When the Civil War began, Wolfe County was less than a year old. Created on July 1, 1860, it was formed from parts of Morgan, Breathitt, Owsley, and Powell Counties. It included parts of present-day Menifee and Lee Counties which were formed in 1869 and 1870, respectively. The two principal towns were Hazel Green and Compton. Hazel Green was founded by William Trimble, a veteran of the War of 1812, on land he had bought for 5 cents/acre. This tract of land was originally called Trimble's Store, which was located on the corner of present-day Main and State streets. William laid out the streets, sold lots, and was the town's first post master, a position he held for 24 years. William Trimble was a true entrepreneur, who farmed, raised hogs and cattle, dealt in land and slaves, and sold fur and farm products. He also established several industries such as tanneries, lumber mills, and spinning and weaving works. By the time Hazel Green became an established town in 1849, with 27 lots, William Trimble had become a very wealthy and influential citizen.
When Union forces under General William "Bull" Nelson arrived at Hazel Green on October 23, 1861, Nelson commandeered William Trible's home as his headquarters. At the same time, part of his troops moved on a Confederate force under Capt. A. J. May at West Liberty, taking the town after a sharp fight. Nelson noted, "The jail at that town was found with sixteen Union men in it, also five others who had just been captured were in the street under guard. Of course they were promptly released. At this town, the surprise was complete - We captured a few notorious fellons, amongst whom were several Trimbles. One of them Shelton Trimble had been out on a "Man hunting expedition," only a week since and had taken a Mr. Hurst, a man of 50 years of age and had taken him to the West Liberty jail, where we found him. Mr Shelton Trimble can now ruminate upon the mutability of human affairs in general, and his own case in particular, for he is in chokey now, and Mr. Hurst is at liberty."
Aside from David Shelton Trimble, his brothers Green and William Trimble, as well as several other wealthy and influential men who were residing in and near Hazel Green, Kentucky, were arrested by Nelson and charged with treason. According to an article in the Richmond Daily Dispatch, the men, "were brought before US Commissioner R. Appleton, at Mt. Sterling, for trial. All the accused were discharged by the Commissioner excepting David S. Trimble, who was held to answer to the charge of treason in the United States Court at Frankfort next May.--His case was brought before Judge Ballard in Louisville. After hearing the testimony, the Judge allowed him to give bail to appear and answer the charge at Frankfort, in May, in the sum of $5,000. He executed the bond, and was discharged from custody."
Mr. Hurst refered to by General Nelson was Samuel Henry Hurst, the 61 year old patriarch of the Hurst family who lived a few miles from the Trimbles on Stillwater Creek. Samuel Hurst was described as "one of the strong, two-fisted men of his generation, usually settling disagreements in physical combat." Samuel left his native Virginia in 1818 after biting off another man's ear during a fight. Samuel fled into Kentucky and first settled in Breathitt County. He married Sarah Sally Landsaw, on July 11, 1825, in Morgan Co. KY and later settled with his family on Stillwater Creek in Wolfe County. The Hurst family was prominent in public and business affairs in Eastern Kentucky. When the Civil War began, Samuel and three of his sons, William L., Henry C. and Daniel D. Hurst fully embraced the Union cause. Noted William, "Notwithstanding the fact that my father Samuel H. Hurst, and myself were owners of slaves and fully realized that the freedom of them would seriously cripple us financially, we together with my brothers and other members of our family decided to uphold the Union and were opposed to the Confederacy."
After "scouting and dodging around till the early part of 1862", William L. Hurst received a commission to raise a Company of 100 men. Recruiting began immediately and by early May 1862, Hurst had 23 recruits. On May 5, 1862, supplied with arms at Mt. Sterling, Hurst and his group were on their way from Stillwater Creek to Red River country to rendezvous with another group of recruits, when they were ambushed a few miles below modern-day Lee City, by a group of Confederate recruits, led by Captain John J. Marshall. After a sharp skirmish, the Confederates retreated but it left Hurst badly wounded, with a shot through the eye. Later that night, Hurst and his father Samuel were captured by a group of 43 Confederates and taken prisoner. Despite William's desperate condition, they were taken to Abingdon and later to Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. For the next eight months, Samuel Hurst and his son William would be guests of the Southern Confederacy until exchanged in November 1862.
