Monday, October 11, 2010

Louisa During the Civil War


Louisa, the county seat of Lawrence County, KY, lies at the confluence of Tug and Levisa Forks of the Big Sandy River, on a two-thousand acres tract of land surveyed by George Washington in 1769, the corners of which were well-marked with Washington's initials. Settlement was attempted in 1789 at The Point, between the forks, but it was abandoned. A settlement called Balclutha existed for a short time afterward west of The Point. The settlement that became Louisa began about 1815. The sources of the names are obscure.

Louisa Plat Map, surveyed June 10, 1823

The Forks of Big Sandy post office opened in 1819 and the Louisa post office opened in 1822. In 1823, a court house was erected in the center of the public square. The building was a two-story frame house, 35x30 feet, weatherboard side, and a wood shingle roof. The first story was 12 feet high, with sleepers 2 feet apart. According to old records, there were "two 12 light windows in the end of this large room." The second story had two partitions forming three rooms. Each room had "one 18 light window in the side." The old town pump was located near the court house, on the corner of Main and Main Cross Streets.

By 1830, Louisa had 87 inhabitants. In 1846, the town contained a court-house, church, post-office, four stores, two doctors, two lawyers, and several mechanics' shops. River traffic opened up in 1837 with the first steam boats chugging down the Big Sandy. Push boats and flatboats were still in use, especially when the river was low. The steamboat landing in Louisa was located near the end of Main Street. Many of the boats would go as far as Pikeville when the river stage permitted, which was often in the spring of the year. They would be heavily loaded with supplies and return with local products for markets east, such as ginseng, feathers, wool, beeswax, chestnuts, as well as dried apples and peaches.

Old Steamboat Landing, view from Water Street [now S. Vinson Ave.]

In 1843, Daniel Bayless Vaughn moved from Wood Co. VA to Louisa where he kept the "Big Hotel" and pursued his trade of merchant tailor. He was a steamboat man from 1852 to 1860, running the "Tom Scott" on the Sandy River. He built 5 large steamers, and 4 smaller ones to run on Sandy.

In 1860, Archibald Borders, an influential businessman and first Lawrence County judge, built the famous steamer "Sandy Valley". Judge Borders owned a large brick house which stood at the grade and was facing Main Street. The house was built before the Civil War. Also situated on the property were the Borders Servants Quarters. Archibald Borders owned half the block between Main and Madison Streets.

His son, A. P. Borders shipped goods on the steamer to various ports along the Big Sandy Valley. A freight bill, dated Dec. 18, 1860, for a shipment to J. Richmond, to be delivered "at the Port of Louisa, KY," shows every product imaginable that was taken up the river, such as crockery, yellow ware, sugar kettles, grass rope, stoves, hats and shoes, liquor, cheese, fish and specifically herring, black powder and German steel, raisins, paper, soda, pepper, coffee, indigo and madder, etc.
The steamboats also represented the main means of transporting passengers to and fro the Big Sandy Valley until the advent of the railroad in the 1880's.

Big Sandy River, near steamboat landing, Louisa

A stage coach line to Mt. Sterling, a distance of 103 miles, connected Louisa with the interior of the state. Weary travellers could rest at the Gallup Hotel, acquired by George W. Gallup in the summer of 1860 which stood on the banks of the Big Sandy River, near the steamboat landing, on Main Street in Louisa. The hotel keeper was Henry S. Bussey. A ferry, operated by George R. Miller, crossed the river at the end of Main Street just below the mouth of Levisa and Tug to Cassville, Virginia [now Fort Gay, West Virginia].

Louisa continued to grow and by 1855, the town had a court-house, a church, 4 stores & about 100 inhabitants. In 1860, Louisa was a small town with a population of 258. There were two churches in the downtown area. The brick Methodist Episcopal Church, South stood on the south-east corner of the public square, a commodious and attractive structure for that day. The First United Methodist Church, a brick building in Gothic style, with diamond-shaped glass windows, was located on the east side of Main Street.

First United Methodist Church, Louisa

In 1860, Lawrence County's chief economic resources were timber, minerals and tobacco but the beginning of the Civil War soon halted timber and coal production. In 1840, Louisa was the geographic center of American hog production but had lost its importance by 1850.

