Palace Saloon by Mort Kunstler
"A PAGE OF UNWRITTEN HISTORY"
Copied from "Campbell County History" as published in The Falmouth Outlook
April 27, 1979
A paper read by Mrs. Genevieve Shonert at an August 23, 1955 meeting of the Christopher Gist Historical Society.
Generously transcribed and submitted by Nancy Bray, thanks Nancy!
Our story begins this evening at Rouse's Mill, better known today as Peach Grove, Pendleton County, Ky. The time is April, 1863, perhaps the darkest hour for the Grand Army of the Republic. One must remember that not even the Battle of Gettysburg had been fought which was to come two months later, July 1-4 , and was the turning point of the war for the Union.
The Confederate cause, under General Robert E. Lee, had been most successful until that fateful time of Gettysburg. President Lincoln thought these first three years of the war had seen his county's cause suffer defeat time and again. His must have been a frightful experience, a living death, in this Civil War which had engulfed our country.
At this particular time of the war, General Ambrose Burnside was in command of the Grand Army of the Potomac. But his reign had ended in a dismal failure with his army's severe defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Va.
He sent his army against great odds, both in men and in terrain. Perhaps smarter Generals would have chosen a better battleground. But such was the fate of Burnside. And so it was that he was relieved by President Lincoln and replaced with Fightin' Joe Hooker. General Burnside was brought back to Washington where some place, an honorable place, must be found for him. Where was it? Cincinnati? And so in April of 1863, General Ambrose Burnside arrives in the Queen City to assume command, particularly with the intention of seeing President Lincoln's wishes carried out that Kentucky remain a neutral state. He came back home, shall we say, in an arresting, arrogant and ordering mood, not with standing that he was a defeated General. Though his appetite against Johnny Rebel had not been whetted in the East, General Burnside was determined that from his desk those who came within his command were going to jump. He opposed unprepared people now. There were no Lee's or Jackson's around Cincinnati or in Northern Kentucky.
We leave General Burnside's desk for the moment to bring us up to date with happenings of both the Union and Confederate causes here in Pendleton and Campbell Counties.
At Falmouth, the 18th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry was formed into 11 companies during the winter of 1861-1862. All of the Pendleton County boys who fought with the Union cause served in that infantry. They were stationed here at Falmouth for a time, principally to guard the Kentucky Central Railroad bridge. The recruiting was in charge of one Captain, later Major Abraham G. Wileman. The 18th Kentucky remained at Falmouth until April of 1862, when it moved out for Lexington where it was quartered until it moved into the Battle of Richmond, where it was badly defeated. But through the war, the 18th Kentucky served it's cause well, but principally on Southern battlefields including Chattanooga and with Sherman in his march to the Sea. Today, many of those noble veterans of Blue lay buried under their native sod in Riverside Cemetery at Falmouth.
Captain Wileman is described as a fierce fighter, afraid of no one. He was a natural born leader and served his country well. We leave him now, but will return to him later in our story.
And now to the early Civil War years in Campbell County and the Confederate cause. J. C. DeMoss, one of the county's leading citizens, in the summer of 1860, conceived the idea of raising an independent military company which idea he put into execution soon afterward, by enlisting 60 young men from the eastern part of Campbell County. These were of the best young men and from some of the oldest families in the county. The company was properly organized with an election of officers with Mr. DeMoss as Captain and William Francis Corbin, First Lieutenant. Hon. Beriah Magoffin was Governor of Kentucky at the time and General Simon Belivar Buckner was commander of the state forces. Application was made to them at Frankfort for arms and equipment and to be admitted, under the law, as a company of state guards. This was granted and the Campbell County Company was recognized officially as part of the State Militia.
The company proceeded to uniform itself in the regulation gray, and after a few months of drilling made a very presentable appearance and became a source of pride not only to the boys themselves, but to the citizens generally. Thus matters went on for more than a year.
Sometime during the summer of 1862, this company was called into camp at Camp Garnett near Cynthiana for the state drill, where with other companies of the guards, a week was spent in military instruction.
