Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Another Year Passes

It's hard to believe that another year has nearly passed us.  The fourteenth year of the Twenty-First Century has been a year mixed with joy, fear, triumph and disaster; but if one looks back throughout history, it has been a rather typical year.  I look at the things that happened nationwide and I see strange parallels from the 1960's; the racial divides, the riots, the protests, the call to arms by those who want their voices heard.  Fortunately, Bath County has been spared these major events and we hope to continue being kept away from that microscope of life.  

Some great things happened this past year in Bath County; probably the most important being the expansion of the food processing plant in Owingsville's Industrial Park.  That expansion brought around 300 jobs to our community and has boosted our local economy, if you look at the whole picture rather than seeing just the paper backing.  Our community spirit has started to flicker again with our May Day Celebration, Court Days, and even our town pep rallies for our athletics programs being widely supported by the people.  It was twenty-six years ago that the football team closed down a block in Owingsville to celebrate a great season (one I am proud to have been a part of) and seeing that interest again during the Homecoming Parade this year should make anyone smile with pride.  

There have also been tragedies and losses this past year.  The Owingsville Fire Department, of which I am Assistant Chief of, responded to a record of over 300 calls in 2014.  There was a time when we responded to maybe 100 calls in a year and thought we had really been busy.  The calls we responded to haven't all been easy; in just the first three months of 2014, we lost two local men in residential fires.  One man was rescued, but succumbed later and the other was found in the burned out debris of his home.  We worked many automobile accidents where property and sometimes lives were damaged or lost.  I worked a call where someone I had known many, many years lost his life due to a motorcycle accident.  Many other prominent and well known people in Bath County passed away naturally, leaving their history to be carried on by loved ones or people who knew them well.  I hope their stories never fade off into oblivion.

Has anything truly historical happened in Bath County that would be talked about in years to come?  That depends on what a person's idea of historical significance may be.  It could be the building of the local economy and development, the closely watched elections we had, or something that others may deem insignificant.  However one looks at it, the fact is that 2014 is now marked in the books of history.  I would like to take this moment and thank each and every one of you who has read my historical reflections about Bath County.  It has been truly overwhelming to see nearly 6,000 people from not only the United States, but from all over the world, taking the time to read these chapters.  A huge thank you to Cecil Lawson and the Bath County News Outlook for publishing my stories so those who may not be cyber-connected may enjoy them.  I plan on continuing to bring you these glimpses of our history as long as I am able; who knows how many more chapters are to come..
.we will just have to wait and see together. 

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Veteran's Day Salute to Sergeant Lewis Ensor

Today is Veteran's Day, 2014 and I salute my great-uncle, Lewis Ensor.  Here is just a part of his story.

Sergeant Lewis E. Ensor, Company K, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division, Pacific Theater of Operations 1941-1945

 I was soldier returning from duty in the Persian Gulf and took a trip with my dad to a hilltop overlooking his home town of Sherburne.  Atop that hill, his uncle, Lewis Ensor, lived in a little white farm house that gave a commanding view of the Licking River Valley below.  I had been to Lewis' house many times and talked with him quite often as I ate lunch at the Sherburne grocery store while on break from working on nearby farms, and I always knew he was a combat veteran.  He never really talked about his service until that day dad and I visited.  But first, a little background on my great uncle.

Lewis Ensor was born on May 4, 1918.  He was raised in the Bethel and Sherburne areas of Bath County and worked as a farmer.  He and his family had plenty of struggles as Lewis grew older, but they remained close and humble.  He entered his military service in 1941 as an infantryman and eventually became part of the 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division.  The 37th would take Lewis Ensor halfway across the world and into the mouth of Hell.

As dad and I sat in the living room, Lewis stood up and told me, "I have some stuff to show you".  He retrieved an old box and sat it down on the table in front of us.  When he opened the box, I saw a pile of old, black and white photographs depicting soldiers in battle and some of the horrors involved.  As he picked the pictures up, he started talking about the scenes unfolding in the paper.  For the first time, my great-uncle was opening up about the war.  He showed me group pictures and identified specific people; telling me who made it through the battles and who didn't.  
"We had to kill those Japs", he said.  "We had to kill them or they'd kill us.  If they didn't shoot us, they would sneak in our foxholes or tents and slit our throats while we slept.  So we had to kill them.  It's what I had to do."  I could see in his face that he was very passionate in what he was telling me, but also was trying to justify what had to be done for survival.  

Lewis told me about one incident on Bougainville Island where his men were pinned down by gunfire coming from a Japanese gun emplacement on a hill above them.  Soldiers couldn't move one way or another, nor could they emerge from their dug in positions without being cut down by the machine gun fire.  Mortar rockets rained down all around them as they fought to survive the carnage.  A slight lull in the machine gun fire gave a slight advantage to the men of Company K, 148th Infantry and a break was found in the Japanese flank.  Lewis and a couple of men were ordered to seize the moment and take his mortar and rockets through the flank and try to knock down the enemy gun emplacement.  He told me they had to crawl most of the way to keep from being cut down and when they finally secured a location, he and his men sat up the mortar and launched rockets into the enemy position.  The intense firing was halted when the enemy position was destroyed by the rockets of Lewis' mortar and the men pinned down were able to advance and secure the hill finally.  I sat there listening to him recount this; the look in his eye was wandering into a steady stare as the moment flashed back into his mind and out of his mouth.  I was in awe, but dad was even more in awe as he had never heard this ever before.  That was just one incident of Lewis' experiences, the only one he really told me about in detail. One thing he told me that will always stick with me is that they were "wore out, bloody, running low on hope and ammunition" when he looked up and saw the American flag waving on a hill above them.  "That flag gave me and my guys the feeling that it was going to be alright, and it was", he said in a low voice.  As we wrapped up our visit, Lewis told me, "Now when I'm gone, I want you to take care of all this for me".  I told him I would and we left.  On the way home, I was curious to find out just where all Lewis had been, but in 1993, the advent of the world wide web was in its infancy and I had to report back to Germany soon after.  My research plans got put on hold for a number of years.

Some of Sgt Lewis Ensor's awards
Fast forward to 1998.  My great-uncle Lewis Ensor was in failing health and dad helped him out by making it possible for him to live closer to us in the senior apartments in Owingsville.  The once strong man who had fought off the Japanese so boldly had become ridden with arthritis and was frail.  In the early 90's, Lewis had a recurrence of malaria that he had contracted in the jungles during the war, but recovered after a few weeks, but he was far more frail this time.  Eventually, Lewis had to move to a residential care facility in Owingsville and eventually passed away on July 16, 2001.  I kept my promise to him by taking the box of pictures and other items such as foreign money, military instruction manuals and other mementos he had kept.  Among the items were a few award ribbons and his discharge papers.  For the first time, I could really see what all my great-uncle had accomplished as a soldier.  Another document I found was the award citation for a Bronze Star Medal that detailed his account of the fight for the hill on Bougainville Island he told me about.  Dad and I noticed that some of the ribbons Lewis should have had weren't there.  Also missing were his medals.  After a few phone calls and some help from Danny 'Greasy' Belcher, we were able to get Lewis' medals and other awards.  I had no idea how decorated he was; two Bronze Star Awards, a Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, among other awards. 

The red and white patch is the 37th Infantry Division's unit patch
About two years ago, I decided to take Lewis' medals and display them in a case.  While doing that, I researched the history of where my great-uncle served.  His infantry division was deployed into the Southern Pacific as part of the 'Island Hopping' campaignHe was assigned to Company K, 148th Infantry, and saw action in New Guinea, then at Bougainville in 1943.  He and his unit moved through the Solomon Islands and onward to the Philippines.  Lewis participated in the Battle of Luzon in the Philippines and was wounded in combat; hit by a bullet and piece of shrapnel that lodged in his jaw, leaving a scar he carried with him.  Lewis returned to duty but faced no further direct combat after he recovered from his injury and was discharged in 1945 as a sergeant. His display case is sleek and an oblong rectangle to accommodate his funeral flag dad has kept. It is a fitting tribute to a man who came from humble beginnings and was thrust into manhood as a combat infantry soldier.

I look at all the men and women who served our great country and sometimes think to myself, "wow, I'm part of them."  Hearing veterans talk about their experiences in combat makes me ever so grateful for their service and sacrifices both emotionally and physically.  I, too, am considered a "combat veteran" but don't see myself as such.  I did not see the horrors of war, I didn't rush through a hail of bullets to save a fellow comrade, nor did I march triumphantly into Baghdad like others who followed me.   My 'combat' tour was during a cease fire contingency operation post Desert Storm, and is nothing comparable to what the soldiers in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the tank battles of the Saudi Deserts, Iraq or Afghanistan have seen.  I call my tour of duty the 'push button war'.  I have friends and people I watched grow up around me come home from the modern day wars fought who are enduring post-traumatic stress and aren't the same as they were before they went off to war.  It used to be an honorable thing to say to a returning veteran, "welcome home", but maybe we should add, "how are you doing? I'm here when you need me" to that greeting.  My great-uncle's story is just one of many, many others who served, and I was lucky enough to hear him tell it in person.  If your loved one is a veteran, be it combat or peacetime duty, let them know they are appreciated for their service; not just once a year, but every day you have with them.

