The Difficulties In Warsaw, KY: The Response of Colonel Charles Whittlesey

My previous post described an incident in Warsaw, Kentucky in late December 1861. Here is a follow-up on that story, from the Cincinnati Enquirer of January 1, 1862. It transcribes letters to and from Charles Whittlesey, a successful geologist, who also helped design the defenses of Cincinnati. (One of the defenses, Fort Whittlesey, was named in his honor.)

The Difficulties in Warsaw, KY - Correspondence on the Subject

Warsaw, Gallatin County, Ky, December 28, 1861

Colonel Whittlesey:  The undersigned having been appointed a committee, by the loyal men of Warsaw, to confer with you in regard to the policy and all other appropriate matters that your mission here may appropriately demand of us, in regard to our town and county for the ostensible purpose of establishing peace and order among our people, and, if possible, to secure every citizen in his legal constitutional rights of life, liberty, and property, and the pursuit of happiness, which has been so wantonly jeopardized and seriously endangered by the unholy rebellion and war against the most benign and free government in the world, and to further aid and assist you in this laudable and patriotic purpose.

We respectfully tender you our humble services, and would further state to your honor that the meeting we have the honor to represent, was of the opinion, from the evidence they had before them from reliable gentlemen, that the town of Warsaw and surrounding county was in imminent peril, and that they are fearful that your present force are insufficient, however brave and patriotic they may be, to accomplish those very desirable ends, from the fact that you are surrounded by four or five counties which has largely the preponderance in strength and numbers on the Secession side. However, we merely make these suggestions for your very favorable consideration. We would suggest the propriety of your making known, by proclamation or otherwise, if it be not inconsistent with your duty and the public service, the aims and objects of  your command here.

All of which, we, the committee, in the bonds of the Union and the enforcement of the Constitution and the laws, submit to your honor.

S.H. Spencer
Harry Perin
C.W. Ferris
A. Ritchey
Dr. J.J. Robinson, Jr.


Warsaw, Ky, December 29, 1861

To Messrs. Spencer, Perin, Ferris, Ritchey & Robinson, committee etc.

Gentlemen - your note of yesterday confirms the reports which came to General Wade, at Cincinnati, in regard to the dangers surrounding the loyal citizens in Gallatin County, and in consequence of which I was sent here. My orders are to protect you not only from violence, but from the fear of it, as against persons who threaten you on account of your adhesion to the Government of the United States. 

If I comprehend the true state of affairs, this Government, while it exists, is and must be supreme, and its mission is to secure peace and protection to all true men. But I cannot see how persons who are engaged, directly or indirectly, in destroying its authority, are entitled of right to its protection, particularly as they have during this rebellion been guilty of so many and so cruel outrages upon law abiding citizens."

"My attention, so long as I remain in command, and have no orders to the contrary, will be turned to those who are or have been engaged in this conspiracy, who convey information to the enemy, or aid and assist  him, or who put peaceable and loyal men in fear for their persons or property. I feel warranted in dealing with them in a summary way." 

"A man may honestly entertain Secession sentiments, and so long as he is not dangerous and takes no active measures against us, gives no aid or information to those who are endeavoring to overthrow the Union, he will not only not be molested, but protected."

"As I intend to keep clear of all merely private feuds, I will state that the arrests already made would have taken place without the occurrence of the affair of Tuesday evening."

I hope I may have your cordial confidence and support in this business, and in return I will do all in my power to render you free from apprehension as well as from danger. 

Yours, very respectfully,
Colonel Twentieth Reg't O.V., U.S.A

Charles Whittlesey by E Decker, 1858-crop.jpg

Charles Whittlesey, courtesy Wikipedia


A December 1861 Affair in Warsaw, Ky.

I have written frequently about Kentucky, even the northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area, on this blog in the past, since it is my home state and region. Here is another story from this area, a further example of the complicated nature of the war in this state. My next post will include a follow up story from the same paper.

I found this in the Cincinnati Enquirer of December 28, 1861.

