Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Life and Times of Moses Cawood

For the Moses Cawood family of Owsley County, Kentucky, the Civil War was, like for so many others, a time of struggles, hardships and tragedy. During the summer of 1864, Moses Cawood met an untimely death. Up to this day, many rumors surround his demise as well as other incidents involving the Cawood family.

Moses Cawood was the son of John Cawood and Nancy Bailey Turner, who had moved from Virginia to the Martins Fork area of Harlan County, Kentucky, by 1815. Moses was born in 1820, the second-oldest child of nine, and spent his youth and young adulthood in Harlan County. In 1840, although still single, Moses had established his own household but soon thereafter married Emily Ann Maddy, dau. of William Maddy and Elizabeth Posey. Over the next ten years, five children were born to the couple, namely Nancy, also called "Nannie" (b. 1840), Drucilla (b. abt. 1843), John (b. abt. 1844), William T. (b. 1845) and Cornelia (b. July 1849). In order to support his growing family, Moses became a merchant and operated a successful store in Harlan County. He was also commissioned as sheriff in 1844, a position he held for several years.

Sometime after 1850, his father died which may have prompted Moses to pull up stakes in Harlan County. He closed his store and move to Owsley County, Kentucky, leaving his mother and siblings behind. Moses bought a large plantation three miles north of Boonville, at the mouth of Cow Creek, on the South Fork of the Kentucky River. Industrious as ever, Moses bid on and obtained two mail contracts in 1858: Route No. 9588 - from Harlan C. H. to Brashearsville and back, every two weeks, as well as Route No. 9599 - from Manchester to Harlan C. H. and back, once a week.

By 1860, four more children had been added to the Cawood family - Henry B. (b. 1852), Jane M. (b. 1854), Emily E. (b. 1858) and Belle E. (b. abt. 1860). At this time, Moses Cawood's real estate was valued at $10,000 and his personal property at $17,000, which included 11 slaves. By any standards, he was one of the wealthiest men in Owsley County. His next door neighbor was William B. Eversole, a member of the Eversole family from Perry County, Kentucky.

When the Civil War erupted in 1861, Moses Cawood's sympathies were with the Confederate cause and although he never officially joined either side, there seems to be little doubt about his loyalty to the South. According to Union Captain Bill Strong, Moses was "a notorious rebel." His large plantation made Moses a natural target for Unionists. A man named Captain Henry Davis and his companion, Lieutenant Jim Cole, payed Moses Cawood's plantation a visit on more than one occasion, taking supplies and horses, presumably for use by the Union Army. Reportedly, Davis had bragged that he was going to kill Moses, a threat that needed to be taken seriously, given Davis' past history. He was a known killer who, on March 10, 1859, stabbed a wealthy farmer named Lewellen Bush to death. The incident took place at Compton, present-day Wolfe County, Kentucky, during the election to decide on the county seat for the newly formed county. The motive of the killing remained unknown and Davis escaped without ever being convicted of the crime. Upon closer examination, no military service records have been discovered for either Davis or Cole but in all likelihood both men were leaders of a local pro-Union home guard company.

Despite his Southern leanings, Moses Cawood managed to keep friendly relations with 2. Lieutenant Wiley Amis of the 14th Kentucky Cavalry (US). Amis kept Moses informed by letter in regard to Union military operations in the neighborhood, which, undoubtedly, offered at least a certain degree of protection to Moses and other Confederates who were living in the area. Amis' letters were delivered to Cawood by the wife of neighbor William B. Eversole, who by now, was a Union captain in the 14th KY Cavalry.

Lieutenant Wiley Amis, 14th Kentucky Cavalry (US)
However, between March 8 and 12, 1863, Amis' indiscretion was exposed. When Major John C. Eversole, Captain William B. Eversole's uncle, discovered one of the letters and realized who it was directed to, he broke it open and read it. In the letter Amis informed Cawood that the Union men under command of Major Smith and Major Eversole, of the 14th Kentucky Cavalry, "were fixing up a scout to come to this country; that they were shoeing their horses." He also advised Cawood, "to look out, that they, the Union forces, would be on in a few days." It is not a matter of record how Major Eversole responded to Amis' letter and if Amis was ever reprimanded for "helping out" his Confederate neighbor. Cawood was not the only recipient of letters by Amis who also kept up a regular correspondence with Red Ned Strong, a lieutenant in the rebel army.

In March of 1863, the 64th Virginia Infantry, under command of Col. Campbell Bascom Slemp, had driven the enemy from the area and encamped at Harlan Court House, described by Edward O. Guarrant as "a little, old, people forsaken village with half dozen houses just at the junction of Clover & Martins Forks of Cumberland River." They were later joined by troops under General Humphrey Marshall on April 17, 1863. Records show that two of Moses Cawood's brothers, John and Stephen, supplied the troops with corn. More importantly, it may have been here in Harlan County, perhaps while on a visit with her relatives, that Moses Cawood's daughter Nannie met Colonel Slemp. If so, fate would have it that their paths would cross again very soon.

