Between the Rock and the Hard Place: Sources on Guerrilla Violence in CWG-K

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On June 14, 1864, John T. Smith penned a letter to Kentucky governor Thomas E. Bramlette. According to Smith, the County Court of Logan County had selected him to serve as a special messenger. His task: hashing out a solution for Logan County’s guerrilla infestation. “Our object,” Smith wrote, “is to fall upon some plan so as to have a company to act against Guerillas … the condition of most of us is such that we can not be spared long at a time from our families and therefore can not with propriety volunteer regularly and devote our whole time to the Service but we can raise a sufficient number to keep off guerillas and robbers by taking turn about with each others.”

Stationing troops in the area—an oft-used solution for localized outbreaks of irregular violence in Kentucky—wouldn’t do in this case; outside soldiers, the Logan County contingent argued, “are unacquainted with the country and its citizens and can do but little in catching guerillas who are well acquainted with both people and country.” Put another way, guerrillas had home field advantage against regular troops and it would take an insider to catch an insider. Smith and his comrades were willing to use their own intimate knowledge of Logan County to hunt pro-Confederate bushwhackers (on a part-time basis), so long as Governor Bramlette would provide them with supplies, firearms, and the state’s permission to wield them with lethal force.

Perhaps most interesting, though, is the postscript of Smith’s letter. It reads as follows:

P.S. We are troubled by all sorts of Guerillas. Since writing the above, I learn that a squad of federal guerillas or negro Soldiers from Clarksville Tenn. came into the neighborhood of Voleny last night (the place visited by rebel guerillas two nights before) and stripped the citizens of their negroes and horses. It is a perfect outrage upon our country. The Federal Soldiers at Clarksville are so busy recruiting negroes that they pay no more attention to guerillas and robbers than if they belonged to the same class of individuals. If we are permitted to raise our company give us instruction what is to be done with negro guerillas. I think we can raise from 150 to 200 men a portion of whom can always be in motion and when necessary all can act.

Aside from Smith’s views on black enlistment, this addendum reveals the extent to which Logan County residents were caught between a gray rock and a blue hard place: pro-Confederate guerrillas would raid a neighborhood and take what food and horseflesh they needed to operate in the bush. Then a group of Unionist guerrillas—sometimes even black Unionist guerrillas—would come through the same neighborhood, accusing the residents of having willingly supplied the Confederates. This cycle could repeat itself ad infinitum (and often in the reverse order), with local citizens trapped in the middle. And it was anything but limited to Logan County — this was a state-wide problem.

So if you’re interested in finding out how Governor Bramlette, private citizens like John Smith, and/or Kentucky’s military forces waged war against irregular combatants, check out this subject guide on Guerrilla Warfare — but be advised that it only represents the tip of the iceberg.


SUBJECT GUIDE: Guerrilla Warfare

KYR-0001-001-0008Thomas E. Bramlette, Proclamation by the Governor, Jan. 4, 1864

It is in the power of persons whose sympathies are with the rebellion to prevent guerrilla raids, almost invariably, by furnishing to Military Officers of the United States or State of Kentucky, the information which experience has proved them to be, as a general thing, possessed of.

If all would unite, as is their duty, in putting down guerrillas, we should soon cease to be troubled with their raids. A neglect to afford all assistance and information which may aid in defeating the designs of marauding parties, can but be construed as a culpable and active assistance to our enemies.

I, therefore, request that the various Military Commandants in the State of Kentucky will, in every instance where a loyal citizen is taken off by bands of guerrillas, immediately arrest at least five of the most prominent and active rebel sympathizers in the vicinity of such outrage for every loyal man taken by guerrillas. These sympathizers should be held as hostages for the safe and speedy return of the loyal citizens. Where there are disloyal relatives of guerrillas, they should be the chief sufferers. Let them learn that if they refuse to exert themselves actively for the assistance and protection of the loyal, they must expect to reap the just fruits of their complicity with the enemies of our State and people.

KYR-0001-002-0018Berry S. Young et al. to Thomas E. Bramlette, Feb. 16, 1864

The Undersigned citizens of Crittenden having been informed that by Legislative enactment and by the authority vested in you as Governor of said State that forces are to be Raised for the defense of the state against Guerrilla invasion if such be the fact We would Recommend to your favorable Consideration Lieut F S Loyd of Co H 20th Ky Regt as Col and J N Hughey 1st Sergt Co E 48th Ills Regt ^for Lt Col^ both Recruited from this (Crittenden) County both of them accomplished Gentlemen and Soldiers they Refer you to Col Edward of your Staff By promoting those Young Gentlemen you will greatly oblige the Undersigned and Reward merit gained by gallant service in their countrys cause

Berry S Young clk c c c

James M Steele

W C Carnahan

S L. R. Wilson

Robt F Haynes County Atty,,

J H Walker Clerk

Crittenden Circuit Court

D N Stinson Post Master at Marion Crittenden Co Ky

John N Woods

Alfred Armstrong

James W Wilson —

  1. E. Black

J C Henson

  1. L. Leigh

S U Elder

KYR-0001-004-0996George Shirley and E. Wilty, Affidavit, Jun. 13, 1864

State that John Branstetter an infirm old man of near 70- years has lived many years in this county (formerly Barren County) a respected & good citizen and up to the commencement of this Rebellion a Sober & discreet man- that the Guerrilas Robbed him of a great deal of his property. From the troubles consequent there to & the additional fact we suppose, that his two sons Joined an independent company called the “Metcalfe Tigers” for the purpose of hunting down guerrillas & were exposed to many dangers the Old man took to drink- While in one of his drinking sprees he was induced by some bad men to go into the woods & play a game of cards. The game was played on his land & money was bet & won as appears by the evidence Testimony of a credible witness- who chanced to come upon them & saw the game He has been indicted therefore tried & fined $200- which is the least the law provides in such cases This old man is often delirious & wild wherein these drinking sprees & has to be guarded sometimes We his neighbors & friends are candid in representing that we think this is one of the few cases which demand the interposition of the Governor and ask that his fine be remitted.

KYR-0001-004-1941Z. Wheats to Thomas E. Bramlette, Jun. 19, 1865

I called at your office to-day & left for your consideration, the Petition of Capt. Edwin Terrell of the Independent Ky Scouts. I hope you will grant the prayer of his petition. He is one of the bravest men I ever saw, & has done more to rid Kentucky of Guerrillas than any man I have heard of. The fact is, his little band have been more effective in this service, than some Brigades of Cavalry. His head quarters were in Shelbyville & they gave our town & county protection which we could not have obtained from any other source.