An 1860 business directory for Louisa

Granville Frasher, merchandising
Wm. Moore, merchant
Pleasant Savage, merchant
Greenville Lackey, merchant
Noah Wellman, merchant
James A. Wellman, merchant
Peter I. Livingston, merchant
John McHenry, dealer in minerals & merchandise
Amelia A. Cook, widow merchant
Mary J. Ferguson, widow merchant

George R. Miller, Ferryman

John P. Armstrong, teacher/pedagogue
Verlinda Davenport, school teacher
John Laidly, school teacher

George W. Gallup, lawyer
Laban T. Moore, lawyer
Jake Rice, lawyer
Kenas F. Prichard, lawyer

Marcus L. Hodge, carpenter
Robert Moore, carpenter
J. J. Taylor, carpenter
Jake [?] Bradley, carpenter

James M. Frazer, tanner & currier
Strother J. Yates, physician
Stephen L. Davenport, saddler
S. J. Small, seamstress

John W. Jones, deputy clerk
M. B. Goble, clerk of court

Boon Salter, shoemaker
John Frasher, boot & shoemaker

James M. Pigg, cabinet maker
Robert C. W. McKenzie, machinist

George Martin, blacksmith
John Pigg, blacksmith
Charles Hambleton, blacksmith
Willis Pigg, blacksmith
Armstead Burchett, blacksmith
Drury Burchett, blacksmith

William L. Allen, artist
Allen C. Hutchinson, artist

Calvin Wellman, lumber merchant
Jessee Meek, timber merchant

Henry S. Bussey, hotel keeper
William Troy, painter
Abraham Neal, waggoner

During the war, Louisa was chosen as a Union strong-hold. In the fall of 1861, a military camp named "Camp Wallace" was established by the 14th KY Infantry, named in honor of Thomas Wallace. In December 1861, a soldier from Ohio described Louisa as, "at best a straggling, unpainted hamlet, but the hostilities of six months had greatly increased its thriftless, untidy aspect. The men were nearly all in the army on one side or the other; the courthouse had been used as a barrack by the half barbarous volunteers of the mountain region, and a shabby brick tavern with its kitchen dismantled and its windows broken, still struggled against extinction as a public house by keeping a red nosed ex-hostler and a jug of new apple-jack behind the bar. Early in the War, as it was then, Louisa had been occupied and re-occupied by Federals and Confederates until its women no longer stared at the passing soldier as an object of interest, but charged him fifty cents for a dried peach pie, and as promptly besought the commanding officers to post sentries around their potato mounds and hen roosts, as though taught by the campaigns of a dozen years."

A month later, a Kentucky officer offered a glimpse of Louisa, "I suppose ... in summer with its circle of towering hills it must be a beautiful place, but just now everything is marred with the oceans of mud which surrounds one on all sides and literally flows through its streets; even the sidewalks are unpaved."

During the fall of 1861, as well as during Garfield's Eastern Kentucky Campaign, 1861/1862, several buildings in town served as military hospitals, including the First United Methodist Church, as well as what is now known as the Judge Stewart House which at the time belonged to James Lawson, a Southern sympathizer from Logan Co. VA. Both buildings are situated on Main Street. A third hospital, a two-story brick building, was located at the corner of Perry and Main Streets, at the top of the Grade.

Judge Stewart House

A temporary commissary was established in John McHenry's brick store [formerly belonging to Daniel W. Eba] and later in one of the buildings owned by Thomas Wallace. The courthouse was converted into barracks for the soldiers.

Louisa became the seat of the Military District of Eastern Kentucky which included a Provost Marshall's office, and thus functioned as a main point for prisoner transportation down the Sandy River for transfer to Camp Chase, Ohio, as well as other military prisons. The jail near the courthouse served as a guardhouse.

Throughout the war, various regiment encamped at Louisa, including the 14th, 22nd and 39th KY Infantry, 10th KY Cav, 4th VA Infantry, 5th VA CAV [US], 40th and 42nd OVI, McLaughlin's Squadron of Cavalry, and the 65th Illinois Infantry, 109th USCI, and the 68th Kentucky Enrolled Militia.

Some of the military camps established in Louisa during the Civil War

Camp Lookout
Louisa, Kentucky, a permanent Union camp.

Camp McClure
Louisa, Lawrence County; Camp of McLaughlin's Squadron.

Camp White
Louisa, Lawrence County; Permanent Union camp, summer 1863.