Back home in Wolfe County, Daniel D. and Henry C. Hurst were continuing the fight. Noted William L. Hurst, "My brothers were driven from home and were fighting the enemy. They were trying to combat the Rebel Guerrillas and other Rebels, who were murdering loyal citizens, not in arms, and taking their property and burning their homes. Their's was a strenous life, always on the go, dodging and fighting." Members of this group, numbering about 100 men, included John M. Gose, Francis Marion Vaughn, Arch Childers, Sam Taulbee, Charles Little, Dock Trimble, Sanders Halsey and Jerry King.
Meanwhile, the Trimbles had not been idle, either. Nelson's visit did obviously little to deter the family from continuing their support for the Southern Confederacy. Documents from the Confederate citizens files show that the Trimbles aided the Confederates throughout the war, from 1862 to 1864 supplying goods and services to the Southern Army.
In 1863, guerrilla activity was on the rise and the warfare grew in intensity. One of the main players was John T. Williams who was born October 24, 1822, a son of Squire John T. Williams. He owned a 1,000- acre tract of land In Morgan County, at Liberty Road, near the mouth of Caney Creek, a few miles from the county seat town of West Liberty. In addition to operating his large farm, he ran a watermill and dealt in livestock. By the time the Civil War began, John T. Williams was a well-to-do citizen. In early fall of 1862, he raised Company A, 2nd Battalion KY Mounted Rifles. According to Williams, his company was "engaged in fighting the Home Guard of KY ever since its organization during the time killing 30 and taking forty prisoners. One member of (the) Co. was shot by the Enemy in retaliation for the death of a notorious leader of the Home Guard."
Captain John T. Williams
On February 7, 1863, John Desha Nickell, a known Morgan County Union sympathizer, was killed at his home by members of Williams' Co. A, 2nd Battalion KY Mounted Rifles, lead by his second cousin John J. Nickell. Two days later, John J. Nickell, Lewis Henry, Jr. and John Calvin/ Colvin, under orders from Capt. John T. Williams, were sent to arrest Logan Wilson, another Union sympathizer from Morgan County. They returned without the prisoner, claiming that Wilson had been shot trying to escape.
On September 28, 1863, a squad of rebels, led by Jacob L. Edwards, a deserter from the 1st Battalion KY Mtd. Rifles, ran into Camargo and captured Pleasant Martin, Asbury Nickell, Charles Little, Reason Grayson and Robert Nickell, and took them to Sycamore bridge near Ticktown. Here the prisoners were lined up and told that they were to be paroled. The rebels had the men cross their hands on their breasts, telling them they were about to administer the oath but instead they placed their guns against them and fired. All were killed dead except Robert Nickell who was shot near the right nipple, the bullet exiting about five inches lower in the back. He fell off into the creek and they fired three more shots at him, one bullet struck his arm. He played off dead and they left him. Next, the rebels reached the home of Jacob Stephens and robbed him of his pocket book with about $30.00. Then the rebels shot him and left him for dead. Fortunately, Stephens survived the assault. Edwards and his men went on and caught a man named Jenkins. According to sources, "the treatment they gave him was much worse than death. They took all privileges from him that was allowed a man by nature and told him that if that did not kill him they would come back and finish the job."
The Union authorities made a concentrated effort to deal with the increased guerrilla activity and employed the newly formed 40th KY Mounted Infantry, 45th Mounted Infantry KY and the 5th OH Independent Cavalry Battalion to scout the area.