Carry on, soldier...
 Sergeant Lewis E. Ensor, US Army
K Co., 148th Infantry, 37th infantry Division
Term of service:  1941-1945
Pacific Theater of Operations
Solomon Island Campaign, Battle of Bougainville & New Guinea
Battle of Luzon, Philippines

Awards & Decorations:

The Bronze Star Award with one Oak Leaf Cluster
 The Purple Heart
Army Good Conduct Medal
American Defense Medal
American Campaign Medal
The Asiatic/Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze campaign stars
World War II Victory Medal
Liberation of the Philippines Medal with one bronze campaign star
Combat Infantry Badge
Rifle Marksmanship Badge
Army Lapel Pin


Thursday, October 30, 2014

There's Something Strange in the Neighborhood

 Halloween...a time that most associate with fun, mischief, and trick-or-treating; but for others, it brings a feeling of fear and makes the superstitious take an extra step of precaution.  We all have creepy tales of unexplained happenings; what I have here is just a personal collection with a bit of historical twist.  Form your own opinions, use your best deductive reasoning, but we truly do not know what lies beyond......

 Ever wonder why you may get a creepy feeling or a cold chill when you stand in a particular spot or are visiting a building or home?  Could it be the spirits of the souls still wandering, aimlessly looking for rest in the afterlife?  We don't know what the next plane or afterlife has in store for us; we rely upon our faith to hope for a better and more peaceful beyond in the Christian-based faith, but what if there are those lost souls who don't pass through the realms of beyond?

Location of  a cemetery once located on Coyle Street. From an 1884 map.
At the corner of Slate Avenue and Coyle Street in Owingsville stands the People's Bank.  The large, paved parking lot behind the bank and drive through at one time had homes and yards that most remember in recent times, but many years ago one of Owingsville's first cemeteries sat behind a house near the entrance to the bank's parking lot fence between the parking lot and thrift shop.  Among those who were buried there were members of the Owings family and other early settlers who forged the beginnings of the Owingsville.  In fact, the cemetery is shown on a map dating from 1884, which can be found at  John Richards wrote that the cemetery belonged to Thomas Dye Owings and sat "directly behind the Davis Department Store on Vimont Street, and extended back to a brick house on Coyle Street" and possibly was the location of Richard Menefee's burial.  Vimont Street is the behind the old courthouse and goes from the corner of the 'pocket' to Slate Avenue and is now commonly called South Court Street.  A later Sanborn map of Owingsville from 1908 makes no mention of the burial grounds, but the house still is shown.
My mom had family who lived in the house that once stood facing Coyle Street and says she remembers as a child seeing places in the ground that were sunk in, a tell tale sign of old grave sites.  When my dad helped install water pipes along that area in the 1960's, he recalls digging into graves.  The work crew was sent on down the street to install pipes elsewhere, but dad isn't sure what ever happened to the graves.  It is the assumption that the bodies were removed, possibly by Randolph Richardson and his crew; but regardless, the bodies were still disturbed.  Flash forward to the present era.  My cousin lived in a house on Coyle Street across from the thrift store.  Her son, who was around five at the time, talked about seeing people across the street and talking to them.
The Owings Cemetery was located about where the black Jeep is shown on this present day picture.  Photo courtesy of Google Map.

He said that the people were 'dressed funny' and in old clothes, and that one was a child who liked to talk to him and play in the yard with him.  My cousin always told her son to stop being dramatic and passed it off as imaginary friends that kids are notorious for having (I had three imaginary friends as a child; Pooterbill, Chris and Pie).  I told her I had read something in the John A. Richards A History of Bath County book regarding a cemetery somewhere near where her son had seen the people.  Coincidence, imagination or contact from the other side?  You be the judge, but as a passing note, my little cousin saw an episode of Little House on the Prairie and said the people he saw across the street from his home were dressed the same as the ones on the television.

 If you walk behind the Family Drug Store, down West Paul Lewis Drive in Owingsville, you might feel a cold chill as you start up the grade going toward Cemetery Street, about where Thompson Road turns left to the post office.  Perhaps, its the cool air current coming up from the hollow below, but maybe it's something more sinister.  In this area, on November 4, 1892, Oscar Jones, was publicly hanged for murdering Sharpsburg Town Marshal Taylor Vice.  On Christmas Eve, 1891, Oscar's son, George, was being disorderly and was intoxicated.  Vice came to the Jones residence to ease the tension, but George was belligerent.  The marshal attempted to subdue George Jones, but Jones grabbed a club.  Vice grabbed the club away from Jones, and a fight ensued.  It was testified that Oscar Jones ran up to the pair and fatally stabbed Taylor Vice.  George and Oscar Jones escaped, but Oscar was apprehended the following day in Mount Sterling.
During Jones' incarceration, threats of a lynch mob echoed throughout the area, prompting Jailer Sam Nixon to arm himself and protect his high profile inmate, who consequently was a black man.  On February 21, 1892 a mob wearing masks forced their way into the residence portion of the jail, only to be met by Nixon and his son, Will, with their shotguns at the ready.  The jailer announced that he would defend his prisoner to the death and the mob dispersed.
Oscar Jones was found guilty for the murder of the town marshal and sentenced to death in March, 1892.  His scheduled execution was slated for May 20 in what was called Bascom's Field, located just behind the jail; near where present day West Paul Lewis and Thompson Drive intersect.  The execution was delayed due to an appeal, but the appeal was denied.  The Governor fixed the date of execution for November 4, 1892.
The hanging of Oscar Jones, November 4, 1892
 On the date of Jones' hanging, a large crowd gathered for the spectacle.  Jones was accompanied by Sheriff C.C. Hazelrigg and around thirty guards to the gallows at around 9:30 a.m.  Jones was dressed in all black and wore white gloves as he stood on the gallows scaffold.  After a prayer and a last chew of tobacco, the black hood was placed over Jones' head and the noose was adjusted snug around his neck.  At approximately 10 a.m., the trap door was released and Oscar Jones was hanged for his crime.  Doctors F.P. Gudgell and Robertson pronounced Jones dead at 10:11 a.m.  This was the last legal hanging in Bath County.  Allegedly, Oscar Jones revealed the night prior to his execution that his son George had in fact killed Taylor Vice, and that he would prefer to die than have his son tried and hanged.  So the next time you go on that leisurely walk behind the jail and apartments, that cold chill may be Oscar Jones' spirit wandering toward the gallows that once stood in that area.

I previously wrote about the Civil War in Bath County and the Battle at Mud Lick Springs, and there are tales of ghostly apparitions marching off to battle in that area.  For years, residents in the Mud Lick, Olympian Springs and Carrington areas have said they have seen soldiers walking across the fields and have heard the sound of horses at full gallop in the night.  Sounds of men shouting orders and moans of those wounded are said to be heard in the hills surrounding the area.  People have even reported hearing the sounds of drum beats tapping out the marching cadence, only to fade off into nothing.  Hikers along the trails behind Carrington Rock and the golf course have said they have seen soldiers standing atop the cliffs looking out across the fields as if they are surveying the battlefields below.  Even the muffled sounds of cannon fire have been reported echoing through the hollows and valleys.  Whatever the explanation may be, it is quite possible that there are soldiers still fighting the battle 150 years later.

An orb at Polksville Cemetery, taken by Paige Wagers, 2009
Polksville Cemetery is thought to be one of the creepiest and most haunted places in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  Over the years, people have been coming to the cemetery at night and catching what appear to be orbs in photographs.  Orbs are balls of light that paranormal investigators claim are the energy signatures of spirits.  A skeptic may look at these anomalies as nothing more than dust particles or water droplets, but some of these are quite interesting when looked at closer.  With the advent of digital photography, one can zoom into a picture and see details not originally seen by the naked eye.  One example is a streak of light caught on my niece's camera in the cemetery that just appears to be an orange reflection; but when a closer inspection is made, the light appears to be a demonic figure with wings.  Another picture shows what looks like a misty apparition standing by a tombstone, surrounded by smaller orbs.  Even if you do not have a camera to catch these strange lights, there is still a creepy feeling while walking there at night.  Past the main cemetery is an older burial ground in the trees that features many unmarked graves.  An uneasy feeling is felt as one passes this cemetery, along with cold chills and almost a feeling of disorientation.  Some say it's best to leave the dead to rest, but if the dead don't rest, what is one to do?  And on a legal note...I am told the new owners of the property frown upon trespassers due to the increased popularity of paranormal investigations and property damages that have happened over the years; enter at your own risk, and expect to be asked to leave if prowling there at night.

