president of a successful bank in Liberty, Missouri. He claimed $30,000 of real estate in several different counties and boasted a personal net worth of $20,000 (roughly equivalent to $580,000 in 2015 currency per the CPI). Samuel had a large family and an attractive home in downtown Liberty; he was a charter member of the Board of Trustees of William Jewell College and had been the Treasurer of that institution since 1851. Moreover, he owned six slaves—three male, three female, ages ranging from 12 to 70. Indeed, on the eve of the Civil War, it appears that Edward Samuel had not only gotten by, but actually thrived, in a region rocked by more than a decade of political uncertainty and violent border strife.
Though a slaveowner, he was not a Democrat. Since the 1830s, he’d been a Whig. In 1860, though, he served as an elector for the Bell/Everett ticket in 1860. Nor was he a Confederate sympathizer; rather, Samuel was well-known in Liberty and surrounding areas as a diehard Unionist and a defender of the United States Constitution. In April 1862, a regretful former secessionist even penned an open letter to Samuel in the St. Louis Republican and the Liberty Tribune that lauded the banker’s dedication to the Union and called for the eradication of “all bands of outlaws and guerrilla parties that now infest our state.”
In June 1863, Samuel himself wrote to Kentucky Governor James F. Robinson to request an appointment as Commissioner of Deeds for Kentucky in Missouri. Robinson granted the request. With so many Kentucky transplants in Western Missouri, this was a sound business decision. But Samuel also affirmed everything said in the aforementioned letter; he described himself to Robinson as “a loyal man, unconditionally for the Govt & the Union.” Advertising this stance, truthful as it were, was not always a sound decision in Clay County—a place where the sons of numerous slaveowners fought as pro-Confederate guerrillas and likely didn’t appreciate being slated for extermination in the newspaper. Regardless, Samuel did just that — and he did so often.
But his good luck couldn’t last forever and, as the war slogged through its third year, the fates turned against Edward Samuel. On at least one occasion in September 1863, Edward Samuel had to temporarily flee his home for fear of being murdered by pro-Confederate rivals. By 1865, he abandoned Liberty altogether, finding safety in the Unionist stronghold of St. Louis. In February 1866, a group of armed men believed to include Archie “Little Arch” Clements, Frank James, the Pence Brothers (Bud and Donnie), and several other ex-Confederate guerrillas withdrew $60,000—at gunpoint—from the Clay County Savings Association. This was the very same bank once run by Edward Samuel in Liberty. Despite many popular historians wishing otherwise, Jesse James almost certainly didn’t participate in the robbery. (He was recovering from a serious bullet wound at the time.) Even so, this group of former bushwhackers constituted the core of what would become his James-Younger Gang. That criminal enterprise would go on to be one of the most notorious in American history.
Much as it must have pained Edward Samuel to see his once-flourishing financial institution violated by banditti, his move to St. Louis marked a return to personal affluence and public illustriousness. In 1867, he founded the Commercial Bank at the corner of Second and Olive Streets. That venture was described as “very prosperous” and Samuel himself was described as having family relations “so pleasant” and a level of financial security “so enviable.” Though no longer the Treasurer of William Jewell College, he did fill that role for the Missouri Stock and Bond Board. To outsiders, it looked as though Samuel had figured out how to thrive in yet another chaotic environment.
That appearances could be deceiving was never truer than in the case of Edward Samuel. In September 1869, he settled his entire account with the bank. On a morning soon after, he climbed out of bed “in the best of spirits,” “partook of a hearty breakfast,” and then made for the outhouse. There, he leaned over the bench, produced a straight razor, and opened a three inch gash across his own throat. The finely-honed steel severed his right carotid artery and both jugular veins. Samuel bled immensely and died; the corpse remained in place until his wife, Sarah, discovered the grisly scene. It was later revealed—in his obituary, for the whole world to see—that the “direct cause of the tragedy was the excessive pain which he experienced” as a result of “the piles.”
In other words, Edward Samuel had survived the turbulent 1850s in Western Missouri—a period dominated by border ruffians, fanatical jayhawkers, and a sword-wielding John Brown. Then he managed to live through the entire Civil War, almost all of it as an Unconditional Unionist in decidedly pro-Confederate guerrilla country. And he did so while building not one, but two healthy fortunes—the second to replace what was lost of the first in 1865. Edward Samuel did all of this, only to be driven to suicide by a case of (apparently incurable) hemorrhoids. If that isn’t the most nineteenth century thing you’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is.