At this time the state had assumed the attitude of "armed neutrality", that is, that neither the Union Army nor the Confederate Army could occupy her soil as battle ground, nor for the purpose of quartering troops within her borders. It is needless to say that this position was of short duration and that it was not respected by either of the contending armies.
It was during the encampment at Cynthiana that the chivalry spirit seemed to take hold of Lieutenant Corbin. In fact, it was no disguising the fact that the sympathies of the men were almost unanimously with the southern cause.
About this time, General Kirby Smith of the Confederate Army made his
appearance in the northern part of Kentucky and was approaching Covington and
Cincinnati with a formidable force and to checkmate his movements the
commanding federal general at Ft. Mitchell ordered all available men, both
military and civilian, to report for duty to work in the trenches and throw up
breastworks for the protection of the cities. By this time it became
necessary for everyone to show his colors by either obeying this order or by
following his convictions to join the southern cause. Lieutenant Corbin
and about 25 men, chose the latter course and made their way through the Federal
line to Paris, Kentucky, where on the 25th day of September, 1862, they were
regularly sworn in as soldiers in the Confederate Army, joining Captain Thomas
Moore's Company, Fourth Kentucky Calvary.
Young Corbin was immediately commissioned a Captain, but without a command. He spent the winter of 1862-1863 with Captain Moore's Company in the mountains of Virginia.
Early in March, 1863, Captain Corbin was detailed to return to Kentucky to raise a company and after spending some weeks in Campbell and adjoining counties, and meeting with fairly good success, he started back to join his command with his recruits.
While on his way out, young Corbin was captured at the house of a man named Garrett Daniel, near Rouse's Mill in Pendleton County on the night of April 8, 1863. There was with him at the time, a comrade, Jefferson McGraw, a former resident of Falmouth, who had formerly lived in Campbell County and who had come into the state with him. He was also captured. It is understood that the arrangement between young Corbin and McGraw was, that they should meet at Daniel's house on the night of there capture and that Corbin and his recruits arrived on time. After waiting some little while for McGraw, and fearing that something had happened to him, he started his men on in the direction of Paris, preferring to wait alone. Simultaneous with McGraw's arrival, the Union Soldiers appeared and surrounding the house, made the capture. Thus it appears that Captain Corbin, in the kindness of his heart rather than desert a friend, took the chances of being captured and at suffering the penalty whatever that might be.
The Cincinnati Commercial on April 13, 1863 reported: "Lieutenant Nickerson of the 118th Ohio Regiment, with a squad of 13 men, captured Jefferson McGraw and another man in the neighborhood of Rouse's Mill. These men were sent to DeMossville." It also appears from this article that this squad of soldiers had been sent out from DeMossville on the Kentucky Central Railroad to reconnoiter the country around Gubser's Mill with the view of capturing James Caldwell, a Confederate recruiting officer, who was supposed to be in that neighborhood. While on this expedition, by some means, the company got on the track of young Corbin and McGraw, and traced them to the Daniel's home.
And back to our friend General Burnside, aching to get some action and successful action at that, in winning the war. In Cincinnati, General Burnside issued General Order No. 38 on April 13, 1863, five days after Corbin and McGraw were captured. This order said in part that "hereafter all persons found within our lines who commit acts for the benefit of our country will be tried as spies or traitors and if convicted will suffer death." This order included persons who carried secret mails and secret recruiting officers, within the Union lines.
General Burnside had come to the point in the war, for which he had been looking. Though he had been defeated at Fredericksburg, he was determined that he would not be defeated in the case of these two young Kentucky boys. He was going to punish Kentuckians for their recruiting and he was going to try these two boys according to his Order No. 38, issued April 13, despite the back that they were caught five days earlier, April 8th.
Young Corbin and McGraw should have been treated as prisoners of war and subject to exchange or imprisonment, and even friends of the Union cause believed at the time of the arrest that it would be that way.