The Owings House has long been an outstanding landmark in Owingsville.  Built between 1811-1814, the mansion was the home to Owingsville's founding namesake Thomas Dye Owings.  It is a magnificent structure with ornate rooms and a three story self supported spiral staircase; one of the only in the nation still left intact.  Once the mansion was completed, Owings held a housewarming feast for the community and the grand hall was packed with guests.  A large bowl of burgoo was brought out onto the serving table and as Owings stood to present a toast and dip the first platter of the stew, a large black snake fell from a rafter into the burgoo.  Startled guests saw this as an omen and one patron proclaimed that the mansion would be cursed for a hundred years.  Call it coincidence, fate or just plain misfortune, but in 1822, Thomas Dye Owings went bankrupt, one of his daughters committed suicide and another went mad.
The Owings House's spiral staircase
The mansion was sold many times and used as a hotel in other years.  Although it was a popular stopping point and place for social gatherings, the mansion never became truly prosperous.  The Owingsville Banking Company was established in part of the mansion after the fire of 1893 and is still based there today.  Eventually, the other part of the structure went into a level of disrepair, but was remodeled and revitalized in 1901.  There are cellars deep below the Owings House that I have not personally been in, but Tom Byron, Jr. has told me that there is a strange presence in those subterranean chambers, and doors that lead into nothing.  A rumored tunnel is said to lay beneath the cellars and leads to the Bourbon furnace, but to this day, no one has found it.
I recently toured the Owings House  with members of the local cub scout pack and as I topped the spiraling staircase, I felt a strange feeling as if there was something in the room.  There is a long, dark hallway that leads to a door at the top of the stairs that haunts back to the movie The Shining in my opinion.  My wife has an application on her smart phone called Ghost Radar, which allegedly picks up energy levels and deciphers words that are communicated from beyond.  When she used the application in the Owings House, there was a flurry of activity like we hadn't seen before.  Were the spirits of the former residents trying to communicate or is the restless soul of Colonel Owings' daughter still trying to find her way?

There are unexplained occurrences at the Bath County Library, one of which I have personally seen on a security camera.  Employees there have seen items tossed about and have heard strange noises in the hallways and rooms; sounds like foot steps and a sound of shuffling.  While visiting one day last year, I was shown a clip from a security video from the front foyer.  A table of magazines was in the forefront and empty chairs around it.  Suddenly, a magazine opened up as if someone had slipped through the pages as it sat on the one was around this table.
A plastic document holder was fastened to a wall in an upstairs room at the library and security video captured the item being flung off the wall, again, no one was around it.  So what could explain these events?  The library was built after the 1893 fire and at one time housed a bank and shop.  The building we see now was split into two separate buildings, and to my knowledge, was never a scene of bloodshed or tragedy.  However, next door at the present day Perfect Lady Salon building, a man was shot to death in the early 1960's.  The Perfect Lady was at that time a bus stop and restaurant, and Graden Boyd was shot by a man named Gudgell Parks.  It has been told that Parks had been inside the business causing a scene and was told to leave by Boyd.  Parks then brandished a gun and shot Mr. Boyd.  Parks was arrested, tried and sent to prison; sentenced to life with parole.  After an escape, Parks was recaptured and placed back in jail.  Perhaps the happenings in the library are that of Graden Boyd letting people know that he is still around.

For years, the Crouch family resided in the house just inside the gates of the Owingsville Cemetery.  Jaybird and his sons helped maintain the cemetery and even dug many graves while they lived there, so it is no surprise that strange and unexplained sightings have happened there.  One story is that Crouch's wife was doing laundry while her grandchildren sat inside the home watching television.  She stepped outside to hang a load on the clothes line and when she attempted to go back inside, the door was locked.  She knocked, hoping her granddaughter would open the door, but the little girl never came to the back door.  Mrs. Crouch went around to the front door but again, no one came to open the door for her.  Fearing something was wrong, she yelled out at her grandchild to open the door.  Looking in the window, she could see the little girl laughing and acting as if she was hiding.  Finally, Mrs. Crouch got the child's attention and the door was opened.  When asked why she didn't open the door, the child told her grandmother that "the old woman stayed in here with me and told me it would be funny to lock the door."
Entrance to the Owingsville Cemetery
This wasn't the first occurrence of the 'old woman' sighting.  One of the Crouch daughters went upstairs and heard something in a spare room.  When she opened the door, she clearly saw an old woman rocking a baby in the room.  Other people in the house told of seeing a misty apparition of what appeared to be a woman walking down the stairs at night and vanishing at the front door.  Other experiences included someone or something playfully tickling people's toes while they slept or pulling sheets off them.  Footsteps have been heard walking across the wooden plank floors upstairs when everyone else was downstairs watching television or in other rooms.
Inside the cemetery, people have seen shadows or mists in moonlight, and have told about the Confederate Monument; how the statue watches people as they pass or seemingly glows on full moon nights.  Whatever your take is on these events, some cannot be logically explained to this day.

I, too, have had unexplained events happen.  I am one who has to see to believe, but one event still unnerves me after 24 years.  Aside from a select few who I have told, this story hasn't been widely told to anyone until now.  It was late April, 1990, I was a junior at Bath County High School and we had been on a school field trip.  Among us was Kenny Hall, a fellow junior and friend to many of us.  Kenny was in no shape to be out in public due to certain liquid ingestion during the day, so another friend of mine, Janeane Carpenter, agreed to take Kenny home after school.  I vividly recall the moment I heard the scanner alert for the fire department; A car had hit a tree in Midland near the skating rink and was on fire with two people inside it.  I listened to the scanner as fire and rescue personnel worked the horrible scene, not knowing more than I had heard across the airwaves.  I knew that both people were critically burned but still alive, one of them barely.  The phone rang at my house and another friend was hysterical on the other end screaming "it's Kenny!"
When my brother in law got home from working the wreck scene, he was visibly shaken.  I asked if it was Kenny Hall and he told me he thought it was, but he couldn't be sure.  My heart sank because I knew who was with him and I considered them both good friends.
I had gone to see the remains of the vehicle at the towing lot so I could wrap my head around the tragedy and came home with such an empty feeling.  I knew that Kenny and Janeane were still alive but were very critical.  Kenny took the worst of the wreck and have never regained consciousness.  I went to bed the evening of April 26, 1990 at around 11 o'clock.  I had a stereo next to the bed and routinely listened to music until I drifted off to sleep.  The tape I chose was around 45 minutes long and I drifted off.
I was awakened by someone telling me they needed to talk to me.  I opened my eyes and in the pale green glow of the stereo, I could make out a figure standing inside my bedroom door but nothing more.  It was a male voice that told me that Kenny had passed away, then said something else.  I raised up on my elbow and said to wait while I turned off the stereo so I could listen.  The stereo glow faded and I could barely see, but the person told me again that Kenny was gone and continued to talk to me.  After a few minutes, the person left and I went back to sleep, never getting out of bed.  When mom woke me up for school, she told me that she had just learned Kenny had died in the night.  I casually walked by her and said, "yeah I know. You guys told me last night."  I went to the bathroom and she met me in the hallway saying that no one had known until around 6:30 a.m.  I told her I had probably dreamed it, but felt such a calm sense about the whole situation; unlike the despair I felt the day prior.
I didn't think more of it until I went into my room and hit the power button on my stereo.  The tape started exactly where I had turned it off to hear the news!  I felt a cold chill and told mom what happened, how dad or my neighbor Chris had came in and told me what happened, but mom was still telling me they had just found out.  Then I realized that my door hadn't been opened in the night.  I didn't have a lock or anything on my door, so I pushed an old artillery shell against it to secure it.  When my door was opened, the metal shell made a distinct ringing sound that woke me up usually and the door hadn't been disturbed.  Mom had told me that Kenny died around 11:45 p.m., and when I thought about it, the tape I was listening to was 45 minutes long, and I was listening to the last song when I turned it off to hear what the 'person' was telling me.  To this day, I have no idea what else was said, or who it was talking to me, but I knew when I woke up I had lost a friend, and was at peace knowing his suffering was over. 

