Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Case of George Washington Goodpasture

George Washington “Wash” Goodpasture was born on Jan. 12, 1812 in Bath County, Kentucky, the son of John Goodpasture and Patience Turner. On October 18, 1833, he married Elizabeth Pieratt in Bath County, Kentucky. Within a few years, Elizabeth presumably died, leaving no children.

On April 26, 1838, George Washington Goodpasture married Elizabeth Oakley in Morgan County, KY. She was the daughter of John S. Oakley and Margaret Lewis. Oakley was a member of the first Morgan County court which met March 10, 1823, and in 1831, he served as a state representative from Morgan County.

Over the next 19 years, George Washington and Elisabeth Goodpasture became the parents of eight children. The family lived on Grassy Creek, a few miles southwest of West Liberty and in the course of time, Washington became a substantial landowner. The 1860 census shows that he had $4000 worth of real estate and $1500 in personal property. When the Civil War erupted, the family seemed to be leaning more toward the Southern cause.

On December 11, 1861, son Fountain Goodpasture, by then a young lad 17 years of age, enlisted at West Liberty as a private in Captain William Mynheir’s Co. A, 5th KY Mtd. Infantry, which was part of CS General Humphrey Marshall’s Brigade.

His father supplied 9559 pounds of pork to Marshall’s troops. The sale may have been arranged by Marshall’s Asst. Commissary William H. Burns, former Circuit Court Judge of Morgan County. Goodpasture was paid $430.02 by Marshall’s Brigade Commissary Major R. Hanes, on Dec. 26, 1861, near Paintsville, Johnson County, KY.

Payment for pork
delivered to Marshall's Brigade

Fountain Goodpasture’s Confederate service was short lived. He died on February 2, 1862, at Whitesburg, KY, possibly from sickness. The tragedy of his brother’s death did not deter Richard M. Goodpasture from enlisting. Records show him as a private in Co. B, 7th Kentucky Mounted Infantry but may have also served with Morgan Countian Captain John T. Williams, in Co. C, 1st Battalion KY Mounted Rifles or Williams’ subsequent company A, 2nd Battalion KY Mounted Rifles.

By 1863, tragedy struck again. Death took Goodpasture’s wife Elizabeth. With one son dead and another one in the Confederate service and the oldest daughter married, he was left to raise five children on his own, ranging in age between 6 and 16.

It was not long before the Grassy Creek area drew the attention of Union troops. It was here that Captain John T. Williams clashed with Union Troops led by Captain Carey, 24th KY Infantry (US) in April 1863. The following month, on May 16, 1863, Captain William E. Rice of the 10th KY Cavalry (US) appeared with a squad of men at the home of George Washington Goodpasture. According to loyal Union people in the neighborhood, Goodpasture was considered, “a notorious Rebel Sympathizer and his home is a regular stopping place for the Rebels when in the vicinity.”

Captain Rice arrested Goodpasture on the charge of disloyalty to the United States Government and as a Rebel Sympathizer, under the provisions of General Ambrose Burnside’s new General Order No. 38. The order, among other things, declared that, “all persons found within our lines who commit acts for the benefit of the enemies of our country, will be tried as spies or traitors, and, if convicted, will suffer death.” This included, “All persons within our lines who harbor, protect, conceal, feed, clothe, or in any way aid the enemies of our country.” As a matter of fact, the simple act of, “of declaring sympathy for the enemy,” was deemed as treason.

When the soldiers entered Goodpasture’s home, they found his son Richard M. Goodpasture inside, “who was likewise taken prisoner as a rebel soldier belonging to the 1st Bat Mounted Inft. Ky Vol. “

Richard M. Goodpasture Service Record
7th KY Infantry (CS)

Captain Rice and his men scoured Goodpasture’s place thoroughly. “From the indications & appearance of his home and surroundings I am satisfied that it is a rendezvous for rebels and parties in arms against the Government of the U. States, “noted Rice. “Several horses were found in his belongings among them one horse with Gov. brand.”

Captain Rice’s and his squad remained at Goodpasture’s place and encamped. During the night, two more horses came into Goodpasture’s stable, “fully equipped with Cavalry rigging,” noted Captain Rice, “which I am satisfied had been ridden by Rebel soldiers.” One of these horses was later claimed as the property of a Union man from Bath County, Kentucky, by the name of Cassidy.

