Sunday, February 20, 2011

Arrests in the Big Sandy Valley During the Early Days of the Civil War

During the fall of 1861, after Confederate forces occupied Paducah and when Kentucky abandoned its position of neutrality in favor of the Union cause, it created turmoil and uneasiness on both sides of the conflict. On Sept. 24, 1861, General Robert Anderson issued a proclamation, noting that he understood, “that apprehension is entertained by citizens of this State who have hitherto been in opposition to the policy now adopted by the State.” He assured that, “no Kentuckian shall be arrested who remains at home attending to his business, and does not take part, either by action or speech, against the authority of the General or State Government, or does not hold correspondence with, or give aid or assistance to those who have chosen to array themselves against us as our enemies.” Anderson’s sentiments were echoed by Governor Magoffin who encouraged the citizens, in case of a collision of hostile armies on Kentucky soil, “Not to engage in said strife amongst themselves on account of differences of political opinion…” but to, “unite in protecting each other in their rights of life, liberty and property, against all and every invasion thereof by unlawful raids, mobs, marauding bands, or other evil disposed persons, and bringing them before the Courts for trial.”

Nevertheless, neither Anderson’s proclamation nor Magoffin’s words did much to ease the populations’ fears in Eastern Kentucky. The establishment of a Confederate recruiting camp at Prestonsburg was certainly a threat and cause for alarm for the pro-Union faction who did not want to be caught living inside Confederate lines, while the organization of a Federal regiment in the upper part of the Sandy Valley raised serious concerns for Southern supporters . One witness noted, “The feeling at that time was exceedingly bitter. My experience was that men did not have to be pressed very much to tell anything they knew against a man occupying a position on the other side of the conflict that was going on. There was an exceedingly bitter state of feeling in that country on both sides.” Colonel Laban T. Moore stated, “It was not safe at that time in this country for persons of known or suspected sympathy with the South to remain at home. I mean such persons would have been arrested.”

On the other hand, Union supporters did not fare any better. Writing from Catlettsburg, Levi J. Hampton noted on Oct. 19, 1861, “We last night learned through some thirty five Union men, who scattered through the woods and arrived here from Pike county, that the rebels have come into Prestonsburg in force, from Virginia, to the number of seven thousand, well armed and equipped, and have extended their pickets down near Peach Orchard, forty miles from this place. Every person is fleeing before them.” James Weddington, who lived on the main road leading from Prestonsburg to Piketon, noted, “… the report of the neighborhood was that people was shifting, some going one way, some another, and that people were arming…” According to James Honaker, a citizen of Pike Co. KY, “There was a great excitement in the country, and every person was on the run in small companies for their safety. Even women, and men that never had anything to do with the army, was on the run.”

What follows is a list of people, even though incomplete, who were arrested on both sides of the conflict during the early days of the Civil War in Eastern Kentucky.

Arrests by Union Forces

On September 27th, 1861, Oliver Martin, landlord of the Hampton House at Catlettsburg was arrested by Zeigler’s 5th Virginia (US). Also taken into custody were Judge George Newman Brown, Wm. O. Hampton, Wm. Campbell, and James R. Ford, plus eight other men, all citizens of Catlettsburg. They were taken to Camp Pierpoint in Ceredo, Virginia (now WV).

    Hampton House, Catlettsburg, KY

    Arrests were also made in Lawrence County, KY, by the Federal authorities. Judge James M. Rice, Samuel Short and George B. Poage were among those taken into custody.

    On September 30th, a group of rebel recruits arrived at Landsdowne Hall, located 1/2 mile from Grayson, KY. Dr. A. J. Landsdowne and his family were southern sympathizers, and aided men from northern Kentucky and southern Ohio on their way to join the Confederate Army by providing food and safe shelter. While eating dinner with the Landsdowne family, the men were surprised by 15 home guards under a Captain McGuire who surrounded the house. The Confederates made a break for it and in the melee that ensued, two Southerners, William Bartley and William Henry, were killed. One man, George Martin, was wounded, and B. J. McComas escaped with three other men. The remainder of the group was captured, including John McCoy, S. H. Wolcott, Orlando (Leander/Vander) Nicholls, Benj. Chinn, John White, Henry C. Davidson, P. B. Byrne, Sam Womack, Will. Womack and – Strother, Robert L. Stewart, W. H. Campbell, Wm. A. Warnick, A. J. Landsdowne, and C. Carroll Pomeroy.