Receipt for 93 bushels of corn sold by John Cawood
to the Confederate Army, April 19, 1863

Receipt for seven bushels of corn sold by Stephen Kaywood
to the Confederate Army, May 4, 1863
About July 1863, the Cawood plantation was once again visited by Captain Henry Davis and Lieutenant Cole. Forewarned by Moses' son William who had encountered the men on the road to Booneville, the Cawoods were able to secure the house and were prepared for a fight. Soon, Davis and Cole rode up to their dwelling and kept knocking on the front door. Emily Cawood finally opened the door and allowed them to enter. After some small talk, it appeared that Davis and Cole were on a friendly visit. Letting his guard down, Moses Cawood came down the stairs from where he was hiding, thinking that everything was alright but he was soon to discover his mistake. Davis and Cole informed him that they were taking him back to Booneville. Moses was led from the house and placed on a horse. While in the process of leaving, a shot rang out from a window killing Davis instantly, whereby Lt. Cole left in a hurry.

Moses and his two sons William and John were tried and acquitted in Magistrates Court. Lieutenant Cole testified at the trial that he never saw the shooter and only knew that a single shot rang out from a window killing Capt. Davis. There has been much speculation as to who the shooter was, some believe it was John who was very sick and bed ridden at the time, some suspected Moses' wife Emily, some thought it may have been Wall, one of the Cawood slaves. The general concensus, however, was that it was Moses' daughter Nannie, who was known to be able to handle a gun like an expert. At any rate, Nannie never denied the deed although she never admitted to it, either.

Perhaps triggered by the recent events, Moses' son John went to Virginia in August 1863 and joined the Confederate army. He soon had a commission in his pocket as a 2nd Lieutenant in Co. K, 13th KY Cavalry.

Within weeks after the Davis killing, a young confederate courier by the name of George Brittain Lyttle appeared on the Cawood plantation. While on his way to Breathitt County to deliver a dispatch to John Hargis, a leading businessman and avid Southern sympathizer, he encountered a detachment of the 14th Kentucky Cavalry near Booneville. Lyttle managed to escape on foot after his horse was shot from under him. He was most heartily welcomed by the Cawood family.

Nannie Cawood immediately realized that this was her chance to leave Owsley County and put the whole sordid Davis affair behind her. Perhaps tired of hearing gossip and malicious stories about her, or fearing having to face indictment for Davis's death or vengeance at the hands of Davis' relatives or Union sympathizers, Nannie decided to join Lyttle on his way back to Cumberland Gap. Ellen Jett, John Cawood's fiancee, accompanied Nancy on her trip in order to be reunited with John.

Under cover of darkness, with his two female charges in tow, Lyttle rode off in direction of Cumberland Gap. By daybreak the small party arrived at the house of Colonel Daniel Garrard, near Manchester in Clay County, Kentucky. His son was Union Brigadier General Theophilus T. Garrard, but Daniel was a staunch Confederate and well-known to Union authorities. Noted Major W. D. Hamilton in a letter to Brigadier General Willcox just three months earlier, "his house is the regular information depot for the rebel army in this county. The old gentleman is 80 years old; has one son a Brigadier General in our army, and another State Treasurer of Kentucky."

After resting for one day, the little group started again by nightfall and crossed into the Confederate lines the following morning. Here they were welcomed by General John W. Frazer, post commander at Cumberland Gap. After a short rest, Nannie Cawood and Ellen Jett continued their voyage up Powell Valley to the home of Gen. Chadwell Brittain who lived in Lee County, Virginia and was a relative of Nannie Cawood.

Only a short while later, after being surrounded by a brigade of Union troops under Col. John F. DeCourcy, General John W. Frazer surrendered his troops at Cumberland Gap, on Sep. 9, 1863. Roughly 600 men, led by Colonel Slemp, avoided capture by the Federals and secretly moved out of the Gap, going eastward. They made their way along the north side of the mountain, on the Kentucky side, until they reached a point opposite Jonesville, Lee County, Virginia, where they encountered a pursuing force of Federal cavalry. After a spirited skirmish, the Federal cavalry returned to Cumberland Gap. Somewhere along the escape route, quite possibly in Lee County, Nannie Cawood joined Colonel Slemp and continued with the Confederates on their retreat. They stopped by the plantation of a Mrs. Gose in Russell County, Virginia, to ask directions while still on the run.

