Known as Patterson Creek today
Toward the end of the Civil War, shots rang out in Osborne’s Little Holler, near Flat Gap in Johnson County, Kentucky. The victim of this shooting was James T. Patterson, a former 2nd Lieutenant in Co. K, 5th KY Mounted Infantry, CSA.
Who was Patterson and what led up to this incident? He was born circa 1827 in Tennessee, possibly in Hawkins County. Nothing is known about his parents and his early years are shrouded in mystery. Before he reached the age of 20, Patterson married Nancy Chase, who was the daughter of Ambrose and Sarah Chase of Ryecove, Scott County, Virginia. 12 years Patterson’s senior, Nancy had been previously married for a brief time to Canaday Carter, who had died within a few short months after their marriage in 1838.
About 1847, the Pattersons moved to Greenup County, Kentucky, where James may have found work in one of the local furnaces. A number of Nancy Patterson’s family members had made the move from Scott County, Virginia to Greenup as well. Only a few households away, two of Nancy’s nephews, William and Henry P. Estep, were living with Edward Osborne.
In 1850, the family included three young children, James, age 9, Serena, age 7 and Francis Melvin, age 4. The Pattersons remained in Greenup until 1853, when they moved to Johnson County, Kentucky. Three years later, on October 27, 1856, Patterson bought a 40 acre farm on Osborne's Little Creek of Mudlick Creek from James E. Williams for $40. It was here where Patterson settled with his family. During the same year, Patterson and his nephew William Estep had 160 acres surveyed at Osborne Branch in Johnson County, KY, not far from Andrew J. Osborne’s residence. In 1857, Patterson added another 50 acre tract to his land holdings which was located on Mud Lick. He farmed, grew corn, and kept a cow and hog – things were progressing well for the Patterson family.
Near where James T. Patterson settled
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, James T. Patterson was still in possession of his 40 acre property, the value of which had increased $25 over the past four years, possibly by improvements made to the land. As before, the family kept a cow and hog. Corn was planted and raised and by early fall, 18 bushels of corn were harvested which would help sustain the family during the coming winter months.
During this time, Kentucky ended her neutrality and sided with the Union. Patterson, whose heart was with the South, knew it was time to act and made the decision to join the Confederate Army. Accompanied by Henry P. Estep, Patterson made his way to Prestonsburg and joined Captain Andrew J. May's Company, 5th KY Mounted Infantry. He was sworn into the service at West Liberty in Morgan County, KY, on October 21, 1861. Only two days later, the 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, part of General "Bull" Nelson's Union force, captured the town and sent May's men fleeing back to Prestonsburg. On November 8, 1861, Captain A. J. May’s men took position on the heights above the narrows of Ivy Creek and awaited the federal forces under Gen. Nelson who were moving up the Big Sandy Valley in order to clear out any Confederate troops. When the Federals discovered and began shelling May’s position, Nelson ordered a regiment up the mountain to attack, and the Confederate line erupted with fire. Eventually outflanked, the Confederates withdrew from their position and escaped. This became known as the Battle of Ivy Mountain.
On Nov. 17, 1861, Captain May was promoted to Lieutenant -Colonel of the 5th KY Infantry. His company became Company A, under the command of Capt. Mynheir. On December 14, 1861, at Camp Recovery, on Middle Creek in Floyd Co. KY, Patterson joined Co. K, 5th KY Mounted Infantry and was elected 2nd Lieutenant. The company was commanded by Captain Daniel Blevins and many of his men, such as Tandy Jones and William Seagraves, Jones’ brother-in-law, as well as his own brother-in-law Andrew J. Osborne, were recruits from Flat Gap and surrounding areas.
On January 10, 1862, the 5th KY Infantry participated in the Battle of Middle Creek. Defeated by Colonel James A. Garfield, future president of the United States, the 5th KY Infantry, as part of General Humphrey Marshall’s force, withdrew to Virginia in early February, after a brief stay at Whitesburg, Letcher County, KY. On May 16 and 17, 1862, the 5th KY Infantry was engaged in the Battle of Princeton, present day West Virginia. Subsequently, the regiment returned to their camp on the William Peery farm, east of Jeffersonville (now Tazewell), in Tazewell County, VA.
