Hopkins County Folk Lore
Unknown Almon of the Civil WarBy: Col. Marvin L Almon
Armchair Detective of Historical Mysteries
The following information was found on the Internet by my cousin, Mike Almon, a family historian, from Hopkins County, Ky., but now living in Logansport, Indiana.
I have added to this information thoughts and conclusions of my own, because Mike's genealogical investigations have led to a family mystery that deserves an attempt to be answered. It concerns a historical event in Hopkins County, and an unknown Mr. Almon, who was involved in the Civil War. It is the only evidence I have of an Almon serving on the Confederate side of the Great Rebellion. There probably have been others, but, if so, the evidence has not surfaced at the time of this writing.
Mike Almon, browsing on his computer, and searching for family tree material, found the item under the heading: http://wwnet.com/~krugman1/ligon/d801.htm 1. Any Almon family member seeking to join one of the organizations such as the "Sons Of The Confederacy," or something of that sort, might use this as evidence of their eligibility for membership.
Reading off the computer, it states the following from The Confederate Veteran page 220, from the Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee:
"D. W. Gatlin, Clerk, Hopkins County Circuit Court, Madisonville, Kentucky: In the early spring of 1865, eight Confederate soldiers were passing through the southwestern part of this county and stopped by with Mr. George Ligon for dinner. While eating they were surprised by a company of Federals, commanded by Sam Johnson. Four of these brave Confederates were killed. The others escaped. They were all Texans. The names of only two of the dead could be ascertained: Colley McCardwell, whose father was a wealthy Texan, and a Mr. Almon, whose first name was unknown. The four dead men were buried about four miles south of Nebo, Ky., where they remained until about two years ago, when they were taken up and brought to this place and reintured in the Oddfellows Cemetery. This was done by the following brave men: J. M. Stevens, J. L. Sims, Thomas Wingo, and William Barton. Mr. Stevens found seven brass buttons bearing an eagle and the letter "T" in the dust of what was once brave Colley McCardwell."
Now, the item on page 220 of The Confederate Veteran ends at this point, as far as the known facts are concerned. The first name of the mystery Almon has been lost in the dim, distant mist of time, and perhaps will never be ascertained. Not even the brass buttons of his jacket remain to offer a clue, as did those of Colley McCardwell.
We must now, if we are to do anything, turn to the realm of deductive conclusions, and deduce what we can from the facts at hand.
We are told that from a single pre-historic bone a scientist may construct the size, shape, and nature of some pre-historic animal that roamed the earth long ago. By the same process an imaginative mind, using logic, might fill in the gaps between the facts, as others might have surmised the nature of the missing bone from pre-historic days. That is what I have attempted to do.
Using deductive conclusions and a little imagination, one can almost see, hear and feel how it might have been in those last days - the last days of the Civil War. For it was 1865 when this death battle occurred. It was the last year of the Great Rebellion. The South was in shambles, and within a short time General Lee would surrender. The war would be over. If they could only last until then . . . .
Surely the reader has only to shut their eyes to begin that mental excursion that takes them back to that fateful day in 1865, and one can almost hear the clip-clop of the horses hoofs as those eight tired and hungry Confederate Soldiers rode through the woods, stopped their horses at the edge of the trees, and looked down at the clearing below. In the center of the clearing there was a farmhouse, worn but well-kept. A wisp of smoke curled from the stone chimney, and drifted upward. Surely dinner was cooking on the stove.
They didn't know it at the time, but the farm belonged to a Mr. George Ligon. The young Confederates were hungry, and probably hadn't had a good meal for some time. They had been riding through the woods, avoiding the dusty roads at all cost. They were cautious, even though they knew that many of the people in that part of Kentucky leaned heavily toward the Confederate Cause. However, knowing that was small comfort, because, regardless of what the general population thought, Unions troops were in command of the area, in great numbers, patrolling the roads constantly. The only way for a small band of eight Confederates to travel, was through the woods, to avoid being seen any more than was possible.
The leader of this band sat his horse somewhat wearily and debated the thought of leaving the security of the woods for the possible danger of the clearing below, where lay the farmhouse, with its curling smoke, cool water, and perhaps a good meal.
He eased his horse forward a few steps and noticed another path or trail, leading in another direction. It was not as worn, and he could see that it was less traveled. "Perhaps we should take that one." He thought, but his men were already talking about dinner, rest, and cool water.
