Monday, July 8, 2013

Dear John ~ The Hazards of Mail Delivery

Patriotic cover, postmarked April 14 (1862) at Catlettsburg, KY 
The Post Office Department of the Confederate States of America was established February 21, 1861, by an act of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States. On March 6, 1861, former U.S. Congressman John Henninger Reagan was appointed postmaster general of the Confederate States of America by President Jefferson Davis.

Reagan instructed southern postmasters to continue to render their accounts to the United States as before until the Confederate postal system was organized. In May 1861, Reagan issued a proclamation stating that he officially would assume control of the Post Office Department of the Confederate States on June 1, 1861. US Postmaster General Blair  responded by ordering the cessation of United States mail service  throughout the South on May 31, 1861. This also included mail going from North to South and vice versa.

After this time, private express companies, such as Adams Express, American Letter Express, and Whiteside's Express, still managed to carry the mail across enemy lines, until the U.S. Post Office ordered an end to such traffic, effective August 26, 1861.

Mail delivery was carried out by private contractors. Transporting the mails was filled with danger, particularly along the Kentucky and Virginia border which was infested with bushwhackers. Interrupted service, robberies and guerrilla sniping were a common occurrence. On Sept. 5, 1861, the Daily Louisville Democrat reported that, "In the counties along the Kentucky and Virginia line, several mails have been robbed by men, who came from Virginia, across the line, for that purpose."

One such incidence took place on Wednesday, August 21, 1861, when the mail from Louisa to Warfield, via Cassville (VA), was robbed. Nathan Holt, a wealthy Wayne Co. VA farmer and one of the first local constables, was the mail contractor. The mail boy, his 17 year old son Bernard P. Holt, had left Warfield at 6 o'clock in the morning with the mail and was travelling on the Virginia side of the Big Sandy River toward Cassville. About 5 o'clock in the evening, Bernard arrived within 1 1/2 miles from town when he noticed two men, Alex. Vinson and John Walker, on the road side waiting for him. The boy was knocked from his horse by Vinson and Walker who swore that they were going to have that Lincoln mail. Bernard Holt engaged in a fight with Walker while Vinson cut the mailbag and took out and destroyed all the mail matter, and then took the horse from the boy. Both men left together.

Bernard P. Holt alerted the citizens who made pursuit and captured Vinson about three miles from the place of the robbery. He was brought back to Cassville, and had a hearing before Justice James Stone, who held him over for further trial. Vinson was then put in custody of Constable Bow, who summoned two citizens as guard to watch Vinson through the night. He however made his escape before morning. The Sandy Valley Advocate noted, "He and Walker are now at large. From what we can learn, all the officers were secessionists, as well as the guard, and therefore do not wonder at the escape of the prisoner."

Within days after the incident, Bernard P. Holt was fired on by someone in ambush near Taber's creek, between Turman's Ferry and Cassville. The constant threat of rebel incursions made it increasingly difficult to safely maintain postal service in the area, which may have contributed to the closing of the Falls of Tug (William Ratcliffe, post master) and Palmetto Post Offices on Sept. 3, 1861. David Holt, Bernard's older brother, had held the position of post master at Palmetto since March 9, 1858.

 Nevertheless, Nathan Holt entered into another contract with the US post office on April 24, 1862, to carry the mail twice a week between Warfield and Louisa, KY. In the end, however, Holt failed to execute the contract.

Instead, Nathan Holt joined Union Capt. David Bartram Company, 167th Militia, on June 2, 1862, together with his sons William, David, John W. and Bernard. The Holts continued in the militia service until 1864, in Capt. William Bartram's Wayne County Scouts. 

Sanford Scott, who was contracted to carry the mail six times a week between Guyandotte to Catlettsburg, failed to arrive at Catlettsburg on May 4 and June 28, 1861 and 8 times in July of 1861. Scott completely omitted service for the quarter ending Dec. 31, 1861. Deliveries were resumed by John H. Ford, of Catlettsburg, beginning February 21, 1862.