    Toward the end of November 1861, Calvin Wright, a farmer and distiller who lived on Little Fork of Dry Fork in Lawrence Co. KY, was arrested by Captain Oliver D. Botner, Co. G, 14th KY Infantry and taken to Union Headquarters at Louisa. All of Wright's brandy was confiscated and delivered up to the regiment's surgeon, Dr. Yates, for the use of the hospital at Louisa.

    On December 5, 1861, the Ironton (OH) Register reported that Maj. Burke, of the 14th KY Infantry, “at Louisa - went down the river...with nine Secesh prisoners, Wm. McKinney, Harrison Young, John Murphy, Johnson Griffith, James R. Rose, John Blankenship, Joseph Primm [Grim?] of Lawrence Co. Ky, and Thos. Chandler and Isaac Chandler, of Johnson County, Ky."

    John Hagins, of Magoffin County, Ky., was arrested in Montgomery County, KY, about the middle of December, 1861, and charged with furnishing supplies of stock to the rebel army under General Williams. The Department of State was advised of the arrest by a dispatch dated Cincinnati, December 17, 1861, from E. S. Samuels, Government agent in Kentucky, and C. B. Pitts, deputy U.S. marshal of the same State, who say that he Hagins was taken while "in transit with cattle for the rebels," and also that they have "plenty of evidence to hang him." He was thereupon directed to be taken to Fort Lafayette, which was accordingly done on the 20th of December. He remained at Fort Lafayette until February 22, 1862, when he was released on parole. Upon his release, Hagins, along with nine other paroled prisoners sent the following card to the editor of the New York Times:
    “We, the undersigned, this day released from imprisonment in Fort Lafayette, beg leave to say to the public that we have uniformly received at the hands of Lieut. CHARLES O. WOOD, First Lieutenant Ninth Infantry, U.S.A., commanding Fort Lafayette, every civility, courtesy and kindness which, as commanding officer, he was authorized and permitted to extend to us by his superiors in office; who, be it said, required of us the performance of menial services, such only as would be required at the hands of scullions and menials.
    We believe, indeed, that he would have made many more provisions for our comfort than we enjoyed under him had it been in his power to do so.
    We deem it proper to make this voluntary statement to the public because of certain statements made in the public prints to his disparagement, which some of us know to be wholly without foundation in truth, and all of us believe so to be.
    We leave Lieut. WOOD, individually, with our best wishes for his prosperity and happiness.


    More arrests were made under Col. James A. Garfield during his Eastern Kentucky Campaign in 1861 and early 1862. He stated, “If I found satisfactory evidence that they were in actual communication with the rebel army, and aiding the enemy, I sent them to Camp Chase, at Columbus, Ohio, as prisoners. There was a second class against whom the evidence was not so strong, but sufficiently strong to lead me to suppose that they were at least likely to take an active part against us. With such I adopted the plan of requiring them to give bonds, and take and subscribe an oath not to take any part against our troops. These bonds required that if they were found committing any overt act, it was a confession of the forfeiture expressed in the bond. A third class I required to give their word of honor that they would not take any part against the United States, but would remain peaceable citizens. To these I gave a written discharge.”

    Col. James A. Garfield

    The following men, all taken in arms, were arrested by Garfield, sent to Newport Barracks, KY and then forwarded to Camp Chase, Ohio, where they arrived abt. March 19, 1862:
    - William Segraves, Lawrence Co. KY - Possibly member of Co. K, 5th KY Mtd. Inf. (CSA)
    - Jesse Barker, Lawrence Co. KY - Pivate, Co. D, 5th KY Mtd. Inf. (CSA) Captured Jan. 13, 1862, Johnson Co. KY. Exchanged Aug. 25, 1862
    - Chas. Thomas, Lawrence Co. KY - arrested by the 40th OVI, at Middle Creek, Jan. 10, 1862.
    - William Z./S./J. Carter, Johnson Co. KY - Possibly a deserter from Co. K, 5th KY Mtd. Inf. (CSA) He was captured Jan. 13, 1862; Exchanged Aug. 25, 1862.
    - John Berry - Possibly John L. Berry, Co. C, 5th KY Mtd. Inf. (CSA), listed as deserted, Dec. 31, 1861 to April 30, 1862.