My parents' house has had other strange incidents such as cabinet doors opening, shadows moving across the room and lights turning on and off by themselves.  The house belonged to my grandparents, and we bought it from my grandmother after she moved to town in 1983.  My grandfather had passed away in 1975, but not at the home.  Soon after moving there, my friend Jason and I were there alone one summer day and both of us saw a shadowy figure standing in the kitchen looking toward us.  We couldn't see who the person was but it scared us so bad, we ran outside and stayed out until that night.  After my grandmother passed away in 1994, mom noticed the kitchen cabinets had started opening and she heard foot steps in the hallway.  One night after I came home from the Army, I was talking to mom and a shadow appeared on the wall and moved across the room toward the kitchen; we both saw it.  There was a lamp in the front room that to this day still powers on and off.  The lamp is antique and belonged to my grandmother and mom acquired after the funeral.  The going joke is that 'Granny Gertie' is at it again whenever the cabinets open or the light comes on or off.  So far, the 'spirit' has been harmless and activity has decreased gradually over the years.

Even my own home on Slate Avenue has had its share of creepy things.  When Mandy and I moved in, there would be times where we heard what sounded like someone working at a work bench.  the home belonged to Mr. Ford Manley, and he indeed used the basement as a work shop. This went on for a while until we got a cat, then the clanging stopped.  Our cat passed away in 2008, and we had decided not to replace him.  After we had our first son, we could hear him talking and laughing while playing in his room, but no one else was there.  One day, he started yelling at a little girl he said he saw in his room.  He told  her to get away and he wasn't going anywhere with her.  We had another cat appear at our house in 2010 and we have had him ever since; and since then, no other strange happenings have occurred in our house.  We have been told that a cat will ward off some types of spirits, so maybe that has been true.  That Ghost Radar application on Mandy's phone, however, still shows alleged words spoken by spirits and shows energy traces they leave in our home.  Whether or not you believe in such things is entirely up to you.  I cannot explain some of the things I have seen, but remain open to all explanations until proven otherwise.

As I have said previously, form your own opinions; draw your own conclusions about the events I have described here.  We are uncertain of what is beyond, yet a fascination of the paranormal envelopes us to be curious and try to see for ourselves what others believe to be true.  An occasional good scare gives us an adrenaline boost and allows us to either feel invincible or vulnerable; to stand and watch or run away screaming.  There are hundreds of more unexplained stories to be shared in Bath County, these were just a few I have had personal acquaintance with.  And the next time a child says they see things we don't, maybe take a second to hear them out and not pass them off as being overly imaginative.  The eyes of the young and innocent can sometimes see far beyond twenty-twenty.

Happy Halloween, folks!

For more reading on strange and unusual happenings, here are some links of interest: -A compilation of cryptozoological sightings based in Kentucky - Stories and tidbits of interest including historical sketches and the unexplained - All kinds of creepy stories throughout the Commonwealth - A group of paranormal researchers based in the Bath/Montgomery Counties

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A House Divided: Bath County's Involvement in the Civil War

The Confederate Seal of Kentucky
The Kentucky State Seal


"I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. ..." -President Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to Orville Browning, 1861.



  Throughout history, Kentucky's natural resources and location among major waterways have been a catalyst for contention.  Early native people used the land to hunt and gather necessities for survival and used the Ohio, Big Sandy and Mississippi Rivers for trade routes, creating social and economic impacts for the entire Eastern third of the United States.  When early settlers from New England and other colonies began to explore and occupy Kentucky, the native people felt threatened due to the infringement on their ways of life.  There are many well documented accounts of skirmishes between settlers and natives; and a few major encounters near Bath County, such as The Battle of Blue Licks, The Siege of Boonesboro and The Battle of Little Mountain, also known as Estill's Defeat.  When the secession of the states began in 1860-61, Kentucky was tossed into a crossfire between the Union and Confederacy and was once again, a hotly contested landmark.

The event we know as the American Civil War began at Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April 12, 1861.  Kentucky was a vital border state and was initially neutral, but after a failed attempt at Confederate control, the state was provided Union protection upon orders from President Lincoln.  Union fortifications were established across the Ohio River north of Newport and Louisville, with Confederate fortifications established in Tennessee along Kentucky's far western border and within 50 yards of the Cumberland Gap.  In August 1861, The Union gunship USS Lexington captured the steamer W B Terry near Paducah, and was the first military engagement in or near Kentucky.  That September, Confederate troops under the command of General Gideon Pillow entered the state near Columbus and constructed Fort DuRussey, occupying the town, securing the railways and access to shipping ports along the Mississippi River.  Regardless of the assumption of neutrality, the war had found its way into Kentucky.

Bath County was, and is, a vital crossroad in the route of trade and economics.  The first stagecoach routes to Lexington and Maysville wound through Bath County along the Midland Trail and the Maysville-Mount Sterling Turnpike.  Strategically, the roads, Licking River and Slate Creek provided a vital supply link to any occupying force that would have been able to control the area.  The resources such as iron ore, thick forest, and good soil would have been another lure for an occupying force, but the county wasn't considered for occupation based solely on those conditions.  In fact, only one true encampment was based in Bath County, which will be discussed later.

 It is often said that the Civil War was based on slavery.  While that is partially true, it certainly was a factor in the secession of the Southern States.  A census from 1860 lists 2,500 slaves in Bath County, and while most of the population favored the Southern cause, many more felt the Union cause was  far greater.  The Stone Family from Owingsville is probably the most prominent example of the division the war caused within families.  Henry Lane Stone was born in Bath County and lived with his family until the age of nine near Owingsville.  His family relocated to Putnam County, Indiana, and Stone was practicing law at the onset of war. In October 1862, Stone enlisted at Sharpsburg in Captain G. M. Coleman's company that ultimately became the Confederate Army's 9th Kentucky Cavalry, Company D, under the command of John Hunt Morgan. Three of Stone's siblings joined the Union Army, one being Major Valentine Hughes Stone of the Fifth US Artillery.  Valentine Stone was a decorated officer and was personally appointed to the command at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Gulf of Mexico, by General Ulysses S. Grant.  All across the divided nation, stories like this were all too common; brother pitted against brother.  Henry Stone moved back to Owingsville after the war and was elected County Attorney in 1866.  After a four year term, Stone practiced law with Judge N.P. Reid and was elected as a Representative for the Bath-Menifee Congressional District.  He later practiced law and became the city lawyer for Louisville, where he died on May 21, 1922.

 Virginia Hunt, an Owingsville native and former teacher, wrote a research project for a college class that is now housed at the Bath County Memorial Library.  The research states that the first action related to the Civil War in Bath County occurred October 14, 1861 at the home of James Warren in Polksville.  Major William Sudduth was killed while defending himself from a group under the command of Captain George Ewing.  While details of the actual events have been lost to history, it is at least documented.

According to  Captain Thomas L. Speed’s Union Regiments of Kentucky (pp. 525-535), The 24th Kentucky Infantry was organized early on in the war under the act which created the Reserves to counteract the State Guards, what eventually became Company I was organized in Bath County, in July of 1861. Other companies were later organized and armed with "Lincoln Guns": Company K from Montgomery County (Captain Halley Smith), Company C from Powell, Company E from Bath, and Company D from Fleming County. One of the regiment’s first important assignments was as a security detachment for Tennessee Senator Andrew Johnson as he passed from Mt. Sterling to Owingsville. In September, the organization was established at Olympian Springs, and to that place volunteers came from Rowan, Lewis, Carter, and Morgan Counties.

In October, the future 24th was with General Nelson on his expedition into Eastern Kentucky, driving the Rebels from Prestonsburg to Pikeville and beyond. In December, the majority of the regiment was sent to Lexington, where it was joined by Captain Smith’s company, Captain Hall’s company out of Bath County, Captain Schoville’s company from Laurel, and Captain Jones’ company from Rockcastle. Being ten companies, the regiment was mustered into the service of the U.S. Army.

After moving around Kentucky a bit, the 24th was sent to Tennessee where it took part in the Battle of Shiloh. From there it went to Corinth, marching afterward through Iuka, Tuscumbia, Decatur, Huntsville, and to the railroad leading to Chattanooga. When Bragg marched into Kentucky, the 24th was shipped back to Nashville and marched to Louisville. From there the regiment made it to Perryville to be only slightly engaged in the fighting. The 24th was involved in the pursuit of Bragg out of the state, being involved in heavy skirmishing at Stanford. In February of 1863, the 24th was thrown into the unsuccessful pursuit of cavalry under the Rebel Colonel Cluke of Morgan’s command.

In February, 1863, Colonel Grigsby resigned and John S. Hurt assumed command of the regiment and retained it until it mustered out the service. Through May, the 24th was on outpost duty at Mt. Vernon and Wildcat. In June, John Hunt Morgan threatened the state with his ride to the Ohio and beyond and the 24th was held at Lancaster in readiness again for the purpose of his pursuit. In November, Colonel Hurt’s veterans were engaged in actions against Wheeler’s cavalry near Knoxville, and heavy fighting and the seige at that place all through late 1863.