Change was in the air. It was here that Patterson decided to leave the Confederate army, perhaps as a direct reaction to General Humphrey Marshall’s decision to resign his command on May 22, 1862. Marshall’s adjutant E. O. Guerrant noted that the Kentuckians in Marshall’s brigade declined to reorganize. Additionally, changes had taken place in the 5th KY Infantry and Capt. Blevins’ and Capt. Ratcliff’s companies were consolidated. Consequently, James T. Patterson tendered his resignation on May 25, 1862. It was recommended and accepted by Gen. Humphrey Marshall three days later.
By June 6, 1862, Patterson was on his way home to Johnson County, with more than $300 pay in his pocket. During 1862, the Johnson County tax lists show that Patterson’s property decreased by 15 acres and was now valued at $25, which may indicate that Patterson began disposing of his property and was ready to pull up stakes and leave Kentucky. Nevertheless, the family planted and raised another crop of corn and managed to harvest 12 bushels.
Much of Patterson’s subsequent actions during the war remain a matter of speculation. He and his family disappeared entirely from the tax lists in 1863 and thereafter. It appears that Patterson and his family went back to Virginia, quite possibly Rye Cove, sometime after the 1862 harvesting season was over. This may have occurred before the winter set in or in the spring of 1863, when an increase in Union patrols were making it unsafe to remain in Eastern Kentucky. It may have been the final blow when, on April 3, 1863, Henry P. Estep was arrested at his home by William Sparks of the 14th KY Infantry, who also lived in the Flat Gap area. Estep was taken under guard to Union headquarters at Louisa, Lawrence County, KY and charged with being a spy.
While in Virginia, Nancy Patterson gave birth to another child, Martha J., in 1863. At some point, however, the family returned to Johnson County and Patterson is rumored to have joined or formed his own irregular local Confederate home guard unit at Flat Gap. In late 1864, as the war was seemingly turning in favor of the Union and things were beginning to look rather bleak for the Confederates, several members of Patterson’s unit deserted and changed their sympathies toward the Union.
One of these men was Tandy Jones who had served with Patterson in Captain Blevins’ company of the 5th KY Infantry. The company rolls indicate that he deserted his unit on January 9, 1862 and may have been accompanied by his brother-in-law William Seagraves. Jones, who was not in arms, was arrested on Jan. 10, 1862, by the 14th KY Infantry under command of Col. Laban T. Moore, the day of the Battle of Middle Creek and promptly forwarded to Camp Chase. Federal troops caught up with Seagraves at a later date and, after being taken to Camp Buell, Colonel James A. Garfield's headquarters at Paintsville, Johnson County, KY, he was conveyed to Camp Chase as well. On April 8, 1862, by order from General James A. Garfield, Jones and Seagraves were discharged from Camp Chase after taking the oath of allegiance on April 7, 1862.
By all appearances, Jones kept the terms of his oath and never served officially in another Confederate unit although it is rumored that he temporarily joined Sid Cook’s 7th Confederate Cavalry and subsequently, by all indications, was a member of Patterson’s home guard unit.
If Jones, indeed, changed his allegiance in favor of the Union it may have been partially motivated by the fact that his brother served in the 14th KY Infantry, ironically the very unit that arrested him at Middle Creek. Another contributing factor may have been that he lived in a more Union dominated area at Flat Gap. No less than 17 Union soldiers, all members of Co. D, 14th KY Infantry, lived in his neighborhood, including William Sparks, as well as John Wesley Witten who was a member of the Capitol Guards, a State unit primarily engaged in pursuing bushwackers and guerrillas.
