Marginalized Victims: Women and the Preservation of Honor in Civil War Kentucky

JURY, n. A number of persons appointed by a court to assist the attorneys in preventing law from degenerating into justice. – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

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By Matthew C. Hulbert

In July 1863, a Gallatin County man named Frank Story overpowered Jane Kelly, a local white woman. (This racial distinction is important because had Kelly been African American, a trial record would probably not exist.) He abducted his victim with one purpose in mind: “to have carnal knowledge with her.” Details are few and far between of the attack itself—but we do know that Story’s advances were unwanted (hence the abduction) and that he failed to complete his above stated purpose before being interrupted by multiple witnesses, who turned out to be children. A Grand Jury swiftly convened in Gallatin County and indicted Story for attempted rape (read the full document in Early Access). Not long after, a trial jury convicted him of a lesser charge; rather than attempted rape, these jurors found Story guilty of assault and battery and sentenced him to a measly four months in prison and a $100 fine.

Oftentimes we find examples in the CWG-K archive wherein a trial jury is compelled for one reason or another to produce a certain verdict and then immediately requests that the governor use his executive power to override the original decision. Put another way, the jury does what they feel the letter of the law obligated them to do before turning to the chief executive of the Commonwealth to ensure that justice is meted out. (The same jurors convicting Caroline Dennant of infanticide and then requesting her pardon is one such illustration.) In this case, a petition was sent to Governor Thomas Bramlette; it was signed by all twelve of the jurors who convicted Story along with the sheriff of Gallatin County, the attorney who prosecuted the case, and numerous other officeholders and private citizens. Given that Story’s sentence seems so short and the nature of his transgression so violent; contemporary readers might jump to the conclusion that the jurors were compelled to lessen his charges on a legal technicality. They might also assume that the governor, Thomas Bramlette—himself a former judge with a fire and brimstone reputation—will set things right based on the petition. Unfortunately for Jane Kelly, those assumptions would be wrong. The petitioners actually believed that her attempted rapist had been the party robbed of justice.

According to the petition, which was spearheaded by Thomas Ritchey, the trial jury refused to convict Story of attempted rape based on the testimony of children—despite the fact that the Grand Jury had used the same testimony to indict. Moreover, the men writing on Story’s behalf believed Bramlette should grant a full pardon because 1) Story was only fifteen years old at the time of the crime; and, 2) because his father had been away in the Union army and as a result “had not that Control over his Son & could not govern his conduct as he would like to have done.” In other words, at fifteen years of age, Frank Story could not be expected to control himself in the manner of an adult and thus should not have been held responsible for attempting to rape Jane Kelly.

As past readers of the CWG-K blog will note, the law in Kentucky generally failed to take a consistent stance on the convicting and sentencing of minors. For instance, William Spencer, himself fifteen years old, was initially sentenced to 3.5 years in the state pen for stealing a pair of used trousers before having the punishment commuted to one month. Also recall the case of Graham Akin, a fourteen year old from Danville who was convicted of attempted homicide but only fined $50. So, it really should not surprise anyone that Kentuckians in 1863-64 tried to use Frank Story’s age to get him out of an already truncated prison sentence. Nor should it stun you to learn that Thomas Bramlette did, in fact, exercise clemency—freeing Story halfway through his prison term and remitting the $100 fine.

Kentucky’s legal system in the 1860s had little idea how to define childhood and thus struggled mightily to sentence minors. That much has been established already. The more revealing line of inquiry raised by the Story-Lane encounter has to do with the way male jurors and court officers reconciled their own conceptions of self-honor with gender, age, and the weight of one’s word. Unlike in the aforementioned case of William Spencer—who was convicted based on the testimony of an adult male victim/witness and received a relatively harsh sentence—the main witnesses against Frank Story were a mix of minor and adult, but neither was the magic combination of adult male. So on one hand, the jurors in The Commonwealth vs. Frank Story would have been willing to punish children as adults under certain circumstances, while not considering the testimony of children on equal terms with that of an adult (even when the defendant himself was a child).

What jumps out here is that the testimony of Jane Kelly hadn’t mattered from the start. The petition specifically stated that, “His [Story’s] guilt was proven by children only” (my emphasis). This wasn’t a case of accidental oversight—it’s where the honor component comes into the story. Despite her being both an adult and a firsthand witness to the crime, Kelly’s word wasn’t valued enough to land a full conviction. Not because male jurors believed she was untrustworthy—because a female voice was never supposed to be an integral part of the process at all.