The following day, Washington and Richard M. Goodpasture were taken to the camp of the 10th KY Cavalry near Owingsville, Bath County, and later on to Mt. Sterling. Here father and son parted ways. Richard M. Goodpasture was conveyed to Lexington, KY. On May 31, 1863, he was on his way to Camp Chase, Ohio.

On May 24, 1863, eight days after Goodpasture’s arrest, 29 year old Amos D. Lawson from Morgan County appeared at the headquarters of the 10th KY Cavalry and gave a written statement.” I am personally acquainted with Washington Goodpasture a citizen of Morgan County who was arrested by the United States forces under Maj. J. S. L. Foley and is now a prisoner at Mt. Sterling, Ky. The said Washington Goodpasture is to my certain knowledge a rebel Sympathizer and has from time to time entertained "Guerrilla" parties ____ One Capt John T Williams, Captain Cox and Boone Howard all soldiers of the so called "Confederate Army." I have seen him assemble with these men upon various and frequent occasions riding their horses and in fact seeming as one of them. His, "Washington Goodpastures" home is well known as a rendezvous for their Rebel soldiers and "Guerrillas" throughout this neighborhood.”

Meanwhile, a number of Goodpasture’s family, friends and acquaintances, including his brother-in-law Joseph Hairston Amyx, submitted a petition to the Union authorities, asking for Goodpasture’s unconditional release.

To the General Colonel or Major or Any other officer that May have under your conntrole (sic) G W. Goodpaster A sitizen (sic) of Morgan County Ky Gentlemen we the undersigned sitizens (sic) and members of the union party would respectfully represent that the government authorities arrested G W Goodpaster one of our neighbors and have taken him off to parts unknown to us, we would therefore represent to your honers (sic) that the said G W Goodpaster is A good sturdy Citizen and have (sic) been much molested by being fed on both by union and southern soldiers not by his own solicitation but from the fact that he an industrious man and had feed on hand that his neighbors did not. And in view of the hole (sic) subject we the undersigned would humbly prey that you give him an unconditionally (sic) release & send him home to his gang of little Motherless children from the fact that he has been good and kind to his union Neighbors and has protected them in there (sic) person and property and has even went further than many of us could go for the want of provisions he has often sent and packed provisions him self (sic) to the familys (sic) of union men that was absent in the army of the united states that was no ways related to him.

if we believed he deserved punishment at the hands of the government we would not sign this petition.
May 29th, 1863

J. H. Amyx
William D. Prater
Wiley Wilson
J. D. Wilson
Andrew Wilson
S. H. Wilson
John Nickell
Andrew Cash
Stephen Nickell
Morrison Nickell
Andrew Nickell
Danca Wilson
A. P. Amyx
Charles Fallen
John Gose
Stephen Culberson
J. W. Nickel
Moses Lacy
J. K. Brown

Petition of Morgan County Citizens, page 1

Petition of Morgan County Citizen, page 2

A second petition, which has not survived in the records, was circulated on Goodpasture’s behalf, which generated 30-40 more signatures.

While still under arrest at Mt. Sterling, Washington Goodpasture was weighing his options. The charges against him were serious and if convicted he could face death. Knowing that much of his fate would hinge in great part on the petitions, he contacted John W. Hazelrigg, asking him to review them for him. If the military authorities could be convinced that a sufficient number of Union supporters in Morgan County were asking for his release, he would perhaps be able to post bond and return home.

In response, Hazelrigg wrote to Goodpasture,” Sir at your request I can state that I have examined the two petitions to the military authorities for your release & the names signed to said petitions amounting to some 50 or 60 names I can say that I am personally acquainted with all the men who signed said Petitions except about six that have signed I know them I know all are good Loyal Union men as to those six I can not say any thing (sic) about them as I am not acquainted with them I can further state that from my long acquaintance with you & also with Mr. Wilson that any promise or obligation that you may make or take on your Selves that I am perfectly satisfied that you will not violate you can use this letter as you choose yours very Respectfully
Jno W. Hazelrigg