The 24th was involved in the hard fighting for Atlanta in the summer of 1864. Twelve men were killed and seventy-seven wounded in that campaign. After the fighting for Atlanta was over, the 24th was held at Decatur. In October it went to Lexington, Kentucky, and was held in readiness while Hood made his move on Nashville. The regiment mustered out of the service on January 31st, 1865.

Marlitta Perkins, a Kentucky author and Civil War Historian, sheds some light on Bath County's only established encampment known as Camp Gill.  Camp Gill was located in the Olympian Springs area on property belonging to Harrison Gill, who owned the famed Olympian Springs Resort.  On September 29, 1861, the company of Captain Roy D. Davidson from Owingsville, as well as those of Captain Lafayette North and Captain George R. Barber, concentrated at Camp Gill.  The three companies that made camp numbered about two hundred and fifty men and were soon joined by about three hundred unarmed recruits, making a total of around five hundred men.  The men, commanded by Colonel Lewis Braxton Grigsby from Clark County and Major John Smith Hurt, would eventually form the 24th Kentucky Infantry. Harrison Gill’s son John Menifee Gill served as 1st Lieutenant in Company E, 24th Kentucky Infantry.  The men were mustered into military service October 8, 1861 for one year.

In mid-September 1861, General William "Bull" Nelson had received orders to organize the US Expeditionary Force in Maysville as part of the Big Sandy Expedition.  Organized as a brigade sized element, the Expedition Force would eventually consist of 5,500 volunteers from Ohio and Kentucky.  Their goal was to stop the mobilization of Confederate Forces under the command of John S. Williams, which consisted of nine infantry companies and five mounted infantry companies, and to protect the Big Sandy River where it emptied into the Ohio River.  The expedition was also designed to protect the right flank of General William Rosecran's West Virginia Army and Wildcat Mountain.  The mobilization phase was September 21-October 20 and the operation would be conducted in three parts, with Camp Gill being the central staging point for the Union Army.  On October 8, General Nelson arrived at Camp Gill, choosing this location due to the proximity of the Mt Sterling-Pound Gap Road, now known as US 460, and McCormick's Gap in nearby Frenchburg, which was long considered the 'Gateway to the Mountains'.  The mountain gap was secured on October 8 to insure the pass wouldn't fall into Confederate hands, which could cut off the Expeditionary Force's advance.  Here are a couple of letters from the Official Records of the United States and Confederate Armies regarding troop movements into Camp Gill:


 Cincinnati, October 7, 1861. 

Brigadier-General THOMAS, Commanding Camp Dick Robinson:

SIR: Your telegram of the 6th is received. At the earnest solicitation of Brigadier-General Nelson I have ordered the Second Ohio Regiment, Colonel Harris, to take position at a place called the Olympian Springs, about 20 miles east of Mount Sterling, in order to close the mountain gorge through which small bands of the enemy are constantly passing to Prestonburg to re-enforce a camp forming at that place. I have General Anderson’s authority for sending this regiment to the point already named.
I look upon it as a strategic point of great importance in the contemplated advance towards Cumberland Gag.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
O. M. MITCHEL, Brigadier-General, Commanding.

CAMP GILL, October 10, 1861. 

Brigadier-General NELSON, 
Maysville, Ky.: 

I arrived at this point this evening with my command 900 strong. I found Colonel Grigsby with 300 men.
From reliable information just received I have no doubt that there are now at the rebel camp at Prestonburg, at the very lowest calculation, at least 4,000 men. They are very well armed and well mounted, and are receiving constant accessions from above and below. They have also two pieces of artillery, an 8 and 6 pounder, that we know of.
Colonel Grigsby has been very active in procuring information, and there can be no doubt of the correctness of it. It is absolutely impossible for them to subsist their force in that region for any length of time, and I feel assured that unless a sufficient force is rapidly concentrated at this point they will be down upon us in less than five days.
From information brought this evening I believe that their forward movement will commence on the 12th instant.
We will push a force of 200 men into the mountains to-night after a detachment on their way to join them. I cannot impress upon you too strongly the necessity of pushing forward as rapidly as possible, and to bring along a section, if not a full battery, of artillery of light pieces. If you have no artillery, I think by telegraphing General Mitchel you can be supplied. I know that he will cheerfully accede to almost any request I may make; I also know that artillery in this region is very, very essential.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, 

L. A. HARRIS, Colonel Second Regiment
 O. V. M. L. B. GRIGSBY, Colonel [Kentucky Militia]. 
JNO. S. HURT, Major [Kentucky Militia]. 

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, troops from the 21st and 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiments grouped at Camp Gill and prepared for the next phases.  Meanwhile, near Prestonsburg, John Williams, Captains Andrew May and John Ficklin, who was a Bath County native, organized the Confederate 5th Kentucky Infantry with 1,010 men, munitions and two pieces of artillery.  The group was so badly clothed and ill fitted for warfare that it was called the "Ragamuffin Regiment" by some.

 The Union Expeditionary Force moved out on October 21, 1861 and split into two divisions; one moving toward Hazel Green in Morgan County, the other toward West Liberty. In a letter from General W.T. Sherman to General L. Thomas, Adjutant-General, Washington, D. C., Sherman states: "General Nelson is operating on the line from Olympian Springs, east of Paris, on the Covington and Lexington Railroad, towards Prestonburg, in the valley of the Big Sandy, where is assembled a force of from 2,500 to 3,500 Kentuckians, waiting re-enforcements from Virginia. My last report from him was to October 28, at which time he had Colonel Harris’ Second Ohio, 900 strong; Colonel Norton’s Twenty-first Ohio, 1,000; and Colonel Sill’s Thirty-third Ohio, 750 strong, with two irregular Kentucky regiments, Colonels Marshall and Metcalf. These troops were on the road near Hazel Green and West Liberty, advancing towards Prestonburg."   After a brief fight, Hazel Green and West Liberty were secured by Nelson's Army and the force regrouped in Licking Station, now known as Salyersville.  The Expeditionary Force captured Prestonsburg November 6th, then moved on to Piketon, which is now Pikeville.  The Ivy Mountain Battle began on November 8, and by the next morning, the 5th Kentucky Infantry was routed and retreated through Pound Gap into Virginia.  Piketon was secured by Union forces November 10, thus securing the Big Sandy Valley and surrounding mountains.  Camp Gill in Olympian Springs proved to be a vital link in securing Kentucky's southeastern flank from Confederate occupation. 

Mount Sterling, ten miles west of Owingsville, was a hotly contested city during the war.  According to Marlitta Perkins' blog (, Mount Sterling was important for its strategic location and abundant resources.  The Union Army established a base near present day Macpelah Cemetery that served as a critical supply point and base of operations for units deployed into Eastern Kentucky.  As early as 1862, guerrilla raiders gained the attention of Union commanders when they attempted to intercept and disrupt supply wagons that traveled into Mount Sterling via the Old Midland Trail, now known as US 60.  A group of these raiders and Union Cavalry squared off in July 1862 between Owingsville and Mount Sterling, with the Union Army sending the guerrillas scattering, capturing their artillery and horses.  While the exact location isn't told, the skirmish was more than likely near the area of Flat Creek and US 60 West.  Another incident in August that year resulted in the surprise and capture of seven men of the Bath County Home Guard, commanded by a Captain Warren, by eighteen rebels.  Again, the exact location isn't provided, only stating 'between Owingsville and Mount Sterling.'

 The Midland Trail from Owingsville into Montgomery County was considered a vital route for armies operating in Mount Sterling, Paris and surrounding strongholds.  The guerrilla concerns became gravely apparent when, in October 1862, Colonel William Henry Wadsworth, a veteran of the Ivy Mountain Battle and Big Sandy Expedition, formally requested mounted infantry support to clear the area between Mount Sterling and Owingsville.  He wrote, "Unless you order a force of mounted men, supported by some infantry, to clear out the region beyond Mount Sterling and Owingsville all this part of the State will be infested and plundered all fall and winter...Troops at Mount Sterling, Owingsville, and West Liberty will protect and relieve a third of this State."  Troops from the 10th Kentucky Cavalry were stationed in and around Owingsville, patrolling the area while staying in revolving camp sites in the area.  When Mount Sterling was invaded and captured in 1863 by the Confederate Armies, the Union Cavalry used Owingsville as a rallying point.  One can just imagine the scene on Main Street during that era;  everyday citizens doing their daily routines as Union troops marched in organized lines and conducted their military affairs along side.