In 1850s and 1860s, southern men liked to believe their lives were structured around a paternalistic, hyper-masculine code of honor in which dependents—women and children—required their protection. At the same time, within the gendered confines of this system those same women were not considered competent enough as witnesses to describe to their would-be protectors from what or from whom they actually required defense. Therein, at least in theory, women were fundamentally no different than their children. With this in mind, Jane Kelly was only supposed to play the role of damsel in distress and then of grateful ward. But the logistics of the crime and subsequent trial didn’t work out that way. No men could take the stand to testify, so it was either a woman or children whose voices would have to be lent authority in court. Faced with this decision, the jurors begrudgingly chose to prioritize the children’s testimony, which kept Jane Kelly in her proper role.

What this hiccup in the system ultimately confirms is that the “code of honor” undergirding it was never actually based on protecting dependents. It was designed to appear that way to advance a patriarchal agenda. As such, it was laden with loopholes designed to give men a way to protect themselves and their status/authority first, even at the expense of a sexual assault victim like Jane Kelly.

 

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

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

Click here to view this Subject Guide in the new Civil War Governors interface.


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.

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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).

The Caroline Chronicles: Curriculum Development Update

On Friday, April 8, instructors and students from the History Club at Hopkinsville Community College visited the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. As part of their experience on the KHS campus, club members became the first group to play out the classroom simulation of The Caroline Chronicles. And we’re thrilled to report that they—and the simulation itself—outperformed even our wildest expectations.

The simulation involves two sides—a defense counsel and a prosecution team—arguing for and against Caroline’s pardon using evidence drawn directly from the primary, secondary, and legal documents used to pen the blog series. The decision-makers in the case are a panel of Pardon Commissioners, who listen to verbal arguments from both the prosecution and the defense, are allowed to question the lead counsels of each side, and then issue a recommendation to the governor. (To ensure fair proceedings, all participants were given access to all of the documents prior to the simulation and then divided into roles randomly before the trial began.) After deliberating privately, Pardon Commissioners must report their recommendation to the rest of the group and offer three justifications based only on the arguments and evidence presented by counsels.

The prosecution at work.

With Jack McCoy-like gusto, the prosecution offered its arguments first, making a strong case for upholding Caroline’s conviction (listed below):

  1. Caroline believed she should have become a free citizen after arriving in Louisville as contraband with Buell’s army. Her service in the Willis Levy house constituted re-enslavement and gave her a strong motive to lash out at her new master’s family.
  1. On a personal level, Willis and Anne Levy had been abusive of Caroline, treating her cruelly, scolding her frequently, and even threatening physical punishment. Aside from her enslavement, this hostility also gave Caroline ample motive to punish Willis and Anne by hurting their only child.
  1. Not only did Caroline have the means to commit the crime—she had easy access to the poison that killed Blanch Levy—she was also seen smiling at the toddler’s corpse on more than one occasion and asked several times when the corpse would be buried. According to the prosecution, this indicated that Caroline was happy to see Blanch dead but also wanted the evidence of her crime buried before an autopsy could expose her guilt.

Following the prosecution’s oral arguments, the Pardon Commissioners threw a potential curve ball; they asked if it was possible that Anne Levy had actually tried to poison her daughter and herself as part of a murder-suicide plot (potentially rooted in lingering post-partum depression). The prosecution quickly replied that no evidence whatsoever existed to support such a conclusion.

The defense organizing its case.

Caroline’s defense counsel then took the floor and gave three core arguments in favor of reasonable doubt existing:

  1. Just as much of the evidence collected points to Willis Levy having accidentally poisoned Blanch as it does Caroline as the killer—and while this doesn’t totally negate any possibility of Caroline’s guilt, it does raise a reasonable doubt.
  1. Next the defense focused on the victim. Blanch Levy was a toddler; toddlers put things—everything—in their mouths. It’s very possible that Caroline was watching Blanch in the yard and that Blanch picked up poison put out by Willis Levy, and ingested the poison accidentally. In other words, the defense added a layer of complexity to the accidental death scenario in which Caroline was not criminally at fault.
  1. Lastly, the defense pointed to the consistency of Caroline’s story in the case record. Throughout the entire process, even following her conviction, Caroline never changed her narrative of Blanch Levy’s death—and in keeping with her purported affection for the child, the defense underscored that Caroline’s smiling at the corpse and her questions about the autopsy could have just as easily stemmed from genuine concern and her traditional role as a female slave on the plantation (tasked with the “work of death”).

