Monday, May 28, 2012

A Return to Roots

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the location of some of my roots on my father's side of the family.  Parts of my family have been in Clinton County, Kentucky for over two hundred years, so it was nice to go back, see the sites and visit with some of my relatives. Of course, I have always looked for connections that my family had with the Civil War era, and in an an area like the Tennessee-Kentucky border one doesn't have to look too hard to find them. Here, warfare resembled that as was fought in Missouri, where neighbor fought neighbor and pre-war grievances were used as excuses to eliminate enemies.

Probably the most noted Civil War figure in the area was Confederate guerrilla Champ Ferguson.  Ferguson was born in Clinton County and was known as a rough and tough figure in the area. Despite most of his family choosing the Union, Champ chose the South and during the war became a terror to citizens that proclaimed any sympathy for the Federal cause. He moved to White County, Tennessee near the start of the conflict, but spent much of the war in region of his birth, hunting down those he believed were trying to kill him. He was convicted in Nashville at the close of the war for over 50 murders and was hanged.

My great great grandfather George Washington Boles's grave is in Cedar Hill Cemetery, east of Albany, Kentucky.  George was born just over the state line in Overton County, Tennessee in 1845 the son of John Boles, a former state representative and senator, and Matilda Beaty Boles, sister to Unionist scout (some say guerrilla) "Tinker" Dave Beaty. George rode with his uncle David Beaty during the Civil War as they fought against Confederate guerrillas such as Ferguson. George was apparently wounded in the hand during one of their fights with Ferguson's men, but in the end he lived a long life; he died in 1941. I remember coming to Cedar Hill as a child when my brother and I would spend summer visits our grandparents, but I don't think I had been back in over thirty years.

The Clinton County Courthouse was only one of a number of local government buildings in the Tennessee-Kentucky borderland that was set to flame. It was burned by Confederate guerrillas near the end of the Civil War. It is sad to think how much history was destroyed and went up in smoke with the building. 

This interesting highway marker on the Clinton County Courthouse lawn shows the locations of courthouses around the state that were burned. Of special note was the burning spree during John Bell Hood's Tennessee Campaign by Confederate cavalry general Hylan Lyon's men. Lyon was one of Nathan Bedford Forrest's subordinates and his path of conflagration is marked with red arrows.

As mentioned above, part of my paternal grandmother's family was located in Overton County (what later became Pickett County) Tennessee. During my visit last weekend I drove down to Livingston, the county seat of Overton County. I had hoped to find out some more information on George Washington Boles's father, John Boles. While I was disappointed to find that the Overton County Courthouse too had been burned by Kentucky Confederate guerrillas and many of the records destroyed, I did find out some interesting information that I will share in a later post after some more research.

This state-border region was ripe with divided sentiment. The best witness to this divisiveness is the 1861 Tennessee referendum on secession that was held on June 8, 1861. In that vote Overton County overwhelmingly voted to secede 1,471 (80.2%) to 364 (19.8%), however, their next-door county to the east, Fentress County, polled overwhelmingly the opposite; 128 (16.4%) for secession and 651 (83.6%) against. 

Also of note for Clinton County is that it was the birthplace of Kentucky Civil War governor (1863-1867) Thomas Bramlette (pictured above). Bramlette, born in 1817, studied law as a young man in Louisville and then returned to Clinton County and won a seat in the Kentucky legislature. He also served as the commonwealth's attorney during Governor John J. Crittenden's administration in the 1840s. Just before the Civil War he was a district judge. Judge Bramlette accepted a colonel's commission in the 3rd Kentucky Infantry, but resigned in the summer of 1862 and became district attorney for Kentucky. Chosen as governor in the fall of 1863, Bramlette, like most Kentuckians, vehemently opposed African American enlistments. His Lt. governor Richard T. Jacob was actually exiled to the South for his strident opposition to the Lincoln administration. After the war the conservative Bramlette pardoned many of the state's Confederates, supported the 13th amendment as he saw slavery as good as dead due to the war, but opposed the 14th and 15th amendments and the Freedmen's Bureau's involvement in the state.

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