At any rate, Tandy Jones’ decision to join the Union side angered many of his former Confederate comrades. A concerted effort was made to keep him in line. A group of about 15 men led by Hayden Ferguson of Morgan County, a lieutenant in Co. F, 5th KY Infantry, (and a nephew of John T. Williams, Captain of Co. A, 2nd KY Mounted Rifles) decided to arrest Private Jones for desertion. The group went to the top of the hill above Jones' house and found him as he was returning from a nearby sulfur spring. While in the army, Jones contracted dysentery and, believing that drinking water from a sulfur spring would cure his disease. Jones made an effort to escape and crossed a rail fence. When he had reached the top, he was shot in the back where his gallowses crossed. He died instantly. Among those who participated in this incident, aside from Lt. Hayden Ferguson, were James T. Patterson, Andrew J. Osborne and William (Will) Jayne. The names of the other participants have remained unknown to this day.
Tandy Jones’ death created a disturbance among his family, friends and neighbors, as well as among some of the members of the home guard unit, the effects of which could be felt for years after. According to one local historian, the emotional temperature arose to such a great magnitude that a group was organized "for the purpose of safety and to execute the executor."
The first target was James Patterson. According to accounts, one afternoon, a stranger arrived at Flat Gap and inquired in the community as to where “Mr. Patterson” lived.
Patterson was up the hollow near his home on the south west side of the hill, skinning bark from a hickory tree to make shoe laces when the man appeared. According to a second account, he was accompanied by a group of men who confronted Patterson, with full intensions of torturing him to death. Weapons were drawn and Patterson pleaded for forgiveness and mercy and begged for his life. In disgust they shot him and left Patterson for dead.
Despite being gravely wounded, Patterson was still able to move. In desperation to survive, he made his way down Wolfpen Branch where he was found by some of his soldier comrades and conveyed by sled to the house of Ferdinand Ferguson. Blood stains on the porch bore a visible testimony of the violent incident for many years later. Surrounded by friends, Patterson seemed to be in a safe place, for the time being.
The bloodshed continued. A few days after the assault on Patterson, three strange men passed by the house of Andrew J. Osborne and shot him while he was working in his garden. It is believed by some that his death was directly related to his involvement in the killing of Tandy Jones and was an act of revenge.
According to local lore that has been passed down in the Flat Gap area, Patterson died three days after the attack, despite efforts to save him, and was buried in an unmarked grave on the ridge back of Beech Branch overlooking both Laurel Creeks. From that day on until the present date, Osborne's Little Hollow became known as Patterson's Creek. Patterson's wife Nancy and her children immediately departed Johnson County and returned to Ryecove, Scott Co. VA. They were escorted by Ephraim Salyer, who lived on Jack's Creek, near Flat Gap.
Surprisingly, James Patterson’s story does not end here, however. Subsequent records show that Patterson in fact survived the attack on his life or that his son James was the victim of mistaken identity and was shot on that fateful day at Osborne's Little Hollow instead of his father and later died. No records exist of him after the Civil War.
Whatever the case may be, James T. Patterson was very much alive. On August 30, 1866, he married Olly (Olivia) Scarbury, a daughter of David Scarbury (Scarborough/Scarberry) and Sarah Mullins. The ceremony took place at the house of Olly’s brother-in-law, William Fraley and his wife Sarah, in Lawrence County, KY.
Shortly after the wedding, the couple left Kentucky and moved to Hawkins County, TN. By 1870, their place of residence was in the 5th District, New Canton Post Office. The household included two young daughters, Sarah Ann, age 3, and Laura Alice, age 1, both born in Tennessee, as well as Martha J., Patterson, who was seven years old by now. Patterson’s second marriage, as well as the fact that Martha was living with James and his new wife, may indicate that Nancy had died since the incidence at Osborn's Little Hollow. After 1870, James Patterson disappears from the records without a trace, suggesting he may have died before reaching 50 years of age.
Subsequently, his wife Olivia married an unknown Thompson, but this union was short lived. By 1878, Olivia had returned to Lawrence County, KY, where she tied the knot for the third time, with John Jordan, on April 14, 1878. Her two daughters Sarah Ann and (Laura) Alice Patterson were listed as Jordan’s stepdaughters in the 1880 census.
Sadly, the fate of Nancy and James Patterson’s children James, Serena, Francis Melvin, and Martha J. remain up to this day, unknown.
Article compiled, researched and written by Marlitta H. Perkins © 2012
Images © 2012