Catlettsburg Postmark, March 14 (1862)
The situation in Kentucky along the Big Sandy River was very similar.  Stephen Bartram who was contracted to carry the mail twice a week from  Catlettsburg to Prestonsburg, a distance of 73 miles one way, encountered similar problems. Bartram failed to arrive at Catlettsburg with the mail on July 24, Sept. 12 and 26, 1861. After being robbed several times, mail service was finally suspended until the end of December of 1861 when the presence of Union troops along the Big Sandy River made it to a degree safer again to carry the mail.

During the first week of November 1861, the Grand Jury, United States Court, in session at Frankfort, KY, found indictments against Harvey T. Hawkins and Milton J. Freese, for robbing the mail. Bail was set at $ 3,000 each, and $3,000 surety.

Cincinnati Postmark, May 13 (1862)
At the beginning of fall 1861, safety concerns led to the discontinuation of mail service on several Eastern Kentucky routes, under act of Congress of February 28, 1861. The act authorized the Postmaster-General to discontinue the postal service on routes where, in his opinion, it "can not be safely continued, or the postal revenues collected, or the postal laws maintained, by reason of any cause whatever, till the same can be safely restored."

Effective Oct. 17, 61, Route # 9555: Mt. Sterling/Piketon, 2 weekly round trips, D. Cooley (contractor)

Effective Oct. 17, 61, Route # 9556:  Mt. Sterling/West Liberty, 2 weekly round trips, H. C. Berkley (contractor)

Special Agent Miller was authorized to employ service upon the above mentioned routes "as far as safety would permit, at not exceeding the rate of the old pay, from Nov. 11, 1861."

Effective Oct. 17, 61, Route # 9578: West Liberty to Louisa, 1 weekly round trip, Wm. P. Davis (contractor)

Effective Nov. 29, 61, Route # 9569: Greenup Court House/Louisa, 1 weekly round trip, Charles Callahan (contractor)
Louisa Postmark, August 13 (1862)
Several Post offices were discontinued in Eastern Kentucky during the Civil war. Given are the dates of closing name of the post masters and date when the post office was re-established, if applicable.

Cherokee, Sept. 13, 1861 (William W. Graham), re-est. Sept. 10, 1867
Warfield, Nov. 4, 1862 (Mark Dempsey) re-est. Aug. 29, 1870
Bolton, Nov. 2, 1861 (Greenville Bolt) see Boyd Co. KY
Riffe's X Roads, June 25, 1863 (Isaac Belcher)
Georges Creek, July 31, 1863 (Thomas P. Salyer)
Lockwood, Dec. 8, 1865 (Jacob Lockwood)
Buchanan (formerly Round Botton, Wayne, VA) est. Sept. 3, 1861 (George Buchanan, followed by Joseph F. Hatten, Sept. 29, 1863)

Coal Grove, Feb. 28, 1863 (Stephen Ferguson)
Lanesville, July 31, 1863 (James S. Layne), re-est. Oct. 27, 1865

Breckenridge, July 21, 1863 (William R. Bevins)
Democracy, Feb. 28, 1863 (William H. Johnson)
Lonville, Oct. 10, 1862 (Thomas L. Marrs)
Piketon, May 20, 1864 (Lewis C. Dils), re-est. Oct. 28, 1865
Robinson Creek, Nov. 5, 1861 (Samuel Keel), re-est. Sept. 28, 1866
Hamilton's Store, July 31, 1863 (Nelson Hamilton)

Grass Land, Jan. 30, 1862 (William Davis); re-est. Aug. 28, 1862 and discontinued Feb. 28, 1863 (Madison M. Hensley), re-est. June 11, 1875
Sandy Furnace, Feb. 28, 1863 (Pleasant Barber)
Amanda, Aug. 22, 1862 (George P. Walker)
Bolton, July 21, 1863 (John W. Bolt)

Three Prong, Nov. 2, 1861 (J. R. Warnock), re-est. Jun 23, 1866 (Mrs. Martha Warnock)
Truittsville, May 30, 1862 (George W. Truitt)
Callahan, Dec. 2, 1861 (John R. Callahan)
Argylite, Oct. 26, 1861 (James Lampton), re-est. June 24, 1874 (as  Argilite)