    Newport Barracks, KY

    Additional arrests:
    - James Stewart, Johnson Co. KY - for giving aid and succor to rebels.
    James Stewart was a lawyer who resided in Paintsville and was married to Cynthia Mayo, a daughter of Lewis May, one of the leading men of the Big Sandy Valley. Stewart stated, "I sympathized with the southern people, but had no connection whatever with those in arms, or that was aiding the rebellion. In 1862, I was arrested by said authorities at the instance of prejudiced acquaintances, and upon false testimony was sent to Camp Chase." Stewart remained a prisoner for nearly a year. On being released by exchange, he returned home and soon returned to the practice of law.

    - Oliver A. Patton - for serving in the rebel army in Piketon. He later raised a unit named Patton's Partisan Rangers which operated mainly in Eastern Kentucky. The history of this unit was rather short-lived.
    - T. P. Taylor - no charges or location given
    - James F. Jones

    Camp Chase, Ohio

    On February 15, 1862, Garfield addressed a letter to Ohio Governor Tod, recommending the discharge of James F. Jones, William Segraves and Oliver O. Patton. Tod endorsed Garfield's request, but Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, in Washington, DC, stated that the Secretary of War declined to grant their release.

    On January 11, 1862, David A. Powell, Stephen G. Loar and John M. Rice were arrested at Anthony Hatcher's house, near opposite the mouth of Mud Creek, Floyd Co. KY. The arresting party consisted of Martin Thornsbury, 14th KY Infantry (US) and about 20-25 men, who were more or less acting in the capacity of a home guard group. On the way to Garfield's camp in Paintsville, Powell escaped. Stephen G. Loar stated, "At the time I was arrested I had gone up to see Anthony Hatcher, who was wounded; Rice was with me and went there for the same purpose… I was let out on parole of honor."

    In regard to John M. Rice, Garfield questioned Thornsbury, "whether he had any evidence that Mr. Rice belonged to the rebel army. He stated he found him twelve or fifteen miles south of my encampment, and in the neighborhood where the rebel army had recently been. Mr. Rice was brought to me about the 14th of January, 1862. I further examined him as to any evidence he might possess that Mr. Rice belonged to any rebel force. There was no evidence given to me that he belonged to the rebel army, nor that he had done any overt act which would justify me in regarding him as a soldier or an enemy." Accordingly, Garfield issued Rice a written discharge.
    Headquarters Eighteenth Brigade
    Paintsville, Kentucky, January 14, 1862
    Mr. John M. Rice, of Louisa, Kentucky, having pledged himself not to aid or abet directly or indirectly, the confederate forces in the present war, is hereby released on his parole, and granted safe conduct into the camps and through the lines of the Union troops, subject to all proper guard and police regulations.
    By order of Colonel J. A. Garfield, commanding brigade
    W. H. Clapp
    Assistant Adjutant General

    Confederate Arrests

    William Ferguson, John Dils, Jr. and Clinton Van Buskirk were arrested in Pike Co. KY and taken to Richmond, Va where they arrived on Nov. 12, 1861, under escort by Hon. John M. Elliott, T. W. Porter, and G. T. Magee. Ferguson was accused of being “a Provost Marshal of the Lincoln Government.”

    Richmond Daily Dispatch, Nov. 13, 1861

    The Confederate authorities reported the following, "Clinton Buskirk.--Born in Pennsylvania, at Johnstown; has lived in Pennsylvania and Ohio and Logan County, Va., until the spring of 1859, when he removed to Piketon, Ky. Was arrested by Colonel Williams. Says two of his brothers are in Floyd's brigade. On his examination was confused, and I had great difficulty in extracting anything from him. Refused to take the oath of allegiance. General Johnson, of Kentucky, knows nothing of him. Mr. Wilton knows nothing of him except that he has heard he has two brothers in Floyd's brigade. Mr. McDonald, delegate from Logan, proves while in Logan he bore a good character and has one brother in Floyd's brigade. I cannot recommend his discharge, but think he ought to be held as a prisoner to be exchanged for some of our men taken in Kentucky."

    "William Ferguson.--Born in Montgomery County, Ky.; arrested by Colonel Williams' command while attempting to serve process issued by Apperson, commissioner of the United States, for two witnesses in Magoffin County, Ky., summoned to testify in the cases of two men arrested as friends of the South. Says he sustains the present Government of the United States although he detests Lincoln; sustains the old government of Kentucky. Will not take the oath of allegiance to the Confederate States, but will take an oath to be neutral, and that he will not take part in the war or give any information to the enemy. General Johnston proves him to be a man of good character, who will stand by his oath. I cannot recommend his discharge, but think he should be held to be exchanged for our friends arrested in Kentucky."