KYR-0001-004-1380Hill and Knott to Thomas E. Bramlette, Dec. 16, 1864

Sir: As you are doubtless aware this portion of our State has long been infested by a gang of Guerrillas whose depredations have been committed almost with impunity, in Spite of the utmost vigilence of the Military, whose efforts to capture or destroy them, they have constantly managed to elude. So frequent and successful have been their forays—characterized by murder robbery and plunder—that their presence has become a cause of extreme terror to the citizens of whatever portion of our community they may mark as their prey. Some three weeks ago they made a raid through a portion of this County murdering some, robbing others, and maltreating in some manner, nearly all with whom they met.

KYR-0002-225-0083M. E. Poynter to Thomas E. Bramlette, Feb. 15, 1865

I trouble you with a line in regard to the recruiting officer for the State Service at this place who professes to have authority— from you to raise a company &c. I refer to W. W. Harper— and as a citizen and a Union man in behalf of the cause—the community, your own good name and of common decency I protest against such an appointment—As badly as this service demands men and as much as we have suffered from guerrillas we as a community had rather Quantrell, would pay an occasional visit than be annoyed by this man in “brief authority”— all the time.

KYR-0001-003-0086E. H. Hobson to Thomas E. Bramlette, Mar. 5, 1864

The 37th Ky Mounted Inft has greatly improved, Since Col C J Hann took command this Regt has recd its Horse equipments and enfield rifles but to make them more efficient would most respectfully Suggest that you arm two or four compns of the regt with Ballard Carbines or muskatoons I am anxious to have the Regt mounted and send them to the Cumberland to protect the Border Counties. the notorious Gurilla Capt Richardson and nine of his men will arrive here to day as Prisoners, they Justly merit and I hope will be punished with death give Col Hansons wishes your favourable consideration.

KYR-0002-022-0062W. M. Allen to Thomas E. Bramlette, Dec. 23, 1864

The last raid resulted in the death of two of our best citizens, and the killing of three of the band, and the wounding of three others of them. It was at first supposed that two of them killed at Jeffersontown were Federal soldiers, taken prisoners by the gurillas but we are all satisfied that they were deserters & gurillas. Our people are now pretty thoroughly aroused, and are anxious to have them pursued and exterminated. When pursued, these cut throats flee to the Salt River hills and scatter about among their friends and cant be found. We know who many of their aiders and abettors are but have no power to punish. The Military Authorities give us but little protection. We want something of our own that will be more efficient. It is proposed by some to raise 100 men in our county at our own expense!

KYR-0002-225-0079John F. Lay to Thomas E. Bramlette, Mar. 11, 1865

I have the Honor to make aplication to you for authority to recruit a Company of State troops to Serve in the State of Ky for the period of twelve months I have Served over three years in the Fedral army and know Cannot remain at Home on account of Gurillas if you will favor me with authority please Send me Some Blank Enlistment papers

KYR-0002-225-0037W. H. H. Faris to Thomas E. Bramlette, Apr. 24, 1864

I have presumed to address your excellency on a matter of some importance. It is the method we should adopt as the most proper for the defence of our state. The two already provided, the state troops and militia, have not proved sufficiently available. It is as much as the state troops can do, to guard the frontier, so, as to prevent the greater inroads of bodies of five hundred men. And sometimes a thousand. While parties of from thirty to forty can slip in between the posts that establishes the military chain along the southern border, effect every species of robbery, and commit any depredations they wish, and pass out again with perfect impunity. This predatory warfare is to be made on Kentucky during the three seasons when the woods are thicker, so they (the guerrillas) can practice it with greater security. This mode of warfare is characterized by the guerilla chieftains as the scouting systems. All this the militia are intended to prevent, but in which they will most signally fail; as they have done as they have done already.
Because there is ^no^ method, no arrangement no anything about them that is calculated to intercept, or overtake one of those flying bands of guerillas that pass through one county, and into another (committing all the mischief they wish) before the one has been, or the other is aware of its approach.

KYR-0001-019-0156Bennett Spearger to D. E. Downing, Aug. 14, 1862

The guerrilla warfare is working its ruin as a cause produces its effect a few yesterday about 2. oclock. P.M. there were 2 Union Men Killed on the Road leading from my house to Thompson Arterberry’s Hamilton and a bout 30 other men came into Tompkinsville yesterday morning a bout 8. oclk a.m. and had Nathaniel Austin and ^a^ young Hefflin Prisenors they shot Austin through the head and lefthis Brains was scatered in the road and they shot Heflin in several places, you are acquaintd ^with^ Austin and Heflin Both neither of them you Know never belong to any army the man who stealthily takes deliborate aim at the husband and Father of a helpless family ^and^ because he is freind to his Country, sends the mesenger of death to drink his life blood and compells the heart stricken widow and helpless Orphans to seek protection and support at the hands of a cold unfeeling world. Could the hands of a cold grave’s dread monster enter claim to such a fiend in any form too horrid to mete out to them there just deserts

SOURCE: John T. Smith to Thomas E. Bramlette, 14 June 1864, Kentucky Department of Military Affairs (KDMA).

CWG-K’s “Best of” – 2015 Edition

2015 was an eventful year for the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition. Numerous fellows utilized the power of the ever-growing database (you can apply to be one here), we are steadily approaching the launch of an Early Access edition of 10,000 documents and transcriptions and a Beta prototype. Governor’s Day — an interactive open house introducing the project to other departments at the Kentucky Historical Society — was a major success.

To recap the year, we’ve organized a series of “Best of” lists that chronicle everything from our individual takes on the most powerful people of Civil War Kentucky to the most memorable deaths to time travel (more on this anon). We hope you’ll enjoy reading these lists these as much as we enjoyed creating them.

POWER RANKINGS: Based on their own criteria, each member of the CWG-K editorial staff was asked to rank a “Power 5” group of figures found in the database.