Troublous Times in Warsaw, KY -Conflict between the Union Men and the Rebel Sympathizers - One of the Rebels Killed - Humphrey Marshall's son and Several Others Captured

During the past several months there have been frequent conflicts between the Union men of Warsaw and some of the rebel sympathizers residing in that vicinity, but on Tuesday last there was one of a more serious and fatal character than any that had preceded it. It occurred between John and Talbot Leonard (rebel sympathizers) and two men named Oliver and Clements, gunsmiths in Warsaw, and the former just back of the village. On that day the Leonards paid a visit to Warsaw, and, drinking pretty freely, made themselves disagreeable to the Union men of the place. Just before dark Clements and Oliver, who had been absent from the town, returned, and the former stepped into a store where the Leonards happened at the time to have made a temporary halt. Seeing the probability of a quarrel, which he wished, if possible, to honorably avoid, Clements immediately went out to the pavement, where he was followed instantly by John Leonard, with a pistol in his hand, who, applying to him a most opprobrious epithet, fired upon him. At the time of the shot Mr. Clements had his right hand in his pocket, and the shot taking effect upon it caused a fearful wound, the ball lodging between the thumb and forefinger, where it still remains.

Wounded as he was, Clements drew his pistol and fired twice upon his assailant, the first ball entering the lower portion of his left breast, and the other taking effect upon a lower portion of his body. He fell and expired almost immediately. By this time the brother, Talbot Leonard, had drawn his pistol and fired also, when Clements turned his attention in that quarter, and shot three times, the balls taking such effect that his life was considered as hopeless. Several other shots were fired in the crowd, among which Mr. Oliver, Clements' friend, received one, creating an ugly wound in his arm. The Leonards were taken to their houses, and with the evening mail-boat Messers. Clements and Oliver, accompanied by Mr. Vallandigham, a resident of Warsaw, came up to this city, to procure such aid as would hereafter preserve quiet in that town.

Intelligence of the strive being communicated to the military authorities here, 
General M. S. Wade sent forward a detachment of Colonel Whittlesey's regiment, quartered at Camp King, who left on Wednesday morning, and arrived unheralded at Warsaw on the same evening. After procuring the details of what had transpired, Colonel Whittlesey proceeded to arrest Lorenzo Graves, Judge of the County Court; Dr. A.B. Chambers, member of the Lower House of the Legislature; John J. Marshall, son of Humphrey Marshall, the Confederate General; and Hiram Baldwin, a hotel keeper in the town.

All the arrests were made so unexpectedly, and in so quiet a manner, that the town was barely awake before the prisoners were in custody, and were being marched in charge of a sufficient guard in the direction of the wharf-boat, no attempt being  made at a rescue. From the time of the landing of the detachment until the prisoners had been taken and were on their way up the river on the steamer Major Anderson, not an hour and a half had elapsed, the soldiers meanwhile retaining entire possession of the town.

On the arrival of the prisoners in this city (
Cincinnati, home of the Enquirer) yesterday morning, they were marched to the City Barracks, on Elm street, where they will await an order from Secretary Seward. Colonel Whittlesey, with his detachment, will remain at Warsaw until he has orders to return to his regiment.

Location of Warsaw, from

The Gray Ghost and College Football (Updated)

John Singleton Mosby, courtesy Wikipedia

As the 2019 college football starts, I have noticed a lot of talk about this being the sport’s 150th season and that has made me recall a post I had made here about this sport. I figured I would just link it on Facebook with a couple of words about football season starting again, but as I read the post, I realized a few things were out of date (and that I had written this in all the way back in 2011 - yikes!)

I then decided to revise that post a bit and republish it as a new one. It is not completely original but is more current than the original (at least regarding the status of collegiate sports which have seen quite a bit of change since 2011) and I must say that John Mosby’s comments about  the sport remain fascinating to me. I never imagined I would find a connection between the Civil War and college football, especially with such a well-known figure from the War. 

This topic first came to my attention when I read Dr. James Ramage's fine  Gray Ghost: The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby, a biography of Mosby.

Pages 329 and 330 of the book describe Mosby's criticism of college football after a young man playing for the University of Virginia (which Mosby had attended) was killed in a game. Mosby wrote letters asking the school to stop participating in this sport and Dr. Ramage contends: "To him this was a continuation of his lifetime conflict with bullies and bruisers" where bigger kids or men picked on smaller individuals, and this also symbolized his overall dislike of sports.