    On October 27, 1861, Samuel Pack and his uncle George were arrested by Vincent A. Witcher’s Company Virginia Mounted Rifles. They were bound and driven off on foot. During their examination it was stated that Samuel Pack, "says he was arrested by Captain Witcher on suspicion of being a Union man. Denies he is a Union man. Says he is with the South. Affirms he never had any connection with the Northern army or the Union men of Kentucky or his own neighborhood. He lives near the Kentucky line on the Sandy River. I can procure no information about him and judging from his conduct under examination I should think he was an honest man. I recommend his discharge on taking the oath of allegiance."

    The Confederate authorities stated about George Pack, that, "Prisoner says he was born in Giles County, Va. Removed to Lawrence County, Ky., and then to Wayne County, Va. Is the uncle of Samuel Pack. Lives near Sandy, across from Louisa, Ky., and about twenty-eight miles distant on Twelve Pole River from that town. Says he voted for members of time convention held at Richmond and never voted since. Is a Southern man. Never had anything to do with the Union men of Kentucky or of his neighborhood. Says some of his neighbors went to Ceredo and got arms from Zeigler. He remonstrated against it at the beginning of bloody times at home. Took the part of the South. I have no information in reference to this man except from his own examination and his manner creates some doubt in my mind of his sincerity. But he is a very old man (near seventy) and his health much broken by his confinement. He is willing to take the oath of allegiance. I recommend he be discharged on taking the oath of allegiance."

    In October 1861, shortly before the Battle of West Liberty on October 23, 1861, Robert H. McAllister from Greenup Co. KY was captured at Prestonsburg. He stated,“I was on Big Sandy river last fall, with a store-boat, near Prestonsburg. Had a considerable amount of my goods taken by the rebel army; and they detained me as a prisoner for some time; was guarded, but permitted to remain in my boat…”

    On October 15, 1861, James A. J. Lee, from Owingsville, Bath Co. KY, was arrested by troops under Capt. A. J. May (CSA), at West Liberty, Morgan Co. KY. Lee stated, "About the 15th of October last I went to West Liberty, to get some of my friends and relatives to come home; on my way there they took me prisoner, and I went to Judge B. to get his assistance in getting my release … The reason that Judge B. (Wm. H. Burns) gave me why the military authorities there did not act in my case immediately was, that my case was referred to the authority at Prestonsburg, and they released me before they heard from the authorities at Prestonsburg. Capt. May was in command of the forces at West Liberty, and gave me my release; there was some three or four other prisoners there when I was there; I left them there, and I understand that they were released by the Federal forces.”

    John W. Hazelrigg of Morgan Co. KY was also arrested at West Liberty and lodged in the local jail. On October 23, 1861, Federal troops arrived at the town and attacked the Confederates under Capt. A. J. May. A percussion shell exploded some 40 steps from the little brick jail. A fragment struck the building some seven or eight feet from the ground and tore a considerable indentation into the wall. Hazelrigg sustained a head wound during this action. He was consequently freed from confinement.

    On November 13, 1861, the Mt. Sterling Whig reported, that, “Four respectable citizens of Morgan and Wolfe, arrived here yesterday in great haste, several of them having traveled all night, and report that there is no doubt of the rebels having come back in the country above with increased force. They had seen and conversed with a number of persons who had been taken prisoners, and gave their names, who had been released on taking the Confederate oath … The Union men in Wolfe and Morgan had given the alarm to each other and nearly all fled, leaving everything behind.”

    “My recollection is that some Union men in Morgan County had been arrested, and among them a man by the name of Gordon," recalled Colonel Laban T. Moore. The man in question was Joel W. Gorden, the nephew of the famed Baptist minister Rev. Joel Gordon from Washington Co. KY. Gordon was still held as prisoner in August of 1862, when General J. T. Boyle, commanding US forces in Kentucky, ordered the arrest of several prominent Eastern Kentucky men, Green M. Whitten and John M. Burns, both from Prestonsburg, KY. Whitten took the oath and gave bond, and agreed to go to Virginia with John M. Burns, trying to effect Joel W. Gordon's release. It is unknown at this point, if Gordon was allowed to return to Kentucky at that point, but he survived the ordeal and was living in Morgan Co. KY after the Civil War.

