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“It takes a lot of glory out of war to see the dead being buried.”
These words were written by John F. Campbell who, as a boy on his father’s farm, witnessed the Civil War battle of Stone River. Burial of thousands of dead left a lasting impression upon John who would always lament the tragedy of Americans fighting each other.
The Civil War was fought in 10,000 places, and of the 3 million people involved in the fighting over 600,000 died. Perhaps more than any other area of the country, Kentucky suffered the most repercussions of divided families. The family of Kentuckian John J. Crittenden serves as a poignant reminder of this tragic scenario. One of his sons, George, fought for the Confederacy, while the other son, Thomas, became a Union general.
When Lincoln was inaugurated president, John Breckinridge, a favorite in Owen County, ended his term as vice president. A ‘state’s rights’ advocate, he went on to become a leader of the Confederacy. Breckinridge was commissioned a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army and assumed command of the First Kentucky Brigade, encamped near Bowling Green. Many Owen County men who joined the Southern Army served in this brigade under Breckinridge.
This year of 2012 is the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and celebrations are planned throughout Kentucky and the nation. It is fitting for Owen countians to join in this celebration and recall the history of the Civil War, for many Owen County ancestors fought nobly in its battles.
There were two Confederate camps in Owen County. One was near Lusby’s Mill above Eagle Creek and the other was at Vallandingham’s barn about 1 1/2 miles from Owenton. The first battles of the war gave evidence that, despite common belief, it would be a long and bloody conflict.
According to Mariam Houchens in her book, “History of Owen County Kentucky,” patrols from both sides of the fight roamed Owen and surrounding counties, confiscating anything they needed or wanted. The shelves at the Lowdenback store in Pleasant Home was stripped of its goods so many times that the family abandoned their store and home and moved to a remote section of Clay Lick Creek.
Poor sanitation, lack of nutritious food, and insufficient clothing and shelter contributed to the spread of disease which at the time decimated whole units. One soldier from Kentucky wrote to his wife about the prevalence of flies: “There are more flies here than I ever saw anywhere before. Sometimes I get vexed at them and commence killing them but as I believe 40 come to every one’s funeral I have given it up as a bad job.”
In summer, mosquitoes would attack in swarms, especially along the rivers. One soldier avowed they formed in regiments for their nightly forays and declared they were so big they could almost shoulder a musket.
A good horse was sure to be appropriated, and it was a wise farmer who hid his steed. The famous and much loved (at least by Owen countians) John Hunt Morgan once left his footsore horse at Rowlett’s Landing and was given one of Rowlett’s best mounts. Morgan’s horse was nursed back to health and became the sire of quite a number of fine horses in that community.
The Fourth Kentucky Calvary, C.S.A., was comprised of 10 companies and received their training at Vallandingham’s barn. Of the 142 men in Company F, all but nine enlisted at New Liberty. This regiment was involved in 43 battles, from Tennessee to Virginia. Half of their number did not return home to their families.
Retaliation was common in the war and both sides employed this tactic. On July 22, 1864, a Mr. Robinson was killed by guerrillas at his home on Eagle Creek, near the Owen County line. On the 27th, the Union Commander for the District of Kentucky sent a detail of Federal soldiers to the area with a captured guerrilla who was shot upon the same spot. Under this same retaliation edict, William D. Darbro who lived near Dallasburg was one of four men sent under guard from Lexington to Pleasureville and shot there in retaliation for the death of two African-Americans of that community. In August of that same year, two Lingenfelter brothers, William and John, and John Wainscott were taken from a Lexington prison to Williamstown, where they were shot by Federal troops. The Lingenfelters were buried a few miles from Lusby’s Mill.
Many Owen countians who fought in the Civil War lost their lives. Others returned home, several to resume distinguished careers. On the return of the Second Kentucky Regiment from prison, Dr. Hugh G. Smith, who had also served in the Mexican War, returned to Owenton where he resumed his career as a doctor Smith was still practicing in Owen County in 1897.
Another Owen County doctor involved in the Civil War was Dr. G.P. Snell who was born in New Liberty and practiced in Owenton. In 1864. Snell was the acting marshal of Owenton and was instrumental in securing the release of Elder William Conrad, a minister of Williamstown who was arrested and thrown into prison by Union General Burbridge.
As so often happens during turbulent times tempers flare and one night Dr. Snell was shot in the back as he entered his office near what is now the Owenton cemetery.
Among the many pictures of veterans on display in the Owen County Historical Society Museum a few depict Owen County soldiers who served in the Civil War. Several articles in the “Owen County, Kentucky Family History Book” have included stories of an ancestor who fought in this War Between the States. The stories of these valiant men and women are part of the bedrock of our history – a history that will be preserved not only by passing down family stories to our children, but also by tending the graves of departed family members.
Everyone, whether a soldier of the war, a farmer of the land, a mother of a family -- whether well known or little known, deserves a final resting place of honor. Too many of our cemeteries have been relegated to the weeds and tombstones have been destroyed by weather or vandals. It is time for Owen County to renew our efforts and show respect for our ancestors by volunteering to help keep our cemeteries in good condition. The Owen County Historical Society Cemetery Committee is committed to this project, and March 10 , 15 people from Kentucky counties of Greenup, Franklin, and Owen, one gentleman from Lexington and five people from Ohio assisted committee chairperson Christina Rice in finishing the cleanup of Claxon Ridge Cemetery.
During the week, Christina raked and planted grass seed and the group is enquiring into the possibility of resetting some of the tombstones which have fallen. This type of effort takes the commitment of many, and as plans are being expanded to include other Owen County cemeteries, more volunteers will be required.
If you are interested in helping with clean up or in donating money to assist with cemetery upkeep please contact Christina Rice at (502) 226-1019.
Historical Society President Jeannie Baker is recovering from knee replacement surgery. Please keep her in prayer as she has many weeks of therapy ahead of her.
On Mondays, the museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. until Jeannie returns. We are also open on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Christie Kennedy is available on this day to assist anyone with their genealogy. Thursday hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the museum is open Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Exciting plans for the summer are in the making and will be announced in this column as they are finalized. Please support the historical society as we continue to preserve the history and traditions of Owen County.