Civil War in Carroll County, Kentucky

This article was published in the Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky, 2009, University Press of Kentucky


The Civil War in Carroll Co. Alarms, rumors, and anxiety swept through the Ohio River counties of Northern Kentucky in the months leading up to the Civil War. In late 1860, a local militia of about fifty men and boys, calling themselves “The Invincibles,” was created in Ky. at Hunter’s Bottom in Carroll Co. These young men included Capt. W. J. Hoagland, First Lt. William H. Bradley, Second Lt. Henry Spillman, and Third Lt. Jarrett Banks. They were organized as part of Simon Bolivar Buckner’s Ky., State Guards. Brothers Harvey, George, and Clinton Conway were among the privates.

Within months, Buckner, who rejected a commission in the Union Army to become as Confederate brigadier general, had taken most of the Ky. Guards and their arms and equipment into the Confederacy. From “The Invincibles,” eight went into the Union Army and sixteen to the Confederates. Many of the boys from Hunter’s Bottom eventually joined Col. Henry L. Giltner’s Fourth Kentucky Cavalry, CSA.

In September 1861, a number of men from Carroll Co. rendezvoused with General Buckner and the Confederates at Camp Boone including Moses T. Pryor and his brothers-in-law Gideon B. Giltner and Henry Liter Giltner. Almost immediately, Gen. Humphrey Marshall appointed Henry L. Giltner as his aide de camp.

In summer 1862, as Major Gen. Don Carlos Buell of the Union chased Gen. Braxton Bragg of the Confederacy from Tenn. into Ky., the Confederates were mounting a major recruiting drive in central Ky. Col, (later Gen.) John Hunt Morgan, commander of the Second Ky. Cavalry, CSA, and Gen. Kirby Smith among others were convinced that thousands of Kentuckians around the Bluegrass would swarm to the Confederate cause.

Meanwhile, Union troops were being deployed and trained in Ky., and Union Home Guards were being equipped. This led to a number of skirmishes in the lower regions of the Kentucky River. From June 20–23 1862, Confederates were sighted in Owen Co., and on August 31 a skirmish took place near Monterey, Ky., along the Kentucky River. Carroll Co. was full of news and rumors.

In July 1862, Henry L. Giltner, previously the Sheriff of Carroll Co., now a CSA Col., and Captains Moses T. Pryor, Nathan Parker of Bedford, Ky., Peter Everett of Montgomery, Ky., and sixteen other officers sought additional Confederate troops, especially for the cavalry. Although the overwhelming sentiment in rural Carroll Co. was in favor of the Confederacy, the CSA recruiters found a substantial number of entrenched Union forces in the region. They were part of the Union troop positioned along the Ohio River in defense of General Bragg’s incursion.

On September 17, Giltner, astride his dapple-grey warhorse, “Billy,” led about one hundred Confederate cavalrymen into Carrollton, Ky. In an act of retaliation for the recent arrest of rebel leaders [Thomas] Dugan, Southgate [probably William, John or James Southard], and Barnum [Edwin Burnham], the Confederate calvarymen seized the courthouse, tore down Union flags and hoisted the Confederate flag, arrested a number of citizens, including Charles Emery, R. H. Jett, and Monticue T. McClure, and hunted unsuccessfully for the Provost Marshal, Benjamn E. Archer. A number of Union supporters had already fled across the Ohio River to Ind. The Cincinnati Daily Commercial claimed that the Carrollton raid was backed up by 1,200 CSA nearby, but that may have referred to CSA cavalry activities relating to the sweep across to Lawrenceburg in Ind. and back to Perryville in central Ky. that culminated October 8, 1862.

Between October 15 and October 20, Union forces swept through the Northern Kentucky region, and the newly recruited Confederates headed inland to join with Gen. Humphrey Marshall in preparation for the Battle of Perryville. According to the muster lists, the Fourth Ky. Cavalry, CSA, began with 900 men in total. Many of the Carroll Co. men were in Company F and came from Carrollton Eagle Station, Ghent, Hunter’s Bottom, Jordan, Mill Creek, Northville, Preston Ville Sanders, and Whites Run.