    When Confederate General Humphrey Marshall arrived in Eastern Kentucky and established his base near Paintsville, KY, he arrested a man by the name of Chilton/Shelton. Marshall stated on December 22, 1861, "I have taken position here, and have arrested one man within 10 miles of Louisa, the only arrest I have sanctioned. I sent him to the post at Pound Gap, to be detained there until further orders. He ought to have been shot; he is a native of Tennessee, and I found him with an Enfield rifle in hand, a Lincoln uniform on his back, orders in his pockets, and the proof was positive that he was in company when two Southern-rights men were killed by Lincoln bands, and when a store was robbed, and that he was here with Nelson's command, vaporing through these streets, conducting himself towards old, respectable, and defenseless females in the most brutal and insolent manner; in one instance making an old lady named Preston (the wife of a very respectable old man whom they bailed at $25,000) cook for a mess of Irish and Dutch soldiers for a whole week in her own house. I felt like having him shot, but thought imprisonment was probably the best course to take with him.”

    General Humphrey Marshall

    On December 30, 1861, Marshall was still incensed about Chilton, "...I sent to Pound Gap as a prisoner one Doctor Chilton and have him there in custody. He ought to have been shot, for he is one of the very worst men in this country and has been a scourge to our friends. I propose to send my prisoners to Pound Gap, where the battalion stationed there can easily guard them and the winds of the Cumberland Heights can ventilate them properly. I have a long house erected there for their especial accommodation. Mr. Chilton is the only tenant as yet."

    During the first week of January 1862, Samuel J. Filson, a lawyer from Morgan Co. KY, went to Paintsville and was promptly arrested. "In January last I went to Paintsville; was arrested and taken into the camp of Gen. H. Marshall, commanding the Confederate forces, then near Paintsville."

    Also in January of 1862, Frederick Stumbough (Stumbo) from Floyd Co. KY, was arrested by a group of Confederate soldiers who were not uniformed but most likely operated under the command of Humphrey Marshall. Stumbough was taken to Pound Gap and later to Gladesville, VA. He gained his freedom after the Battle of Middle Creek. Years later, Stumbough sued his captors in Pike Co. KY.

    Arrests continued in the Big Sandy Valley until the end of the Civil War but probably never again on such a large scale as was witnessed during the beginning stages of the conflict.

    Information for this article compiled and researched by Marlitta H. Perkins, Jan. / Feb. 2011.

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    William "Bill" W. Wright, Confederate Renegade

    During the Civil War, the Big Sandy Valley saw its share of partisan rangers, guerrillas and irregular bands who roamed the mountains of Eastern Kentucky and fought on more unconventional terms than regular troops.

    William “Bill” W. Wright was a member of several of these groups and made quite a name for himself during the Civil War. William was born abt. 1827 in Southwest Virginia, the youngest of six children of James Wright and Rebecca Herrell. William never knew his father since he died before or soon after his birth. On July 1, 1827, his mother Rebecca married Revolutionary War soldier James Pratt in Floyd Co. KY. Based on records, it appears that William, along with his older sister Louanna, did not spent his early childhood years with his mother and her new husband, but was raised, perhaps, by extended family.

    On June 19, 1853, William Wright married Sarah J. Rose in Lawrence County, KY and set up housekeeping on Irish Creek. Soon their first child, Sintha, was born on April 13, 1854, followed by two more children in 1855 and 1857. Within the next two years, the family moved to Catts Fork where their last child, Lavinia, was born on October 9, 1859.

    Meanwhile, a national crisis was brewing in the United States. Talk of disunion was sparked into action with the election of Lincoln as president on November 6, 1860 and secessionists made it clear that they intended to leave the Union, by force, if necessary. William Wright was an ardent supporter of the Southern cause. During the election, Wright assaulted an election officer in Lawrence County and was promptly indicted for the deed. This was just the beginning of William Wright’s long and violent career during the Civil War.

    William soon began settling his affairs and sold his small property on Catts Fork. On April 12, 1861, the Civil War officially began. In June 1861, he joined Wm. A. Roberts, a son of St. Clair Roberts, who was making up a company in the Catts Fork neighborhood to go to the Confederate army. In September, 1861, some twenty-five or thirty had enlisted and Roberts took the recruits to the army, including William Wright. Since the army was not quite organized yet, William Wright soon managed to obtain a pass to come home. According to Wright, “A. J. Marcum was then recruiting in Lawrence and I got in with him. He had a hundred men at one time. He however left us and Jerry Riffe took command of us.”

