Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bitter Fruits of General Orders No. 59

Back on July 5 I posted about Union General and Commander of the Department of Kentucky Stephen G. Burbridge's General Orders Number 59. This order in part helped the general earn the unenviable sobriquet "Butcher" Burbridge. 

Burbridge was a native Kentuckian, born in Scott County in 1831, and like a number of Kentucky Union officers was a slaveholder. He had attended Georgetown College and the Kentucky Military Institute for his education and had made a living as an attorney and farmer before the war. He earned a name by fighting at Shiloh and Vicksburg, and then after returning to Kentucky, for battling John Hunt Morgan. In June 1864, Burbridge was placed in command of Kentucky and held the post until February 1865. In that short time he managed to stir up enough animosity among Kentuckians with harsh measures such as General Orders 59 and controversial political maneuvers that he was probably the most hated man in the state.

Some months back on the way to lunch with a colleague from work we drove by the Kentucky state capitol building and I noticed a state highway historical marker (pictured above) that mentioned a "Civil War Reprisal." I didn't stop to read the marker at that time and didn't make the connection until after doing some searching that it referenced General Orders 59.

On November 1, 1864 a unionist Franklin County man, Robert Graham, from the Peaks Mill community in the northeastern part of the county, was killed by Confederate guerrillas. The following day Burbridge ordered that four Southerners be executed in response to Graham's death. Detailed to be shot in a South Frankfort pasture owned by a Major Hunt, near where the present Kentucky state capitol building stands, were four innocent Confederates Thornton Lafferty, a Pendleton County political prisoner; Elijah Horton from Carter County, who had served in the 10th Kentucky Cavalry; Thomas Hunt and John Long of Mason County. After a spiritual word or two was given by Rev. B.B. Sayre, who was a Frankfort resident and the son-in-law of Edmund Ruffin. Apparently one prisoner managed to run before the command to fire was given, but was quickly shot down. The others were summarily executed. Hunt's body was taken back to Mason County for burial, while the other three were interred in the Frankfort Cemetery   

Doing some online searching for information about Burbridge, I ran across some mentions of monuments in the state related to General Orders 59. One such monument is located in the historic town of Midway, which is only about 8 miles from Frankfort. I was interested in seeing this memorial, so back on July 4 (a day off from work), I got up early to beat the heat and made the short drive to the Midway Cemetery. It was relatively easy to find the monument in the small graveyard. 

According to the National Register of Historic Places nomination form, the monument was placed around 1890, which was during the time of extensive Lost Cause memorialization in the South and Kentucky. In early November 1864, during a raid on Midway by Confederate guerrillas, a loyal citizen was killed. To uphold General Orders 59, four Confederate prisoners were selected and sent from Lexington to the small railroad town where the precipitating incident occurred. The four, two men named Jackson, a Rissinger and an Adams, were shot by firing squad in a public display on November 5. Initially the prisoners were buried in a shallow grave near the execution site, but later moved the cemetery at a local Presbyterian church, and then finally to the Midway Cemetery when the monument was placed in 1890.  

The "Midway Martyrs Monument" lists the names of the four victims of Burbridge's order. On the top of the obelisk it reads "Rest Soldiers Rest, the Warfare O'er." The base is engraved "Our Confederate Dead."

There is another "martyrs monument" in Eminence, Kentucky, which also is not too far from Frankfort, so I will try to cover it in a future post.

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