The author continued: "He compared football to cock-fighting and charged that the teams were 'largely composed of professional mercenaries who are hired to advertise colleges. Gate money is the valuable consideration. There is no sentiment of Romance or Chivalry about them.' “

That final quote from Mosby remains  appropriate today, especially using modern words and phrases like "television" in place of  "gate" and "student or scholar” instead of  "Romance or Chivalry" and perhaps more so in college basketball where the "one-and-done" rule does give the sport more of a mercenary feel with accelerated roster turnover.

Here is a video that provides, showing former University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley discussing Mosby’s view of the sport. His information is similar to the quotes I shared from Dr. Ramage’s book, but in a different format.

College football 1905 picture from the 

 Of course, I am also a sports fan and really enjoy college football and basketball, but I do see some truth in his statements, even (or maybe especially) in today's era.  College sports, again mostly football and men’s basketball, have become  a very large industry, at least for many (or most) schools at the "Division I" or “FBS” level.  When I first wrote this post, I mentioned football’s “Bowl Championship Series,” (BCS)  a combination of bowl game and conference alignments designed to help determine a national champion (and, of course, create big payouts for the schools and conferences involved, though not the players.)  Since then, the sport witnessed teams changing conferences in what appeared to be financially motivated decisions and administrators have replaced the BCS with a 4-team playoff system. Athletes do now receive a “cost of attendance” stipend, but schools and administrators enjoy most of the financial spoils while the athletes still have countless restrictions over what they are allowed to do or how they can earn money. One football player even quit the sport because the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)  restricted his ability to make money from his YouTube channel.

Commentary about athlete rights aside, football safety - Mosby's concern -  has become a bigger issue in today’s climate, with stricter rules (such as “targeting,” prohibition of leading with the helmet, the banning of certain blocks, and more) being implemented and enforced to reduce head and spinal injuries, particularly concussions. Part of the motivation for this may have been a lawsuit the National Football League faced over the effects of head injuries on former players, some of whom committed suicide. Surely collegiate administrators do have some legitimate concern for the health of the young men playing football, but it is hard not to be a skeptic about their desire to avoid costly lawsuits as well. The NCAA has justifiably earned a poor reputation in terms of its priorities, at least from my view and I do not believe I am alone in that sentiment. 

Interestingly, one of Mosby's employers and friends, Theodore Roosevelt, also took an interest in college football safety, offering advice which addressed some of Mosby's concerns about the sport's violence, and which may have contributed to the sport’s survival. Fortunately, current discussions rarely involve on-field deaths, so apparently the discussions started at that time had some positive effects in making the game safer and able to survive the 20th century. Mosby’s worries were a precursor to today’s concerns, as football’s safety still remains an issue even more than a century later.

So that is how you can connect the Civil War to modern college football. (Actually, I have seen another article about some symbols of the Civil War still attached to the sport, such as the University of Wisconsin's stadium being Camp Randall Stadium, on the site of a Civil War training camp. I might use that article to create another post sometime.)

Recap of Battery Hooper Civil War Days

Well, another edition of Battery Hooper Civil War Days has come and gone, so after a week of reflection, I figured I would write a few comments about it here.

It was a good event. We  (the board members and volunteers at the James A. Ramage Civil War Museum) did a good job of controlling what we could control. There were a couple of missteps and one or two minor communication issues, but nothing  major. We certainly have some “learning opportunities” for a couple of things and already did a group “after action report” to review before next year’s event.

Despite those minor quibbles, the event was much more good than bad and I choose to focus on the positives here.

Our event schedule worked very well. We had different acts on the two days and did not have the stage constantly in use. This allowed visitors more time to walk around the park and visitors there both days did not here the same presenters twice. I especially like how that worked out.

We added music and  dancing this year, and though a couple of vendors did not show up after having agreed to be there, I believe we made progress in creating new attractions and will have new ideas for next year. (It was also a reminder that people do no always keep their word, a disappointing lesson but probably a valuable one.)

