Friday, August 3, 2012

brother against brother ...

… cousin against cousin, father against son, Kentucky started out trying to be a neutral in the Civil War but finally officially fell in the Union camp, not that this changed the feelings of the people in the mountain counties, including Harlan. Composed mostly of mountains, Harlan had a long border with the Confederacy, marching a long way with Virginia and reaching along Tennessee to include the Cumberland Gap.

One hears little or nothing about Harlan County and its trials and tribulations during the Civil War except for the various battles at Cumberland Gap. After the war even that small fame was lost when the western part of Harlan that included the Gap was combined with a portion of eastern Knox County to form Bell County.

Throughout the war Harlan County and its surroundings were a battleground of sorts with Union and Confederate troops, partisans, bushwhackers and outright outlaws passing to and from foraging as they went, constantly skirmishing with whoever they found. Death, robbery, rape, starvation were rampant and fear must have been everyone’s companion.

The county supplied troops to both sides, Unionists principally from Martins Fork, Catrons Creek, and Wallins Creek areas and Confederates from Clover Fork and Poor Fork and the ground was ripe for personal feuds and grudges but presumably many thought that with the end of the war would come the end of this violence but this was not so.

In the May of 1865, Leonard Farmer wrote the Inspector General of Kentucky regarding the situation in Harlan County:

"We have not had a Circuit Court here in this county for three years, the court house has been burnt by Gurillas the Jail destroyed and bad men has controlled the county or near so. The Gurillas has nearly laid waste to the county by pilaging Plundering & Robbing who are now in small squads say from ten to twenty together who when times are suitable raids through the County and takes what suits their wicked purposes. these Gurillas are all well armed and men of the worst character and the Civil Authorities cannot apprehend them. The Sheriff are unable to serve process or arrest the Gurillas and cannot in a greater portion of the county collect the State Revenue. Harlan County is mountainous bordering some ninety miles on to the Virginia line and can be raided by bands of men from Lee County, Va. at any time they choose. When these robbers make raids they take arms, clothing, bacon & and where they find a man that bitterly opposes them they burn their house furniture and leaves the women and children without clothing or beds to sleep upon. The hardship that we have endured has been great, old men thats gray headed takes their blankets and lays in the mountain to avoid assassinated by these bands of robbers."

Attached to the letter was a list of 45 men willing to serve as a local militia. Many of the listed men were related to Farmer and most if not all were Unionists but then it is unlikely the Governor would have approved any Confederates for a militia at that point in time.

This makes interesting reading perhaps but take a minute now and imagine living with the constant fear that anyone coming down the lane to your home could be death or capture for you or yours. That men would come and simply take your food, your fuel, your husband and sons and perhaps assault or rape you and your daughters ...  this is I think especially important for those of us like myself who come from northern roots who may have had loved ones in battle but did not live it so directly themselves. Even those of the farther south did not live in so much danger for so long as those of the border counties and the mountainous counties suffered the most simply because geography made it possible.

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