But on April 22., W. F. Corbin and Jefferson McGraw were tried by court-martial in Cincinnati and sentenced to be shot on Johnson's Island, Lake Erie, 10 days later. This startling order stunned Northern Kentucky. It developed later that no other prisoners were ever executed under this order although a number had been sentenced.
The Military Commission to hear the Corbin and McGraw case was composed of nine Union officers with Captain J. M. Cutts, 11th Infantry, appointed as Judge Advocate by Major General Burnside.
Captain Corbin was tried first. He was charged with recruiting men within the lines of the U. S. Forces. He was also charged with being a carrier of mails. To these two charges, Corbin pleaded "not guilty". It must be remembered here that he, nor none of his friends believed that his case would be tried under General Burnside's Order No. 38
The testimony of Lt. S. A. Nickerson, 118th Ohio Infantry, at the trial,
was that he was in command of the detachment which arrested the accused. The
arrest was made in the edge of Pendleton County, Ky. on what is called the
"Washington Trace" on the morning of the 9th of April, near Ellis
Cross Roads and also near Rouse's Mill, between two and three o'clock in the
morning. The only papers I found in his possession was a commission from
one Humphrey Marshall and also a blank book with a blank form of oath on it, and
a list - supposed to be a list of recruits. His name W. F. Corbin
Recruiting Sergeant, was signed in the book, at the close of the blank oath and
signed W. F. Corbin in another place. I recognized the paper as what I
understand to be a recruiting commission, authorizing election of officers when
a certain number of men were recruited. There was no cross examination.
Private F. M. Stockdale, Co. B, 188th Regiment, Ohio Volunteers when testified; there were other men in the neighborhood where Corbin was captured, because the men who were caught said there were more, that if they had all been together, they would have given us a pretty tight rub. There was other fights and skirmishes in the neighborhood the next day. There were about 12 or 13 men, one of whom was killed, two others wounded, none captured.
Young Corbin cross examined Private Stockdale, asking if he or some of the other men who made the remark, "that if we had been together, we could have whipped you?" His answer was "I think it was you and McGraw, both together, who made the remark. I won't say positively which one."
Then Sgt. Penlo, Co. B, 118th Regiment, took the stand stating that in conversation with Corbin he had told him that he had been through the state before, and was one of the men that helped to burn the bridges on the Kentucky Central Railroad. He also said he had had a chance to burn the bridge at Berry Station and was d---d sorry he had not done it.
The accused having no defense or statements to make, the Commission cleared for deliberation. They returned having found the defendant guilty on all charges and sentenced him to be shot unto death, at such time and place as the Commanding General shall direct, between the hours of 12 o'clock P. M. of Friday, May 15, 1863, on Johnson's Island, near Sandusky, Ohio. Subject to approval of the President of the United States.
The record further shows:
"The foregoing sentence approved: A. Lincoln, May 4, 1863.
We want to point out here that Jefferson McGraw stated before he died that "I was not tried by court martial and supposed I would be treated as a prisoner." Thus we find that McGraw suffered his fate on the testimony offered against Corbin and was never permitted to testify in behalf of his own life.
With this startling results of the court martial known, steps were immediately taken to bring an influence to bear on General Burnside and President Lincoln, to have their sentences commuted from the death penalty to imprisonment for life, or a shorter time.
All who knew Captain Corbin knew him only to love and respect him, however much they may have differed on questions involved in the war. They knew him to be a brave, noble and generous young man, enjoying a reputation for good morals and good citizenship equal to the best. George R. Rule, Master Commissioner of Pendleton County, who was a messmate of Corbin said; "Will Corbin's camp life was not different from his home life. He was always a Christian gentleman. Everybody was his friend. An no wonder when they heard this report they were startled beyond measure and continually asked the question, "Is it an offense punishable by death?"
Will Corbin had a sister, Miss Melissa Corbin, who came to her brothers aid by going to Cincinnati to appear before General Burnside to plead to save her brother's life. But all her appeals were in vain. The General's only reply was that he had determined to make an example of these men and that the matter was out of his hands and only the President had the power to give the relief asked for. He would not even recommend to the President that the sentence be commuted to life imprisonment.