  1. George W. Johnston – Powerful Judge of the Louisville City Court, a Louisville/Jefferson County pardon application was never complete and rarely received a positive reply without his signature.
  2. John B. Huston – Besides competing for the worst handwriting award for Civil War Kentucky—stiff competition from James F. Robinson and James Guthrie—Huston was a power broker, attorney and state legislator from central Kentucky, whose endorsement of a pardon application carried a lot of weight with multiple Kentucky governors.
  3. John B. Temple – Attorney, banker, and president of the Kentucky Military Board—Temple exerted a lot of power in all Kentucky military matters. He and the Military Board of Kentucky were de facto Commander-in-chief of Kentucky, slowly whittling away Beriah Magoffin’s military authority with the aid of the Kentucky General Assembly.
  4. George W. Norton – President of the Southern Bank of Kentucky, he was a Magoffin ally, made sizable loans the Commonwealth of Kentucky to support Magoffin in his efforts to purchase arms early in the war. Other banks made similar investments, yet Norton appeared to have the ear of the governor.
  5. C. D. Pennebaker – Lawyer, politician, Colonel of the 27th Kentucky Infantry, and Kentucky Military Agent in Washington, DC. He served in the legislature, commanded troops in battle, and served in a civilian military post for Kentucky in DC. In addition to this he wrote the more thorough letters and reports. Kudos Mr. Pennebaker!


  1. W. T. Samuels – Not unlike Matt Damon’s character in The Good Shepherd, Samuels had the dirt on everyone following his stint as state auditory. Given his knowledge of everyone’s finances and his legal prowess, he was a potential kingmaker in the Blue Grass. (In other words, there’s a reason he’s one of the few through-and-through Unionists to remain powerful in state government post-1865.)
  2. D. W. Lindsay – He commanded a crew of paid guerrilla hunters under the heading of “secret police”; these men, like Edwin “Bad Ed’ Terrell, were paid to track down and kill Kentucky’s most notorious bushwhackers.
  3. Stephen Burbridge – Though he technically fell under the authority of Thomas Bramlette in Kentucky, Burbridge more or less did as he pleased, which included deeming other powerful Union officers (like Gen. John B. Huston) disloyal and having them arrested on behalf of President Lincoln.
  4. Thomas Bramlette – As governor he oversaw nearly all of the state’s wartime activities—and was still expected to keep civil government afloat.
  5. E. H. Taylor, Sr. – Taylor was a member of the influential Military Board (which oversaw military purchases for the state) at the same time he helped run one of the state’s major money-lenders. If you needed a loan—and Kentucky always needed a loan—this was the man to see.


  1. Thomas Bramlette – He takes first place by virtue of holding the highest office for the longest amount of time, evidenced by almost 3,000 documents.
  2. John W. Finnell – As Adjutant General, principal military advisor to Gov. Bramlette while a war was raging, he was in a very influential role.
  3. Samuel Suddarth – Serving as Quarter Master General, Suddarth was tasked with keeping the troops supplied by managing the ordering & distributing of supplies essential to the war effort.
  4. James F. Robinson – Though he served as Governor for a short time, he was part of a compromise wherein the Confederate-leaning Magoffin agreed to step down and let Robinson, a moderate, take over. Interestingly, since he never resigned his Senate seat, he technically filled both rolls simultaneously.
  5. James Garrard – He served as State Treasurer throughout the war, and as Mayer Amschel Rothschild allegedly said, “Let me issue and control a nation’s money and I care not who makes the laws.”


  1. James F. Robinson – Don’t let his one-year term as Governor fool you, Robinson played state politics as adeptly as Frank Underwood could have done. While we can’t know if he pushed anyone in front of a train, Robinson adeptly turned down the senate speakership before having a cabal of Lexington friends arrange Magoffin’s resignation and his convoluted ascension to the Executive Mansion. As George Washington showed, the best way to accrue power is to look like you don’t want it. More astonishingly, Robinson refused to vacate his senate seat, leaving him free to return to harassing the Lincoln administration via the Committee on Federal Relations after Bramlette took office.
  2. Hamilton Pope – Louisville politics ran through Hamilton Pope. An old-Whig and former Know-Nothing, Pope was undoubtedly part of the closed-door decision that cut Louisville German and Irish immigrants out of independent regiments and elevated his brother, Curran Pope, to a Colonelcy. In addition to being an invaluable petition signature for anyone hoping for a pardon out of the Jefferson Circuit Court, Pope also runs point on using city government and the police department to enforce (increasingly irrelevant) fugitive slave laws.
  3. Rufus K. Williams – A fiercely Unionist circuit judge from the overwhelmingly Confederate Jackson Purchase, Williams raised a military unit and used his recruits to broker a deal for himself. When the time came to muster his troops into federal service, Williams traded a permanent military commission for a seat on the Kentucky Court of Appeals (the forerunner of the state supreme court) vacated by rebel sympathizer Alvin Duvall—ditching a hostile local electorate for a secure post backed by the statewide Unionist majority.
  4. Madison C. Johnson – His brother, rebel governor George W. Johnson, gets all the headlines in the family, but Madison Johnson controlled most of the available credit in the Bluegrass via the Northern Bank of Kentucky in Lexington. Johnson arranged hundreds of thousands of dollars in military loans to the Commonwealth in 1861-62—and was never hesitant to hold up the next installment to ease along a friend’s military commission. His loans to the state, backed by eventual federal repayment, helped his bank weather the collapse of many borrowers’ fortunes after slavery ended in 1865.
  5. Sherley & Woolfolk – This Louisville corporate duo of Zachariah M. Sherley and Richard H. Woolfolk often appear together in documents. Their firm ran a number of steamboats along the Ohio River and operated an outfitting business that sold supplies to others. Consequently, whether the state needed to move a battalion from Maysville to Paducah or buy a few barrels of ships biscuit to feed a hungry regiment, Sherley & Woolfolk were ready and willing to profit. That they signed insider political petitions under their corporate name shows an awareness of the importance of their business to the management of the war and, perhaps, some intuition for hammering home a branding message.

MOST MEMORABLE NAMES: Our editors have compiled a list of the most memorable names encountered in the CWG-K database in 2015.

  • Greenberry Tingle
  • Swift Raper
  • Wam Timbar (involved in a hatchet-throwing case, if you can believe it)
  • Green Forrest
  • August Worms

MOST MEMORABLE DEMISE: If you’ve followed the CWG-K blog over the past few months, it’s readily apparent that the database has no paucity of unusual and/or gruesome deaths. Each editor has selected the most memorable demise.


  • Jane Doe Murder Victim – In October 1865, evidence was presented concerning the corpse of a woman, approximately twenty-five years old, found on the outskirts of Louisville. The following is a description of her condition: “Her wounds are as follows a cut over each Eye one on forehand Forehead one just in front of Right Ear. Several Bruises on inside of right thigh and a wound which looked as though the flesh was twisted out her intestines was puled from her body through the Fundament Showing an act of the moste Diabolical rufianian the intestines cut or pulled loose from her body. Her cloths were all torn off of her not a Partickel remaining on her except one garter. Her right arm had been amputated just below the shoulder. the Evidences was plain of a sever strugle with some one from all I can learn I think a Negro did it.”