With Samuel’s demise behind us, events at the Clay County Savings Association are worth a few moments more of our time. Led by Pulitzer-winner T. J. Stiles, many historians have recently come to accept that the early robberies committed by the James-Younger Gang were not simple cash grabs or get rich quick schemes. Jesse James and his comrades weren’t a band of cowboy Robin Hoods, striking a symbolic blow for labor in an age of rapid post-war industrialization. No, these were politically-motivated assaults carried out by highly-trained, well-armed veterans of domestic combat. Put another way, at least in the beginning — when the gang largely consisted of former guerrillas — these were acts of pro-Confederate terrorism that fit well in the context of other anti-Reconstruction, pro-Lost Cause paramilitary organizations of the 1860s and 1870s.
As his letter to James Robinson in the CWG-K archive iterates, Edward M. Samuel was just the sort of political target the James brothers had in mind. In the end, though they undoubtedly would have enjoyed a third chance to dispatch Samuel in some macabre fashion, the guerrillas-turned-outlaws only managed to take his bank. He took care of the rest himself.
Matthew C. Hulbert is an Assistant Editor of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.
by Matthew C. Hulbert
On July 4, 1857, gunfire interrupted an Independence Day celebration in Green County. A lead ball exploded from the barrel of a musket. A man named Robert Peace had pulled the trigger. The projectile slammed into the midsection of one Felix Beauchamp. As a result of his wound, Beauchamp died momentarily thereafter. Following a jury trial, Peace found himself convicted of voluntary manslaughter and took up involuntary residence at the state penitentiary. In 1860, petitioners asked Governor Beriah Magoffin to pardon Peace.
Despite twelve pages of handwritten testimony given under oath by nineteen eyewitnesses to the death of Felix Beauchamp—no, thine eyes do not deceive, nineteen eyewitnesses—the above items are the only objective facts of the case passed down to us in the historical record. We don’t know with certainty what provoked the altercation; how much alcohol had been consumed in the lead up; what the parties involved said to each other in the seconds preceding the shooting; exactly how many shots were fired, their sequence, or from what distances.
Here’s a brief summation of each witness statement:
According to William M. Skaggs, he and another man named John Warf, an out-of-towner as it were, argued over the results of a ten cent card game. Peace allegedly confronted Skaggs, admonished him for quarreling with a guest, and accused Skaggs of having a rock in his pocket—apparently hinting that he would use it to assault Warf. In Skaggs’s version of events, Beauchamp then attempted to defuse the situation; but in doing so, he only angered Peace more, who challenged Beauchamp to a fight. Beauchamp refused the brawl and backed away, pulling a pistol from his coat in the process. Skaggs testified that he heard the report of a pistol, then heard Beauchamp say “don’t shoot,” and then may or may not have actually seen Peace shoot Beauchamp with a rifle. Skaggs also claimed that after Beauchamp fired the pistol, some of the other men at the gathering unsuccessfully tried to restrain Peace from shooting back. Peace then shot and killed Beauchamp.
John Warf’s version of the story matched Skaggs’s up to the moment of confrontation between Skaggs and Peace. As Warf told it, Beauchamp came to break up the argument and “caught hold of Peace around the body with both hands,” at which point “Peace slung Beauchamp loose from him.” Warf heard Beauchamp say “don’t shoot” or “something like it”—but never heard Peace challenge Beauchamp to fisticuffs.
Dr. Terrill agreed with the first two statements (Skaggs and Warf) that an argument between Skaggs and Warf led to a confrontation between Peace and Skaggs, which led to the fighting of Peace and Beauchamp. But in Terrill’s testimony, he “saw Peace punch at Beauchamp with his gun before either shot” but “would not State that the gun touched Beauchamp.”
William J. Graham agreed with the account of Dr. Terrill up to Peace trying to punch Beauchamp. Then, Graham contended, Peace said to Beauchamp: “you have a pistol in your pocket.” At that moment, Beauchamp’s hand was in his pocket. Graham saw Wesley Thompson and Mitchell Warren try to stop Beauchamp from shooting.
Mitchell Warren agreed with most of Graham’s testimony, but “did not see Wesley Thompson attempt to take hold of the gun.”
Pascal Warren told much the same story; he did see Peace sling Beauchamp and added that Beauchamp, at some point in the argument before the shooting, said “Bob you are wrong.”
According to William P. Warren, Peace aimed his rifle at Beauchamp, who replied with “don’t shoot me.” That prompted Peace to say “put up your darn little pistol then.” Beauchamp then jumped to the side of Peace’s muzzle and fired his pistol at very close range.
Joseph Warren testified that “a lady came down to where Beauchamp was lying after he was shot, and asked Peace what he killed him for, and Peace said. Darn him, he came up to me, and drew his pistol right in my face at first and afterwards fired at me—and Beauchamp said, do you hear him telling a lie.”