The Pardon Commissioners did not have any questions for the defense and subsequently left the courtroom to confer in private chambers.

The panel of Pardon Commissioners listening to verbal arguments.

The panel of Pardon Commissioners returned to the courtroom and recommended that Caroline be issued a full pardon by the governor. Their reasoning included that (1) Willis Levy had a track record of carelessly using poison in the general vicinity in which Blanch was killed; (2) the prosecution had failed to properly establish a motive for Caroline to kill Blanch; and, (3) the Pardon Commissioners believed that Caroline did have genuine affection for Blanch and, as a result, that she would have lashed out at Willis and Anne Levy to protest her treatment while not harming the child.

The Pardon Commissioners’ recommendation aligned with the historical results of Caroline’s case; in turn, she was awarded a full pardon. So now the question is: how do you think your class would decide?

If you’re interested in finding out, drop us a line about adopting The Caroline Chronicles curriculum in your classroom. Included are primary and secondary reading assignments, low and high stakes writing assignments with instructor guidelines, and the script for the capstone in-class trial simulation.

The Caroline Chronicles: A Story of Race, Urban Slavery, and Infanticide in the Border South – PART III

The Caroline Chronicles:
A Story of Race, Urban Slavery, and Infanticide in the Border South

“Part III – The Defense’s Case”

By Patrick A. Lewis

For those of you who missed previous installments, we’ll begin with a very brief rundown of Caroline’s story to this point. (A full accounting of the events that led to her trial for infanticide is still available here.) In 1862 Caroline Dennant, a Tennessee slave, was brought to Louisville, Kentucky, as war contraband by Don Carlos Buell’s army—she was subsequently arrested as a fugitive slave and placed in the home of Willis and Anne Levy—a few months later, Blanch, the Levy’s toddler-aged daughter died of strychnine poisoning—Caroline was soon after charged with murder, convicted, and sentenced to death. This and last week’s installments are written from the perspective of the prosecution and the defense in the matter of Caroline’s petition for executive clemency (and may or may not reflect our actual positions on her case!).

As the prosecution alleges, there is little the defense can do to refute the circumstantial evidence against Caroline. She had been held to labor as a servant and nurse in the home of the Levys. Willis Levy did acquire, distribute, and store a large amount of strychnine. After the child’s death, Caroline was seen to have facial expressions and otherwise behave in ways to which sinister motives were later assigned by witnesses. While the defense concedes this circumstantial evidence, it entirely rejects the fanciful and conspiratorial theory of the (so-called) crime advanced by the prosecution.

Yet to secure the conviction in the trial at the May 1863 term of the Jefferson Circuit Court, the defense knowingly suppressed the extent to which Willis Levy “spread enough strychnine (or poison) to kill a regiment of men” in and about his premises. Evidence freely offered by the neighbors and family of the Levy family since the time of the trial now begs reconsideration of the case. The defense appeals to the clemency of the executive for a pardon on the following grounds:

One. That having resided in Louisville less than six months before the death of the child Blanch Levy, “in a strange place without any one to advise with” except defense counsel hastily assigned her case and without adequate time to prepare, Caroline was unable to secure witnesses for her defense at the trial.

Two. That the witnesses for the prosecution, namely Anne and Willis Levy, did not testify to the full extent to which Willis Levy spread strychnine about his premises. Only two occasions were established in evidence by Willis Levy, and Caroline could swear to no more. “Your petitioner will now state one important fact which was not developed on the trial, Mr Levy put out the poison on more than two occasions; he put it out many times to kill Dogs & Cats, & it was never taken up, & what became of it no one knows.”

Three. That the testimony of Raymond and Josephine Lynch—neighbors and in-laws to the Levys, uncle and aunt of the deceased Blanch Levy—establishes the true extent of Willis Levy’s indiscriminate and dangerous application of strychnine in and around his and his neighbors’ property. Josephine Lynch swears that “Mr Levy put out the poison every night for a great while I would think a hundred times” over a span of time “from fall to spring.” Moreover, Mrs. Lynch herself had been “very uneasy many time for fear that my children would get some of the poison I alwaise thought Mr Levy was very reckless about throwing out poison.”

Four. That the prosecution argues against accidental ingestion of the poison in the yard from the fact that no pieces of poisoned meat were found in the stomach of the deceased Blanch Levy.