  • Ewing Litterell – An uninvited Litterell drunkenly barged into the home of James Savage, proclaimed himself “a stud horse” and boasted that he’d had sexual relations with all of the women in the house (and that he would do it again whenever he pleased). Savage let a full load of buckshot — which he fired into Litterell’s chest — serve as a “no you won’t.”


  • Philip Medard – In January 1864, Philip Medard of Jefferson County died of cold and starvation after his son, Jacob Medard, “did confine & Starve his said father in an out house & kitchen & did starve and freeze him the said Philip by refusing to provide meat & food & clothing for him, & by thus exposing him to the weather.” There are definitely more violent deaths in the CWG-K database, but to date, only one happened in the out house.


  • Colonel Francis M. Alexander – In what seems to have been an un-diagnosed case of post-traumatic stress disorder, Alexander drew a pistol on and killed a good friend without any motive or memory of the incident. His pardon petition is a moving account of a man coming to grips with his actions and his state of mind. “The exciting circumstances of the rebellion and its fearful consequences…which in rapid and mournful succession swept over his native, and beloved State, have Come upon his anxious and troubled mind with such force, that many events have transpired in his history during the last four years of his country’s trial, which appear to him almost as a dream.”

MOST OUTRAGEOUS PARDON: A major component of the CWG-K archive is requests for executive clemency. Each member of the editorial staff was tasked with identifying the most memorable pardon of 2015.


  • Otha Reynolds – In May 1862, Peter Gastell jumped bail and caused his bondholder, Reynolds, to forfeit $1000 to the court. That is, until Reynolds petitioned Governor Thomas Bramlette for clemency. Bramlette gave no legal justification for issuing Reynolds a remission, but said this: “Being in a merciful mood Ordered that this forfeiture except costs & fees be remitted.”


  • Michael Foley – An Irish rail worker and former Union vet, Foley believed that Merritt and Vardiman Dicken were pro-Confederate guerrillas on the run. In reality, the Dicken brothers were themselves fleeing from an attack by pro-Confederate bushwhackers. Foley attempted to detain the brothers and killed Merritt in the process. Governor Thomas E. Bramlette granted Foley a full pardon on the logic that it was better to accidentally kill men who might not have been guerrillas than to let any potential guerrillas escape unharmed.


  • Garrett Whitson – Supporters of Garrett Whitson successfully requested his pardon for murdering violent melon thief, John Spikard. In the petition, they do not claim his innocence, but rather report that Whitson was convicted on the flimsy evidence of two notorious prostitutes, relatives of the deceased. That, combined with his ill health and large family, was enough to procure his release.


  • Lawrence County Lynch Mob – In KYR-0001-004-3193, the members of a lynch mob on the Kentucky-West Virginia border preemptively write to Governor Bramlette late in 1865 after they have caught and summarily executed members of a pro-Confederate guerrilla band which had murdered many men in their community. “In getting Rid of them People Did not think that the act was unlawful & might get those Engaged in it in Trouble They only felt that Each man woman and child in our Valley was safer than before.”

TIME TRAVEL MEETING: Finally, we’ve asked each editor to select one character from the CWG-K archive that they would most like to spend an hour with when the Flux Capacitor becomes a reality.


  • Richard Hawes – Mostly to ask, where were you? What did you do for three years after you were installed as Provisional Governor of Kentucky?


  • Joseph Swigert – In a word: bourbon. The Swigert family owned the Leestown Distillery (which would later become E. H. Taylor’s O. F. C. Plant, then the George T. Stagg Distillery, and today Buffalo Trace).


  • Sarah Bingham – It’s safe to say that upon moving to Grant County in 1866, Ms. Bingham did not receive a warm welcome from the neighbors. The women of the area “were of the opinion that the morals of the neighborhood would not be improved by having in their midst a common prostitute.”  When her cabin burned down, nine local men indicted for arson. The petitioners claim these men were honorable, respectable citizens who would never commit such a common crime and accuse Sarah Bingham of burning her own house down with the intent to disgrace these men. Their petition was refused by Bramlette, who, like myself, must have realized there was more to this story.




It’s a Hard Knock Life for… Everyone: The Laws of “Universal Adulthood” in Civil War Kentucky

By Matthew C. Hulbert

spencer1In 1865, a jury of Covington (KY) residents slapped William Spencer with a 3 ½ year sentence for stealing a pair of pants from a fellow boarder. Now, if you’re at all familiar with previous CWG-K bloggings, you know that convicted murderers, rapists, and rampaging guerrillas frequently found themselves on the business end of far lighter sentences than Spencer (and sometimes without any sentences at all). What makes this case all the more compelling, however, is that by modern standards—that is, by contemporary, western ones—William Spencer was still a child at the time of his trial. According to affidavits, he was “left an orphan at two years of age and was tenderly reared by his Grandparents who were worthy members of the Methodist Church.” His grandparents died soon after and, while living with an uncle, young William fell in with “bad associations.” At roughly fifteen years of age, he quit “Sabbath School,” ran away from home, found a job, lost it, and was induced by poverty to steal the aforementioned pair of trousers.

At first take, sending a fifteen year old boy to the state penitentiary—a facility brimming with much older, more violent inmates—for stealing a pair of pants seems unthinkable. Even more so when we recall that the pants weren’t even new and couldn’t have been worth more than a few dollars. In reality, though, this wasn’t all that unusual of an occurrence in Civil War Kentucky. To put things mildly, perceptions of adolescence and understandings of how the law should be applied to children was a combined mess.

turman1Take for example the legal woes of James L. Turman, a tavern owner in Boyd County, who was fined $50 for “selling liquor to an infant.” The legal drinking age in Kentucky was twenty-one, then as now, and Turman fully confessed to having sold spirits to Sobble Burgess in spring 1863. The barkeeper defended himself, however, owing to the facts that at the time of the sale, Burgess was twenty years old and representing himself as twenty-one, but was also “well grown,” “doing business for himself,” and had permission from his father to drink. Perhaps most strikingly of all, in May 1863 when he bought the drink, Burgess was a candidate in Catlettsburg’s mayoral election, which Turman assumed could only be so if Burgess was “in his majority.”