    Scene on Catts Fork, Lawrence County, KY

    At the end of November 1861, Wright experienced his first fight with Union forces. Riffe’s men were at A. J. Auxier’s house near Brammer Gap when they were attacked by a Union scout from Louisa. “They fired into us and we returned the fire and brought one man from his saddle,” noted Wright. “The Yankees then fled and left us the field.” When it was discovered that the man wasn’t dead, two or three fired into him and killed him. Wright insisted that he had nothing to do with the shooting. When the Union patrol returned the following day to renew the fight, Wright made his escape from Emmanuel Brammer’s house where he was staying at the time, possibly hiding out at his brother Calvin’s place on Dry Fork, together with some, “twenty five or thirty Confederate soldiers” who were on their way to the Confederate Army in Prestonsburg.

    Site of Emanuel Brammer's Farm, Brammer Gap

    William Wright did not spend his time being idle. He and some of his comrades, namely William Sawyers, Johnson Griffith, Frank Young, James Rose, William Brown and William Large, fell upon Andrew Cooksey’s house twice, and robbed him of one rifle and two muskets, “by putting him in fear of some immediate injury to his person.”
    The relative safety at Calvin Wright’s place was soon shattered when yet another Union patrol, under command of Captain O. D. Botner, 14th KY Infantry, raided the farm, arrested Calvin, confiscated his stock of brandy and took him to Louisa.

    William Wright decided it was time to leave Lawrence County and put out for the regular army at Prestonsburg. He enlisted on December 11, 1861, in Captain Hawkins’s Co. C of the 5th KY Mounted Infantry, for the duration of 12 months. His brother Bayless also enlisted in the 5th KY but served in Captain Blevins’ Co. K. William Wright participated in the Battle of Middle Creek on Jan. 10, 1862 and continued with the 5th KY Mounted Infantry until June 11, 1862, when he was discharged at Camp Calfee due to a hernia.

    William W. Wright Service Record
    5th KY Mounted Infantry (CS)

    After leaving the service, William Wright made his way back to Floyd Co. KY. “I hurt some men in that county, noted Wright. “I killed one man through mistake. I thought he was a Home Guard. They were after me to kill me. I was some distance from him when I shot. I had some acquaintance with him but could not recognize him from the distance I was from him. His name was Wesley Barnett.”

    In the summer of 1862, William Wright associated himself with Co. D, 2nd Batt. KY Mtd. Rifles, commanded by Captain “Rebel Bill” Smith. He enlisted as a private on Aug. 26, 1862 in Logan County, Virginia (now WV) and was elected 2nd Sgt. on Nov. 20, 1862. In October, 1862, Smith’s company went to Lawrence County and remained there for nearly a month until ordered out. During this time, Wright and a number of others were indicted by the Grand Jury of Lawrence County for the crime of invading the State of Kentucky, “as a part of an armed force of the so-called Confederate States… to make war upon her, against the peace & dignity of the Com"' of Kentucky.”

    William W. Wright's Service Record
    2nd Battlion KY Mounted Rifles

    While in Lawrence County, William Wright, together with Harvey Derifield, William Brown and John Sansom, also raided the home of Oliver D. Botner, and robbed him of one pistol, one hat, saddle-pockets, one vest, some money & numerous other articles. This may have been an act of personal revenge for Wright since it was Botner who arrested his brother Calvin in late 1861.

    In November, Smith’s company left Eastern Kentucky and crossed the Big Sandy at the mouth of Whites Creek. “The day after we crossed we had a fight with Bob McCall, noted Wright. “Bob fought very well but we made him trot and captured ten head of horses and accoutrements. We then went to Russell County, Virginia.” The 2nd Battalion also spent some time in Eastern Tennessee and in March of 1863, was ordered back into Eastern Kentucky. Along the way, William Wright fell sick and was left in Morgan County. As soon as he got well he rejoined his command and then was sent into Kentucky to gather up the stragglers of his company. William Wright started out in August, 1863 and made an appearance at Charles Barrett’s house on August 18, 1863, together with Harvey Derifield, John Sansum, William Brown & John Kitchen (son of Jack), and robbed the man of a silver watch, clothing, money & divers other things.

