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.

Homefront Hazards: Sexual Violence and the Court-Martial of Lt. Charles Helton

By Matthew C. Hulbert

In January 1864, a court-martial convened in Lexington, Kentucky, to decide the fate of Charles Helton. As Second Lieutenant of Company I, 39th Regiment, Kentucky Volunteer Mounted Infantry (U.S.A.), Helton and the men he commanded had an inherent duty to protect civilians from all manner of Confederate assault. The events of December 14, 1863, however, underscored the extent to which those civilians often needed guarding from the very men supposedly paid to protect them.

According to court documents, on the aforementioned December 14, 1863, Helton went to the house of Thomas Russell, himself a Union officer (a captain of the 45th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry) and “did in a rude and ungentlemanly manner use threatening and insulting Language to the wife and daughter of Capt Thos Russell.” More startlingly, Helton also tried to persuade Russell’s daughter to “accompany him from the house” and, when the young girl refused, he drew his pistol and shouted “By god you shall go or I will kill you.” The victim, whose first name was not revealed in the proceedings, successfully fled from the scene and escaped Helton’s ultimatum. For this incident, he was charged with “conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman,” though attempted kidnapping with the intent to commit rape might have been more appropriate given how the rest of the day would unfold…

Stung by his failure to lure off the young Miss Russell, Helton next went to the home of Emanuel Spence. There, he again hurled “insulting Language” and managed to fire his pistol in the house (fortunately not wounding anyone). Once more, he attempted to abscond with a female captive; having already displayed a willingness to use his gun, Helton employed “threats” of violence to “compel Mrs Zelphina Spence to accompany him one-fourth of a mile from her house, attempting to persuade her to go to camp with him, there to be as a wife to him.” She declined the invitation—and also managed to get away from Helton unharmed. This episode was added as a second specification to the “conduct unbecoming” charge.

Now smarting from two [un]romantic rejections, a more desperate (and almost certainly more inebriated) Helton returned to the Russell house and commenced to “rudely assault the wife of said Capt Russell.” Helton declared that he would “stay all night with her,” to which Mrs. Russell responded by telling him to leave. Not to be deterred, Helton replied emphatically, “By god. I will stay,” at which point Mrs. Russell wisely “ran into another room, and shut the door.” From there, the situation quickly turned violent.

Said Helton kicked the door violently, and said to her, “If you do not open the door, I will blow your God damned brains out,” and forced the door open, and followed said Mrs. Russell into another room; and caught hold of her and tore her dress open and thrust his hand into her bosom, saying, I have been on a scout fourteen days, and by God I must have you for my purposes now, and the said Helton did, by force, attempt to throw said Mrs. Russell on the bed.

As noted in court testimony, only the “timely appearance of two countrymen” stopped the assault and spared Mrs. Russell. For his final assault of the day, Helton was charged with “assault and battery with intent to commit rape.”

With regard to assault and battery, attempted rape, and conduct unbecoming, Helton plead guilty and was found as such on each charge. More curiously, he was not guilty of “drunkenness on duty,” despite the fact that liquor had clearly helped fuel his daylong “rampage” through Rock Castle, a community near the Kentucky-West Virginia border. The decision seems doubly odd in light of evidence showing that while on a scouting mission on the very morning of the day the assaults took place, Helton was deemed “intoxicated to such an extent that he was unable to command, and did permit his company to become demoralized and scattered in consequence of said intoxication.”

In addition to being stripped of his rank and pay, Helton was sentenced to three years of hard labor “with ball and chain attached to his leg.” At the end of his prison term, he was to be dishonorably discharged from the Union military. To modern eyes, Helton’s sentence appears rather light for an attempted rapist running around drunkenly with a gun—and even lighter for one essentially guilty three times over on the same day. But in 1864, three years of hard labor was a relatively harsh punishment for Helton’s crimes. In fact, the archives of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition are replete with cases of attempted rape and rape being downplayed, if not outright excused or justified, by male judges, lawyers, and jurors.

With this in mind, what probably provoked the firm sentence had less to do with justice for Mrs. Russell or Helton’s other female victims than it did with preserving support for the Union cause among civilians. In many parts of the state, the relationship between the Union government and civilians who wanted to remain in the Union but also to protect slavery was already rocky—and the military could scarcely afford to concede its ability to protect them from Confederate invaders or neighborhood bushwhackers, let alone from its own soldiers. Nor, for that matter, could it concede that civilians might be safer joining the ranks of the irregular war than relying on regular troops for protection.

In any case, as this story makes clear, we would be wise to remember that while Kentucky’s Civil War homefront was fraught with hazards—especially sexual ones for women—the danger didn’t always stem from contact with “the enemy” as we typically like to imagine him.

 

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


SOURCE: “General Orders No. 89,” Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, Kentucky.

Witnessing the War Beyond the Battlefield

Aside

By Patrick A. Lewis

How did the Civil War affect Kentuckians who weren’t in the armies, who didn’t fight in the pitched battles that usually spring to mind when we think of the Civil War?

Kentucky was a state that saw only a few such battles, Perryville being by far the largest.  But, if we look deeper into the historical records that the CWG-K project will make freely available and accessible, we begin to understand that the everyday battles for home, family, survival, and dignity in the face of a world tearing itself apart were to be found in every corner of the state.

As farms, families, and communities were being devastated by Kentucky’s intensely local civil war, countless citizens desperately looked to their state government for relief.  In August 1865—months after the war had officially ended and the guns supposedly fell silent—Colonel William De. B. Morrill met Mrs. White, a young widow who personified the suffering the war brought.

Mrs. White’s husband had died while serving in the Union army, leaving her to manage the family farm and a family as best she could.  This she had done until only recently, when rebel-sympathizing guerillas “had destroyed everything at Mt. Vernon,” where the family lived.  The widow’s home had been burned, and the marauders had “even shot her cow, while she was milking it, some of the balls passing through her dress.”  Worse, one of the children had been wounded in the attack, “as [Morrill] could see by the scar” on her shoulder.  Morrill, who was employed to buy food and supplies for sick and injured Kentucky soldiers, took it upon himself to expand his authority and help the widow.  He bought two meals for the White family, who had not “tasted a mouthful of food that day,” and gave them ten dollars in cash to help ease their suffering.[1]

Mrs. White’s brief encounter with this military likely produced the only document which will ever record her family’s tragedy.  One of the purposes of the CWG-K project is to reveal evidence of stories like this one, which recover forgotten, powerless, and voiceless Kentuckians.

The days of work involved in making each document like this one available and usable—capturing high-resolution images, transcribing the text, and researching and annotating each of the thousands of people and places our documents mention—is an investment in the legacy of these forgotten people.  CWG-K enables us all—teachers, students, researchers, local and family historians—to understand and remember the ways in which the Civil War tore apart the lives of thousands of Kentuckians—male and female, old and young, white and black—on and off the battlefield.

[1] William De. B. Morrill, Financial Statement, Aug. 8, 1865, Office of the Governor, Thomas E. Bramlette: Governor’s Official Correspondence File, Military Correspondence, 1863-1867, Box 5, BR5-202 to BR5-203, BR8-207 to BR8-208, Kentucky Department of Library and Archives, Frankfort, Kentucky.  The woman’s husband was probably Corporal John W. White, Co. H, 3rd Kentucky Infantry—Governor Bramlette’s regiment.  He died on April 10, 1863 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Compiled Service Record, John W. White, Corporal, Co. H, Third Kentucky Infantry; M319, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Kentucky, Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Kentucky, Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.