The new cavalry unit was placed under the Department of East Tenn.; later the Fourth Ky. Cavalry, CSA, was placed under the Department of Western Va. and East Tenn. The field officers were Col. Henry L. Giltner, Lt. Col. Moses T. Pryor, and Major Nathan Parker. The Fourth Ky. Calvary, CSA, saw substantial action in eastern Tenn. and participated in various raids into eastern Ky. One of the high points of the unit’s combat came November 10, 1863, when Confederate cavalry units under Col. Henry L. Giltner as commander of the Confederate Second Cavalry Brigade, captured 550 prisoners, thirty wagons of military and commissary equipment, four brass 6-pounder James guns, a large number of horses and arms belonging to the Second East Tenn. Mounted Infantry, Seventh Ohio Cavalry, and Phillips’ battery at Big Creek in Tenn. Among the Confederate officers singled out and complimented in the Giltner’s field report on the engagement were Lt. Col. Trimble of the Tenth Kentucky Calvary and Major Parker of the Fourth Ky Calvary.

In June 1864, Giltner’s forces participated in Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s “Last Raid” through Ky. including the battles at Mt. Sterling and Cynthiana, and they proved themselves battle-hardened campaigners in spite of the Confederate losses. The death of General Morgan (September 4, 1864, at Greeneville, Tenn.,) affected many of the men in the Fourth Ky Calvary, CSA.

Had the war ended the summer of 1864, Giltner and his cavalry regiments would have achieved high praise. However, in October 1864, Col. Henry Giltner, as commanding officer of the Seventh Battalion Confederate Cavalry, was ordered to defend the salt and lead mines and the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad. Thus, the Kentuckians became enmeshed in one of the most despicable acts of the Civil War, the deliberate massacre of wounded and captured Negro troops of the Fifth U.S. Colored Cavalry (USCC) at Saltville, Va. Although chiefly undisciplined cavalrymen conducted the atrocities, nevertheless, several Ky. officers failed to halt the killings, including Capt. Edward O. Guerrant. At one point George Dallas Mosgrove, of Carroll Co., who wrote the Ky. Fourth Calvary CSA’s regimental history, although present, failed to prevent the murder of captured black soldiers inside a cabin. Eyewitnesses from the Union Twelfth Ohio and the Eleventh Mich. attested to the massacres. Estimates of the number of black soldiers massacred vary wildly from New South historian William Marvel’s estimate that only five were killed and no more than a dozen, to the National Park Service claims that thirty-five Fifth USCC were killed in action. A more recent study by Thomas Mays and other researchers concluded that upwards of 50 of the 400 men of the Fifth USCC were killed. After the Civil War, CSA guerilla leader Champ Ferguson was hanged for a series of murders of Union soldiers and civilians during 1861–1865, including taking five wounded USCC soldiers from the Union surgeon at Saltville and murdering them.

In the fading days of the Civil War, Colonel Giltner was given supreme command of CSA forces in Lee, Scott, Russell and Wise counties in Va. on February 16, 1865; the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in Va. took place on April 9, 1865, and the Fourth Ky. Calvary, CSA, returned to Ky. and surrendered at Mt. Sterling, Ky. on April 30, 1865.

Most of the men from Carroll Co. returned home. Henry Giltner became a merchant at Milton, Ky., but by 1880, he had moved to Tenn. During the next few decades the legend of Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s Second Ky. Cavalry, CSA, and Henry Giltner’s Fourth Ky. Cavalry, CSA, merged somewhat and became much romanticized.

Several strong Unionist families lived in Carrollton. In an interesting dispatch dated September 14, 1862, a letter from Unionists in Carrollton to Capt. Joseph H. Williams, commander of the gunboat Cottage, was quoted in the Cincinnati Daily Commercial: “Respected Sir—Please accept these refreshments from the undersigned Union ladies, with our many thanks to you and your command for your timely protection; and we remain, respectfully, your obliged friends, Mrs. Mary D. Nely, Mrs. H. Hamilton, Mrs. F. Rabb, Mrs. S. McClure.”

Among the merchants at Carrollton were a number of Northerners: Theoderick Fisher from N. H.; Peter C. Adams, B. B. Bennett, Henry Gilbert, W. H. Swain, and John W. White from Mass.; Lyman Martin, James T. Root, William Root, from Conn.; John D. Ames, Samuel Ball, and John W. Root from N.Y.; Theophilus Reed, Joseph Vance and from N.J.; James Robb and his son David Robb, who was a cadet at West Point Military Academy in N.Y.