    William Wright soon fell in with Sid Cook’s Company who were briefly associated with Prentice’s 7th Confederate Cavalry. Between April and October in 1863, Cook’s company raided Star Furnace (Carter County), Poplar Plains, Flemingsburg, Pennsylvania Furnace (Greenup County), Olive Hill and Morehead, Kentucky. During a raid on Buffalo Furnace in Greenup County, KY, on Oct. 11, 1863, Wright was captured, along with John M. Auxier, Bunyon Oney & John H. Smith from Cook’s company.

    Ruins of Buffalo Furnace
    Greenup County, KY

    Wright was sent to prison in Louisville and tried by a military commission for the murder of a Union prisoner in October 1862 and sentenced to death. He tried to break guard and as a consequence had his arm shot off. The Union authorities commuted his death sentence to imprisonment with hard labor at Camp Nelson, where he remained until after the war had ended. He was finally released in July 1865 and returned home to Lawrence County. Soon he learned about the indictments against him for his war-related crimes and went into hiding to dodge the officers who were after him. Before long, he joined forces with James Lyon, a Union deserter from the 5th WV and former member of Cook’s company, and his brother John Lyon, a lad of 18 years. According to Wright, the trio “formed a great many plots.” In 1866, the three men were still prowling the hills of Lawrence Co. where they made quite a reputation for themselves. On April 19, 1866, the Lawrence County Court indicted the Wright and the Lyon men for "shooting with intent to kill", a probable reference to the wounding of Hiram F. Adams who was shot down while working in the fields with his son.

    This act was followed by the murder of George P. Archer, a merchant who lived at the mouth of Bear Creek in Lawrence County, on April 27, 1866, which would eventually bring on the demise of William Wright and James and John Lyons. The robbery had been planned well in advance by Wright and Lyon men. On the day before the night of the robbery and murder they went to Louisa to Joe Botts’ barber shop. “Uncle Joe” cut the hair of Jim and John Lyons and shaved off the long beard of Bill Wright. In requesting “Uncle Joe” to shave off the beard, Wright said “it was spring now” and he didn’t want to wear it during the summer. It was later brought out in court that this was just a part of a disguise that he hoped would keep Archer and Mrs. Hatton from recognizing him. On the evening of the tragic murder, Bill Wright and Jim and John Lyons stopped at the house of an old woman on Catts Fork, believed to be an aunt of William Wright, and told her they were on their way to the mouth of Bear Creek to rob a store.

    The trio arrived at Archer’s store on Bear Creek late at night. They knocked on the door, pretending to be rafts men, and asked for tobacco. Archer came down the stairs in his night-clothes and handed them what they had asked for. The men then concluded to buy of every thing freely, and soon three large sacks were filled and tied up, when one of the robbers demanded money. Archer, on reaching under the counter for his pistol, was riddled by bullets fired by the men. Leaving George Archer to die where he had fallen, two of the men carried their stolen bags of merchandise to the outside where their horses were waiting. The other went upstairs in search of the money they thought was hidden somewhere. Upon hearing a noise (he thought someone had heard the shots and was coming to investigate) he very quickly grabbed Archer’s clothes, including a jeans coat that were on the foot of the homemade bed and fled.

    The murder created intense excitement in Lawrence County. Meanwhile, the trio had returned to the house of the old woman on Catts Fork, and after she made them breakfast, divided much of the property with her. Soon Archer's wife remembered the jeans coat, and that it could nowhere be found. Hope revived that the tell-tale garment would lead to the apprehension of the murderers. Men went everywhere to spy out the coat. At this juncture the old woman living on Cat's Fork sent word to the county seat that Wright and James and John Lyon had been at her house before and after the robbery, and leaving part of their loot with her in payment for breakfast. Almost simultaneously with the old woman's story the coat was seen on Jim Lyon’s back. He was arrested with the fatal coat, and taken to Louisa. John Lyons was soon found in Greenup County, and brought to Louisa.

    William Wright was still at large on June 25, 1866, when Judge Clayton informed Governor Bramlette, "There has been a monstrous murder committed in this county..." He urged the governor to "offer a liberal reward” for the apprehension of Wright, who was believed to be skulking about in the Little Sandy country. William Wright was described as, “as being "about 5 feet 7 inches high, slightly pockmarked, with his left arm off, tolerably close off & stutters very much when excited." He was finally captured in Magoffin County, after he had entered the store of a Mr. Allen who, recognizing him from the published description quickly covered him with a pistol. With the help of two other men, Allen brought him to Louisa on horseback and William Wright was placed in jail. The three were put in irons, and the jail was guarded to prevent escape as it was feared that they would be liberated by other desperados still at large in the area.