Then we have the case of John Watson, a fourteen year old boy who enlisted in the Provost Guard as a drummer in 1861. A couple of years later, when part of his battalion was mustered out of service, Watson “reenlisted in Capt Flares Mounted company 34th Ky Vols.” This move prompted Colonel W. Y. Dillard of the 34th Kentucky Infantry to write Governor Thomas E. Bramlette with a request to have John transferred to his command; apparently the Colonel had “promised his [Watson’s] widowed mother to take care of him So long as I remain in the service.” In other words, with the Union not facing troop shortages like the Confederacy, Dillard understood that Watson was still a child and believed that he didn’t belong in combat service. (Once under his purview, Dillard could have Watson put back into his role as a drummer boy.)

Around the same time Dillard was trying to secure a transfer for Watson, a “free man of color” named Peter Yager was being convicted of larceny. According to petitioners on his behalf, Peter “was charged with stealing Tobacco, which was tied up in large hands & handled indifferently, and upon the trial, the proof introduced established beyond a doubt, that said Boy Peter, raised & cured just such Tobacco.” They also argued that “the Boy Peter proved a good character from his youth up to said trial, for industry and honesty his age was also proven to be from 15 to 17 years.” Translation: Peter’s (white) defenders believed that a farmer had carelessly lost his own tobacco and then blamed Peter for stealing it to cover the loss, despite proof that the young man had raised his own crop. Even the town marshal who’d originally arrested Peter and the prosecutor who’d convicted him signed the plea for executive clemency.

akin1Finally, we come to the October 1863 saga of Graham Akin, a fourteen year old boy from Danville. Described as “very delicate & slender,” Akin was swinging in the gymnasium of the Frankfort-based Waterman School when Thomas Davenport, three or four years Akin’s senior and billed as “heavy & stout,” stood in front of the swing and refused to move. Akin tried to ignore the bully; “he continued his exercises and slightly brushed against Davenport, where-upon Davenport Choaked and otherwise maltreated Akin.” In response, Akin snapped: he “rushed into the house of Mr Waterman, sized his gun and shot Davenport with small shot.” A grand jury in Frankfort indicted Akin on a charge of “shooting, in sudden heat and passion … with intent to kill.” Despite being held on $6000 bond, when Akin pled guilty to the charges, he was found guilty and fined just $50.

So what happened to all of these “child criminals?” And more importantly, what sense can we make of their stories?

  1. In September 1863, John Turman had his fine remitted for selling liquor to a minor and, while it appears Sobble Burgess lost his bid for the mayor’s office, he was never legally disciplined for misleading Turman.
  2. In December 1863, William Spencer was pardoned after serving only about a month of his prison sentence; he went to live in New York with relatives and, as far as we can tell, stayed out of trouble.
  3. Unfortunately, we aren’t sure if John Watson was transferred to the care of Colonel Dillard—or if he survived the war.
  4. We do know, however, that freeman Peter Yager had served half of his prison term by the time his petition was rejected by Governor Thomas Bramlette and that he spent another six months in the state penitentiary. (This isn’t a major surprise: by 1863–64, Governor Bramlette did little to hide contempt for his African American constituents.)
  5. And, lastly, there’s Graham Akin, who pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was fined a whopping $50. Upon appeal to Governor Bramlette, his fine was remitted. Davenport, now sporting a nasty scar, presumably stopped picking on Akin.

As their cases collectively illustrate, from regulations on drinking and firearms to military service and everyday criminal offences, the law in Kentucky generally failed to take a consistent stance on children. On one hand, the state enforced a mandatory drinking age, which clearly transmitted the idea that some citizens (those under twenty one) were not yet considered “legal adults” by the law’s reckoning. But the state also allowed boys technically under the legal enlistment age to serve in the military, which immediately weakens the notion that mandatory age limits were strictly enforced across the board and calls into question how the state could justify not allowing a twenty year old citizen to drink whiskey on account of his age but saw no issue with handing him a rifle and sending him into Napoleonic combat. (A question many still ask of current drinking and enlistment laws in the United States.)

On the other hand, though, we see numerous instances of children either being punished as adults for petty crimes, such as stealing worthless pants, or being pardoned due to their youth and inexperience for very serious crimes, such as attempted murder. This indicates that to some extent, the legal code in Kentucky blanketed all of the state’s residents, regardless of age, with a “universal adulthood”—while at the very same time the people who supposedly made and maintained that legal code (the governor, judges, lawyers, town marshals, etc.) understood more often than not that children ought to have been afforded unique treatment by the justice system.

Why they didn’t take the time to update the books and infuse stability into the juvenile sector of the justice system is anyone’s guess, though being trapped in the middle of the bloodiest military conflict in American history probably had something to do with it. Regardless, Kentucky was the epitome of contradiction when it came to legally dealing with children in the 1860s. Then again, given the state’s penchant for Conservative Unionism, its self-injuring methods for combating irregular violence, and the peculiar, even counter-intuitive legal hoops it jumped through to protect slavery, when wasn’t Kentucky a contradiction during the Civil War?

Matthew C. Hulbert is an Assistant Editor of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.

SOURCES: Richard Areson, Affidavit, n. d., Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, Kentucky (hereafter KDLA); Richard Areson to Thomas E. Bramlette, 24 Nov 1865, KDLA; James L. Furman to James F. Robinson, 4 May 1863, KDLA; Charles B. Cotton to Thomas E. Bramlette, 6 Jan 1864, KDLA; P. U. Major, W. H. Sneed, and John M. Hewitt, Jr. to Thomas E. Bramlette, 23 Oct 1863, KDLA; S. D. Delaney et al. to Thomas E. Bramlette, n. d., KDLA; H. M. Pierce to Beriah Magoffin, 28 May 1861, KDLA; W. Y. Dillard to Thomas E. Bramlette, 9 March 1864, KDLA; W. L. Jermane to Thomas E. Bramlette, 28 Nov 1865; KDLA.

Mental Health and Criminal Justice in Civil War Kentucky

By Matthew C. Hulbert

In 1862, Thomas Edrington shot and killed his wife at point-blank range. A murder trial ensued — the verdict of which hinged largely on the matter of Thomas’s sanity and the court’s consideration of his health…

To find out what happened to Thomas Edrington and how CWG-K documents can help us understand the intersection of mental health, crime, and legal justice in Civil War Kentucky, please check out this week’s dispatch from the CWG-K archives graciously hosted by Nursing Clio.