He didn't know it at the time, but one of those paths led to life, the other to death and destruction. The call of the farmhouse was too strong. He urged his horse, forward, out of the woods, and down the trail that led to the farmhouse, where he watched the scene carefully, but everything seemed to be peaceful and tranquil. His men followed, the horses rustling the leaves along the path, while the path that led to life was silent.
George Ligon owned the farm, and came out to meet the Confederate soldiers as they rode into the yard, and Mrs. Ligon came out the front door to also greet them. Mr. Ligon could tell they were tired.
"Get down and rest, boys," he said,
The housewife, Mrs. Ligon, was sure they were hungry, and was quick to add: "Stay for dinner, too. I know you've rode too far already without having a hot meal."
"Thank you, Ma'am," the leader of the soldiers said, and tipped his hat before dismounting.
He and his men saw to the horses first, seeing that they were watered and tied in the shade. Then they lolled in the shade themselves, sat on the front porch and talked with Mr. Ligon while Mrs. Ligon made things happen in the kitchen, One of the younger family members could be seen chasing down a couple of chickens that were destined to be part of the dinner.
McCardwell and Almon ate with a hearty appetite, as did all of the men. It was old-fashioned country cooking, such as all of the men had been raised on.
"It tastes mighty fine," Almon said, and they all agreed.
There were eight Confederate soldier for dinner. It was the last meal for four of their number, for even as they finished their eating, a group of Union troops, led by Sam Johnson, was riding toward the Ligon farm house. In all probability, Johnson had seen the strange horses, eight of them, tied in the yard, and this had greatly aroused his suspicions. He was sure there were Confederate soldier inside. Also, by counting the horses, he was certain that he and his men had the Confederates greatly outnumbered. He had his men to spread out and circled the house.
"We're Federal troops!" Sam Johnson said when his men were all in place. "Come out and surrender!"
Inside the farmhouse the eight Confederate soldiers were caught unaware. They jumped from the kitchen table, grabbed their firearms and started taking positions at the windows.
"We can't fight in here," the Confederate captain said. "We're guests in their home and there's women and children here."
The leader of the Union troops called again for their surrender. This time, however, he was met by a blast of firepower, as the Confederates came pouring out of the house from all directions, windows, doors, and the back porch. The federal troops opened fire at the same time. Guns were blazing from all directions, as the eight outnumbered Confederates tried to get to their horses. Both sides were firing at everything that moved. One man fell, and he got up, dragging himself forward. Another man fell and didn't move. Some of the men were at the horses now, trying to get them untied. One man was killed trying to do so. But the horses were in a panic now, and uniting them was difficult. Another man fell, as a couple of Confederates managed to mount their horses, firing their pistols as they did so. Another Confederate was hit as he dashed out the front door, stumbled down the steps and fell. Two more managed to make it to their horses and escape,
emptying their guns as they rode away
When at last the shooting stopped, black smoke lay like a haze around the farm house, and the smell of gunpowder was everywhere. Four Confederate soldiers had managed to escape on horseback, and four others now lay dead in the yard of the farm house, killed in the federal troops ambush.
A search party was sent out to look for the four soldiers who had escaped, but it was unsuccessful. They had escaped and lived to be old men, telling the story perhaps to their grandchildren in their later years.
The four soldiers who had been killed were buried about 4 miles from Nebo, Kentucky. The names of only two of them were learned: One named Colley McCartwell, and a man named Almon, first name unknown. He becomes the Mystery Man in our family, and promises to remain so forever.
* * * * * *
DEDUCTIVE CONCLUSIONS: Now I fully understand that I owe the reader an explanation, to explain the elements of deductive reasoning I have used to complete this narrative into one that gives perhaps a fuller understanding of the events that occurred that fateful day. My conclusions are as follows:
Page 220 suggests that "the Confederate soldiers were from Texas". This was probably a false conclusion. If they were able to fully identify only one of the four men killed, and the other four made a complete escape, then they certainly didn't truly know where they came from, other than the fact that they were Confederate soldiers. When I write that the Confederates stayed off the nearby roads, I so conclude because the county was already under control of federal troops, and it is unlikely they would have traveled any other way. I suggest that they had a friendly reception at the farm of George Ligon because the records show the region around Nebo leaned heavily toward the Confederate Cause. Therefore, it is reasonably safe to conclude that they probably did receive a friendly reception. That they enjoyed their meal is a foregone conclusion, for hunted soldiers, riding hard and hiding out where they could, how could it be otherwise. It was probably the first hot meal they had had in some time. I stated that they probably watered their horses first. My reasoning is to ask what seasoned soldier would have failed to do the same. Seeing to the needs of your horse, before your own needs, was the first thing taught to a calvaryman, North and South alike.
