Because they joined after the 1862 Battle of Richmond and rode with John Hunt Morgan, a dashing Confederate cavalry leader from Lexington, history buffs often speak and write of the Madison men who were among Morgan’s Raiders.
However, there may have been just as many, if not more, men from Madison County who rode with the Union cavalry. Company K of the 1st Kentucky Cavalry (U.S.) and Company A of the 11th Kentucky Cavalry (U.S.) were mostly Madison County men.
Both the Confederate and Union armies had cavalry regiments known as the 11th Kentucky.
Most of the local Union men did not come from the large, slave-holding farms around Richmond, as many of the Confederate cavalrymen did.
The Unionists, especially those from Poosey Ridge, were what sociologists call yeomen farmers who worked the steeply undulating land along Silver and Tates creeks.
Many who survived the war were buried in the cemeteries of two churches on Poosey and two others along Silver Creek. Some of their graves are marked with military headstones furnished by the U.S. War Department after the war at the request of their families.
Monday was Memorial Day, a traditional day of remembrance that started not long after the Civil War, which claimed the lives of 600,000 men, nearly one of every five men of military age in the country.
Often called Decoration Day in earlier years, the date was an occasion for families to decorate the graves of those lost in the war. In the 20th century, the era of two World Wars and five regionalized conflicts, Memorial Day became a time to honor the dead of all wars as well as every relative who has passed on.
Dean Whitaker of Richmond, counts among his ancestors men from Poosey Ridge who rode with the Union cavalry, including two of his great-great-grandfathers, James M. Whitaker and Sydney Barnes.
J.M. Whitaker survived the war and is buried in Gilead Cemetery. Barnes died of small pox in a Confederate prison camp.
With Memorial Day approaching, he recently visited the Gilead and Salem cemeteries to talk about some of the county’s history that has largely been forgotten.
Until his wife Vicki began doing research for the Madison County Historical Society and genealogical work for members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Whitaker said he knew only bits and pieces of his family’s history. It had been passed verbally across the generations, becoming less detailed with each retelling.
Two out-of-print books, however, provide some documentation of what the Union men of Poosey Ridge and surrounding communities did in the Civil War and list where they are buried.
“A Story of Four Churches and Reminisces of Poosey Ridge,” published in 1946 by Forrest Calico lists the known burials to that point in the cemeteries of Gilead Baptist and Salem Christian on Poosey Ridge. The other two are Corinth Christian and Friendship Church on Silver Creek between the Poosey and Baldwin ridges. Of the three churches, only Friendship has ceased to be an active congregation.
A history of the First Kentucky Cavalry (U.S.), published in 1894 by Sgt. Eastham Tarrant of the regiment, provides other details.
Although many Kentuckians vainly believed their border state could remain neutral in what some call the “War Between the States,” Union sympathizers, including many from Madison, Garrard and Casey counties, made their way to Camp Dick Robinson near Lancaster in 1861. There they trained and were secretly provided arms by the Lincoln administration. The camp commander was a former Navy captain, William “Bull” Nelson, who had been commissioned a brigadier army general and would command Union forces at the Battle of Richmond the following year.
The 1st Kentucky Cavalry formed at Camp Dick Robinson. Its Company K included about 30 men from Madison County who followed Capt. Nelson Burrus of Casey County there under the Union banner.
Burrus’ company was the only cavalry unit to charge as ordered at the Battle of Perryville and prevent a rout of McCook’s Corps, according to the “Four Churches” book. He survived and is buried in the Friendship Cemetery.
Col. John G. Pond of Round Hill preached at the Gilead church on Poosey Ridge before the war and supported the anti-slavery work of Cassius M. Clay and the Rev. John G. Fee, founder of Berea College.
Pond formed Company A of the 11th Kentucky and was wounded in action. Both of his sons served the Union, and one was killed because he “refused to retreat before the Rebels.”
The elder Pond volunteered to command “colored troops” for the Union, despite the threat of Confederates to execute any captured white officer who commanded black soldiers.
After the war, Pond continued to preach, but also used his military prowess to help suppress the terrorism of Ku Klux Klan night riders in Madison County.
The Bluegrass State provided more fighters for the Union than the Confederacy, although the state became more sympathetic to the Southern cause after the war.
Whitaker can point to Confederate as well as Union men among his ancestors. That intermarriage is representative of the healing that took place after the bitter struggle that truly was a “brothers’ war” in Kentucky, more so than any other state.
Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@
richmondregister.com or at 624-6622.