Christian County, Kentucky in the Civil War

Less than a decade and a half after the close of the Mexican war, the great civil war between the States broke out. Hitherto our wars had been waged against savages or foreign foes, but this was an internecine strife, wherein the “brother betrays the brother to death, and the father the son, and children rise up against their parents and cause them to be put to death.” It was without a parallel in the history of nations and dwarfs into utter insignificance the mightiest struggles of the past. It is not the purpose of this history to enter upon a discussion of the issues that led up to the war, nor to paint the horrors of its shifting scenes, but simply to give the humble part the people of this community took on either side. A late writer has truthfully said: ” All the evils of war, and all the horrors of civil war were crowded into those four dreadful years, 1861-65, and all the refined cruelties known to the science and civilization of the enlightened age in which we live were practiced by the opposing parties. But after four years of strife and bloodshed the olive branch of peace again waved over us, and now fraternal love and prosperity smile upon the land from one end of the nation to the other. As we become naturalized and `reconstructed’ to the new order of things, we find it a source of sincere congratulation that the object of strife between the sections is forever removed, and will never cause another war on American soil. In the final union of `the Roses,’ England found the germ of her future greatness and glory, and in the harmonious blending of ‘ the Blue ‘ and ‘ the Gray,’ who shall limit our own greatness and glory? “

As Christian did not lie along the immediate track of either army and was altogether unimportant from a strategic point of view, it was not made the theatre of any important military operation during the war. Only a few slight skirmishes occurred between the outstanding videttes of the armies, who from time to time occupied or passed through the various parts of the county. The most important of these occurred near the Western Lunatic Asylum, some time in December, 1864. A small detachment of Confederates, about 20,0 or 300, under Col. Chenoweth, of Gen. Lyon’s command, were in Hopkinsville at a ball given at the Phoenix Hotel, and learning that the forces of Gen. McCook were coming in on them by the way of the asylum, went out to meet them. They encountered them this side of the asylum, near the ” Battle House,” so named from the occurrence, and finding they were largely outnumbered, after a few rounds retreated in the direction of Trenton. In the encounter two or three on either side were killed and wounded. Gen. McCook came on and occupied the town and sent a company of about 100 men in pursuit. They encountered Col. Sypert near Bainbridge, who charging drove them back on the main force.

Some time afterward, in the same year perhaps, Col. Thomas Wood-ward, then under suspension from his command, somewhere down South, for insubordination, with a small, irregular force approached the town from the south, and ordered his men to charge on the Federals then occupying it. The men refusing to make the attack, and Woodward being under the influence of liquor, he put spurs to his horse and dashed in by himself. When near the corner of Main and Nashville streets, he reined in and sat looking about him, and while so engaged, was suddenly shot from an upper window of the two-story brick on the southwest corner, and instantly killed. His body was taken to Mrs. N. E. Gray’s, a relative near by, and afterward interred in the Hopkinsville Cemetery by his friends. (It may be remarked, by way of coincidence, that Paul Fuller, policeman, who is said to have killed Woodward, was afterward himself killed on almost the same spot, by one Parker, who was subsequently tried and acquitted.) Thus perished in the flower of his manhood, one of the bravest and most erratic of all the brave men who ever figured upon the soil of Christian County. Though not a native of the county, nor even of the State, he was largely identified with the interests of the community, having under him, from time to time, many of those who had gone from the county to follow the varying fortunes of the lost cause.”

Col. Thomas Woodward was a New Englander by birth, a West Pointer, and came to the county somewhere about the year 1847-48. He was a very accomplished scholar, and during the interim between his removal to the county and his joining the Southern army taught school at various points in the country. When the war broke out in 1861 he was among the first to respond and tender his services to the Confederacy, and remained actively engaged till his death, as above described. That he was both a cunning strategist as well as a cool, deliberate, hard fighter, is well attested by the following anecdote: ‘Some time in the summer of 1862 Woodward with his command, then numbering some 200 or 300 men, dashed into Clarksville, Tenn., and surrounded the college building, where Col. Mason was encamped with a much larger command, and so disposing of his forces as to impress the enemy with an exaggerated notion of his numbers, and planting a battery of mock pieces (logs painted and mounted upon wheels), which could not be distinguished in the early gray of the morning, sent in a demand for unconditional surrender. After some parleying Mason consented to the terms of capitulation, and turned over his command as prisoners of war. Learning the ruse that had been practiced upon him, but too late, he asked to be conducted into the presence of his redoubtable captor. Imagine his surprise and chagrin when first confronted with the petit and almost insignificant figure of his antagonist. A perfect Simon Tappertit in stature if not in legs, his long, flowing, unkempt locks of auburn hair, drooping mustache, and face and hands as black as a stevedore’s, presented a picture at the same time ” wild, weird and picturesque,” if not ridiculous. His tout ensemble was further made up with a belted arsenal about his waist, a long, dangling saber, and an exaggerated pair of boots that seemed determined to swallow him to the very chin. So absurd and uncouth was Woodward’s appearance at the time that, for the moment, the gallant but unfortunate Mason lost sight of his annoyance and mortification in the keener sense of the ludicrous that seized upon him. Approaching Woodward in a laughing way, he challenged him to go across the street to a gallery and have his photograph taken just as he was. Woodward acceded, had his picture taken, and generously presented his prisoner with a copy. Col. Mason on receiving it laughingly remarked: “I want to send it up North to my friends, to let them see to what a d****d insignificant little cuss I surrendered.”


Perrin, William Henry, ed., Counties of Christian and Trigg, Kentucky, Historical and Biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

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