On October 2, 1863, 50 men of the 5th OH Independent Cavalry Battalion left Mt. Sterling and went on a scout expedition. The squad proceeded as far as West Liberty, where they arrived on October 5, 1863. The troopers stopped at Green Howard's cabin, "the place where guerrillas resort", but found the place deserted. According to reports, Howard had whipped an old Union man nearly unto death, and scalped a soldier of the Tenth Kentucky Cavalry the day previous. The troopers burned everything visible, and as soon as the fire began the rebels commenced firing from the mountain at long range but they were too far to do any damage. The squad returned a few shots and left.
The following morning, the squad had passed through West Liberty en route to Morehead, and were crossing McClannahan Hill, about four miles northwest of West Liberty, when they were ambushed and fired upon from a concealed point by John T. Williams' men who had cut across the river and reached McClannahan Hill ahead of them. The shots killed one man and wounded two. When the squad returned fire they, "killed the notorious Asa Swin, a most daring and desperate man, and the only one that dared to show himself."
The Union forces continued to bring in guerrillas but not all of them were necessarily turned over to the proper authorities. At the beginning of November 1863, two guerrillas were executed in Mt. Sterling without a trial.
In the early morning hours of November 12, 1863, while on another scout in Morgan County, the 5th Ohio Cavalry Battalion was attacked by Captain John T. Williams, from the bluffs across Licking river overlooking West Liberty. A few shots were exchanged and the 5th Ohio went into hot pursuit. Noted one of the troopers, "We followed over mountains, down ravines and through pleasant vallies, exchanging shots every opportunity, but we could not catch him, his horses being used to the mountains while ours were not. At one place his command was going up a mountain and we were going down one facing it, when a lively little fight ensued across the hollow. J. T. was wounded in the arm and on he went again. We learned of his wound afterwards from a lady at whose house he stopped to have it dressed, and he asked her "if she had seen the Yankee hounds after the reb fox." The chase was finally abandoned ten miles from West Liberty.
On January 27, 1864, part of the 45th KY Mounted Infantry, supported by Captain Henry C. Hurst's company of homeguards went on a 13 day scout into the area of Wolfe, Morgan and Magoffin counties. Their first target was the home of Wash Goodpaster, where they made a charge on the house and captured some nine or ten prisoners. The men continued on and put up for the night at the house of James Milton Cecil. Meanwhile, the Guerrillas had come in behind them and set fire to the home of Marion Vest's widow Mary Ann, which was some miles away. 20 men were at once detailed and went in pursuit of the guerrillas and surrounded them in the home of Big Jim Stamper. In the fight that ensued, Stamper was killed. The guerrillas surrendered and were taken prisoner, including Jacob L. Edwards. Noted Daniel D. Hurst, "We were all very happy over getting Edwards in our custody. Many of the boys wanted to kill him on the spot; but our Captain would not permit it. He said not to worry that he would get what was coming to him when we turned him over to the proper authorities."
The next morning, the scout resumed. Proceeding to the ford of Caney Creek, they encountered Green Sexton and a man by the name of Thomas, two regular Guerrillas. Shots were exchanged but Sexton and Thomas managed to escape. Next, the men went to the home of William Cox and surrounded the house. A man by the name of Hamilton ran out and fired on the soldiers who immediately opened fire on him, killing him instantly. When his body was examined it was found that he had been struck by 27 bullets. The following morning, part of the force proceeded to Salyersville but abandoned any plans to continue the scout upon hearing the news that Peter Everett was only a few miles away with a much larger number of men. The men returned to Mt. Sterling on February 9, 1864, having captured 19 prisoners and 25 good horses. Noted Captain Henry C. Hurst, "We gave the Guerrillas a plain hint of what they would get next time. There are plenty of them in the mountains and we intend to keep them in hot water."