In addition, a number of Carroll Co. men served in the Thirteenth Ky. Volunteer Infantry, Union. Officers from Carroll Co. in that regiment included: Capt. Albert M. Jett, Carrollton; Second Lt. Charles McCracken, Carrollton; Capt. P. Gilbert Fisher, Carrollton, dismissed January 5, 1863; and First Lt. William L. Lee, Carrollton, killed in action, April 28, 1862. Carroll Co. men also served in Louisville-raised and southern Ind. Union units as well, but the muster lists are inconclusive.

Throughout the war, small detachments of Union Naval forces patrolled the Ohio River and stopped at Carrollton occasionally. Once the western Ohio and Mississippi river campaigns began, most of the inland Union Navy was engaged around Vicksburg, Miss., and New Orleans, La. The Union received most of the news and information along the Ohio River from friendly steamboat captains such as Captain Hildreth of Switzerland Co., Ind. who manned The Florence and reported regularly in Cincinnati, Ohio. It has been claimed that Abraham Lincoln stopped at Hildreth’s house between Lamb and Vevay, Ind. during his 1864 presidential campaign.

The Union Army posted troops at Carrollton during the Civil War. Many residents, particularly in the surrounding rural area, saw these troops as enemies occupying their land. The Union officers and men, in turn, felt hostile enemies and spies surrounded them. At Carrollton, in 1862 the officers irritated local legend Gen. William O. Butler who had declared neutrality before the war began. Men and horses from the Union Army were posted in the Presbyterian Church, Butler’s home congregation, and the local lore claims that much damage was done to the building and grounds.

Whatever neutrality or pro-Union sentiment was apparent among the white citizens of Carroll Co. disintegrated quickly with the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 and the subsequent arrival of Negro troops in Ky. Around August 22, 1864, a U.S. Colored Troop (USCT) squad, posted at Ghent, Ky., to protect recruiters for the Fifth U.S. Colored Cavalry, arrested James Southard, a leading Confederate advocate and local ferryman. He owned land along the Ohio River that formed the Ghent landing. Southard’s brother notified Col. George Jesse in Henry Co. in Ky. that James Southard had been taken by USCT troops. Jesse’s hardened remnants of Morgan’s last Ky. raid quickly routed the raw recruits of the 117th USCT (Gex Landing, Skirmish at). Rumors spread, fed by Louisville-based Union officers and a friendly newspaper that another Saltville-like incident had occurred, a massacre of Negro troops. The record was set straight only after Col. Jesse released the captured USCT officer and men at Owenton, Ky., the next month.

With few exceptions, after the war, the Confederate soldiers returned to Carroll Co. and gradually took positions of political power and civic responsibility. By 1880, most leadership positions in church and state were held by former CSA soldiers. Each funeral of a Confederate veteran called forth marches or honor guards in full regalia prominently chronicled in the Carrollton Democrat. A succession of former CSA officers was elected Ky. governors, including Simon Bolivar Buckner (1887–1891).

A Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Post #78 was established at Carrollton and named the William L. Lee post after a Carrollton native who had died in 1862, with the Union’s Thirteenth Ky. Infantry at Bowling Green, Ky. The Carrollton GAR Post had five members that attended the 1895 state GAR convention: W.M. Bowling J. G. Bunton, A. C. Jones, J. T. Lewis, and A.N. Jett who was listed as commander. In 1889, the Carrollton post had seventeen members, and in 1906, thirteen.

Adjutant General’s Report, Kentucky: Confederate Troops.


Adjutant General’s Report: Kentucky Union Troops.


Brown, David E. “Was There a Massacre in Saltville in 1864?” Review of Thomas D. Mays The Saltville Massacre, Albuquerque, N.M.: Ryan Place Publishers, 1995.

Carrollton Democrat, May 24, 1884.

CDC, September 14, 1862, September 19, 1862.

Field Report by Col. Henry L. Giltner. Commander, Second Cavalry Brigade, CSA, November 10, 1863 to Major Thomas Rowland, Assistant Adjutant General available at, accessed May 7, 2006.

Gentry, Mary Ann. A History of Carroll County. Madison, Ind., 1984.

Marvel, William. “The Battle of Saltville: Massacre or Myth?” Blue and Gray Magazine, August 1991.

Mosgrove, George Dallas. Kentucky Cavaliers in Dixie: The Reminiscences of a Confederate Cavalryman. Reprint. Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

Prichard, James. Review of Kenneth A. Hafendorfer, They Died by Twos and Tens. KH Press, 1995.

Diane Perrine Coon