Five. That testimony developed on the trial and that subsequently sworn to by Josephine Lynch establishes that a considerable amount of strychnine was spread in the yard and neighbors’ yards by means other than on meat, including but not limited to on grains designed to kill birds and loosely distributed in and around the privy.

Six. That Mrs. Levy grasped the extent to which her husband had indiscriminately spread poison in and around the Levy house. Immediately after the child’s death Mrs. Levy threw out a “bucket full of parched coffee that was bought from the soldiers,” believing it to be tainted with the poison.

Seven. That if Anne Levy was made sick by coffee on the morning the child died, this was from Willis Levy unwittingly contaminating the household coffee supply with strychnine as part of his campaign to eradicate vermin.

Eight. That if the true extent to which Willis Levy indiscriminately scattered strychnine in and around his own property and that of his neighbors had been known at the time of the trial, Caroline’s conviction would not have been sought by the prosecuting attorney. Louisville City Attorney William G. Reasor attests that “from strong circumstances made known to me since that trial, I feel that Executive clemency will have been worthily bestowed if she be fully pardoned.”

LevyNine. That if the true extent to which Willis Levy indiscriminately and dangerously scattered strychnine in diverse methods and in diverse locations in and around his own property and that of his neighbors had been known at the time of the trial, Caroline’s conviction would not have been secured by the jury. Nine of the gentlemen of the jury who tried her case—L. A. Civill, W. O. Gardner, John Sait, Joseph Griffith, Thomas Schorch, Samuel Ingrem, R. H. Snyder, William K. Allan, and E. P. Neale—have signed a sworn statement asking to overturn the verdict and sentence they rendered.

All this the defense presents as evidence for Caroline’s innocence in the death of the child Blanch Levy. The defense will not—as it believes it has grounds to do—pursue the argument that Caroline’s service in the Levy household was in violation of the Confiscation Act of July 17, 1862, which provides that “all slaves of persons who shall hereafter be engaged in rebellion against the government of the United States “shall be forever free of their servitude, and not again held as slaves” and that “no slave escaping into any State, Territory, or the District of Columbia, from any other State, shall be delivered up, or in any way impeded or hindered of his liberty” regardless of the laws pertaining to enslaved persons and persons of African descent in that state, territory, or district.

The defense reiterates that given the circumstances of the defendant and her insecure position in Louisville, the evidence presented in this petition was unavailable to Caroline and her counsel at the time of the trial.

If all that were introduced in this petition were this new testimony, the defense would feel confident in their expectation of His Excellency’s clemency, but having in hand the sworn statements of the prosecuting attorney and the jury, the defense feels that the pardoning power would be justly used in the case of Caroline. The premises considered, the defense asks that His Excellency Governor Bramlette issue a full and unconditional pardon.

The Caroline Chronicles: A Story of Race, Urban Slavery, and Infanticide in the Border South – PART II

The Caroline Chronicles:
A Story of Race, Urban Slavery, and Infanticide in the Border South

“Part II – The Prosecution’s Case”

By Matthew C. Hulbert

For those of you who missed last week’s installment, we’ll begin with a very brief rundown of Caroline’s story to this point. (A full accounting of the events that led to her trial for infanticide is still available here.) In 1862 Caroline Dennant, a Tennessee slave, was brought to Louisville, Kentucky, as war contraband by Don Carlos Buell’s army—she was subsequently arrested as a fugitive slave and placed in the home of Willis and Annie Levy—a few months later, Blanch, the Levy’s toddler-aged daughter died of strychnine poisoning—Caroline was soon after charged with murder, convicted, and sentenced to death. This week’s installment—and next week’s—are written from the perspective of the prosecution and the defense in the matter of Caroline’s petition for executive clemency (and may or may not reflect our actual positions on her case!).

The charge against Caroline revolves around a web of evidence, the majority of which is deemed circumstantial. On the surface, this would appear to weaken the state’s case. However, in instances where such a preponderance of circumstantial evidence points to the guilt of an individual, such as in this instance, logic will not allow us to be swayed by the unreasonable possibility of coincidence. When Caroline’s case is dissected, thread by thread, you will see that she not only committed an act of premeditated murder against a defenseless and innocent child to punish her temporary guardians—but that she potentially did so as part of a broader, though admittedly poorly-conceived, plan to escape from the Levy’s care and to circumvent the possibility of a return to bondage in Tennessee.