Bell's Trace, April 15, 1863 (Nelson T. Rice)
Bruin, July 31, 1863 (John Hood), re-est. Jan. 16, 1867
Estill Flats, June 4, 1863 (Wesley Fults), re-est. Sept. 10, 1863
Rice's X Roads, July 31, 1863 (Paris Rice)

Clarksburgh C. H., Feb. 8, 1864 (Isaac Bassett)

Black Water, July 21, 1863 (John C. Dennis), re-est. Feb. 1, 1866
Caney, March 20, 1862 (David F. Lykins), re-est. July 7, 1874
Christy's Fork, Feb. 26, 1862 (Thornton W. Sanford)
Grassy Creek, July 31, 1863 (Thomas Goddwin)
Hampton's Mills, March 20, 1862 (George M. Hampton)
Johnson's Fork, Sept. 10, 1862 (Eli Williams), re-est. in Magoffin Co. KY Jan. 9, 1863 (Mrs. Lodicky Denham)
Little Sandy, Jan. 9, 1864 (William B. Wheeler)
Relief, July 31, 1863 (Wallace W. Brown)
Devil's Fork, Jan. 9, 1864 (George W. Stamper)

Still Water, Feb. 14, 1865 (Wm. W. Waterman)
Devil's Creek, July 31, 1863 (Sandford R. Shackelford)
Hazel Green, Nov. 8, 1865 (Addison H. Tracey), re-est. Feb. 1, 1866

Blue Rock, Oct. 10, 1863 (Wm. H. K. Garvin), re-est. in Carter Co. Feb. 9, 1864

Gill's Mills, July 31, 1863 (William M. Ragland), re-est. Sept. 23, 1865, in Rowan Co. KY
Laurel Fork, April 15, 1863 (Andrew J. Connoy)
Rockhouse, Dec. 14, 1861 (Thomas N. Perry), re-est. Feb. 6, 1867
Bald Eagle, Jan. 21, 1863 (Joseph Willson), re-est. Jan. 21, 1874

Pleasant Grove Mill, Dec. 15, 1864 (Squire A. Day)
White Oak Hill, Feb. 26, 1862 (Benjamin G. Johnson)

Cornett's Mill, Oct. 10, 1863 (Peyton M. Duke)
Indian Bottom, July 31, 1863 (John Dickson), re-est. Aug. 25, 1868

Brasherville, Juy 31, 1863 (Robert S. Brashears)
Cutshin, Juy 31, 1863 (James C. Brewer), re-est. Aug. 22, 1872

Frozen Creek, July 31, 1863 (Samuel H. Holmes)

There were no closings in Johnson and Magoffin County, KY, during the Civil War.

Paintsville Postmark, August 27 (1862)

Links of Interest

Article researched and written by Marlitta H. Perkins, July 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication, including images, without express written notice by the author is strictly prohibited. © 2013. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Notice how Hazel Green in Wolfe County was discontinued after the rebellion was suppressed officially? The "secesh" still ran that county long after the Lee's surrender, rigging votes, perpetuating the ethnic cleansing of that county (and Morgan), and generally keeping the area in violent anarchy for years!... But you know that better than about anyone! :)

  2. The same is true for Morgan County...something you certainly know too well yourself..:-)

  3. This has nothing to do with your recent blog but this was the best way to get in touch. I have a special respect for all things historical and came upon a very old cemetery in Madison County near Fort Boonesboro. There was a walled in section with various graves but what caught my attention was a lone headstone outside the wall behind the cemetery with a 124th Cavalry Soldier (no date) named Reyel French. I figured that these markers were probably those of slaves. I searched his name and came up with nothing. I found your blog by searching the unit and was wondering if you might take interest and do some research. If you send me your email address I can email you a picture of the headstone and the cemetery it was found behind. My email is I commend your work and look forward to hearing from you.

  4. It's interesting to hear about how things were back then. I am so glad we have courier services to speed up communication and mail. We are so lucky to have such nice luxuries in our generation.
    Shelly Slader |

  5. It feels awe-inspiring to read such informative and distinctive articles on your here