With the influx of regiments, the town was also occupied by many civilians, mostly family members of the soldiers, which caused the population to increase to more than twice its normal number. In October 1861, John Frew Stewart, who was employed in the Quartermaster Department of the 14th KY Infantry, boarded in the house of Pleasant M. Savage. In June of 1863, a 14th KY Infantry soldier wrote to his family, "for the women folks I will not say for maw to com fore they are so crowdid here that it is a hard mater for 2 person to git a place to stay." In 1863 , until the end of the war, several officers of the federal army were boarding with John M. Rice, including James D. Foster, 14th KY Infantry.

Map of Louisa, 1864

Due to its Union occupation and heavy fortifications on a high hill near the town, Louisa was never taken by the Confederates. On March 25, 1863, Gen. Humphrey Marshall considered an attempt, and skirmished with Union troops in Smokey Valley. The following morning, the Confederates carefully edged their way to within a 1/2 mile of Louisa when they discovered, "on a sudden turn of the road ... the position of the enemy, their artillery, & forces in line of battle - high up on a Gibraltar of a hill." Marshall immediately abandoned his plans and retreated toward Blaine.

During the summer of 1864, the US military began construction of Fort Bishop on the hill towering above Louisa to protect the town against Confederate raids. The fort was 3/4 completed, including the magazine, and was armed with 7 field guns, when the project was finally abandoned in 1865, due to the end of the war.

Site of Fort Bishop

On April 9, 1865 General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia near Appomattox Court House Virginia. After General Lee's surrender, CS soldiers were instructed to go to the nearest union post and surrender. Most of the Kentucky men from Giltner’s Brigade, the only Confederate force of any consequence left in Eastern Kentucky, surrendered on April 30, 1865, at Mt. Sterling, KY and were later paroled to their homes. Remnants of Giltner's command as well as other CS soldiers made their way to Louisa where they surrendered to the US Provost Marshall.

The Civil War and the presence of the military left some of the buildings in town in shambles. In February 1865, Judge R. F. Vinson requested the Commander of the Military Post in Louisa to surrender up to the Civil authorities the public buildings "in this place now held and occupied by them." It was stated that, "While the army was here, they took possession of the courthouse and jail of Lawrence County and used the jail as a guardhouse and the courthouse as commissary for storage of forage and while hauling to and from the same, run the wagons against the outside corners, broke and knocked out bricks from walls, greased and soiled the floors and inside walls, broke down the stairs and floors, cut and mutilated columns, destroyed and carried away the seats, broke the frames out of two outside doors, and knocked out bricks from sides and overhead, destroyed the well in the public square by getting a horse in it and filling it up. In order to hold court, the officers were forced to procure a house to hold court in, they held court in a church building."

The Methodist-Episcopal Church did not fare much better. The trustees of the church stated that, "during the Civil War, the United States forces, by proper authority, took possession of the house of worship and used and occuied the same as barracks, as a commissary, for hospital purposes, and as a stable, for a period of about three and one-half years, or until the spring of 1865. That during said occupancy, the troops removed from said building the windows, doors, flooring, altar, pulpit, and seats; damaging the walls and ceiling so as to necessitate replastering and refinishing; destroyed the fencing inclosing said building, and otherwise greatly injured said property."

Methodist- Episcopal Church, Louisa, 1917

None of the above claims were ever paid by the US Government.

7 comments:

  1. My great grandfather was in Co. K first regiment Capital Guards, Sandy Valley Battl.
    Would love to have any info on this unit.

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  2. Hi, My gggrandad was in the Sandy Battn, John Crank. I was wondering if you knew where Terman's Ferry was located on the Big Sandy.

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  3. I've been doing my grandmother's family tree for her recently and if my research is correct, then the Granville Frasher you have listed here is my 4x great grandfather. I'd love to know if you know any other information about him and thank you so much for posting this!

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  4. My 2X great grandfather served in the 39th KY Infantry, Co. H. Records show that he died 11 April 1863 "at regimental hospital at Louisa, Ky. His name was Sgt. William Floyd Coleman. Are soldiers graves marked?

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    Replies
    1. Did you ever find out if soldiers graves were marked? Thank you.

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  5. My Father's family is from Louisa and surrounding countryside. I never knew Louisa's rich history with the Civil War, growing up I really only was told about the Hatfields and McCoys, and the time Jesse James rode through the area while being chased, subsequently hiding a sum of gold that was never found despite years of searching (it's now under water due to the dam so may never be found).

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  6. I also live in Columbus, OH and am very familiar with Camp Chase, most of it is still standing.. the cemetery is anyways.

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