As the Union forces were keeping up the pressure, the effects were starting to become apparent. "They bring prisoners in almost every day," wrote Captain Henry C. Hurst on February 25, 1864 from Mt. Sterling, "and many others come in and take the oath of allegiance." Nevertheless, Union sympathizers did not feel safe at their homes and many of them were moving from the mountains to the relative safety of Mt. Sterling and beyond. Being driven from his farm in Wolfe County by John Osborn, Arch Childers moved to Boyd Station in Harrison County, KY. After being robbed by the rebels, George Phillips and his family, as well as Dick Wilson and Morris Nickell, left and went to Mt. Sterling in February of 1864. On February 11, 1864, Samuel Hurst's son-in-law James S. Kash, who lived on Rockhouse Fork of Stillwater Creek, wrote, "The Rebels keep up their game of robbing and killing in that part of the country and it is going on at such a rate that I intend to leave Wolfe County till the War ends some way or the other. I am now in Mt. Sterling for the purpose of renting a farm."
Samuel H. Hurst, too, left Wolfe County in February 1864, and bought a farm at Mt. Sterling, moving his family and belongings by wagon, under protection of a guard. Hurst's new home at Mt. Sterling served as a safe haven for many. Noted his son Henry, "Many of the kinfolks from the mountains stay with us when the Rebels run them away from home. Father is always glad to see them and give them shelter till they can make other arrangements."
Shortly before his move to Mt. Sterling, Hurst was approached by William Trimble. "Old Bill Trimble solicited me strong, to come back and live at home," noted Samuel, "and he said he would get from 50 to 100 signers and send it to the Southern Headquarters and have it confirmed so that I should be protected for he said he also wanted me back to protect him. I told him that did not suit me, the hardest might fence off. I was going to take my family off and he might shift for himself. I made no compromises." Trimble and his daughter-in-law Eliza then pleaded with Hurst to spare his son Asberry, "and let him come in and talk with me a little while. Berry was then laying out. I told them to fetch Berry in and I would not hurt him."
Samuel's son Daniel agreed to the deal but his son Henry was not in favor of the suggestion, "so Berry did not appear." Hurst was in company of Lt. Hendrickson of the 45th KY and his men. Hendrickson told the Trimbles, that, "he was going back to Salyersville and he was going to send me home with 10 bodyguards with me and he wanted them to understand that if any on interrupted me or hurt me in any way whatever, on his return that he would kill 50 cecesses and if he could not find men enough he would make his number out in women and children and he would begin in Old Bill Trimble's house first. Old Trimble said good God Sam, stay with me till the Company returns for if any thing happens to you he will kill us every one. I went home and stayed two days and nights unhurt."
Asberry Trimble finally met his end on the morning of Oct 15, 1864, when he was shot and killed by his brother-in-law Edward Hensley, while hurrying to put some blacks to work at the vats in the Trimble tannery. The tannery was located about 100 yards from his house at the west end of his homestead near the Red River bridge on Main St in Hazel Green. He left behind a widow and a six months old son, South Trimble.
In 1870, his widow moved from Hazel Green and purchased a bluegrass farm in Franklin County, KY. South Trimble later was the leader of the legislature during the Goebel dispute and afterwards Clerk of the US house of Representatives.
When the war finally ended, hostilities did not necessarily cease between the opposing parties. As the majority of people settled down into their lives, some incidents still occured that illustrate how unsettled things still were.
Floyd Wesley "Wes" Purcell was a member of Co. B, 10th KY Cav. (Diamond's) when he was captured on Feb. 15, 1864 in Morgan Co. KY. He was received at the Military Prison Louisville from Mt. Sterling, on March 18, 1864, with the following remark in his papers, "committed murder and has been guerrilla". On October 25, 1864, he escaped from the hospital in Louisville and managed to stay hidden until the war's end. He returned to Morgan County and settled in the part of the county which is now part of Menifee County. Purcell still had some scores to settle with the Coopers from Magoffin County who he hated intensely and sent word to the family that he had killed one of the damn Coopers and that he would kill John E. Cooper next. His great-nephew Cyrus R. Cooper related, "Uncle John was not afraid of him man to man but he was afraid of being ambushed. After receiving several threatening messages from Pirsell and his gang, he and Uncle Milton decided to take things in their own hands. Hearing that Pirsell was staying in some 20 miles of West Liberty, they set out to pay him a visit. Needless to say they were well armed and had good horses to ride. They arrived at the house where Pirsell was staying about 2 o'clock in the morning. They yelled for Pirsell and opened fire on him. They shot him seven or eight times. Uncle Milt used to say that he bounced every time he was hit. After examining Pirsell to be sure he was dead they got on their horses and rode back to West Liberty. They were never indicted for shooting Pirsell. Most everyone thought it was good riddance."
