The Mystery Men of the Cox Tobacco Barn
Three men were captured on March 12th, 1865 in the Meade County, Kentucky tobacco barn of John and Elizabeth Cox. One of the men was badly wounded, and had been acting as a guerrilla since August 1863, when he escaped capture by Federal authorities during John Hunt Morgan’s great raid. Cleverly eluding capture, he made his way to the Richardson farm in Meade County, Kentucky. There, rested and resupplied, two weeks later he returned to Bullitt and Nelson Counties. Henry Clay Magruder called himself a captain, but likely never advanced beyond a private soldier’s rank in Morgan’s Cavalry. Magruder led a band of guerrillas, and by his own confession was more killer than a Confederate soldier. He was however a leader of men and had suffered a bullet wound to his lung in a brisk firefight at Patesville in Hancock, County. There were two other men who were then captured, and both of their true stories are seldom told.
One of the men is Marcellous Jerome Clarke often known better by his sobriquet “Sue Mundy.” Jerome Clarke had been given a captaincy by Lt. Col. Jack Allen of the 2nd Ky. Cavalry, Duke’s command, shortly after John Hunt Morgan was killed in Greeneville, Tennessee. His orders were to go to Kentucky as a courier to bring back other irregular soldiers acting as guerrillas. The other man in the barn, Henry Metcalf, is also somewhat of a mystery, a rather nondescript lieutenant from Ohio County, Kentucky sent north with the same orders from General Hylon B. Lyons.
There are reasons for these men as well as others such as Lt. Col Jack Allen who himself went north to bring back the Partisan Rangers. The Partisan Ranger Act of April, 1862 was enacted as a counter measure to Lincoln’s arming of the border-states with Federal arms and artillery to enable the north to ensure the taxes and raw materials of these states would remain in Federal hands. Kentucky was especially important to the Union because it held very close ties to Virginia, since it was once part of the Old Dominion. Lincoln himself said he could not lose Kentucky. Kentucky did join the Confederacy and was the 15th star on both the American Flag and the center star on the Confederate Battle Flag. The manner in which Kentucky applied for and was granted admission to the Confederacy was irregular, and Governor McGoffin resigned due to his perceived illegality. With at least a quasi- legitimacy in the C.S.A. and with Partisan Ranger bands allowed by the Confederacy, ranger parties were formed and operated as a countering force in Kentucky, to newly formed Home Guard units.
In late 1863 the Confederacy seemed to be rethinking the Partisan Ranger Act, because in February of 1864 they rescinded the act. This had an adverse effect on those Rangers legally formed and operating under the Confederacy. It made them illegitimate in the eyes of both governments, although the Union recognized some of them as members of the Confederate army. There were probably many reasons why the Partisan Act was repealed. The Confederate army was running out of forces and their ranks needed to be replenished. Some of the Partisans, were considered to be bushwhacking guerrillas, as well as some of the still legitimate forces such as those of Brig. General John Hunt Morgan, and they were receiving bad press. Atrocities were committed on both sides, but those of the Confederate Partisans got the most attention. It is interesting that in the coastal regions of Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina the Partisan forces of John Mosby and Hanse McNeil were excluded from the repeal of the act. I suspect this was because the regular Confederate army could exercise control of their actions by a much closer chain of command. Cooperation between those bands and the C.S.A. Army was good. The Confederacy may have rescinded the act to draw those bands of men back to the ranks of the regular army for two reasons. Each of which would explain that action.
The Confederacy may have realized that the war was going badly in early 1864 and rescinded the act to invigorate its dwindling army with battle hardened veterans, or it may have done so to allow those men to join the regular army in order to afford them a measure of protection if the south lost the war. In that instance, the Partisans would be allowed to surrender and take the oath of allegiance with the combined Confederate forces. By so doing they may have been allowed to escape prosecution for crimes they committed as Partisans. For whatever reason the Confederate Congress acted, the effect would have accomplished both things. It would have strengthened the Confederate army, and allowed those guerrilla rangers joining the army that measure of protection.