Washington Goodpasture was finally taken to McLean Barracks in Cincinnati, Ohio. Goodpasture’s case was considered by the military authorities and on June 27, 1863, he took the oath of allegiance and was permitted to give bond for the sum of $3000.
Know all men by these Presents that I George W Goodpaster of Morgan County State of Kentucky hereby acknowledge myself to be held and firmly bound unto the United States of America in the sum of Three Thousand Dollars for the payment of which well and timely to be made, I hereby bind Myself and each of my heirs, accountants, administrators and assignees -
Sealed with My seal this Twenty Seventh day of June AD 1863

Now the condition of the above obligation is such whereas the above bounded George W Goodpaster has been arrested on the charge of disloyalty to the United States Government and taken and subscribed the oath of allegiance to the Government of the United States of America.

Now if the said George W. Goodpasture shall and truly keep his said oath of allegiance then this obligation shall be void otherwise of full force and effort.
And it is hereby agreed and understood that in case the said George W Goodpaster should violate any of the conditions of the obligation any officer in the military service of the United States acting under the orders of the nearest Post Commander may seize and sell or otherwise dispose of any and all property of the above named obligant to an amount sufficient to satisfy and discharge the amount above named without having recourse to any proceedings at law.

G. W. Goodpaster

After fulfilling his obligations to the US government, Washington Goodpasture was able to return home to Grassy Creek.

Meanwhile, his son Richard was sent from Camp Chase to Johnson's Island on June 14, 1863. After five and a half months, Richard M. Goodpasture was sent to Point Lookout, on Nov. 30, 1863 and released on taking the oath of allegiance on Jan. 10, 1864. He returned home to Morgan County but his stay would be less than two weeks.

His father may have obeyed the conditions of his bond and oath temporarily but not long after his release from McLean Barracks, Washington Goodpasture was actively involved again in supporting the Southern cause und thus, drawing the attention of the military authorities once more. On January 27, 1864, a well-armed force of over 100 Union home guards left Mt. Sterling on a scout to Morgan County, KY. On the third day, the men proceeded via Allen Day’s and Dock Cockerell's old farm to Grassy Creek and made a charge on Washington Goodpasture’s house. Noted Daniel D. Hurst, one of the participants, “got some nine or ten prisoners and very bad ones. Among them was a man by the name of Michael, also Thomas Ross, Aca Carter, Jerry Plummer and two of Wash Goodpaster's sons.”

Asa Carter, a former member of the 5th KY, was Fountain Goodpasture’s old sergeant. After being discharged from his unit for disability on July 29, 1862, Carter operated with other irregulars in the area and was considered a, “notorious Guerrilla” and subsequently charged with murder. Plummer and Ross were also former members of the 5th KY Infantry. Ross had joined Diamond’s 10th KY Cavalry but Plummer, a native of Lewis County, KY, was a deserter and, like Asa Carter, was operating with irregulars in the area. The records do not give us the names of Washington Goodpasture’s sons who were taken prisoner that day but they were, in all likelihood, sixteen year old James H. and Richard M. Goodpasture.

The scout continued for two more days until a portion of the home guards took the prisoners, 19 in all, back to Mt. Sterling. “We turned all of them over to our soldiers with the proper recommendations,” noted Henry C. Hurst. “We also captured about 25 good horses. We gave the Guerrillas a plain hint of what they would get next time.”

In the absence of subsequent records, we can only assume what happened to Washington Goodpasture and his family. On Nov. 18, 1864, Washington married 22 year old Elizabeth Ann Amyx, in Morgan Co. KY. She was the daughter of his brother-in-law Joseph Hairston Amyx and his first wife Francis Caroline Nickell. The couple later settled at Aarons Run, near Mt. Sterling, KY and added five more children to the family. Both Richard M. and James H. Goodpasture survived the Civil War and moved to Missouri and Ohio, respectively. Their siblings John O., Clarke C. and George W. Goodpasture went west, eventually settling in Oklahoma and Kansas. Both sisters remained in Kentucky. Nancy Ann Goodpasture, who had married Dr. John Mason Kash at the beginning of the Civil War, died in 1868. The youngest, Elizabeth, settled with her father in the Mt. Sterling area where she remained for the rest of her life.