William Osborn, known as "Bad Bill", swore to avenge the death of his father John Osborn, who was killed during the war. He eventually was able to determine the names of some of the men who were present when his father was killed and thus began the work of attempting to eliminate them. It is said that he kept continuously after them and that after a few years he had succeeded in killing three or four, and others felt compelled to leave the area, including Francis Marion Vaughn and John M. Gose. Arch Childers never returned and remained in Harrison County, Kentucky for the rest of his life. "Bad Bill" made many plans and attempts to kill Henry C. Hurst, but never succeeded.
G. W. Long was deputy sheriff of Wolfe County since the war. Noted Thomas Treadway, "I heard a few Yankees say that they did not like to be dunned by a rebel that was opposed to law and order.." It was general rumor that Long had harbored two rebel guerrillas during the war, Henry Wells and "Red" James Spencer, who murdered Miles Kincaid, at his rock house in his bed, on August 16, 1864. Noted Treadway, "The intimation was that if he (Long) came into our neighborhood collecting taxes, they would bushwack him."
Existing difficulties also became apparent during the elections of 1867 and 1868.
In the 9th Congressional District, which embraced the counties of Lewis, Greenup, Fleming, Morgan, Rowan, Carter, Boyd, Magoffin, Pike, Johnson, Lawrence, Floyd, Montgomery, and Bath, voters were discouraged from casting their vote for Republican Candidate Samuel McKee, a former Union captain. In Morgan County, a man named Absolom Candill told Frank Hunter that he was afraid to vote for McKee, for fear he would be killed. "Since that time he has been driven from his home, noted Hunter, "in consequence of his Union sympathies; lay out in the woods to keep him from being killed and has left his home and moved away on this account, as he told me. Candill had been a soldier in the Union army for four years, and I was very anxious for him to vote."
In Johnson County, the majority of voters voted for McKee, except at Flatgap, where a large majority voted for the opposing candidate John D. Young and Union men were run away from the polls by returned rebel soldiers.
Difficulties also arose during the November elections of 1868 in the 8th Congressional District, which included the counties of Breathitt, Clay, Estill, Garrard, Harlan, Jackson, Josh.Bell, Knox, Laurel, Letcher, Madison, Owsley, Perry, Pulaski, Rockcastle, Whitley, Wayne and Wolfe.
James Dixon recalled the election at Breathitt Co. KY, "I was with some five men on the evening before the election who were good Union men. William McIntosh, Henley McIntosh, Jonathan Stamper, Wesley Stamper, and Bud Stamper; they all told me they were coming the next day to vote for Grant and the party - Grant party - and for Barnes...I assured them that if they would come on and vote that they should not be hurt if I could help it. They did not come...I was told by some good Union people I believe as ever lived, that if they were me they would not go to the polls to vote; that I would be bullied away from the polls. I told them if I was kept away from the polls, I would be kept away dead."
In the years after the war, some places were plagued with feuds, which in many cases were simply a continuation of hostilities between families who were on opposite sides during the Civil War. As for the remainder of the population, people tried to pick up the pieces and get back to work. Eventually, peace once again returned but memories of the war remained vivid and would never be forgotten by those who had lived through the nightmare.
Researched and written by Marlitta H. Perkins, June 2011. This specific article is under full copyright. Copyright © 2011, All Rights Reserved.