Here are the main pillars of the state’s case, laid out as individual items:

One. We know based on the autopsy performed by Dr. Jenkins (a professional chemist) that Blanch Levy died as the result of strychnine poisoning, with significantly more than a fatal dose of the substance found in her stomach. Both the location (stomach) and quantity of the person underscore that the substance was ingested directly and not absorbed through skin contact, accidental or otherwise.

frog stomachTwo. We know based on her own petition for executive clemency that Caroline knew the whereabouts of the strychnine kept in the Levy household and that through the testimony of Annie Levy—that the trunk containing the poison was not locked—that Caroline had ready access to the substance whenever she pleased. The defense does not dispute either of these points.

Third. Caroline had double-motive for killing Blanch Levy: revenge and personal gain. On one hand, Willis Levy became increasingly critical of Caroline’s poor behavior. The record indicates that through negligence, Caroline was responsible for damaged fruit trees and for the fouling of a newly-washed fence. On at least one occasion, the defendant reports that Willis Levy noted that he would like to whip Caroline—but the defendant did not testify to any instances of physical abuse taking place in the Levy household. Moreover, so long as she remained under the Levy’s roof, Caroline ran the risk of being returned to permanent bondage in Tennessee. As she had been declared a fugitive slave and arrested, the Levy’s were essentially providing her with a temporary home until her former master claimed her or until she could be sold at auction by local authorities.

Four. Annie Levy testified that on the day preceding the death of her daughter, she arrived home to find that the trunk containing the poison had been clearly disturbed. Caroline denied having opened the trunk, but did not deny that the trunk itself had been moved and its contents shifted.

Five. We know that in conjunction with the trunk having been disturbed, Annie Levy mysteriously fell ill with very mild symptoms indicative of strychnine poisoning—no doubt after consuming a dinner prepared by Caroline—and was still ill the next morning when she and the victim arrived late for breakfast. Caroline’s testimony does not dispute that for the first time in her entire tenure with the Levy family, she prepared and poured Annie Levy’s morning coffee. The defense does not dispute that Annie Levy noted that the coffee had an off taste and she did not finish it.

Six. We know from multiple lines of testimony that the victim, Blanch Levy, was in the sole care of Caroline in the moments preceding her death and that, for the time before she was given into Caroline’s sole care, she exhibited no signs of illness or poisoning consistent with the consumption of strychnine.

Seven. According to the testimony of Annie Levy, when Caroline entered her bedroom to state that Blanch was acting strangely (read: convulsing and choking to death in the front yard), the defendant did so slowly, without any hints of emotional distress or surprise at the events then unfolding. In connection to this lack of emotional distress, on more than one occasion, witnesses saw Caroline look at the child’s corpse and smile.

Eight. Immediately following Blanch’s death, witnesses report that, in the evening, Caroline walked to the gate of the Levy’s front yard and looked around. She had not previously been known to visit the gate in the evenings. The importance of this point will be brought to light later in the prosecution’s case.

Nine. When Caroline realized that Blanch had not been immediately interred, she became increasingly anxious concerning whether or not an autopsy would be performed, reportedly even asking Annie Levy several times when, precisely, the girl’s body would be buried.

Ten. Court documents show—and the prosecution concedes—that Willis Levy did, shortly before his departure on a freight trip, distribute small pieces of beef tainted with strychnine poison to kill local dogs and birds. However, as is also noted, Levy put this poisoned bait under the homes of his neighbors—while Caroline’s petition for clemency highlights that Blanch died just three feet from the kitchen door of the Levy’s home.

With these statements in mind, the prosecution’s theory of the crime is as follows:

While living in a constant state of paranoia—fueled by her fugitive status—Caroline quickly grew tired of working for Willis Levy and for waiting for her former master to materialize at any moment with the intention of dragging her back to bondage in Tennessee. As such, with knowledge of how to use strychnine poison and knowledge of its location in the Levy household, Caroline waited until Willis Levy had left for extended business trip and first targeted Annie Levy. Annie’s dose wasn’t fatal—though it might have been had she finished her coffee—but it was enough to induce sickness. With the child’s mother sick in bed, Caroline had sole control of Blanch. The timing of Willis Levy’s absence, the disturbance of the trunk, Annie’s sickness, the coffee incident, and Blanch’s demise in Caroline’s custody are simply too damning to write off as a coincidence. With no other adult witnesses present, Caroline fed the toddler significantly more than a fatal dose of strychnine. Following Blanch’s death, with didn’t seem to phase Caroline emotionally, she behaved with increasing strangeness; first, concerning the autopsy and burial and the child; and, second, checking the Levy’s gate in the evenings.