One Time in Civil War Kentucky…: Intemperance and Crime on the Homefront

By Matthew C. Hulbert

Within the database of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition, cases abound of alcohol-related crimes: gambling, vandalism, larceny, tippling, rape, and even murder. This shouldn’t land as much of a surprise: law enforcement distracted by a war on the homefront, hard economic times, easy access to deadly weapons, and even easier access to liquor all tended to mix as poorly in the mid-nineteenth century as in the present. In the simplest terms, as the following four cases will underscore, Civil War Kentucky was a stage set for tragic—and oft-times bizarre—intersections of intemperance and crime.

The last words of an inebriated Ewing Litterell.

The last words of an inebriated Ewing Litterell.

We begin with the booze-fueled demise of Ewing Litterell. On a spring evening in 1858, he arrived—intoxicated and uninvited—at the Savage household. There, James Savage lived and cared for his elderly parents, while also providing for his younger sisters. According to court testimony, Litterell burst into the house “with a pale of whiskey” in hand and “declared his intention to have a frolic.” James vehemently protested the intrusion and commanded Litterell to leave. In response, Litterell “exposed his person in the presence of the family” and proclaimed that “he was a stud horse and had had intercourse with all the family both mother and sisters and would do so again when it suited his convenience.” To this final insult, James Savage responded not with his mouth, but with his rifle; Litterell fell dead in his tracks. Savage was charged with manslaughter and imprisoned for five years before receiving a pardon in September 1863.

Now consider the plight of 70-year-old John Branstetter, once an upstanding citizen, but by June 1864, a virulent alcoholic. As described by men petitioning Governor Thomas Bramlette to remit a gambling fine on his behalf, Branstetter had generally been known as a “sober & discreet man.” That is, until an encounter with Confederate guerrillas derailed his life. In addition to being robbed of “a great deal of his property,” Branstetter’s two sons “joined an independent company called the ‘Metcalfe Tigers’ for the purpose of hunting down guerrillas & were exposed to many dangers.” The thought of his boys gunned down in the bush by heartless marauders drove John Branstetter straight into the bottle. To be fair, he certainly wouldn’t have been the only father to cope with a son’s military service by drinking. But, as the petitioners also revealed, Branstetter wasn’t your average drunk—liquor made him “delirious and wild.” He became so untamed, in fact, that he literally had to be “guarded” by neighbors once a drinking spree ensued. His plea for clemency was rejected.

Next, we have the account of Mary Doolin, who was “shot & died from Effects of same, by a gun in hands of one Thomas Kinsloe.” Supporters of Kinsloe alleged that he’d come home one day in October 1864 to find Doolin drunk in his house. The two had always been friends, but on this day, for reasons unexplained, “he & her had a fuss” in which “she tried to scald him.” Kinsloe grabbed and aimed a shotgun at Doolin, though, if we believe his side of the story, he believed the gun unloaded and only intended to scare her. Regardless of what Kinsloe believed, when he pulled the trigger, smoke and lead shot erupted from the barrel, the latter striking his stunned target in the hip. The wound proved quite serious and the rest of Mary Doolin’s life would not be pleasant. “She was taken to the hospital” where, after several days of agony, a group of “unskillful surgeons amputated her leg.” Doolin died soon after and Kinsloe went to prison—though he always claimed the surgeons had done more to kill Doolin than he had.

And, finally, we come to the legal troubles of Lafayatte Brafford and John Mullins. In spring 1862, a Kenton County jury found both men guilty of manslaughter following their roles in the death of a man named David McCullough. Everything had started a few weeks earlier when Brafford and Mullins, both “having indulged in drink too freely,” jumped into the carriage of a passing meat wagon. In the process, “Brafford by accident sat down in a bowl of sausage meat.” The wagon’s owner, the aforementioned McCullough, briefly scolded Brafford and Mullins. The pair of drunkards then followed McCullough back to his butcher’s shop, where a general melee ensued. Mullins attempted to enter the shop, but McCullough refused to let him in and blocked the doorway. In turn, Mullins shouted “You won’t do me that way!” to which McCullough responded by hitting him in the face with a two pound weight. Though staggered by the blow, Mullins managed to drag McCullough to the floor with him—at which time Brafford ran forward and stabbed McCullough three times with a small pocketknife. According to testimony, the wounds were only superficial, which explains how McCullough kept fighting.

A few minutes later, all three men were winded; they sat staring at each other on the steps of McCullough’s shop. Mullins asked McCullough if his nose was bleeding. McCullough informed Mullins that it was, in fact, and Mullins retorted that McCullough’s nose was also bleeding—just as he landed a brutal sucker punch to McCullough’s jaw. This ended the fight, but not for sake of the punch itself. Almost at once, all three men realized that their brawling had splintered a barrel and that one of the shards had punctured McCullough’s abdomen. The wound bled profusely and the butcher died twelve days later, almost certainly from infection. Despite their initial convictions, both Brafford and Mullins requested pardons from Governor Beriah Magoffin after only a few months in the state penitentiary. Their supporters alleged that “both Brafford & Mullins were intoxicated greatly” at the time of the assault and could not, therefore, truly be held responsible. (In other words, the liquor made them do it.) Moreover, Mullins apparently promised that “after the lesson of the past few months”—in which he’d drunkenly vandalized a man’s property and then helped kill him—he would “forever abandon intoxicating drink, & adhere to those habits of industry & sobriety for which he has been so uniformly noted during the years of his youth & early manhood.” Magoffin granted both pardons.

The sagas of Ewing Litterell, John Branstetter, and Mary Doolin are not recounted here to suggest that good things didn’t happen to people who drank excessively in Civil War Kentucky. (After all, it’s no great secret that the same booze that got Brafford and Mullins into trouble in the first place also formulated the grounds for the clemency they received from Magoffin. Occasionally, it seems, drunkenly committing a crime trumped committing it soberly.) However, it would also be incorrect to assume that bad things didn’t happen to non-drinkers. On that issue, look no further than James Savage, Thomas Kinsloe, or the unfortunate David McCullough who, when all was said and done, had essentially died over a man sitting in a bowl of sausage meat.

In the end, the flood of intemperance-related paperwork that crossed their respective desks should have made one thing abundantly clear to each of the state’s Civil War governors: between 1861 and 1865, the odds of finding oneself wild and delirious, arrested and fined, assaulted, stabbed, imprisoned, under the knife of incompetent surgeons, impaled by a barrel stave, or otherwise dying an unimaginably horrible death increased exponentially when distilled spirits entered the equation. But learning that lesson was one matter; attempting to force sobriety on a populace equal parts armed, enraged, and skeptical of government was another altogether. The smartest play any of the Civil War governors could make was probably to stick with the devil they knew—to let the people drink. And drink they did.