General John Hunt Morgan
Bath County was home to nine Union companies or parts of them; elements of the 13th, 14th, and 10th Kentucky Cavalries operating along with the 7th Ohio Cavalry, the 2nd and 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiments, 21st Massachusetts Infantry, 51st New york Infantry, 6th Indiana Cavalry, 45th US Army Infantry Regiment and 1st US Cavalry, staged or participated in engagements within the county.  The Confederacy only had one true organized military unit operate in Bath County, that being Company C, Fifth Kentucky Infantry Regiment.  Bands of rebels were scattered around the area, with many farmers and citizens sympathizing with the rebel cause.  One famed group of Confederates that passed through Bath County was Morgan's Raiders.  Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan and his army of nearly 900 rode through Kentucky on their first raid from July 4-28, 1862.  During that time, Morgan's Raiders captured nearly 1,200 soldiers, then paroled them, took several hundred horses and destroyed a large amount of supplies.  The raid gained attention in Washington, causing President Lincoln to become overwhelmed with pleas for assistance from beleaguered unit commanders.  Morgan organized more raids during the winter of 1862-1863 and it was during this time his army camped overnight near Salt Lick at the home of Dr. H.H. Lewis.  There is a historical marker just across the Rowan County line on US 60, near the Kentucky 801 crossroads, that tells of Morgan's pass through the area.  Morgan's last raid into Kentucky was during the spring of 1864 and came to a climactic end at Cynthiana when his army was torn apart, leaving Morgan and some of his officers on the run.  John Hunt Morgan was killed September 4, 1864 near Greenville, Tennessee, and is buried in Lexington Cemetery.  The saddle that he rode upon during his raids is now on display at the Mount Sterling History Museum, along with other artifacts related to the Civil War in the Gateway Region.

Montgomery Co Courthouse, 1863 with Federal Troops camped on the lawn.
During the sieges and battles for Mount Sterling, there were several skirmishes that spilled into Bath County. No direct military conflicts occurred in the city of Owingsville, but 1863 was an active year for Bath County in general.   Marlitta Perkins' Eastern Kentucky and the Civil War recounts an encounter March 2, 1863 east of Mount Sterling along Slate Creek, involving the 10th Kentucky Cavalry, the 7th Ohio Cavalry and  a regiment commanded by Colonel Leroy Cluke of Morgan's Cavalry.  The Union force of approximately 350 was routed by Cluke's army resulting in 50 men captured, along with their supplies.  Another skirmish occurred near Owingsville March 31, 1863 and another along Slate Creek in the Howard's Mill vicinity that ended at the old tan yard near Peeled Oak.  April 13-14, the 21st Massachusetts Infantry and the 51st New York Infantry arrived in Sharpsburg to capture a suspected guerrilla force.  None were found, however several citizens were arrested on suspicion of being rebel sympathizers. A member of the 51st NY recounted," A number of citizens were arrested on suspicion of being sympathizers with the Rebels. The horses which were pressed, were brought to camp. The citizens were released, and the horses returned, excepting in one or two cases where they were bought." A 21st Infantry soldier wrote, "I felt heartily ashamed of being connected with the affair, particularly with the disregard of the humane principle that allegiance and protection go together."

The only battlefield that is marked in Bath County is near the intersection of Mud Lick Road and Kentucky 36 East.  A skirmish occurred June 15, 1863 at Olympian Springs during what is known as Everett's Kentucky Raid.  Major R.T. Williams and 30 men of the 14th Kentucky Cavalry were camped at Mud Lick Springs, as it was then called, near the resort and hotel; quite possibly at or near Camp Gill's location.  Confederate Captain Peter Everett of the 8th Kentucky Infantry, with a force of around 300, had engaged a portion of the 14th Kentucky Cavalry at Slate Creek along the Bath and Montgomery County border on June 11.  The fight lasted around three hours and resulted in a Union retreat back toward Mount Sterling.  Everett's Army continued on, regrouped near Preston, and marched toward Mud Lick Springs.  Virginia Hunt's narrative cites a citizen of Preston watching the army march along what is now Old State Road as she was outside preparing chickens for a meal.  One soldier called out to the young lady, saying, "Make sure you have them chickens skinned and ready when we get back".  Major Williams' detachment was in camp when the 8th Kentucky ambushed them on the 15th of June.  The battle was swift and decisive with Everett's Army killing 11 and capturing 12.  Five more men from Williams' Army were injured in the fight.  During the fight, several cabins and outbuildings at the Olympian Springs Resort were burned by the Confederates to prevent their use as Union quarters. The following day, Everett and his army met battle at Triplett's Creek in Rowan County.  Two battalions of the 10th Kentucky Cavalry attempted to take Everett's 8th Infantry, but during the confusion of battle, Everett and his men slipped away and returned to Virginia.  A historical marker stands across from the Mud Lick Store on Kentucky 36, at the intersection of Kentucky 3290, that only briefly mentions the Battle of Mud Lick Springs.

As the Civil War progressed, the Confederate Armies pushed the Union forces back and forth through Kentucky, but were never able to establish a firm hold.  On January 13, 1864, Colonel Jim Brown of the 45th Regiment, Kentucky Infantry dispatched 12 men commanded by Lieutenant Robert Wilson from Mount Sterling to Ragland Mills in Southeastern Bath County in an attempt to locate a group of guerrillas reportedly camped near the Licking River. At the time, Ragland Mills was a small community near the border of Bath and Menifee Counties.  There were oil and gas fields in the area, along with an abundance of timber that provided the economic means for the residents in the area.  That cold winter morning, Wilson's men encountered a group of 35 rebel guerrillas, catching them by surprise.  A short skirmish ensued, resulting in the capture of 13 rebels and the loss of one horse.  The remaining rebels scattered into the dense woods and disappeared.  Ragland Mills and the associated battlefield, is now under the waters of Cave Run Lake near the Zilpo area.

Kentucky had twenty-two courthouses burned during the Civil War.  Most were burned by Confederate troops or guerrilla forces, with nineteen burned within the final fifteen months of the war.  Bath County's courthouse wasn't spared; however, it wasn't due to hostile action.  On March 21, 1864, Federal troops were temporarily quartered in the courthouse, which was a two story wood frame structure that stood where the present day courthouse is located.  It was a cold night and the soldiers had the coal stove fired up as they settled in.  Soon, word came that Confederate troops were on the move toward Owingsville and the Federals hastily prepared themselves to engage the incoming rebels.  In their haste, the overheated stove was turned over, starting a fire.  The wood frame building became quickly consumed and was destroyed as the Union soldiers marched on.  Several vital records were lost in the fire; records that reflected back to Bath County's earliest days.  Rueben Gudgell and J. Monroe Nesbitt petitioned the Federal Government to replace the courthouse, and the present day building was erected in 1866, at a cost of $34,000.00.  Court was held in the Methodist Church on West Main Street in Owingsville until the courthouse was completed.

Original home of John Bell Hood (JA Richards, 1961)
A large white two story house sits on East Main Street in Owingsville across from the post office.  It is occupied by Owingsville's Mayor, Gary Hunt, and is not a uniquely ornate house, and not even a house of Civil War importance since it wasn't built until the early 1900's.  The Civil War connection isn't the house, but the property it stands on.  Confederate General John Bell Hood was born on or near, depending on which source you ask, the spot of Mayor Hunt's home June 1, 1831.  It was a simple house built of log with plank weather boarding and a large stone chimney.  Hood graduated West point in 1853 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 4th US Infantry stationed in California.  Soon afterward, he transferred to Texas and the 2nd US Cavalry where one of his commanding officers was Robert E. Lee.  While on the Western Frontier, Hood was injured during an Indian attack and lost use of a hand.  When the Civil War broke out, Hood joined the Confederacy and was promoted to colonel with the 4th Texas Infantry, later known as the Texas Brigade.  It was with this brigade that Hood gained the Confederacy its first major victory at Gaine's Mills in Hancock County, Virginia in June, 1862.  General Hood's Brigade fought at Gettysburg, then at The Battles of Franklin and Nashville, Tennessee, where Hood was now the Commander-in-Chief of the Tennessee Army.  During the Battle of Nashville, Hood lost a leg and resigned his command January 23, 1865.  He retired to San Antonio, Texas and died of yellow fever in New Orleans August 30, 1879.  On a personal note, it is interesting that my third great-grandfather fought against Hood's Army at Franklin and Nashville.  Laban J. Kiskaden was a private with the 175th Ohio Volunteer Infantry who fought on the same soil as Hood's men.  He was wounded during the battle, losing sight in his right eye and nearly losing a leg.