The defense will likely raise two primary points of defense on Caroline’s behalf. One: that she was abused and mistreated by the Levy family and killed to protect herself. However, it is well-known that the Levy family actually allowed Caroline’s husband, a contraband slave who lived with their in-laws, to spend the night with Caroline and that she, herself, did not testify to any abuse mistreatment from Levy other than harsh words. Two: that Blanch was poisoned through the negligence of her father, known in the neighborhood for poisoning animals, and that Caroline, as a homeless, African American slave, and as a defenseless woman, became Levy’s scapegoat. The logistics of the case, however, mainly the quantity of poison found in Blanch’s stomach (and the absence of the beef cubes used by Willis Levy) and the physical location of her death discounts this possibility. Furthermore, the sheer quantity of poison found in Blanch’s stomach by the attending physician means that Caroline would’ve had to watch the child ingest multiple pieces of poisoned animal bait and done nothing.

Much more likely is that Caroline waited until Willis Levy—who was more observant of her misbehavior and thus much harder to poison—had left home for an extended period of time. She then attempted poison Annie, who would presumably have died in her sleep that first evening. When that didn’t work, she again tried to poison Annie and also successfully poisoned Blanch. Caroline then checked the gate each evening because, in all probability, she was waiting for her husband to join her in an attempt to flee to permanent freedom. He never came and she was eventually found guilty following a trial in complete compliance with state and local procedures.

In closing, the state is aware that Caroline has doggedly refused to admit guilt and that a number of local citizens—including attorney’s and members of the jury—have joined her plea for executive clemency despite sentencing her to death immediately following the trial. All the state will say concerning this sudden wave of support is that Caroline’s “new friends” are more likely to be using her as a tool to advance their own political causes than to advance the cause of justice. Otherwise, where were they with aid and assistance before she was found guilty and sentenced to hang?

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

Subject Guides: Food

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KYR-0001-002-0010 T. J. McGibben to J. G. Foster, Jan. 26, 1864.
I am a loyal citizen of the state of Kentucky, residing in Harrison County, five miles from Cynthiana in said county. I am a farmer having about three hundred and seventy acres of land. I have a distillery and have for several years past distilled the grain of my own product on my farm, and fed and fatted my stock hogs upon the swill. I have about 400 barrels of Corn and 5000 bushels of wheat on hand. I produced most of this grain on my farm, and purchased a part of it, before any military order was issued restricting distillation. I have 900 hogs purchased and raised by me before any order was issued against distilling grain. It will require more grain than I have on hand to feed and keep said hogs. I will ^suffer^ great loss, almost total loss of my hogs if the grain is taken from me. The swill from the corn, in distilling it, will feed and fatten the same ^or greater^ number of hogs, being fed when warm, than the grain itself would feed and keep.

KYR-0001-003-0116William DeB. Morrill to Unknown, Aug. 8, 1865.
At this place there came into the Coach a woman with four small children. The children were crying with hunger. The Mother said that neither she nor her children had tasted a mouthful of food that day (past noon) I bought some food before we started, when we got to the hotel, had them stop & gave them all a dinner, I gave her ten dollars in money. She was entirely destitute. This woman was the widow of John White of the 3d Ky,, Cavly,, Govr Bramlette’s regiment. He, White died in the Service. The rebels had destroyed evrything at Mt Vernon, her home & even shot her cow, while she was milking it. some of the balls passing through her dress, & one wounding her little girl in the shoulder as I could see by the scar.

KYR-0001-004-0131James R. Dupuy, Affidavit, date unknown.
About two months before the death of the child (which occurred sometime in Feb 1863.) Levis who had purchased some strychnine for the purpose of killing some cats and pigeons that had been annoying him asked his wife for the poison…. He called Caroline & had her to bring him some beef which he took & cut into three peices, small peices, about 1 1/2 inches square & on each peice put some of the poison saying at the time that “here is enough strychnine (or poison) to kill a regiment of men”. Caroline standing near by with the remainder of the beef in her hand & hearing the remark Levi put these peices of meat under the house (the adjacent house) of a neighbor (a plank being off next the ground), placing the beef as far under the house as he could reach with his arm

KYR-0001-004-0441Merie G. Banks to Thomas E. Bramlette, Jan. 25, 1864.
my Husband was only a common Soldier his pay as you know was only $13, per month— which was not enough to support us. the duties which he had to perform were that of being guard at Barracks no 1. So his times was not occupied all the time, So he would Sell various articles of necesities to Soldiers at the Barrack and Hospitals, Such as fruits tobacco and cigars the profits of which in addition to his regular pay enabled us to live tolerably comfortable, But when he got these two packages of tobacco from the Boys, he though he would Sell it at wholesale. hence he offered it ^to^ the grocerymen Saying to the groceryman to Say nothing about it, the reason that he wished him to keep it a Secrect was that he knew that the Police would arrest him for Pedling without licens if they became conizant of the fact, So doing Such a small business he could not afford to take out license hence they requested Secrecy.