George Washington Goodpasture died on April 18, 1900 and his buried next to his last wife Elizabeth Ann Amyx in the Machphela Cemetery, Mt. Sterling, Montgomery County, KY.

Links of Interest
George Washington Goodpasture's grave marker
Machphela Cemetery, Mt. Sterling, Montgomery County, KY.

Additional Information
"GENERAL ORDERS, No. 38. HDQRS. DEPARTMENT OF THE OHIO, Cincinnati, Ohio, April 13, 1863.
"The commanding general publishes, for the information of all concerned, that hereafter all persons found within our lines who commit acts for the benefit of the enemies of our country will be tried as spies or traitors, and, if convicted, will suffer death. This order includes the following class of persons:
"Carriers of secret mails.
"Writers of letters sent by secret mails.
"Secret recruiting officers within the lines.
"Persons who have entered into an agreement to pass our lines for the purpose of joining the enemy.
"Persons found concealed within our lines belonging to the service of the enemy, and, in fact, all persons found improperly within our lines who could give private information to the enemy.
"All persons within our lines who harbor, protect, conceal, feed, clothe, or in any way aid the enemies of our country.
"The habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy will not be allowed in this Department. Persons committing such offenses will be at once arrested, with a view to being tried as above stated, or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends. It must be distinctly understood that treason, expressed or implied, will not be tolerated in this department. All officers and soldiers are strictly charged with the execution of this order. By command of Major-General Burnside"
[Source: Major General Ambrose E. Burnside and the Ninth Army Corps: a narrative ..., by Augustus Woodbury; 1867; pp. 265/266]

The article is in part based on facts and testimonies contained in the George Washington Goodpasture case file which is located in the Union Provost Marshal Records. Supporting evidence, such as other primary source material, service records, census listings as well as biographical data was researched and provided by the author, Marlitta H. Perkins. Feb. 2012 Copyright © 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

James Aldridge - Outlaw or Avenging Angel?

The Civil War in Eastern Kentucky as well as the western part of Virginia was not about glorious battles fought with large armies. The character of the land, with its mountains and hollers, shaped the nature of warfare and lend itself to guerrilla tactics. It was a bitter and oftentimes bloody struggle and fought with no mercy in which the general population was easily caught in the middle between the two contending sides. Confederate units such as Rebel Bill Smith, as well as guerrilla bands were roaming the boarder between Eastern Kentucky and Virginia, plundering and robbing civilians as well as waylaying or bushwhacking federal soldiers. This gave rise to local home guard units, militia groups and scouts whose objective it was to aid the federal army in keeping Confederate activities at bay and safeguard their neighborhoods from incursions by the enemy. In some instances, men banded together to exact revenge and hunt down the guilty parties without mercy. Driven by their principles, answering more or less to their own laws, these men walked a fine line between outlaw and avenging angel.

One of those men was James Aldridge. He was the son of Samuel Aldridge and was born about 1828 in Logan County, Virginia. By 1850, James was living in John and Sally Chapman’s household in the Elk Creek area in Lawrence County, Kentucky.

It would not be long before James Aldridge became involved with John Chapman’s grand-daughter Mary Muncy. Three children soon followed - Sarah, born in Virginia abt. 1854, Lovinca, born November 13, 1855 and William, born October 2, 1857. The following year, James stole a horse and saddle from his father who promptly had him charged with Grand Larceny and thrown into the Lawrence County jail at Louisa. According to Joseph M. Kirk who had known James Aldridge from the time he was a little boy, his character was anything but respectable and he believed Aldridge could be persuaded by his friends, “to do anything that they might want done no matter how low it was and even to the shedding of blood.” This incident was just a shadow of things to come.

The following year, his widowed father Samuel went to Logan County, Virginia and married Susan Dingess, nee Crum, likewise widowed, on November 9, 1859. The newly-wed couple established housekeeping in Pike County, Kentucky.