The Hood House was torn down around 1920; an editorial in the Bath County News Outlook during that time tells of the "disregard for our town's history and value of the older places that are being torn down and erased from memory".  A bronze historical marker stands along the street marking the location of the Hood House, but the marker's placement has been a cause for some debate over the years.  Ginger Kincaid, a local blogger and historian who authors, tells me that her husband's family once lived in the Hood House before it was razed, and that the historical marker is quite possibly not at the correct location.  Could it be that someone opposed the marker due to the Southern connotations?

The winter of 1864 brought action to Sharpsburg and Bethel; the first occurring in Bethel on the night of December 4.  Rebel guerrillas raided and plundered the town, burning stores and damaging property as terrified residents fled into the street.  The rebels gathered the people in the middle of the street and held them at bay while the clerk's office was ransacked.  Vital records from the clerk's office were piled in the street and lit on fire; meanwhile, County Judge Thomas B. Hamilton was dragged out into the street and whipped by a leather strap by the marauders.  The horrified residents were set free after some time and the rebels rode off unscathed toward Sharpsburg.  On December 31, Union forces encountered a group of rebel guerrillas near Sharpsburg, sending the rebels scurrying off in all directions.  The Sharpsburg community had its share of notable veterans during the Civil War.  Edward Owings Guerrant was born in Sharpsburg and was a Confederate captain under General Morgan, and later served on General Humphrey Marshall's staff in Virginia.  After the war, he became a doctor, then a Presbyterian minister in the mountain counties in Eastern Kentucky.  Guerrant wrote an account of his time with General John Hunt Morgan, along with a few theological works.  William Sharp, a direct descendant of the founding fathers of Sharpsburg, served as a captain in the Union Army and Doctor John Thruston Catlett, also a Sharpsburg native son, was a surgeon in Robert E. Lee's Army and was at Gettysburg.  These two examples showed the deep divides among neighbors of small town Kentucky, and throughout the nation during the American Civil War.

As the war came close to an end, skirmishes and raids throughout Bath County dwindled.  A skirmish along Slate Creek near Peeled Oak and Howard's Mill is recorded on March 9, 1865, but nothing of significance followed. A few isolated incidents are recorded during and after the war years in Bath County; tales of lynchings and of division among those who supported their respective side.  One incident near Wyoming, seven miles northeast of Owingsville, was the attempted lynching of Thomas Dawson.  A group of Union troops accused Dawson of knowing the whereabouts of some rebel sympathizers and was hanged for not disclosing their alleged location.  A short time later, Dawson was cut down, but bore a scar from the rope for the rest of his life. There was a public execution of a guerrilla on February 10, 1863, in Owingsville. Major Stivers (Union) had Levi Green Sexton, a member of the 2nd Battalion Kentucky Mounted Rifles, shot, with little, if none, fanfare. Near Reynoldsville, A. Powers, a private in the Confederate Army, had came back home during the war.  He hid out from Union troops near White Oak and was only captured when his sisters were followed while bringing him food.  Powers was killed by the Federal troops; his gun, which was hidden in a tree, was recovered by the sisters and kept within the family until the late 1800's when the family home burned.  Another incident was when guerrilla rebels found and killed Sanford Shackleford near Preston for being a Union sympathizer.  Even after the war, tensions among the populace were high, even in the Bath County area.  Virginia Hunt's writings tell of John Barber who served in the Confederate Army being killed while working on his farm by a group of masked men, simply for his service and alignment with the Confederacy. 

Below is a list of some other Bath County notables, not previously mentioned, who served in the American Civil War.:

- David A. Trumbo from White Oak, Quartermaster, 24th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment, later became a prominent lawyer in the Sharpsburg and Bethel area.  He was twice elected sheriff of Bath County before the war.

 -Dr William E. Phillips was a surgeon with the Union's 39th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry. He was involved in the Battle of Cynthiana and prevented the amputation of Judge Charles Hargis' arm.  Hargis was then a Captain in the 10th Kentucky CSA Infantry and was always grateful for the doctor's regard and treatment for his dire wound.  Dr. Phillips practiced medicine in Stepstone and later Wyoming. He was widely respected as a doctor in Bath and Fleming Counties.  On twist of fate, Judge Hargis, the man injured at Cynthiana, came to Owingsville to represent a neighboring county sheriff who was charged in killing the same county's clerk.  Dr. Phillips approached Judge Hargis and asked if he had been at the Battle of Cynthiana.  The judge raised his sleeve and showed his scar, acknowledging he was the doctor's wartime patient.  The two became friends and Dr. Phillips visited Judge Hargis many times throughout the remainder of their years.

-Colonel Lafayette North from Salt Lick was a Union veteran of several battles and was with Grant at the Appomattox Surrender. He was a Captain  with Company E, 24th KY Infantry, later promoted to Lt. Colonel.

-James K. Jackson, Sgt. Co. I, 24th KY Infantry, of Olympia was the Union color bearer and led the charge at Resaca, Georgia, displaying great valor while under intense fire.  He also saw action at Shiloh and Perryville.

-C.H. Hoon, Company F, 2nd Battalion, Kentucky Mounted Rifles (CSA) was attached to General John Hunt Morgan's Army, later became a prominent Owingsville businessman and jailer for Bath County.  Hoon operated the undertaker and hardware store that stood on the spot of the Citizen's Bank in downtown Owingsville.

-William Washington Rogers, 2nd Lieutenant, Compay L, 2nd Regiment Kentucky Volunteer Cavalry.  He was at Shiloh, Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, Stone River, Bardstown, two battles at Chickamauga River, Kennesaw Mountain, Big Shanty and was part of Sherman's march to the sea and Battle of Atlanta.  Rogers was taken prisoner at Bardstown, but was soon returned to his command.  After the war, Rogers, stayed in the Army and served on the Western Plains.  He relocated to Wheeling, West Virginia in 1870 and became a prominent businessman.  

-John S. Anderson of Odessa (White Oak Community), Company B, 10th Kentucky Cavalry (USA) later became postmaster for the Odessa community.

-Confederate Captain George W. Conner, Co. I, 5th KY Mounted Infantry, later appointed Lt. Col. of the 5th KY Mounted Infantry, fought at the Battle of Middle Creek.  He was captured by the Union Army commanded by future president James A. Garfield in Prestonsburg, January 11, 1862 while in a hospital suffering from typhoid fever.  He later rejoined his unit and was severely wounded at Jonesboro, Tennessee August 10, 1864.  Conner was elected to State Senate in 1869, serving Bath, Bourbon, Montgomery and Clark Counties.  He died from injuries he sustained from a fall at the courthouse March 21, 1894.

-Captain Fountain Goodpaster, Corporal and later Captain, Co. I, 24th KY Infantry, served with the Union Army and fought at Shiloh, Resaca, Atlanta, and Knoxville.

- Hiram Hawkins was born on September 9, 1826, near Owingsville.  He was the son of Thomas and Mary Dean. In 1852, he was elected Colonel of the Bath County Militia. In 1855, he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives. After selling his farm in 1859, he established a sheep ranch in Texas. When the Civil War broke out, he joined the Confederates at Prestonsburg and organized a company for the 5th Kentucky Infantry. In 1863, he was promoted to Colonel of the regiment. After the war, Hawkins settled in Alabama and purchased a farm in Barbour County. In the 1870s, he was elected to the Alabama State Legislature, where he spearheaded the effort to establish the Alabama Department of Agriculture. 1882, Col. Hawkins was elected a member of the lower house of the Alabama legislature, as a democrat, and re-elected in 1884. He died in 1914 and is buried in the Fairview Cemetery in Eufaula, Alabama.

The Confederate Monument in Owingsville Cemetery
It is a fair bet that many present day Bath Countians have some connection with the American Civil War and just haven't researched far enough.  The cemeteries in Bath County are dotted with graves of veterans from both sides of the war; some within close proximity, which is a stark contrast to the division among the souls under the Earth.  I spoke with a man named Jamie from Frenchburg who has located the site of the Mud Lick Springs battle and has recovered some artifacts such as buttons, buckles and spent bullets, so at least some of the sites are still yielding hidden archaeological treasures.  Other sites have been lost to farm lands, development and to Cave Run Lake.  On August 3 1907, a monument was dedicated in the Owingsville Cemetery to the Confederate Sons of Bath County, one of sixty throughout the state.  The monument is that of a Confederate soldier standing, leaning on his rifle, looking to the North, and is thirteen feet tall.  It was erected by the Bath County Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and dedicated by Colonel W.T. Ellis of Owensboro.  Around the statue are the graves of several Confederate Bath Countians.  The monument was dedicated as a National Historic Site in 1997 and has weathered many storms and seasons.  Another monolith stands in the cemetery that belongs to Lieutenant James Willeroy, who was with Company A, 13th Virginia Volunteers and killed in action at the Second Battle of Bull Run at Manassas in 1862.  This is the only grave I have found in Owingsville Cemetery that belongs to a soldier killed in action during the Civil War, although I'm sure if I looked around a little better there and at other county cemeteries, I'd find more.