James and Calvin Skaggs both said they saw Beauchamp draw a pistol following his initial argument with Peace, but did not narrate the murder itself. James Skaggs testified that Peace did not punch at Beauchamp before or after the shooting.
William Peace Sr. alleged that Beauchamp drew his pistol on Peace, which prompted Peace to aim his rifle at Beauchamp. When Mitchell Warren tried to stop Peace, Beauchamp took the opportunity to fire first but missed. “Peace then fired immediately, the shots in quick succession, in about such quick succession, as a man fireing a double shot gun.”
Jacob Peace told a similar—if vaguer—story, but concluded that “this was all I saw, or heard, there were many others much closer than I was, and had a much better opportunity of seeing and hearing than I did—“
Burks Davis also described the argument and shooting in similar detail—but rather than Beauchamp being slung or Mitchell Warren being pushed away, it was Wesley Elkins that Peace “threw from him.”
John Warren’s testimony mirrored that of William P. Warren—but notes that “other things were said during the fracas, but witness [John Warren] don’t remember them.”
Renditions given by Josiah and Otawa Skaggs each essentially matched that of William Peace Sr.
William Peace Jr. and Joseph Peace both testified that Beauchamp drew his pistol first after Robert Peace said, “let me alone, I am not pestering you” to Beauchamp.
James Akin did not see the fight, but heard it from the stable. He was the only witness to state that “he had heard two other shots that evening, an hour or two before, but they were not in as quick succession.”
So what new can we glean from all of this eyewitness testimony? Unfortunately, the answer is just the realization that we know even less about what happened now than before.
Beauchamp may or may not have grabbed Peace before the shooting, and Peace may or may not have slung Beauchamp to the ground. Beauchamp may have approached Peace in a friendly manner or he may have grabbed Peace from behind with a revolver already in his hand. Peace may have challenged Beauchamp to a fight or he may or may not have simply attacked Beauchamp before any of the shooting started. Beauchamp may or may not have tried to shoot Peace while other men were intervening on his behalf. Each man may have told the other not to shoot. Peace might have told Beauchamp to raise his “darn little pistol” or alternatively said “let me alone, I am not pestering you.” Peace may have been holding his rifle in three or four different ways; and, it may have been Mitchell Warren or Wesley Thompson or both or neither that tried to wrestle guns away from Beauchamp and Peace at different times. The slug fired from Peace’s rifle may have killed Beauchamp on the spot—or Beauchamp may have lived long enough to tell an unnamed female witness that Peace was lying about the incident. Furthermore, Peace did and did not attempt to strike Beauchamp’s corpse with the rifle post-shooting, depending on which accounts we believe.
It probably shouldn’t surprise us that so many different men recounted an incident that probably all happened within the span of two or three minutes so variously—especially with alcohol undoubtedly involved. After all, this isn’t an unprecedented phenomenon when numerous people witness the same traumatic event. Despite him being on a stage directly in front of them, an entire audience of Washington theatergoers had trouble deciding what exactly John Wilkes Booth screamed after gunning down Abraham Lincoln. And throngs of witnesses failed to agree on how many shots were fired during the Kennedy assassination—as well as whether a second shooter had been perched on the now-notorious grassy knoll. Even in large gatherings where heinous crimes aren’t committed, such as the Gettysburg Address, witnesses frequently walk away having heard different things.
At first glance, what does seem surprising about this case is that in a society so prone to let men who killed other men with firearms walk on claims of “he fired first,” temporary insanity, alcoholism, or jealousy, a jury decided to ignore Robert Peace’s self-defense argument when one of the very few—if not the only—point agreed upon by all of the eye witnesses was that Felix Beauchamp drew and shot first. Even though some of the witnesses portray Peace in worse light than others, collectively, the testimony is inconclusive at best and seems hardly solid enough to justify a conviction. So how did Robert Peace end up in prison?
The shortest explanation is that Peace fell victim to the logistics of local court in the nineteenth century. The slightly longer one is that we should always remember the historical record (read: the statements of all nineteen witnesses) appears very differently—that is, complete and linear—to contemporary scholars than it did to a jury in real-time. And the much longer answer is that while many of the aforementioned witnesses apparently gave sworn testimony on paper in the form of affidavits, they “failed to obey the summons of the court” and did not appear in person. The judge overseeing the trial refused Peace a continuance that would’ve given these witnesses additional time to show up. Moreover, Peace’s lead attorney, Aaron Harding, “was suddenly called away by the extreme sickness of his wife and the death of a child.” In other words, Robert Peace learned the hard way that all the eye witnesses in the world make for a fantastic document in the CWG-K database, but are worthless if they don’t come to court.
Matthew C. Hulbert is an Assistant Editor of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.