An Owensboro Youth’s Misadventure
Updated: Dec 8, 2019
A few weeks ago I was researching some information on Colonel John McHenry and the Prohibition of the Return of Runaway Slaves in the Owensboro Monitor, and came across this story. I can't believe I missed it when I was doing the majority of my research for the book, so it will definitely be added. It is the story of a teenager that is supposedly swept up into the ranks of the 10th Kentucky Partisan Rangers during the events in and around Owensboro, Kentucky on September 19-20, 1862. He claims he is an innocent bystander forced to flee due to a misunderstanding. I'm not quite sure how true that is, as some of the additional information is suspect. In the days after the Battle of Sutherland's Hill, south of Owensboro, the 10th Kentucky fell back toward Ashbyburg, then south toward Hopkinsville, at least that is the story in the diary of Sgt. James Munday and one corroborated by other sources. I believe this boy mistook some other Confederate guerrilla band as the Partisan Rangers when he arrives in Caseyville. I have no idea when Colonel Adam Rankin Johnson returned to the regiment, but I do not think it was as soon as this anonymous boy writes, as he claims to have spoken with the Colonel himself. One thing that he does get right, is that when he first reaches the Confederate camp at Sutherland's Hill, the men there were extremely hungry. This is something Munday writes, but whether they acted the way the boy describes is still unknown.
What do you think? Did the kid just have bad luck, or is this just a poor excuse?
We publish below a letter from a youth who is an involuntary exile from his home. Though the letter is rather unfinished in style, yet it contains much that will be read with interest. We hope every rebel in the country will read it, and particularly ever rebel mother:
MR. EDITOR: I wish to set myself right before the public, knowing that they are laboring under a mistake as regards my whereabouts, and hoping that they may be interested in some things that I shall relate.
The day the guerrillas came into Owensboro two months ago (the guerrillas, I say for they are nothing more nor less), they forced me to ride around with them and point out the Southern rights men, for the purpose of asking them to fight for the battle on their side. They did not succeed very well, but they drew me into a close space-for they took a gun away from one of the citizens and forced me to carry it. When the guerrillas left town, they departed in such a hurry that they forgot me. I sent the gun to its owner and expected to remain at home, as I could prove that I was pressed to do what I had done. But some of the secessionists, pretending to by my friends (but their real object was to make the number of guerrillas one larger), crowded around me and persuaded me that the Federals would not listen to my assertions, but would lodge me in prison, there to remain during the war or until the light of life was extinguished, and held up before me such a dark picture that I concluded that I had better leave town until the excitement died out. So I did, and on my way I passed the guerrilla camp; it was supper time, and they seemed to be enjoying their breakfast, dinner, and supper, for the past two or three days in one meal, from the manner in which they snatched and fought over it.
Next morning the battle came off, and after the firing ceased I went down to the battlefield. The Federals were drawn up in line of battle on the hill on which the guerrillas encamped the night before. I could see the dead and wounded scattered over the field of action, but could not tell which there were the most of. I rode up to the Federal Surgeon and asked him the affair had terminated, but just then some of the guerrillas showed themselves near where I was standing, and the Federals fired a volley at them and I disappeared for fear that I might get hurt. I could hear the sharp whistle of the bullets as they passed by me. My little Mustang soon landed me safely out of danger; then comes the report that I was in the battle.
I went to the Southern part of the county and stayed two days, when I received a message to immediately leave the county, for if I made my appearance in town, a bullet would make my acquaintance-having a kind of horror for such an acquaintance, I did leave the county. I went to a private ferry to cross Green River; there was no boat except a small canoe; the men were all afraid to help me across the river, because they said the United States Government might make the a present of a hemp rope with a slip-knot at once end, but a woman volunteered to assist me across; she paddled the canoe and I led my pony, and when we reached the other side she assisted me in prizing my pony out of the mud with fence rails.
I entered Madisonville on my way to Caseyville, Union county, and there I found the guerrillas encamped; once inside of their pickets, there was no getting out. They kept me there five days, when I procured an interview with Colonel Johnson; he let me pass beyond the pickets, not because he was any better than the rest, but because he thought that I was of the right stripe and would return and join them, but I had no such idea after I had become acquainted with their way of proceeding; for there where they had ruined the country they did not have provisions sent in to them already cooked, but they only had side-bacon and corn-meal, and had no utensils for cooking-they were obliged to cook their meal, or meal-dough, in the ashes, and fasten a slice of bacon on a sharp stick and hold it over the fire to broil; they eat this once a daily. When any of them could get outside the pickets they would go to the citizens, press, steal or beg something to eat. They were obliged to lay out in all kinds of weather and not half of them had enough clothing to hide their nakedness. If a person had an overcoat or blanket, in cold or rainy weather, he was sure to have it stolen from him, for they would actually steal from each other. I went on to Caseyville, and it was not long before Johnson and his whole gang came also. They captured the mail-packet, Hazel Dell, rifled the mail and took everything off of her. They went to the groceries, dry goods and drug stores and threw down on the counters what they wanted and told the clerks to make an invoice of them, and a man called Col. Hall made out a receipt to the Quartermaster for the amount of each bill of goods. The merchants sent to the Quartermaster, or where the "Colonel" said their Quartermaster was, but found that there was no such officer among the gang. They remained in Caseyville but a few hours; the next day after they left the town.
Union troops and gunboats came to drive them out, but were too late, so the Federal commander concluded that the citizens had something to do with the affair, and he at first threatened to burn the town, but was prevailed on by the Union citizens not to do so. He arrested every Southern-rights man he could find and examined them before a committee of Union men. All that he could find guilty of anything, he held as prisoners; the number held was thirty-four-among the rest was your humble servant, as I was spotted to have run off from home and had come from Johnson's camp. We were all sent down to Cairo, Illinois, and after being in prison five days we were carried before the Provost-Marshal and tried. Four of us were released and took the oath; the rest were sent on. I cannot tell where. Our fare was pretty rough while on board the gunboat, but I can say that we were treated better than I expected prisoners were treated, and especially at the Cairo guard-house, for we all had plenty to eat and plenty of fuel to keep us war. A companion and myself were not put into close confinement; we were allowed to room with the clerk of the guard-house and to go to the hotel and get our meals. When we were released we went back to Caseyville, and from there I came up into Illinois. If I am asked my opinion now, from my experience, I answer: that the Southern Confederacy cannot surely stand. I am a Southern rights man, but these remarks are every one true. Let us own to the truth although it bears heavily upon us.
-A Youth of Owensboro