The Civil War left many people and communities divided, not only during the conflict but for generations after.  In the forty years of my existence, I haven't directly seen that division in Bath County, but occasionally there are some who still have that rebel soul among them.  These days, there are some who wish to push away the war and keep it 'out of sight, out of mind' due to the debate over slavery and the racial undertones.  To do so would nullify those who fought for either side for their cause and lessen their achievements or legacies.  Form your own opinions, but don't ignore the history and tales of bravery and courage under fire.  If you, the reader, should get the chance to attend a battle reenactment, I encourage you to do so.  There are reenactments held annually at nearby
Richmond, Perryville and Wildcat Mountain that are surprisingly realistic.  Take the time to visit a museum, like the ones at Mount Sterling or Perryville, or explore your local library archives to learn about where you are just may be surprised what event in history happened right where you stand.

Special thanks to Marlitta for helping me correct some inconsistencies and help fleshing out the stories of some of the Bath County veterans who served on either side.

 For information about the Mount Sterling History Museum, visit

 Other links to battlefield reenactments:



 - by Marlitta Perkins
 -An Illustrated History of Bath County, Kentucky by John Adair Richards, (c) 1961, Southwest Printers, Yuma, Arizona
 -A History of the Civil War in Bath County, Virginia Hunt (housed at the Bath Co Memorial Library)
-The Paper Trail of the Civil War in Kentucky 1861-65, compiled by Col. (Retired) Aramndo Alfaro
-Wikipedia searches of The Battle of Ivy Mountain, Kentucky in the Civil War, John Hunt Morgan, John Bell Hood
-Morgan's Men: A Narrative of Personal Experience by Henry Lane Stone, (c) 1919 Louisville Brandt & Fowler

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Abandoned Places, Natural Beauty and Prehistoric Relics

It doesn't matter where the road goes, it's how you travel it....

When I was a child, my family owned a farm on Prickly Ash Road, just northeast of Owingsville.  I spent many days roaming the hills, fields and creek bed, exploring what was around the farm.  Along the gravel road are abandoned homes in the adjacent fields; reminders of a simpler time and of the hard work the residents put into building their farms to provide a means for living.  In the creek bed, I would find remnants of a far earlier time, millions of years into the past; fossils of shells and coral along with other prehistoric sea life that predated the age of the great dinosaurs.  The fields on our farm would reveal ancient Native American artifacts every spring when the ground was turned.  Arrowheads, stone spearheads, pieces of flint would surface and I would fill my pockets full.  As I grew older, I started to look into the why and how these relics and old homes came to be and found  fascinating historical stories, right in everyday plain sight.

Let's go back to around 1983.  I was walking through the tobacco field one spring looking for arrowheads and found what looked like a fossilized horn protruding through the reddish dirt.  I picked it up, puzzled by what it appeared to be; could it be a horn off a dinosaur?  My dad took my mysterious item to Roland Burns who worked at Morehead State University and it was determined my find was a piece of coral approximately 400 million years old.  He explained that the area was once a vast sea teeming with life and this fossil was one of the earliest known forms of life on Earth.  It just baffled me at a young age that the fields we used to grow tobacco once was an ocean.  Over the years, I would find much more of this coral of varying sizes, along with fossilized mollusks, brachiopods and small bone fragments embedded in the slate and limestone rock.  Even today, if you walk the creek bed during summer, it doesn't take long before you spot these ancient reminders. 

I mentioned the Native American artifacts we would find, and to say there were a few items would be a gross understatement.  Arrowheads of all sizes were found there.  I found what I believe to be a stone axe blade one time just lying in the dirt waiting to be found after so many years.  Most of these artifacts date back to the Adena People, a society that lived between 1000 and 200 BCE in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.  Early Kentucky was considered prime hunting ground for the early people who inhabited the area west of the Appalachians.  Bath County was a regular hunting area for ancient people and later tribes of Iroquois, Shawnee and Cherokee.  John Adair Richards chronicles some early conflicts between early Bath County settlers and Native Americans in his A History of Bath County book, so it is a good bet the area in Prickly Ash was abundant in native peoples throughout history.  While it isn't certain, it is suspected that my family's farm was a native camp or hotly contested hunting area.  Either scenario is likely, considering the natural springs, salt and ore deposits that in the area. 

Up the hollow behind the barn that once stood on our property was a field we used to grow tobacco; we called it the Apple Tree field, because of the large apple tree that stood at the small creek crossing.  When the field was turned, numerous artifacts, cut stone, coal and pieces of wood would surface.  Once upon a time, a house stood in that spot and what we found were the remains of the coal pit, the chimney and foundation stones.  Other items we found were small reminders of life inside that house; like dice made from bone, an old lock with a date of 1876 imprinted on it, old coins dating back to the mid to late 1800's and early 1900's and various other small artifacts.  Dad told me the house was actually moved by oxen cart to another location down Slate Creek, and is quite possibly still standing today.

Structure fire on Prickly Ash October, 2013
Several abandoned houses are still standing along Prickly Ash Creek, mostly used to store corn or hay by the land owners.  There used to be a large two-story house in the field beside our barn that burned down around 1978 or 79.  Another house across the creek that still stands was the scene of a terrible hunting accident that took the life of one of my childhood friends in 1983.  Up the creek there was another house that stood and had fallen into disrepair over the many years it stood vacant.  A family from Indiana bought the property and restored the house into a vacation home with a large walk out deck on the second floor.  The home stood as a welcome sight of life among the long forgotten residences, but sadly, was destroyed by fire in October, 2013.  Along a tributary called Washington Branch, still stands the old one room school house, well at least it was still there a few years ago when I hiked back to the area.  I recall one old house having old newspapers as wall paper, showing headlines and stories from World War II and earlier.  Man, if these old homes could talk.....

We sold the farm in 1997 and now a home stands in the field that once bore tobacco.  The barn is long gone, a victim of time and natural process.  Although I jokingly say I don't miss the work on the farm, I truly miss spending time there exploring the creek and fields. I wonder if the people who live there know what interesting history lies under their yard, and if they still find those fossils and artifacts that fascinated me for so long. 

A sacred place for me....
Another favorite place of mine is behind my parents' home on Route 111.  Deep hollows and dense forests span the landscape behind their house.  It is a rugged path that leads to some small streams that spill into Slate Creek; the hills are nearly vertical in some places with rock outcroppings.  As a kid, I would go down into the woods there and build small forts and other encampments as my imagination would dictate.  The most exciting features in those dense woods is undoubtedly the waterfalls that are nestled in the deep ravines.  The path to reach these natural wonders is treacherous and not easy at all.  Perhaps God made the path so difficult to navigate so the sites would remain unharmed, because they are not tainted with tourist markings.  The first waterfall is a sheer rock face approximately fifteen feet tall and can only be accessed from below stream safely.  Following the old creek bed, which is filled with rocks and ancient fossils, there is a Y-intersection with one way going to Slate Creek and the other going westward toward Owingsville.  Walking in the creek bed ravine is truly an awesome sight indeed, and the second waterfall stands as the pinnacle of the trip.  Standing around twenty feet tall and around forty feet wide, the fall's prominent feature is the rock shelter that cuts back into the hillside.  One can just imagine this being used as a resting point for early hunters or Native Americans.  I haven't found arrowheads or other artifacts there; only pieces of glass left behind from modern hikers.  There are no graffiti slogans painted on this shelter, but there are scorch marks from campers who have used the waterfall retreat to rest or come in from the elements.  I have used the shelter a few times to shield from the rain, or to just sit in it, quietly taking in the sights and sounds of the natural beauty around me.  Even though I and others have been to this place many, many times, it is on private property, so permission is always necessary.

 Bath County is full of history, most of it is right under our feet and we don't even know it.  We see the monuments and old buildings in town and know they are a reminder of another time; but what we don't pay attention to as often is the natural beauty or the reminders of the earliest forms of life as we know it.  The prehistoric relics are right under our feet, along the highways and creeks, ultimately telling the story of all of us and of what we see around us.  Eventually, the abandoned places will disappear, whether it be by natural process or developmental progress.  The natural beauty will last only as long as we will allow it.  I hope my children and theirs that follow understand and appreciate these sights as I have, and that the places I called sacred for so many years remain in their natural state for them to always see.
If our history and past are to be preserved, the future should stand with arms wide open ready to embrace.

Special thanks to my parents, Joyce and Tommy Kiskaden for allowing me to explore and be imaginative as I grew.