A second wedding soon followed, when James Aldridge finally tied the knot with Mary Muncy in Lawrence County, Kentucky, on February 27, 1860. The marriage rites were performed by C. M. Pack and witnessed by Mary’s uncle William Muncy. Census records seem to indicate that, following their wedding, James moved to Sprigg Township in Adams County, Ohio, with Mary, leaving the children behind in Kentucky, perhaps with relatives. It may have been an attempt by James to get a new start on life away from his old troubles at home, establish financial security and provide a stable home for his family. However, James and Mary did remain in Ohio but a few months. By August 16, 1860, the couple was back on Elk Creek in Lawrence County, KY and re-united with their children. A new baby had been added to the family as well, a girl named Lydia.

In 1861, the Civil War began and, according to James Aldridge, he first joined the Confederate side although there are no records to substantiate his claim. His time with the rebels lasted less than a year. He allegedly deserted, later exclaiming that, “he was as good a union man as ever was manufactured from secesh principles or Rebel material.”

In April of 1862, Aldridge went up the Big Sandy River and enlisted under the name James M. Aldridge at Camp Paxton, Guyandotte, Virginia as private in Captain Turner’s Company (later Co. I), 9th VA Infantry (US). His name appears on the Company Roll, dated April 30, 1862. Aldridge was enrolled on May 9, 1862 at Guyan, VA, for three year service. Aldridge soon became fed up with military life in the 9th WV Infantry and deserted on July 11, 1862, Gauley Bridge, VA.

Service Record for James M. Aldridge
Captain Turner's Company, 9th Virginia Vols.(US)

He returned home but soon joined Captain Ira G. Copley Company, attached to the 167th Militia, in Wayne County, Virginia. He enlisted as a private on August 2, 1862. No sooner had Aldridge enlisted, the Confederates began their invasion of Kentucky. Within two weeks, things were beginning to look rather bleak in Eastern Kentucky. By August 18, 1862, CS General John S. Williams’ Brigade was reported in the Big Sandy Valley and General Humphrey Marshall’s division, estimated between 4 and 12,000 strong, was expected to cross the border into Kentucky at Pound Gap at any given time. Additionally, it was feared that Confederate cavalry under Menifee, Witcher and Jenkins would attack and plunder Ceredo, Virginia, Catlettsburg, Kentucky and finally Ironton, Ohio. Since there virtually was no military presence in the area, leaving it without protection whatsoever, this was a realistic fear . The nearest troops, Colonel Cranor’s 40th OVI, were stationed at Louisa, thirty miles south of Catlettsburg. Unfortunately, the soldiers, aside from their commander, seemed to be blissfully unaware of the impending danger. One of the 40th OVI soldier noted, “there was no duty other than picket, daily drill and dress parade. For the first time in our Sandy life, dress-parade became a matter of interest. The town contained a few hundred inhabitants, nearly all of whom came out to see our dress-parades, which gave to our camp a somewhat lively appearance.”

Post 1906 view of Cassville (Ft. Gay), in the foreground,
and Louisa, Kentucky, across the river.
Image collection of the author

It may have been during this time, that Aldridge was overheard making threats against Colonel Cranor at Cassville, Wayne County, Virginia (modern-day Ft. Gay), which is situated directly across the Big Sandy River from Louisa, KY. He devised a plan to assassinate Colonel Cranor but Aldridge’s motives are unclear. Together with James Smith, Aldridge bought a gun for that very purpose, and hung about the hillsides, watching for Cranor, with the intention of shooting him the first time he came out with his regiment on dress parade.

Colonel Jonathan Cranor, 40th OVI

However, nothing became of the assassination plot and soon thereafter, Aldridge made the acquaintance of a recruiting officer from the 27th OVI. On Aug. 25, 1862, Aldridge signed up with the regiment and enlisted as a private in Company K. It was a déjà-vu experience for Aldridge because within less than two months, he once again deserted and made his way back home to Kentucky.

Upon his return, Aldridge found that a new regiment was being formed in the Big Sandy Valley, the 39th KY Infantry, under the command of John Dils, Jr. Captain Joseph M. Kirk, from Lawrence County, KY, was raising a company for the regiment and set up camp in Wayne County, Virginia to recruit. Aldridge appeared at Camp Radcliff and reported to Kirk, stating that he was a deserter from the Rebel army. Aldridge was later released. Kirk stated that, “since that time the said Aldridge has been acting with the home Guards of the state of Virginia.”

