An Eyewitness Account of the Civil War
in Boone County, Kentucky
By John Uri Lloyd
Well do I remember that September day in the autumn of 1862. Without other object than to walk and look and breathe, to feel the sunshine on my head and the lazy breeze on my cheek, I wandered alone to the village limits, near the place where, six days in the week, slept the Church of the Disciples. Across the pike, in a corner of the old rail fence, I threw myself upon the tangled blue grass, the limbs of a drooping beech close above me, the little church opposite my resting place. In the distance, down the Knob-land pike, up rose now a cloud of dust, a mighty cloud that slowly lengthened, as if no other end it had than that which crept lazily toward me. Then I saw, as down the hill it came, that in the advance two men rode abreast, while behind them, unwinding from out the woodland wherein the pike disappeared, a troop of horsemen followed, rank after rank, two, three, four aside of each other. Closer to the fence did I creep, very close, and sank beneath the stake that held the rider, a little boy hid in the shadows near a great beech tree's trunk, peering through the rails at the strange men who rode toward the junction of the Stringtown pike. Covered with dust were the cavalrymen; no banner did they carry, no uniform did they wear, yet each man was armed with pistol-holstered belt, sabre and gun.
Slowly did the troop move up the hill; the two scouts far in the lead now threw themselves flat upon their horses' necks with heads close to the beasts' ears, and cautiously advanced into the edge of the Stringtown pike, the one looking North, the other South. And next, by a sudden whirl of their horses, back they drew and galloped to the column behind. A halt, a start, and before I could formulate a thought, the troop, close pressed together, clustered directly opposite the spot where crouched the child among the iron-weeds, and there, just at the junction of the pike, it formed a phalanx beside the white fence of the little Church of the Disciples, which hid the group from whomsoever might be down the Stringtown pike. Then up rose in the hands of one horseman a tattered flag, a mutilated remnant; torn and shredded had it been by battle charge, this faded bit of blue and gold and two red bars.
From where I stood I now saw leisurely advancing up the Stringtown pike a troop of cavalrymen dressed in blue, bearing proudly aloft a new bright flag of many stripes. This it was that had caught the eye of those two alert foreriders. No scouts were in advance, no guard with watchful eyes crept to the junction and peered down the Knobland road; no thought had they of Morgan or of Morgan’s men. In a body, four abreast, came these unconcerned, bright-buttoned men to the very junction; and then from out the troop of waiting rebels one man burst forward, one man only, the captain, pistol in hand. Alone he faced the troop and I heard him cry aloud, "Surrender!" I saw the leader of the men in blue spur his horse forward to meet the stranger, and then, as he caught a glimpse of the ambushing troop of Morgan's men and saw that tattered banner, came the answer, "Never!"
Two arms were raised, two pistol shots broke upon the air; then, before my eyes both men sank, first down upon their saddles, and then into the dust at the junction of the pike. But scarce had this thing come to pass, than the well-trained horses of the rebel band sprang forward as if but one were there; great was the din that from gun of both blue and gray now broke upon the air. A moment only did it last, this snapping of the many guns, for soon the surprised men in blue turned in confusion and retraced their steps, disappearing whence they came. But many horseless men lay now in the white dust of Stringtown pike, and many horses with empty saddles roamed at will. So suddenly had this thing come before my eyes and passed away that, possessed by a nameless spell, I gazed in charmed fascination, as if upon a pictured mind-play, scarce realizing what it was I saw. But when the gunshots ceased and silence fell upon the scene, I turned and fled into the beech-wood; thence I circled around the village and sought my home, the faces of those two captains yet before my eyes.
Later, when the noise of the conflict had died away and the dust upon the Stringtown pike lay quiet as before, and when my fears had somewhat given place to curiosity, together with others of our citizens, young and old, I ventured toward the place of the skirmish. Crossing the pike near the junction, I felt my bare foot slip. I turned and peered at the print; the track was red. I raised my foot; slimy red paste oozed up between my bare toes. I fled to the churchyard grass and vainly tried to wipe the stain away. Wounded and dead men were scattered in the shade of the churchyard locust trees, where rebel hands had hastily placed them. But the Confederates were raiders and could not remain to enjoy the fruits of their victory. Speedily remounting, they disappeared in the direction of Knobland whence they came.
Beneath the shadow of the church the two captains rested side by side. Timidly did I creep to him in gray, just beyond whom, with covered face, was laid the Union captain. The white dust of Stringtown's pike clung to the garments of both, and I thought, strangely enough, of a bluebird and a gray sparrow that I once saw flutter together in the dust, — but they left no red stain. The head of the rebel rested in a triangular space between three little briar stalks, and a blue cap was thrown over his face. Under one edge of its visor the untrimmed beard struggled to his chest; from beneath the opposite side bloody hair obtruded. A pool of blood sopped the short grass about the base of the briars and crept near the man in blue, where its edges mingled with the other crimson stain. I stood and looked down and wondered, wondered as childhood does when scenes such as these come into one’s child-life. Red was the blood of the man in gray, but not less red was that of him in blue; this I saw, this I thought and wondered at it all.
I shuddered and raised my eyes; the silent church was before me. I turned my head; the home of the coffin-maker faced me. Into my soul crept a strange sensation indescribable to this day. Feeling that blood-paste still, I crept away, mopping my foot on the grass, crossed the pike, and hid myself in the shadows of the beech-wood.
Our citizens took the wounded men into their little homes and cared for them tenderly; Blue and Gray were alike dear to us. The undertaker and the churchyard were near, and it made no difference to the owner of the shop at the junction of the pike with what color his wares were filled. But soon the tidings spread that two of the men who fought and died were not strangers to Stringtown.
The two captains were of our people. One was the neighbor on the right; love had drawn the rebel for a last farewell back; nearly had he reached his village home. The other was his friend of the cottage to the left, who had been led by duty through the village, past his home.
When the double funeral sermon was preached in the little country church, close together sat two mourning women, and by the side of each was a group of little children. The captains of the hostile bands, — he who gave the pistol to his neighbor and he who received it — had returned to their native village "to meet again."
Such as this is what war brought to our quiet village of Northernmost Kentucky; to us, who had no part in making war; to us, to whom — as neither North nor South can fully comprehend — the flag forever furled and the flag that ever waves alike are honored and must be forever dear.
[From Frank Leslie's Magazine, 1903.]