We  had food trucks for the first time since the church next door did not hold its ice cream social. We were concerned about finding room for them to park on the hilly park land, but we managed to find a suitable place that worked out just fine.The trucks were popular and next year we will have more time to schedule and advertise them.

Attendance was not as high as we hoped. We had tried publicizing it more on social media, but clearly need to do more, though the national trend seems to be that historic sites and events are suffering lower attendance around the nation.

We did enjoy mostly good weather, though a rainstorm on Saturday afternoon was inconvenient. Sunday was hot, but not unexpectedly so for August. We, of course, have no control over the weather but we’re pretty lucky overall. Having an event mostly outdoors is always a risk.

I  was very busy both days, which was good and did help the time pass more quickly, but I did not find the opportunity to go around and take pictures  like I usually enjoy doing. The few I tried really  did not turn out as well as I hoped. 

Overall, it was another good event that I was proud to help plan, organize and run. We have some good ideas for next year and, as always, will continue trying to make it better.

Battery Hooper Civil War Days 2019

I know I have not written lately, for many reasons, but one reason (or excuse) is that it is time for another edition of Battery Hooper Civil War Days at the James A. Ramage Civil War Museum, where I have been a volunteer and board member for several years.

It is terribly difficult to believe I have been working on BHCWD since 2007. I missed last year’s event due to not feelings no well, but even then I had spent time planning it, but here we are again, only days before the 2019 event on August 17 and 18. 

We are doing some things differently this year. The church building next to the museum is for sale and the congregation is not having its annual Ice Cream Social so we will have a food truck on Saturday and an ice cream truck Sunday.

We are also featuring fewer speakers, but will have Abraham and Mary Lincoln telling their story Saturday and Jefferson and Varina Davis presenting on Sunday. 

We have local band Tellico on the weekend’s first day, while the Forget-Me-Not dance group will entertain on Sunday.

Of course, we still have the large encampment in our backyard and again will feature a medical tent and display. Thank you to St. Elizabeth Healthcare for their sponsorship of the medical display. 

Other living historians will be present, including a new artillery group. 

We also welcome back our friends from the Western Female Seminary Living History Society ladies group. We also will have a couple new vendors and displays, including one with 19th century children’s games. A face painting station for children is a staple of the weekend as well, and our gift shop and used book sale will both be open. Admission and parking are free, but as a non-profit organization, our hope is the visitors find books and gifts they enjoy. Everyone should be able to understand that.

The museum board members  have worked a little harder on this year’s event and hope it will be more interactive this year. This is a really fun annual event, and we hope it helps people learn more an out the museum and our mission of telling the story of the Civil War in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. Hopefully people will also understand the importance of the region’s role in the role and the war’s place in American history better, while having a good time. 

A Television Appearance

The local ABC affiliate, WCPO (aka "Channel 9") has a daily show called Cincy Lifestyle. It airs from 10:00 - 10:30 every morning. 

A couple of weeks ago, I opened an email from the account for the James A Ramage Civil War Museum, where I volunteer, and saw that a producer from that program wanted to film a segment at the museum. 

That sounded like a great opportunity so I shared it with the other museum board members and eventually we realized I was the one available at a time that worked for the producer. I wasn't thrilled about that as I am not the most outgoing person - I much prefer writing than any form of public speaking - but I was ready for the challenge.

A few days ago, I met a lady from the station at the museum. All she had with her was a backpack with her small camera and tripod. It wasn't the big TV camera I expected, but it was probably better, being so small and easy to carry.

We talked for a while and then she interviewed me standing in front of the museum since it was a beautiful day.

It was an interesting experience. She asked me a few questions and I provided answers. I think the questions were  something like "Why is this place important?,"  "What should people expect when they come here?," and "What has changed here in the time you have been here?"   I did my best to answer these. A couple of times, I had to stop, say "Sorry, let me restate that" and then start over, which she had told me was fine. I was nervous about saying "uhm" or "uhh" or having too many pauses, but I avoided that pitfall. I think a couple pauses still showed up after editing, but not many.

