Friday, May 3, 2013

The Ticktown Murders and Fiery Retribution

Map of the Ticktown and Camargo area, Montgomery Co. KY (1879)
Source: Library of Congress

In the fall of 1863, the small village of Ticktown in Montgomery County, Kentucky, was burned to the ground by Unionists. What led to this event?

Ticktown, also known as Jeffersonville, began as an important trading center for cattle in Eastern Kentucky during the mid-19th century. It was located roughly eight miles southeast of Mt. Sterling, KY. The origin of the name is obscure but it is believed that the town was either named after the tick grass grown in the area or the ticks found in the cattle stalls. During the Civil War, the town became known as a safe harbor for rebel guerrillas such as the notorious Tom Greenwade.

Several incidents preceded the burning of Ticktown. On Sept. 28, 1863, some twenty or thirty guerrillas made a raid on Sharpsburg, Kentucky and stole fifteen horses as well as other items and subsequently  escaped army scouts. Oneof the units in pursuit was Captain Simon Cockrell, 47th Ky. Mounted Inft. (US) who, with a detachment of 15 men, was searching for the guerrillas in the farmland east of Mt. Sterling. At one point, Cockerell sent five of his scouts, namely Pleasant  Martin, Asbury Nickell (son of Spaniard Nickell), Charles Little, (son of Phillip Little), Reason Grayson and Robert Nickell, off on their own search. Most of these men were friends and nearby neighbors of Captain Cockerell who lived in Morgan County, with the exception of Reason Grayson who was a resident of Bath County.

When the small group reached the vicinity of Camargo, they were surprised by a party of a dozen guerrillas and taken prisoner. After their capture, the prisoners were disarmed and stripped. The rebels then marched them a half a mile to Sycamore bridge near Ticktown. Here the men were drawn up in line and told they were going to be paroled.

Henry C. Hurst, one of the local home guards, later related, "They had  them cross their hands on their breasts, telling them they were about to administer the oath; but instead they placed their guns against them  and fired. All were killed dead except Robert Nickell who was shot near  the right nipple, the bullet came out about five inches lower in the back. He fell off into the creek and they fired three more shots at  him, one bullet struck his arm. He played off dead and they left him." As soon as the guerrillas disappeared, Nickell managed to drag himself  to the house of J. R. Shubert where he was taken in by the family who attended to his wounds.

Meanwhile, the guerrillas continued on their killing spree and reached the home of Jacob Stephens. He was robbed of his pocket book with about $30.00 and shot dead in his own home. Next, the guerrillas captured a man by the name of Jenkins. Hurst noted, "The treatment they gave him was much worse than death. They took all privileges from him that was allowed a man by nature and told him that if that did not kill him they would come back and finish the job."

The morning following the raid, Shubert managed to take Nickell to Mt. Sterling and alert Union authorities about the murders. During the pursuit that ensued, the guerrillas made their way to James Gibbs' on Dry Ridge. Here they successfully escaped the grasp of the federal troops. Lt. Col. C. C. Matson of the 6th Indiana Cavalry, post commander at Mt. Sterling, noted in his report to General Boyle, "I fear the murderers have escaped."

The brutality of the murders triggered much anger and outrage among the citizens in the area. The fact that the depredations continued just added oil to the fire. Consequently, a decision was made to inflict  severe penalties upon the rebels and those who shielded and spied for them in order to curb outrages of this nature in the future.

Accordingly, on October 6, 1863, Lt. Col. Matson ordered a company of  the 6th Indiana Cavalry under the command of Captain E. W. Peck to Olympian Springs. Here they found one of the barns destroyed by the rebels. Following their trail, and passing by the ruins of a residence  belonging to a Union man by the name of Hall, Peck pursued the rebels to Thomas Greenwade's at Old Beaver Furnace in Bath County. His home was a known resting spot and hiding place for guerrillas. Peck ordered the house burned, as well as those belonging to two other rebels, including Isaac Ingram's.

Guerrilla infested Ticktown fared no better and received the same treatment at the hands of a detachment of the 47th KY Mtd. Infantry under command of Captain Simon Cockrell. On October 12, 1863, the Frankfort Tri-Weekly Commonwealth reported that Union men of Mt. Sterling had recently burned the village to the ground and killed a resident by the name of Greenwade, who was charged with harboring  guerrillas and desperadoes. Incidentally, Thomas Greenwade survived and  remained at large until well after the Civil War, holed up in a cave with his followers, and refusing to surrender.

We have only limited information as to the identity of the guerrillas responsible for the Ticktown killings, except for one man - Jacob L. Edwards. On January 28, 1864, a Union scout pursued a group of guerrillas to the home of Big Jim Stamper on Grassy Creek in Morgan County, KY. The Union soldiers surrounded the house but the guerrillas showed fight and a fiery exchange began. When finally a door was torn  down, the guerrillas surrendered and threw their pistols into the yard. Among the captured was Jacob L. Edwards, who, according to an eye witness, was, "the man who led the squad, who killed the four men at  the Ticktown Bridge and wounded Robert Nickells. They were all tied  together and taken to our camp. We were all very happy over getting  Edwards in our custody. Many of the boys wanted to kill him on the spot; but our Captain would not permit it. He said not to worry that he would get what was coming to him when we turned him over to the proper  authorities."

Edwards was a former member of the 5th KY Mtd. Infantry (CSA) and a deserter from the 1st Battalion KY Mounted Rifles (CSA). He was taken with the other prisoners to Mt. Sterling on the charge of murder and forwarded to the  Military Prison in Louisville. On February 12, 1864, Edwards was sent  to Rock Island Prison, Illinois, but was turned over to civil authorities on March 11, 1864, to be tried for murder. He eventually escaped on October 20, 1864. Nothing further is known about him.

List of prisoners, including Jacob L. Edwards,
arrested in Morgan Co. KY, Jan. 28, 1864.
Robert Nickell, the only survivor of the Ticktown murders, eventually recovered from his wounds. He might be the same man who enlisted a  month later in the 47th KY Infantry. He lived a long and productive
life and died on May 21, 1924, in Rich Hill, Bates County, Missouri. He was 83 years old.