Colonel Bascom Slemp, 64th Virginia Infantry (CS)
Photograph courtesy Sherry Baker Frazier
The couple was married less than a year later, on June 8, 1864, at the home of Capt. Jocelyn in Jonesville, Virginia. Back in Kentucky, John Hunt Morgan was conducting a raid in the state which culminated in the Battle of Cynthiana on June 11 and 12, 1864 and ended in a Union victory. Many Confederates were killed and captured, while the remaining troops escaped and were making their way back to Southwest Virginia through the Eastern Kentucky mountains. Giltner's men struck the South Fork of the Kentucky River near Proctor and followed the stream deep into the mountains. On June 16, 1864, William Clark, Provost Marshall of Owsley Co., while recruiting Blacks for military service on Red Bird in Clay County, was captured by part of Giltner's men. Clark who was the father of Colonel Andrew H. Clark, 47th Kentucky Infantry [US], was held prisoner for a time and then shot and killed.

On June 21, 1864, when news of his father's death reached Colonel Andrew Clark at Camp Nelson, he immediately sent a dispatch to Lexington to Captain H. Bates Dickson, Assistant Adjutant General.

The rebels captured my father on the 16th instant, who was provost-marshal of Owsley County, Ky. After keeping him a prisoner for some time they murdered him in the most brutal manner. Will you allow me to take my regiment and go to the mountains to avenge the blood of my father?
A. H. Clark,
Colonel Forty-seventh Kentucky Volunteers, Cmdg. Post.

Clark's commanding officer, General S. G. Burbridge would not return until the following day to make a decision in regard to Clark's request, however, Captain Dickson, replied, "If you desire to go at once to visit your mother come here and I will arrange it for you."

It is unclear whether Burbridge gave Clark permission to take his regiment into the mountains or not. According to eyewitnesses, Clark arrived in Owsley County with only roughly one hundred soldiers. Regardless of the number, within three weeks Moses Cawood was dead. Former Union soldier James W. Sebastian noted in a letter to Major Elisha B. Treadway, Three Forks Battalion, dated July 14, 1864, that the ”most alarming occurrence was the sudden appearance of Col. Clark with a Company of men for the purpose, as all thought of wreaking vengeance on somebody for the murder of his father. And Keywood was killed."

According to family legend, Moses Cawood was escorted across the river from his home at Fish Trap, tied to tree and shot by firing squad. He died in the arms of his wife. Others believe that he was hung. For years, locals would point out the tree where Moses Cawood met his demise. Reportedly, Colonel Clark carried with him a list of ten prominent men who he wanted executed in retribution for his father's murder. Clark's actions were very much in line with the now infamous General Order No. 59 that General S. G. Burbridge would be issuing on July 16, 1864, giving military authorities the power to arrest, or publicly execute, guerrillas for atrocities perpetrated upon Union men. His order signified a shift by Union authorities to a more hard line policy, only topped by General Order No. 8, issued by Burbridge on October 26, 1864, which in essence, raised the black flag on guerrillas. Officers were not permitted to give quarters to any suspected guerrilla, but were expected to kill them without the benefit of a fair trial, under threat of court martial.

In the case of Moses Cawood, who was a rebel sympathizer but by no means a guerrilla, Clark stretched his authority paper thin, yet undoubtedly felt justified in his actions. According to Sebastian, "Besides putting old Mose out of the way, Clark did one thing worthy of note, which I believe gave general satisfaction to all loyal and brave men by securing and carving away the notorious old thief harbored, Zack Wells."

One year later, tragedy would strike the Cawood family again, after Nannie's brother Lieutenant John Cawood was discharged from the service at the end of the war. On June 6, 1865, while on his way home to the plantation, he was robbed and murdered by bushwackers.

Fortunately, Moses' widow Emily Cawood's financial situation was stable enough that allowed her to continue living comfortably on the plantation which she maintained with the help of her sons William and Bascom Henry. Former slaves Nancy Cawood and her children remained with Emily, as did Enoch and Emily Cawood and their children who lived on the plantation in a separate household.

As the years passed, life went on for the Cawood family and assumed a degree of normalcy again. Moses' and Emily's children married into many prominent and local families - the Hamptons, Roses, Crawfords, Jetts and Minters. Moses Cawood was gone but certainly has not been forgotten, even today -151 years later.

Article compiled, researched and written by Marlitta H. Perkins, May 2015. Images are the author's property, unless noted otherwise. Unauthorized use and/or duplication, including images, without express written notice by the author is strictly prohibited. 
© 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Further reading

A Civil War Story, by Winfred C. (Ace) Tipton, January 2004

Andrew H. Clark and the Civil War in Kentucky, by James L. Clark


  1. This story doesn't mention the fact that Mose;s brother John my Great Great Grandfather, was then serving under Col Clark in the 47 th mounted infantry.
    I wonder if there was any trouble between them after this or if John had accepted this as his duty,or what. Do you know anything about this?

  2. Does anyone know where Moses and Emily are buried?