Obviously, she, and whoever helped edit and produce the segment, did a terrific job of tying my comments together so that they came off sounding coherent. The segment turned out better than I could have hoped and the final production really did make me look good, certainly better than I felt when I was restating my thoughts, trying to make sense. It was a good event and I thank the people at the show for the opportunity. I now better understand how these interviews work - I'm sure some others I see were similar to mine in terms of being edited/produced to look good. I'm just glad it was not a live shot and don't know how well I would do in a live interview. Yikes! LOL

The interview aired on Tuesday the 16th. It was weird seeing myself speaking on TV, especially a big station like Channel 9 instead of some local community cable channel. It really was surreal.

A copy of the show was put on their Facebook page. I shared this link to it on this blog's Facebook page already. (The link is to the interview on Facebook, so I don't know if you need to sign in to see it. If you do not have Facebook, I do not know if you can see the interview. Maybe it will be on the "Cincy Lifestyle" tab of eventually, but I do not see it there right now.)

Anyway, this was  fascinating and the product turned out well. I really like this museum and wanted to represent it well. I think I did so and that this segment was a very positive one for the museum, myself, and, hopefully, the show and station.

The Murder of Civil War Veteran James M. Carr

A few years ago, I had another blog, ( for which I searched in local cemeteries for headstones of Civil War veterans and then researched these men. I found a few interesting stories, and a couple stood out more than others in my memory. For one of these, I actually made a few posts about it, though they were pretty bare-bones, with a transcription of newspaper articles and only a few of my own comments.

Even as years and years passed, I never forgot about this particular story and, a few months ago, I decided to look into it more closely. I ended up doing more research, analysis, and writing on it and published it in the Campbell County Historical and Genealogical Society newsletter. I thought it turned out well, probably the most interesting article I had ever written for that newsletter, at least from my own biased perspective, so I decided to put it back into blog format, edit it some and then post it here, though much of it involves the post-Civil War years.

It is a long story, but that should work better as a blog entry than in the paper newsletter. I find it to be a fascinating, though sad, story. I really felt like I came to know this "kind old man" based on various newspaper reports. I hope readers will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed finding, researching, and writing what will likely remain one of my favorite stories.


The pitter-patter of the rain falling on the tin roof echoed loudly throughout the tiny shelter as investigators gazed in disbelief at the unforgettable scene before them on a SAD, DREARY FEBRUARY MORNING…


James Madison Carr was born in Kanawha County, Virginia, now part of West Virginia, on December 29, 1844. His parents likely named him for the 4th President of the United States, the “Father of the Constitution,” James Madison. (The 1850 census showed his first name as “Maddison” but “James” or “James M” appeared on all other records and the second “D” in Maddison seems like a mistake. On the same page of that record, the word “wagon” was misspelled “waggon.”)

Location of Kanawha County, courtesy wikipedia

He was born to lead a blue-collar life. His father William worked as a wagon maker and mechanic according to census records, and various records listed James as a laborer.

On April 12, 1861, civil war disrupted the nation, and many thousands of men rushed to volunteer for their preferred side. William hesitated briefly, but on September 2, 1861, in Boone County, Virginia, he joined company B of the 8th Virginia Infantry (U.S.), which was soon re-designated the 8th Virginia Mounted Infantry. 

More than a year later, on December 1,1862, James enlisted in Company K of the same unit, which officials renamed the 7th West Virginia Cavalry on January 26, 1864. The minimum age to join the army was 18 years and James still four weeks shy of that milestone, but found his way into the service, like many others at that time.

At the time of his enlistment, James stood five feet, nine inches tall, with a fair complexion, brown hair, and hazel eyes. He was working as a laborer and signed up for a standard three year term.

Their regiment participated in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign against Stonewall Jackson, the Battle of Cross Keys, and the Battle of Second Bull Run, among other expeditions, all before James enlisted. Once James had joined, it served on outpost duty throughout Virginia and the new state of West Virginia, and saw fighting at the Battles of Cloyd’s Mountain and New River Bridge. (One article claimed that James had served under U.S. Grant, but that is incorrect unless they referred to Grant’s time as General-in-Chief, in which he was in charge of all U.S. forces. The reporter may have included that line to inflate Carr’s record in the readers’ minds.)