Matthew C. Hulbert is an Assistant Editor of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.

SOURCES: M. P. Buster to Unknown, 28 Sep 1863, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, Kentucky (hereafter cited as KDLA); Robert Miller et al. to Thomas E. Bramlette, n. d., KDLA; Affidavit of George Shirley and E. Wilty, 13 June 1864, KDLA; John L. Sallee to James F. Robinson, 20 May 1863, KDLA; Benjamin Fink et al. to Beriah Magoffin, 30 July 1862, KDLA; A. J. Gray to Beriah Magoffin, n.d., KDLA.

Pappy’s Pappy: Liquor, Law, and the Origins of a Legend in Civil War Era Kentucky

By Matthew C. Hulbert

On November 2, 1865, a petition arrived on the desk of Governor Thomas E. Bramlette. Two men from Wayne County, Granville Ingram and Levi Baker, each faced a $100 fine for “tipling.” (That is, for dealing in unlicensed liquor.) Relative to modern legal standards, it’s common to assume that alcohol restrictions were lax in the 1860s—if not altogether nonexistent. In fact, before proceeding with our story, it’s worth taking a moment to note that the production, sale, and consumption of distilled spirits in Kentucky were heavily regulated in the 1860s, almost as much as they are today. Even as the Civil War raged around them, scores of civilians found themselves in court for various liquor-related offenses: unlicensed distilling, unlicensed sale, selling in the wrong unit or quantity, selling liquor to minors, being drunk on duty, and a wide array of more violent, booze-fueled crimes ranging from arson and assault to homicide. (More on this in next week’s blogging.)

It would be easy, then—and admittedly more exciting—to imagine Ingram and Baker as something like the Popcorn Suttons of their day; small-time operators who defied the law to provide their customers with the oldest variety of old school Kentucky whiskey. In reality, though, they were legitimate salesmen; they had a pretty good excuse for their fines and, more important still, a very influential lawyer on their side.

As Bramlette scanned the petition, he would have immediately noticed that Ingram and Baker had “applied to and obtained from the Government of the United States a license in due form and paid the tax thereon.” Reading further, it would have become evident that the state’s own inability to function properly at war had contributed more to the conviction of Ingram and Baker than any true criminal mischievousness.

That they would also have obtained a license from the Trustees of Monticello and paid the tax thereon to the Corporation and to the state, but during the time they operated under the license from the general government, there were no trustees in Office, and Consequently they were unable to procure Corporation license. They state that they had no intention of violating any law or defrauding the state or Corporate authority, And moreover they carried on the business at the time of the invasion of this portion of the state by Rebels, and at the time law and Order was unknown in this section of the County.

In layman’s terms, Ingram and Baker had obtained the license required of them to sell whiskey by the federal government—but they also needed local and state licenses. (This likely means they were selling to the Union army; federal customers required federal licensing.) Owing to the aforementioned “invasion,” those local and state licenses were not readily available for purchase. As you can imagine, county clerks didn’t tend to hold fast and defend their posts when enemy forces, regular or guerrilla, arrived in town.

These things considered, Ingram and Baker implored Bramlette to “release them from the payment of that portion of the fines to which the State is entitled. In return, they even promised “not [to] annoy your Excellency with such importunities for the future.” Several citizens of Wayne County supported the petition, but none were more important than John Sallee Van Winkle, an attorney in Wayne County and the brother of Ephraim L. Van Winkle (then Kentucky’s secretary of state). Toward the end of the document, J. S. Van Winkle signed and insisted that “there can be no doubt but the remission asked is proper & should be granted.” Bramlette heeded his advice; the fines were remitted on November 13, 1865.

Ultimately, this case underscores how difficult it was for the state to maintain its civilian responsibilities during the war, but should also remind us that life didn’t simply pause on the homefront until the conflict concluded. The wheels of local and state government were expected to keep turning—which, as a result, should have allowed the whiskey to keep flowing. But the archive of The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition is overrun with tippling and bootlegging cases. The real interest in this story has to do with John Van Winkle and the role his family would play in the future of legal liquor ventures in the Bluegrass State.

40846871_125067809566In 1866, when E. L. Van Winkle passed away unexpectedly, John was tapped to finish his brother’s term as secretary of state. When the appointment ended, he returned to his law practice, and worked there until his own death in 1888. Given that he and his brother were such luminaries of the state’s legal community, it’s more than a little surprising that John’s son, Julian P. Van Winkle, didn’t follow in their footsteps and study the law. To this day, whether they know it or not, bourbon enthusiasts reap the rewards of his decision.

This is because J. P. Van Winkle is better-known as “Pappy”; he is the bespectacled, cigar-puffing old gentleman on the logos of Kentucky’s—and maybe even the world’s—most sought after bottles of bourbon. Today, there are three labels bearing the “Pappy” moniker: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year, Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year, and Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year. Generally impossible to find on store shelves, they’ve become the stuff of bourbon lotteries and an unprecedented heist in 2012 dubbed “Pappygate.”

Born in 1874 in Danville, Kentucky, Julian worked briefly as a store clerk before finding employ as a salesman at the wholesaling firm of W. L. Weller & Sons. (Yes—that W. L. Weller. He also shows up in the CWG-K archive, but that’s another story for another time.) Eventually Julian became a distiller himself and, after Prohibition, helped oversee operations at the famed Stitzel-Weller facility in Shively, on the outskirts of Louisville. A few years after his death in 1965, most of the S-W labels were sold, but Old Rip Van Winkle remained in the family and charge of the business has passed from generation to generation of Julian Van Winkle’s (Sr.) descendants.

pappy-van-winkle-23Now to argue that John Van Winkle’s defense of hardworking, but improperly licensed, whiskey peddlers inspired his son to become a bourbon icon would make for an incredible ending to our story. It would also be entirely apocryphal. Julian wasn’t born for a decade after the Ingram-Baker trial and odds are good that he never knew a thing about it. And even if he had, it wouldn’t have stood out. In those days, tippling cases in Kentucky truly were a dime a dozen.

But what he probably did know about, thanks to that wealth of tippling cases and his father’s legal work, was just how complicated and competitive the distilling industry could be, especially for someone just starting out in the business. So the truly remarkable point here isn’t that Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle eschewed a surefire (and no doubt lucrative) career in the family’s legal empire to make bourbon—it’s that in a family once known for powerful Civil War era litigators and secretaries of state, he transformed their empire into making bourbon.

Matthew C. Hulbert is an Assistant Editor of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.