Apparently, Aldridge had returned to the ranks of Captain Copley’s Company and was doing service with them. However, when the 39th KY began moving up the Big Sandy River from Catlettsburg towards Piketon at the end of October 1862, and stopped in the Louisa area, Aldridge once again made an appearance in the camp of the 39th Kentucky. Colonel John Dils, Jr. noted, that, “shortly after the said Aldridge came to my camp I received an order to arrest the man Aldridge as a deserter from the ranks of the 27th OH Inft.” Orders were to convey Aldridge to Portsmouth, Ohio. Aldridge was promptly arrested but remarked to Dils, “that he would not stay at Portsmouth and that he would desert and go to the secesh.” He pointed out that, “has been always treated better there than any where else and that he would go back again.”
Nevertheless, Aldridge did not make good on his threat to join the Rebels. “It was not long after he was taken to Portsmouth,” noted Dils, “untill (sic) he was again back with my Regiment and laboured about and eventually followed us towards Piketon.”

Aldridge did not remain with the 39th Kentucky very long. Before he left, he helped himself to one of the horses of the regiment and an Enfield rifle. Thus armed and equipped he made his way back toward Louisa.

Upon his return, Aldridge set out to terrorize the suspected Southern sympathizers and others in Wayne County, Virginia. Aldridge, in company of Holbert Walker, a former member of Captain Thomas Damron’s Company, 167th Militia, appeared one day at the house of Lewis L. Howard, a Pennsylvania native who had moved with his family into the Round Bottom P.O. area from Ohio within the last four years. Both men demanded Howard’s mule and threatened to burn down his house if he didn’t produce the animal. Howard gave up the mule and Aldridge pointed out to him, “if he ever made any fuss about the mule he would waylay him and shoot him.”

In a short time, Aldridge had made quite a reputation for himself. According to John Stone, Aldridge, “bears a bad name in the county and he believes him to be a bad and dangerous man.” Lewis L. Howard was of the opinion that, “the character of the said Aldridge is very bad and that he was not to be trusted and no one would be willing to have him sit upon a Jury or ever swear against him or them.”

Aldridge’s next victim was 54 year old John Grizzle, who lived on a farm in Wayne County in the Fort Gay area with his wife Mary and six children. Grizzle was considered a harmless and in-offensive man and a good citizen. Aldridge thought differently. Undoubtedly, he was aware that in September of 1862, Grizzle’s son Hiram had enlisted in Captain Hurston Spurlock’s Company E, in Milton J. Ferguson’s Battalion which, in January 1863, became part of the16th Virginia Cavalry under Colonel Ferguson’s command. Hiram Grizzle served with the rank of sergeant.
Aldridge went to Grizzle’s house, accused him of harboring rebels about his house, shot him and left him for dead. He soon discovered that Grizzle had survived the attack. He let it be known that if Grizzle got well of his wounds he would return to his home and shoot him the 2nd time or bayonet him to death.

It was obvious, that Aldridge’s deeds were beginning to escalate. William Vinson noted, that, “whatever place the said Aldridge staid long enough to be known that the citizens were all afraid of him and that they do not and never did feel safe while encountered with his presens (sic).” The citizens had every right to feel unsafe around Aldridge who claimed that, “he had often killed men by calling men up to him and then when they were not on their Guard he would shoot them.” It was noted that Aldridge cold be bribed with a pint of whiskey or, “ten dollars to take the life of any man, or even the life of his best Friend.”

Next, Aldridge had his sights set on James Coburn, a 30 year old Wayne County farmer, who was living with his wife Fanny and four small children in the Palmetto P.O. area of the county. John Bromley, who had been acquainted with Coburn for eight or ten years, stated that he, “was a harmless quiet hard laboring & harmless citizen” and “very poor.” He noted that, “at the Commencement of the present rebellion Coburn was said to be a rebel sympathizer but the said Coburn did come to the camp of the portion of troops of the 5th Regt. Va Vol US & commanded by Lt. Col. Colvin and that he Coburn did take an oath to support the constitution of the State of Va as it were before the ordnance of secession & the constitution of the US And was released by the said officer .” Bromley noted that as far as he knew, Coburn, “acted in obedience to the aforesaid oath.” It may also be noted that James Coburn’s brother, Gordon C. Coburn, served in the 22nd KY Infantry (US).