The President stated in the presence of J. C. DeMoss, Corbin's friend from Campbell County, that these men were bridge burners and bad men and should be punished and that he could not interfere with General Burnside's order. The fight was over. The two men were to die.
Subsequent investigations, later proved beyond a doubt that Corbin was not in the neighborhood of the locality where the bridge was burned. There is no bridge today at Berry Station though there is one close by at Boyd.
On the day Captain Corbin was to be shot at Johnson's Island, he led a prayer service in the morning, offering Scripture readings, a short talk, singing and prayer. He had been accustomed to doing this, he being an elder in the California Christian Church. Captain Corbin said, "that life to him was just as sweet as any man, but if necessary for him to die, he did not fear death; he had done nothing he was ashamed of; he had acted on his own convictions and was not sorry for what he had done; he was fighting for a principle, which in the sight of God and man and in the view of death which awaited him, he believed was right and feeling this he had nothing to fear in the future."
At twenty minutes past one the prisoners, securely bound, guarded by the execution party, accompanied by their escort and chaplain, left the prison and were placed in a two horse wagon, seated on a coffin, and proceeded to the beach, the band playing the Death March. The battalion formed in hollow squad, the execution party in the center, front facing the prisoners. Mayor Pierson and the staff on the right. The proceedings of the Court-martial findings and sentence were then read. The Chaplain then stepped forward, said a few words and offered a prayer. The condemned were then blind folded and at forty minutes past one, Corbin and McGraw paid the penalty of their acts. The execution party consisted of thirty-two men, divided in squads. The firing was excellent, the sixteen shots fired being as that of one man. The criminals fell back upon their coffins, each pierced through the breast, within a circle of a few inches by twenty-five balls and died without a struggle.
The bodies were then prepared for burial and sent by express to Cincinnati. Mr. DeMoss then accompanied the bodies from Cincinnati to California in Campbell County on the steamer Magnolia. Short funeral services were held at the Corbin homestead at California, conducted by Brother George Fisher, on of the pioneers in the Christian reformation.
Young Corbin was buried in the beautiful Corbin Cemetery overlooking the Ohio River and hills beyond. The cemetery today (1962) is enclosed by a fence and surrounded by beautiful cedar trees and on his tombstone is this inscription: "Died May 15, 1963, aged 33 years. In Christ is Our Hope." Melissa Corbin is buried about three graves from her brother and her stone shows she died August 12, 1906.
Young McGraw is buried in the rear of the Flag Springs Baptist Church Cemetery on Highway 10, a short distance from the Corbin private cemetery. A stone marker was erected there to his memory by Mrs. Basil Duke, Chaplain of the Daughters of the Confederacy. Mrs. Duke was the sister of General John Hunt Morgan, famous Confederate raider.
In the fall of 1863, Major Abraham F. Wileman of the Union Army, 18th Kentucky, was furloughed home to Knoxville in Pendleton County. This is a short distance from DeMossville where the Union Company got off the train in April to look for the Captain Caldwell, only to take up the trail for Corbin and McGraw. When Major Wileman arrived home, feelings ran high on both sides over the Corbin affair. One night while home, the bush-whackers and enemies came to Captain Wileman's home, we believe, in retaliation for the Corbin-McGraw affair. His widow, Parthenia Race Wileman, who later moved to Cleveland, Ohio and remarried, testified on pension papers in Washington, D. C. that he was killed October 5, 1863. The burial place of Major Wileman is not known to this day. (His grave has been found by Eric C. Nagel & Larry Ford in 1994 in the Marlboro Cemetery, Stark Co., Ohio) mb. Mr. Wileman was certainly innocent of the affair, being away at the time on the southern front.
The Union boys when returning home from the war and the Grand Review in Washington City, named their G. A. R. Republic Post at Falmouth in Captain Wileman's honor. The Confederate camp in Newport, bore the name of William F. Corbin Camp, No. 683 after the war.
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