KYR-0001-004-0544 John G. Brookover to Maggie, Mar. 15, 1864.
I have had to Spend Some money in buying butter and vetetables that we cannot draw from the commissary department. These things are all very high in the army butter is worth 75cts and and one dollar per pound Green apples have been worth twenty and twenty five dollars per Bbl and have been Since last fall, and other things as high in proportion Whisky Sells for fifty cents a drink and from eight to twenty five dollars per gallon. I have not bot any of it in no form Since our army left Helena We could ^get^ a little there from the commisary department for Sixty cents per gal= Potatoes are worth ten and twelve dollars per Bushel and none Scarcly to be had at that price. We have had a little fight at South bend bend forty mile below us on this river the Rebels captured one of our boats loaded with commisary supplies: but our forces recaptured the boat and took one one hundred Rebel Prisoners

KYR-0001-004-2416 David Schroeder to Thomas E. Bramlette, Sep. 7, 1865.
I David Shroeder would respectfully state that in the month of November 1861 I purchased a cow of Joseph Nicholas on Market streret near 6th ^street^ in Louisville Ky in open market & in presence of Joseph Kramer & my son John then about 13 years old. On the following day I killed the cow and sent the hide to a tanner. One Geo F. Huber on the same day having lost his cow as he said, went to the tanner and there among about 20 green skins found one which he claimed as the hide of his cow. I was arrested & gave bail for my appearance at the next term of the Jefferson Circuit Court.

KYR-0001-004-2738 John Rice to Thomas E. Bramlette, Jun. 14, 1865.
The Grand Jury at that Term Indicted him for Tipling (that is for two acts of selling sprituous Liquor. …we have been Living for several years without Courts or Law & it was a very hard matter for Union men who remained her to sell any way—I am no Grocer or Tavern Keeper I had a small quantity of Apples which I distilled & had some little apple Brandy on hand this selling that I have Confessed is all that I Sold by the Small have no more on hand—& will not again be caught I am a Poor man & have a wife & several children to support a small mountain farm to make a Living on for them & if I am Compelled to pay the Judmt it will deprive my family of actual Comforts of Life & it will not be felt by the State hence I verry Respectfully ask your Excellency to Remit said Fine

KYR-0001-004-3439 John S. McGrew to Unknown, date unknown.
I beg leave to report that I have made a thorough examination of the Western Military Asylum at Harrodsburg Ky and found the grounds & buildings greatly delapidated, Yet they are intrinsically very valuable to the Government & it can be made one of the most beautiful and delightful Soldiers Homes in the United States. … there are ample out buildings of every kind including also fine green houses full of flowers grasseries & vineyards. and especially a very large amount of valuable fruit trees of every new and improved vaieties. There are two large vegetable gardens of about five acres each in a high state of cultivation handsomely laid out one of which alone was sold, last Year about $1000 of marketing after supplying the large family of the occupant. The vineyards are now yielding their crops and a good many barrels of wine are made from them annually … The tillable land would raise all the Corn Oats Hay &c necessary for the Establishment. The grass lands would sustain all the stock necessary to carry it on indeed all the necessary Beef & Pork could be raised upon it and the “House” could be made in a few years self sustaining from the labor of the Soldiers which could be performed by them merely as a healthy recreation

KYR-0001-009-0065 J. A. Cook et al. to Thomas E. Bramlette, date unknown.
[Your Petitioners] state that they grain they have is nearly all of their own product, and that it is necessary to feed the stock they have on hand. Beside a large number of hogs to be fed by them, there cattle and some mules are kept and fed upon the swill. The grain is absolutely necessary to sustain and keep their stock. The hogs, mules and cattle are necessary for the country and for the army and the use they make of it must inure to the general and public benefit. And the taking the grain from them will inflict a serious and unpardonable loss and injury to them
and to their families, and they ask to be allowed to distil their grain—grain of their own product and that your Excellency procur permission to this effect and protectiion to them against molestation in distilling—They state that they are licensed distillers, have paid to the Collector of Internal Revnew the tax or license fees, as required by act of Congress.