Regardless of the facts, Aldridge was convinced that Coburn was a Rebel and decided that a visit was in order. When Aldridge showed up at Coburn’s house, he was accompanied by a group of men, including D. H. Walker. The men took Coburn and tortured him by placing, “him upon a peach kiln and did this to punish the man,” according to Aldridge’s own admission. He was then struck with a gun by D. H. Walker and shot by Aldridge who later stated when he did shoot Coburn, “he never heard a man hollow” as he did. According to witnesses, Aldridge shot Coburn twice, with an Enfield rifle. For reasons unknown, perhaps to ascertain that he, indeed, had killed his man, Aldridge returned the following day and helped bury Coburn’s body. Aldridge remarked that Coburn was the fattest man that he had ever killed “of the grass” and that “he had killed several.”

Aldridge’s activities did not go unnoticed by the military authorities in Louisa for very long. In March of 1863, he was arrested and brought before the Provost Marshal in Louisa. On March 16 and 18, 1863, a series of interviews were conducted and affidavits taken from witnesses.

Testimony by James H. O'Brien

The charges brought against Aldridge were as follows:

Charge First
= for Maliciously murdering James Coburn, a citizen of Wayne County Virginia, the deed done in the State aforesaid and the county of Wayne

Charge Second
= For shooting and wounding the body of John Grizzle with intent to kill.

Unfortunately, at this point, the records do not tell us if James Aldridge was ever punished for his crimes. It is also unclear whether he acted as part of Captain Copley’s Militia Company or if the deeds committed were self-motivated and more or less a private war Aldridge conducted on who he perceived as enemies, Rebel or otherwise. Circumstantial evidence seems to point to the latter, given the fact that his known associates were not part of Copley’s unit. Whatever the circumstances may be, it appears his case was handled with leniency, despite the damning testimony by witnesses, including two Union officers, and he was given a short sentence, if at all. Surely, this must have made the witnesses who testified against Aldridge uneasy to a certain degree, including William Vinson who stated that, “he would shoot Aldridge upon first sight if he thought Aldridge had any malice against him … for his own personal safety.”

We encounter Aldridge again the following year, in Lawrence County, Kentucky. On May 21, 1864, he enlisted as private in Company H of the 68th Kentucky Enrolled Militia, and was mustered in the same day. Aldridge was 36 years old, had a light complexion, light hair, light eyes, and stood 5' 6" tall. His profession was farmer. He was still present with the 68th KY Enrolled Militia when the unit was mustered out at Louisa on July 23, 1864. This is the last time James Aldridge appears in any Civil War related records.

Service Record for James H. Aldridge
Co. H, 68th Kentucky Enrolled Militia

John Grizzle survived Aldridge’s attack and managed to escape a possible second attempt on his life. He is found living with his family in the Butler District of Wayne County, WV in 1880.

The widow of James Coburn, Fanny, remained in Wayne County as well, but moved with her children into the Ceredo area. By 1880, however, she was living near Patrick Gap, Lawrence County, Kentucky.

After the Civil War, James Aldridge and his family lived in Lawrence County, Kentucky. They are subsequently found in Martin County census records after the formation of the county. James Aldridge applied for a pension on Nov. 4, 1889, based on his service in the 68th Militia but was denied. In 1890, he was enumerated in the Federal Veterans and Widows Census, Martin County, KY, Precincts 1 & 6 (Warfield & Emily), claiming service as a private in the militia in 1864. His post office was Warfield.

Aldridge died between 1900 and 1910. During this time, either James Aldridge or his heirs filed a claim for his militia service Wayne County with the West Virginia State Service Commission. Established in 1901, it was to help provide payment to claimants for services rendered in the state militia and home guards. The papers are now part of the West Virginia Adjutant General’s Papers and can be found at the State Archives in Charleston, West Virginia.

The article is in part based on facts and testimonies contained in the James Aldridge case file which is located in the Union Provost Marshal Records. Supporting evidence, such as service records, census listings as well as biographical data was researched and provided by the author, Marlitta H. Perkins. Copyright © 2012. All Rights Reserved.