    At the preliminary trial the stolen goods that had been given the Catts Fork lady was brought in, the evidence of “Uncle Joe” the barber was taken and the “jeans coat” was identified by Archer’s wife. The guilt of the parties was proven beyond a doubt. Archer's friends concluded that there was danger in delaying the execution of justice, and a group of about 150 to 200 men, of the lower part of Lawrence County, Ky., and Wayne County, West Va., without any disguise, rode into Louisa, ordered a gallows erected, dispersed the guard at the jail, forced the jailer to surrender the keys, and brought out the prisoners, telling them to prepare for death, for that within a few hours they must die. The prisoners were escorted to the blacksmith shop, where they were relieved of their manacles.

    Appeals by Frederick Moore, Rev. Mr. Medley, and Mr. Hall, at the Court House, in behalf of law and order, proved to be fruitless. The mob listened, but went on with the preparations. The condemned men proceeded to the place of the execution at the Salt Water Branch, now known as Sammon’s Bottom, just off Pike Street, in Louisa. It was now three o’clock in the afternoon.

    Jim Lyons made a confession while on the way to the gallows, which was pronounced false by the other two. John Lyons and Bill Wright also made voluntary confessions as soon as they reached the make-shift scaffold. They all ascended and took their positions on the same. Col. Milton J. Ferguson pleaded with the crowd to let the law take its course but his words fell on deaf ears. Reverent Medley stepped forward and asked to be allowed to pray again. He asked God to forgive the mob for what they were about to do, and to so burden the hearts of the murderers that they would cry out as the thief on the cross did, and ask forgiveness. As his prayer ended the three were asked if they had a final word to say.

    As soon as quiet was restored, Bill Wright made a speech, and in his remarks he requested that his confession should not be read, as he preferred to have it published to the whole world after he was dead. This, however, was not granted. The truthfulness of Wright's confession was pronounced false by the Lyons brothers, and the controversy between the prisoners finally ended in a quarrel.
    John Lyons was only eighteen, but he told the crowd, "The world will lose nothing by my death. I was old enough to take part in the crime, and I’m old enough to die with my partners.”

    A correspondent of the Catlettsburg Herald described the hanging, “The prisoners manifested very little fear, and otherwise showed themselves to be bold ... John Lyons sent word to his brother that he hoped to meet him in a better place than that dirty hole, at the same time sending an old pocket handkerchief for a keepsake. The time had now arrived for the termination of the lives of these miserable men and, on receiving the notification, the Lyons brothers joined hands and kissed each other. The caps were then drawn over their heads, and they shouted good bye to the throng, and they, in connection with Wright, were launched into eternity. After hanging about fifteen minutes life was pronounced extinct.” They were pronounced dead by Dr. Kincaid of Catlettsburg and Dr. Yates of Louisa. When the bodies were cut down it was discovered that the men were still alive. They were taken to the Lawrence County court house and laid out on the floor to die. Dr. H.S. Swetnam and Dr. G. W. Wroten were called in and soon it was apparent that at last they had gone to meet their Maker.

    Article of the hanging, Catlettsburg Herald, July 28, 1866,
    re-printed in the New York Herald, August 6, 1866

    During the night coffins were made ready for burial. Colonel Jay H. Northup offered space on a part of his land at the mouth of Lick Creek for a final resting place. In the 1930’s, according to local lore, the skull and leg bones of two of the culprits were found where they had washed up on the banks of the mouth of Lick Creek, near where the Creek enters into the Levisa River. The skull was displayed in the window of one of the local hardware stores for a number of years but has disappeared since without a trace.
    However, the correspondent of the Catlettsburg Herald noted that the bodies were taken to Blaine for burial. The world may never know their true burial site, but it seems befitting that William Wright, James and John Lyon remain controversial in death as they were in life, up to their violent and ghastly demise in 1866. It also has remained a mystery what happened to William Wright's wife Sarah and their four children - all of them vanished without a trace.

    Article written and researched by Marlitta H. Perkins, Feb. 2011.
    Photographs are property of the author and copyrighted.