KYR-0001-017-0163 John B. McIlvain & Son et al. to Beriah Magoffin, May 1861.
We the undersigned Manufacturers and dealers in flour in this City, have pititioned the Legislature. to pass a Law giving your honor the power to appoint an Inspector of flour in our City independent of the two that is appointed by our City Council, the cause which leads to this is set forth in our petition to the Legislature to which we refer you, Having a deep interest in the Commercial prosperity of our City, and knowing that the flour trade is rapidly increasing this point becoming one of vast importance and having had the benefit of W.G. Timberlakes services as an Inspector of Flour for the last three Years and having entire Confidence in his Judgment capacity and Integrity most earnestly recommend him to your Excellency for the appointment as Flour Inspector.

KYR-0001-020-0190John G. Carlisle and Joe G. Kennedy to Beriah Magoffin, Jul. 27, 1860.
Baker was tried for stealing a parcel of fruit trees; the evidence was altogether circumstantial, and it was the prevailing opinion among those who heard it the evidence, that he was innocent- He was himself a dealer in fruit trees and had on hand a large number at the time of his arrest-The owner of the lost trees examined those of Baker, and thought he identified some of his among them- Baker proved that he had for some time been purchasing trees in the Cincinnati market, but he could not prove that these identical trees had been bought there.

KYR-0001-020-1423H. Berlin to Beriah Magoffin, Jan. 20, 1860.
Now your petitoner Solemly avers that the true facts of the Case and these, He says that he Keeps a Tavern, near the Pork house of A. S. White & Co, at the head of Jefferson Street in the City of Louisville Ky, and that said slave was hired by his owner to work at sd pork house, and that on the day named in said in said indictment a white man came into the Tavern of the undersigned, with said slave, and represented that he was one of the managers of said pork house—that the slave was in his Employ & directed me to let him have a Dram of whisky, I done so, never thinking but that the white man was authorized to Call for the Drink

KYR-0001-029-0179 E. B. Davis et al. to James F. Robinson, date unknown.
Rebels passed through this county and stoled all of the horses he had which was one in number they took and destroyed all of his beading and clothes for himself and family destroyed all of his cupboard ware such as tea cups saucers plates knives and forks and all of his cooking utencels besides salt Bacon & Beef and fed out a quantity of corn &c and upon the whole he was Litterally destroyed as a house Keeper; and he was taken a prisoner by the Rebels and taken away from home at the same time.

KYR-0002-204-0044Military Board, Receipt to Foster Ray, Dec. 16, 1861.
The State of Kentucky
To Foster Ray Dr

Date of Purchase                                                                                             Dollars Cents
Oct 30th 1861 to Nov. 20

To 21107 lbs of Beef at 3½ cts pr. lb                           738      74
To 1199 lbs of Bacon 10 cts pr. lb                              119      90
” 66 Bushels potatoes at 25 cts pr. b                           16        50
” 2 Bags ground coffee at 22½ pr. lb                          51        75
” 500 loaves bread (of Shirley & Woolfork 3½          17        50
Louisville Ky) Freight on same                                   2          50
” 19 lbs ground coffee sent from home 22½                4          28
” 191 lbs green Coffee @ 19c                                      36        29
” 10 Chickens, 12½ Qts butter                                     1          50
” ½ Bushl Red Pepper in pods –                                 1          00
” 107 lb Sugar 13 cts                                                    13        91
” 1 Barrell Vinegar 5. 50                                             5          50
1009    37
for one thousand and nine Dollars & 37 cents –

I certify that the above account is correct and just, and that the articles have been accounted for on my property return for the [gap] ending the [gap] of [gap] 186[gap].

Jno M Harlan Col Ky Vols


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Civil War Governors at Keele

In a previous post, Patrick Lewis discussed the exciting opportunity to bring the work of CWG-K to the David Bruce Centre Colloquium held at Keele University in England. This video is the web version of his presentation. Watch it for a preview of the powerful social networks that CWG-K will be able to generate and analyze!

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.

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.

The “Ladies of Frankfort” Assert Their Right to Petition

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By Tony Curtis

March is Women’s History Month and the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) theme for 2015 is “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.” An appropriately themed document recently appeared in the form of an undated Franklin County, Kentucky, petition signed by the “Ladies of Frankfort.” Continue reading