For either of those aforementioned reason, or perhaps others, the Confederacy sent recruiters north to bring the guerrillas south to the Confederacy. Magruder, Clarke and Metcalfe went south with some ten or so other men to rendezvous with General Breckenridge’s troops near Paris, Tennessee. Some of these men were part of Quantrill’s Raiders that operated and cooperated with home-grown Kentucky guerrillas until they surrendered in July of 1865. Near Hawsville, Kentucky in Hancock County on a hill overlooking Patesville, they encountered an attack that wounded Magruder. Porter took most of the men back to Nelson County, a guerrilla stronghold, while Magruder, Clarke, and Metcalf moved to the vicinity of Webster, Kentucky in Meade County, where Magruder had distant kin and sought aid. There they were caught. Out of this capture, two mysteries arose. Why was, Marcellous Jerome Clarke so important to the Union, since he had been a guerrilla only for about six months, and why he was so hastily tried, and executed. The other mystery is that of who Henry Metcalf was, and why was he with Magruder and Clarke? The repeal of the Partisan Ranger Act for whatever reason caused a blending together of regular Confederate soldiers and officers with irregular partisans, and occasionally outlaws. With this in mind, I will in Part II unravel and attempt to explain those mysteries.
Why was Jerome Clarke so important, and who was Henry Metcalfe?
The mystery about Jerome Clarke, probably the most famous, or infamous guerrilla raider in Kentucky has to do with answering the question of why and how did he become that in his short six month guerrilla career? That Clarke was a redoubtable Confederate soldier loyal to the southern clause is beyond doubt. He was captured, and imprisoned in Camp Morton near Indianapolis, Indiana after being captured at Fort Donalson when its forces surrendered. He may have been captured on Brig. General John Hunt Morgan’s “Great Raid.” After being exchanged, or escaping prison, he according to his trial transcript, joined with Kirkpatrick’s force and was attached to General John Hunt Morgan. Richard Taylor in his well-researched historical novel, “Sue Mundy,” had Clarke and another escapee joining A. R. Johnson’s Breckenridge Guards, with Johnson being attached to Morgan’s force, and making the raid into Indiana, where once again, Clarke, found himself escaping and rejoining with Morgan who also escaped from the Columbus Federal Penitentiary with help from Thomas Hines. He was on the last raid of Morgan into Kentucky, and he either returned with Morgan to Tennessee or became detached and made his way to Nelson County. Clarke and Magruder became attached to Gabe Alexander, and at some point Clarke was promoted to a captain. Taylor states Clarke was promoted by Lt. Col. Jack Allen and sent into Kentucky as a courier.
Whatever way it was, between mid-September, and October 4th of 1864, Jerome Clarke began his six month life as a guerrilla. As a courier and recruiter for the Confederacy he had to make contact with those guerrilla men. Riding with men like Berry, Magruder, Marion, and Quantrill, he was in on a number of killings. Most if not all of these shootings were of Union soldiers some unarmed. The guerrillas were especially hard on the Negro soldiers who obtained their freedom by volunteering to fight. They also robbed stage coaches, toll gates, and post offices that were branches of the Union government. Mercantile stores of the Unionists were also targeted, or those that supplied the Union with horses or other materials. The first mention of Jerome Clarke as Sue Mundy, was in October of 1864. Magruder, Marion, Berry, and others were far more important that Marcellous Jerome Clarke. Clarke however was mistakenly identified by a stage driver as a woman, and that was picked up and exploited by George Prentice the editor of the Louisville Daily Journal. He created a fictional character, with some basis in fact, named Sue Mundy. In article after article this will-of-the-wisp female guerrilla that the Union army couldn’t catch, embarrassed General S. G. Burbridge. For this reason Jerome Clarke was given a three hour trial, not allowed to call witnesses, and the endorsement for his execution was signed a day before his trial began. He hanged only three days after his capture at the age of 20 years. He was not the most effective or the best of them he was likely one of the youngest and maybe the least effective guerrilla. His fame came because of George Prentice and John N. Edwards that wrote of his guerrilla exploits after the war. By contrast, Henry Clay Magruder, was likely the most dangerous and effective of the guerrillas. He killed detached Union soldiers, and more especially Negro soldiers however his trial lasted 21 days, and he was allowed to call witnesses and had reasonable counsel. Sue Mundy paid the ultimate price largely because of his publicity and the embarrassment it brought the Union army. It could be argued that a newspaper editor had more to do with his conviction and execution than did his warfare.
