“Confederate Justice?” part 1

Confederate Justice? 

Part 1 

Author’s Note:   There were many people in Meade County favoring the Union, but many more, in the county, were pro-Confederacy.  One notable exception was the town of Brandenburg.  The city fathers, town marshal, and County Sherriff lived in town, and shared allegiance to the Union.  Going farther than supporting the Union cause by their words, the marshal or sheriff pointed a loaded revolver at an aged War of 1812 officer and veteran and forced him to take the oath of allegiance.  He unwillingly took the oath, because if he was shot and killed, or taken to prison and died, his life insurance policy would not have paid his daughter.  He wrote a sad letter to his daughter telling her why he took the oath.  He was no longer attending the Methodist Church because of the town prejudice, and mentioned others that faced persecution, particularly the Wathens and Boards.  Later this gentleman would have his house, the Buckner house commandeered by Confederate General John Hunt Morgan when he began his great raid into Indiana and Kentucky.  It is also interesting that when Morgan’s men rode into Brandenburg, the county sheriff, who was sore afraid, ran to the Methodist Church for sanctuary.  The pastor was away, but his wife hid the sheriff under the crawl space of the parsonage.  His chickens had come home to roost!

 In 1860 Meade County had about 9,800 residents, approximately one third of which were Negro.  Of the 3,500 or so Negroes, about ten percent were free; therefore, with approximately one third of the population of Meade County being enslaved, and primarily working on farms as helpers in the fields, there is little wonder that the county took a Confederate bent.  At no place in the county was Confederate fervor more openly expressed than in the town of Meadeville, Kentucky, Hill Grove country.  Meadeville today is a ghost town marked by a few houses and barns, the old stagecoach watering hole, and the cemeteries.  This two part story tells how Confederate justice was wreaked upon two Union supporters in this Confederate leaning region, less than 24 months later.

  Part 1


     David Henry was a prosperous farmer whose farm was some 3 miles north of Meadeville, just outside the sleepy little village of Ekron, Kentucky.  Anecdotal evidence states that Henry was willingly supporting the Union by procuring horses and supplying them to the often times unscrupulous stock buyers that preyed on small farmers by forcing them to sell their stock at below market rates.  The stock procurers, would often times pay farmers with a counterfeit voucher or chit to be redeemed later in Louisville.  On arrival there the farmers would find that the trip to collect their money was useless.  The question of why they sold to the procurers is a good one.  If a Meade County farmer was reluctant to sell, the stock buyers would accuse them of being supporters of the guerrilla forces fighting in the area.  This chilling threat was usually enough to get the farmers to agree, because often enough they were helping these Partisan Rangers, and that was a hanging offense.

      In 1862, the Confederate government passed the Partisan Ranger Act that stated persons loyal to the Confederacy could form irregular bands to fight behind Union lines.  These fighters using hit and run methods, disrupted supply lines, communications, and ambushed Federal patrols.  At no place was the fighting heavier than in Meade County, Kentucky.  The Union referred to these Confederate soldiers as guerrillas and outlaws.  They were neither rather they were patriots to southern state’s rights; although, they did employ the tactics of the guerrilla chieftains of old.

Besides Billy Shacklett and his men or those of James Gorsuch, there were other rangers fighting in Meade.  Prominent soldiers such as Sue Mundy, Captain Bill Marion, One Arm Sam Berry, Henry Clay “Billy” Magruder, Thomas C. Dupoyster, Captain John Bryant, Ben Wiggenton, Isaiah “Big Zay” Coulter, and Bill Davidson, to name just a few were effective and deadly rangers fighting in and around the county.  Each of these men commanded a force that ranged from five or six men to as many as 30 or 40.  It was such a larger force that administered their rough justice to Henry 13 months after the raid on Shacklett.  It was probably because of his politics, but there is no doubt his sense of humor and desire to tell a good joke worked to his disadvantage.

David Henry it seems was a gregarious sort of man.  He enjoyed his prosperity and the influence he had in the county.  He had a sense of humor, and was a staunch Union man.  While I have found no evidence of this, he could have paid the local farmers a little more than the Union procurers did, and eased the time the buyers needed to gather their requisite herds.  At the same time the procurers would not likely cheat a consistently reliable vendor, and both they and Henry could profit by the transactions. 


     James Irvin Newton was an interesting 46 year old man, who was either conscripted or joined the Union army.  He was a Meadeville Blacksmith, one of the two reported to have shops in the area.  He belonged to the 12th Kentucky Cavalry.  The 12th was mustered in on November 17th, 1862 and was decommissioned August 23rd, 1865.  This cavalry unit saw action at Knoxville, Tennessee, was involved with the Atlanta Campaign, fighting at Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain, and taking part in the siege of Atlanta, Georgia.  After the two battles of Saltville, Virginia, the 12th was ordered September 14th to Kentucky, where it was headquartered in Nelson County, Kentucky.  Nelson, Spencer, Marion, and Shelby Counties were hot beds of Confederate sympathy that equaled Meade County.  In January and February of 1865 the 12th Cavalry was ordered to fight against Sue Mundy’s Ranger force at Elizabeth Town, Kentucky.


Be sure to read part II of the story and see how Ranger vengeance was meted upon Henry and Newton in the next issue.