SOURCES: “G. C. Ingram and L. P. Baker to Thomas E. Bramlette,” 2 Nov 1865, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, Kentucky; 1860 United States Federal Census; 1870 United States Federal Census; 1910 United States Federal Census; 1940 United States Federal Census.

Thomas Bramlette and “Guerrilla Law” in Civil War Kentucky

By Matthew C. Hulbert

HOMICIDE, n. The slaying of one human being by another. There are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable and praiseworthy, but it makes no great difference to the person slain whether he fell by one kind or another — the classification is for advantage of the lawyers.

– Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

“Where you find the word Guerrilla, may be understood murder, rape, arson, or robbery…”

– Major Gen. John M. Palmer, U.S.A.

By winter 1864, Kentucky’s homefront was drowning in irregular violence. Pro-Confederate guerrillas like Jerome Clark (alias Sue Mundy), Henry Magruder, Bill Marion, Samuel “One-Armed” Berry, Jim Davis, Hercules Walker, and untold others terrorized Unionists throughout the state. In turn, Unionist bushwhackers and guerrilla hunters—men such as Edwin “Bad Ed” Terrell and his band of “Independent Kentucky Scouts”—wrought their own brand of havoc on suspected Rebel sympathizers. Raiding, murder, retaliatory assassinations, and arson quickly became commonplace as Union authorities struggled, and largely failed, to find a solution. Such was the perilous environment into which two brothers from Taylor County ventured one December morning in search of a stolen mule. This unfortunate duo, Merritt and Vardiman Dicken, wouldn’t survive the day.

The Dickens first stopped at the farm of a known horse thief named Rinehart; he wasn’t home, but while the brothers conversed with his wife, two strangers appeared on horseback. The unnamed men volunteered to help Merritt and Vardiman find Rinehart, and possibly their lost animal with him. Not long after departing, however, “the two Dicken brothers, having become suspicious of the intentions of their two guides, refused at this point to go with them any further.” The situation quickly turned violent.

They [the strangers] quickly turned upon the two Dickens, took from them their pistols—shot one of them (Merritt Dicken) through the body, and the other turning to flee was also mortally wounded through the back. Merritt Dicken also turned to run, and he and his brother made all speed in the direction of a point on the extension of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad where some Irishmen were at work, about ¾ of a mile from where they were shot.

At the rail junction, things did not improve for Merritt and Vardiman. Because they approached “in a wild and excited manner on horseback at full speed” and both wore calico shirts with pistol belts, the rail men mistook the pair for guerrillas. And despite their story—and vows of Unionism—Michael Foley, a former private in the 9th Kentucky Cavalry, took it upon himself to arrest the Dicken brothers. They again fled for help, this time to the home of Charles Prewitt, where Foley caught up. With Vardiman resting inside the Prewitt house, Merritt twice refused to turn himself over to Foley peacefully, “whereupon Foley shot and killed him.” (Vardiman succumbed to his wounds a few days later, but not before relating the Dickens’ entire story to at least one witness.)

Foley was promptly arrested, charged with the murder of Merritt Dicken, and held on $5000 bail by Judge R. A. Burton of the Marion County Court. Before the trial had even concluded, area Unionists took to Foley’s defense; they argued that the circumstances of the case warranted full executive clemency from the governor, and told him as much in an official petition. After all, they claimed, the Dicken brothers had looked very much like guerrillas—heavily armed and thundering down on the rail junction at full gallop—and Foley only did “what he conceived to be his duty as a good citizen” to protect the community from marauders. Better still, the petitioners contended that the circumstances of the shooting, combined with “the impulsive nature [sic] characteristics of his race” should render Foley automatically innocent by reason of inferior genetics. In other words, who could really blame a stereotypically hotheaded Irishman for killing a guerrilla look-alike in a region infested with real guerrillas?

Even with such “creative” defenses, Foley’s prospects with the jury looked bleak. That is, until Governor Thomas Bramlette granted him a full pardon without even waiting to hear the jury’s decision. Perhaps even more remarkable than the act itself was the logic behind it:

The warfare of guirillas upon citizens of Kentucky and especially upon discharged soldiers justly condemns every guerrilla to outlawry and death whenever wherever & by whomsoever taken. It is a matter of self defence upon the part of every citizen who slays a guerilla at any time as well as defence of society … the facts in this case could not have justified any other belief in the mind of Foley … no man who kills a guerilla should suffer it I can prevent it and when an honest mistake like the present is superinduced by the imprudent conduct of the slain Executive Clemency is equally deserving.

Two points concerning Kentucky’s guerrilla war emerge from the Dickens’ story and Bramlette’s pardoning of Foley, the first explicit, the second inferred.

1. Irregular violence had become such a hopeless quandary by December 1864 that for Union authorities, it was safer to kill any potential guerrilla—at the risk of murdering innocent civilians like Merritt Dicken—than to chance any actual guerrillas escaping a just execution. (A little more than a week later, Governor Bramlette would issue a proclamation calling on Military Commandants to take “the most prominent and active rebel sympathizers” as hostages “in every instance where a loyal citizen is taken off by bands of guerrillas.” The “Summer of Burbridge” that followed was a disastrous misstep for anti-guerrilla operations.)

2. Though it probably didn’t dawn on Bramlette when he issued the pardon, in doing so, he effectively conceded that irregular violence had become so problematic as to necessitate still more irregular violence—in the form of vigilantism—to combat it. A vicious cycle, indeed.

Excerpt of Pardon from Gov. Thomas E. Bramlette

Spelling troubles aside, Governor Thomas E. Bramlette had very strong thoughts on Kentucky’s “guirillas” – see them in this excerpt from Foley’s pardon.

In this light, it really isn’t a stretch to say that the inability of Bramlette and the Union military to stamp out guerrilla activity simultaneously killed the Dicken brothers and justified freedom for one of their killers. Ambrose Bierce would have appreciated this irony on behalf of the murdered Merritt Dicken—especially considering Thomas Bramlette’s profession before ascending to the governorship: judge.


Matthew C. Hulbert is an Assistant Editor of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.

SOURCES: J. M. Fiddler and F. B. Merrimec to Thomas E. Bramlette, 18 Dec 1864, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, Kentucky (hereafter cited as KDLA); Hill and Knott to Thomas E. Bramlette, 16 Dec 1864, KDLA; Proclamation by Governor Thomas E. Bramlette, 4 Jan 1864, KDLA; John M. Palmer to Thomas E. Bramlette, 18 Oct 1865, KDLA.