Looking Back: Outlaws on the loose

March 07, 2004|BRENDA S. EDWARDS

Harold Edwards' interest in history has led him to do extensive research on his family and weapons. His current project is compiling information on guerilla activity in Kentucky during and after the Civil War.

"Kentucky was not a pleasant place to be during 1864-65," Edwards told the Boyle County Genealogical Association during a recent meeting. "Young men have a romantic vision of going off to war, but the war was here."

And it was not only the War Between the States, it was guerilla warfare by men who were fighting for the South and even the North. Some of the guerillas were Kentuckians who went to Missouri. They returned to terrorize families, burn towns, steal and vandalize.

Men such as John Hunt Morgan, Dick Mitchell, Henry McGruder, One-Arm Sam Berry, Sue Monday and William C. Quantrill, an Ohio native, and the James brothers - Jessie and Frank - plus the Clark brothers, Maneus and Jerome, were on the rampage.


Edwards said it is hard to understand why these young men - 18 and 25 years old - did what they did. Many of them came from broken homes, some did not know who their fathers were, others were raised by relatives.

"The men were fueled by alcohol and would get liquored up, raid towns and kill whoever got in the way," said Edwards.

Before he war ended in 1865, Quantrill killed 168 men and boys in raids in Kansas and Missouri. After his band parted, he brought 25 men to Southern Kentucky. The gang, dressed in Union uniforms, stormed through Hustonville, stopped at a hotel, and mingled with the home guard while others were stealing horses. After a man was shot there, the gang came to Danville and Harrodsburg, then killed four people near Rose Hill before heading to Bloomfield, a guerilla haven for Quantrill and his Kentucky guerillas.

"They were ruthless people," said Edwards. "They did not trust each other."

Kentucky was under martial law

Kentucky was under martial law then, with President Abraham Lincoln in control of the Union soldiers, but the guerilla raids got out of hand. The gangs had 20 to 25 men. During the raids, the gangsters killed people in Perryville, Springfield and Mackville. During a raid in the Forkland area, the gang got mixed up in a fight with Col. Frank Wolford's men.

In a raid at a Midway horse farm, Quantrill and his men stole thoroughbred horses worth between $200,000 and $300,000.

The Union finally got control of the state and put a stop to the raids. Their method was to keep bringing in troops. Some of the men surrendered; others fled to other states.

Quantrill, a Confederate, finally was shot during a raid. The wound paralyzed him and he died after staying in a Louisville hospital for several months.

McGruder was shot. Many of the men were hung or sent to prison, and some left the state. Berry was pardoned by Union Gen. U.S. Grant, but died in prison before he could leave. Dick Mitchell left Kentucky, then returned to Anderson County where he died. The James brothers returned to Missouri.

Bud Pence, one of the renegades and friend of the James brothers, became sheriff of Nelson County. Sam and Thomas Berry lived at Shakertown.

The Union soldiers killed people prisoners of war in cold-blooded murder, Edwards said. The hunters were mean enough to think like the guerilla gangs to catch them, Edwards said.

Many stories were told of raids, killings and horse stealing done by the guerillas after the war.

"These men were full of vermin and hate," said Edwards. "I don't look up to them, but they are part of the history of our state. We need to know about the past and not forget."

The men came from unstable backgrounds and were uneducated.

"I don't know what motivated them," Edwards said. "They didn't talk much."

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