I made mention of farm yard chickens destined to be part of the dinner. It probably happened. It was a farm. Farms had chickens. If one suddenly had, on short notice, 8 tired and hungry soldiers to feed, there is little question but that a few of those chickens would be in jeopardy. I also stated that it was "old fashioned country cooking" that was served. Knowing how life was in those days, can one imagine it being anything else? I suggested that the soldiers complimented Mrs. Ligon on her cooking and her dinner. These soldiers were all southerners, and known for good manners. You bet they complemented her on the dinner. I also stated that the horses might have given them away, which is probably a correct assumption, as well as the Union troops knowing how many Confederates were in the farm house by counting the number of horses.
My conclusion, again based on deductive reasoning, that the "shoot-out" occurred outside of the house, is as follows: Eight men, heavily armed, seasoned soldiers as they were after 4 years of war, could give a good account of themselves behind the thick walls of the farm house. Their object, probably, was not to win a battle in which they were greatly outnumbered, but to escape. Freedom, and perhaps life, lay outside of the farm house, where the horses were tied. Therefore, I surmise that the shootings occurred as they burst from the house and ran to their horses. When I write that the eight Confederate soldiers were outnumbered when Union troops surrounded the house, I do so because military rules of engagement do not normally suggest attacking armed resisters who are already behind a thick-walled fortress, (in this case, a farm house) unless the attacking forces has far greater manpower. When I suggest that a search patrol was sent out to search for the four Confederates who had escaped alive, there is little mystery about my surmise. To send out such a patrol would have been a common military practice.
A final assumption or conclusion is needed to ascertain the possible motives of the four men (Stevens, Sims, Wingo, and Barton) who, years later, saw to it that the remains of the four slain Confederate soldiers were moved from the Nebo, Ky., area, and reintured at the Oddfellows Cemetery, Madisonville, Ky. They probably were not personal friends of the four soldiers, or they probably would have made an attempt to identify them. Or, to put it more clearly, if they had been personal friends, there would have been no need to identify them, for they would have already known them. Therefore, I conclude that they were simply Southern gentlemen who had strong feelings for the Confederate Cause, determined to perform, even in their old age, an honorable act for their fallen comrades.
Now a few observations from my father, Marvin Almon, age 93, a Hopkins County native, now of Louisville, Ky., about several of the names mentioned in this story. Dad noted that it referred to a Mr. D. W. Gatlin, county court clerk. Dad had this to say: "Pappy's niece (his sister's daughter) Camye Carnes, married Homer Gatlin. We all called him Uncle Homer. I remember that Pappy (James Walter Almon} had a cap and ball rifle that he sold to Uncle Homer, and he was mighty proud of it. They later moved to Morton's Gap, Ky., a few miles away, but in the old days, we've gone out to visit them. I'm fairly sure that Uncle Homer Gatlin was kin to the D. W. Gatlin mentioned in the story."
Dad also offered the following about the men who reburied the fallen Confederate soldiers. "I used to know a Mr. Wingo. He lived out at the edge of Beech Hollow, about two miles west of Barnsley" he said. "I also remember a Frank Barton from about 1927. He was an elected county official, something that had to do with property and taxes. These men were undoubtedly kinfolks of the Wingo and Barton told of in the story.
My father Marvin Almon said Mr. Barton had a daughter that he (Dad) had worked with at one time during the Depression at Madisonville, Ky., making copies of county deeds and records, also for the county board of education. He feels that she too would have been kin to the Mr. Barton in the story.
But the real mystery that remains to this writer is this: Who was that Confederate soldier, that unknown Almon, whose memory, even today, lies lost in the dim and distant mist of time?
© Col. Marvin L Almon, 2001
1 This page is apparently no longer on Karen's website. Her homepage URL is: http://wwnet.com/~krugman1/.
Nancy Trice, © 2000