The mystery of Henry Metcalf (Medkiff/Midkiff) is simpler, similar, and less tragic than that of Sue Mundy. Like Taylor said of Mundy, Ohio County’s Henry Metcalf was sent on an errand into Kentucky with orders to bring out the guerrilla bands and have them unite with General Breckenridge near Paris, Tennessee. Henry Metcalf’s parents were John Metcalf who died on January 28th, 1884 and Charlotte Smith Metcalf who died sometime in 1854. Henry Metcalf was born in the precinct of Hines Mill near Rough Creek, March 21st, 1821. He was 40 years old when the war began, old for a soldier, joining in Gano’s squadron of Texas Cavalry in 1862. It may have been because he had just lost to death his second wife, Cordelia Phipps Metcalf, who died in 1861, that he joined the army. Like many others he was captured on Morgan’s Great Raid, and was imprisoned in Louisville, and then at Camp Chase, in Ohio from whence he was sent to Camp Douglas and there made his escape. He joined General Lyons force in Tennessee and was a brave and resourceful Confederate soldier. Lyons was attached to Breckenridge’s command, and he sent Henry Metcalf to Kentucky to bring out Confederate guerrillas. He was making contact with various guerrilla groups as was Lt. Col. Jack Allen. Allen may have been the man who promoted Jerome Clarke to Captain. Allen was known to have spoken directly with One Arm Sam Berry and others, saying, “Come out, or you will be hanged as guerrillas and ought to be!” This may have been simply prophetic, or perhaps a threat, designed to get compliance from them to his orders, if they didn’t ride south, or a final warning that this might be their last chance to rejoin the Confederate army and be given that measure of anonymity if they surrendered in mass. All we have to go on is his stated words. That message, whatever it meant apparently got through to some of the guerrillas, because on or about February 27th, 1865, a sort of going away party was given at the McClasky farm for the departing guerrillas as they rode south to join Breckenridge. Magruder, Jerome Clarke, Quantrill and many others attended. There was music, food, and drink for the revelers. It was from this party that 13 men departed to ride south along the Ohio River to link up with the CSA forces in Paris, Tennessee.
Near Patesville, Kentucky, they were in a firefight causing some of their force to go back to Nelson County, leaving Bill Davison dead, and Magruder wounded and accompanied by Clarke and Henry Metcalf. After three or four days in the tobacco barn of John Cox they were caught, tried, and convicted. Jerome Clarke gave two of his revolvers to John Cox. One is in private ownership in Irvington, Kentucky, and the other resides in Glasgow, Kentucky also in private hands.
All three men were sentenced to hang, and Clarke was executed March 15th 1865, while Magruder, often called Billy, was hanged in October of 1865. Metcalf was sentenced to die, but was saved by Henry Magruder’s act of chivalry or fair play. He told the court that Metcalf was not at the Caldwell house where Edward Caldwell, an unarmed soldier home on leave to bury his father, was gunned down by a party of five men. One of the men was Tom Henry, who closely resembled Metcalf. When Magruder stated that Metcalf was not there, he put his own neck in the noose. He would have had to be there himself to know Metcalf wasn’t. Metcalf’s execution was commuted to 5 years in prison, and then he was released in part because of a letter writing campaign on his behalf. After the war Henry Metcalf became a farm equipment salesman, married Amelia C. Miller of Ohio County, in 1867, over 20 years his junior and they prospered. Many years after the war Henry Metcalf visited John Cox and inquired about the revolvers Jerome Clarke gave him. The mystery of Henry Metcalf is that he was on an errand to bring out the guerrillas, and would have done so had a fight not ensued. He himself was not a guerrilla, but because of his orders, he was riding with them, thus he was guilty by association. To add further irony to his story, had it not been for Henry Magruder speaking up and risking his own life, Metcalf would have died on the gallows for killing a Union soldier when Metcalf wasn’t present at the event. Perhaps it was too little too late to be of much benefit, but good for Henry Magruder and even better for Henry Metcalf.