War was more than just glory, fame and honor. In December of 1863, Confederate soldiers captured William in a skirmish near the Jackson River in Virginia. This was part of a raid on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad by the troops of Brigadier General William Averell, a raid noted for its “extreme difficulty, the tenacity of (its) commanders and the courage of the soldiers involved.”

The Confederates sent William to Andersonville. General Averell reported that the enemy had captured 97 of his men on this expedition. A staggering 71 of those poor souls died at Andersonville. William was among this group, passing away from typhus fever and chronic diarrhea on April 6, 1864. He is buried at Andersonville National Cemetery.

William Carr's Andersonville headstone, courtesy
James was still only 19 years old when his father died. The news of his father’s fate must have been especially devastating to him since his mother had died when he was just five.

James served out his term like a good soldier. His regiment spent much of the last part of the war in and around the Kanawha Valley. Its men policed the region and paroled former Confederate soldiers who returned to the area following Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

After the unit mustered out on August 1, 1865, James moved on to post-war life. He married Mary Ann Scraggs in Wellsville, Ohio on Christmas Day 1879, and in the next year was still working as a laborer in Ironton, Ohio.

The 1890 U.S. Veterans’ Census shows that the couple was living in Cincinnati at that time. Ten years later, James and Mary had moved to Newport, Kentucky, a city along the southern side of the Ohio River, across from Cincinnati. He worked as a general laborer and could read and write.

In 1910, the couple still resided in Newport, and his occupation was now “rag picker” with his industry (referring to place of work) shown as “around dump.”

Unfortunately, the 1910 census was the last which included this couple. Mary passed away on April 19, 1914, and James lived less than a year longer.


...FRIDAY FEBRUARY 5, 1915 dawned as an ordinary winter day, but things changed drastically about 7:00 that morning when Mrs. Samuel Mackkenzie, a resident of Newport (probably the Mamie McKinsey whom the 1910 census shows as a 30-year-old at-home laundress) stopped by the home of her friend James Carr to see how he was doing. A quartet of dogs, near their owner’s bed as if guarding him, greeted her with their whining. She looked past them and saw her neighbor on his bed. Believing him asleep, she yelled out to him. He failed to respond or stir, and, while looking at him ever more intently, she noticed dried blood smeared on his face, his body lying in a pool of blood. She inched nearer the lifeless body, and once more spoke to him, desperately asking what was wrong. When again he did not answer, Mackkenzie, also observing his crushed skull and other morbid details of the scene, finally accepted the unthinkable - her friend was dead! - and immediately notified the police, who came to investigate.

What the police found was beyond disturbing. “The upper portion of the man’s body lay on the bed, his feet and legs extended, supported by a broken chair, allowing the body to sag in the middle.” His corpse looked to be “cold in death.”

“A short-handled sledge hammer, clotted with blood, probably the one used in the killing, lay by the side of the bed. A stove lid lay by the side of the hammer,” reported The Kentucky Post. The Cincinnati Enquirer, meanwhile, relayed that the hammer weighed 8.25 pounds and was “covered with blood and some of Carr’s gray hairs.”

This was a gruesome scene, and an article bluntly stated its cause: “during the night someone had entered his poor dwelling and beaten his brains out.”

The official cause of death was obvious: “concussion (of) brain…head mashed by hammer.” His death certificate further noted: “death was sudden.”

James Carr's Death Certificate

Police scoured his tiny abode for clues, finding only a life insurance policy in Carr’s pockets, and some women’s clothing and a hat. Any money he possessed was completely gone, even though neighbors told police the old man had collected a $54 pension a few days previously. They said he had paid some bills and speculated that he likely had around $30 on him as Thursday ended. Robbery was the obvious motive of this crime.

A local resident found Carr’s military discharge papers on a nearby street.

Carr’s life had been far from luxurious. He “lived the life of a hermit,” while his “dwelling was poor and his living cheap.” His home was certainly small, in size about eight feet by ten feet; newspaper accounts referred to it as a “hut,” “a meager hovel,” “a poor, dingy hovel,” a "desolate hut," “a poor dwelling,” and a “battered little shack.” Carr had built it using old pieces of wood with scrap tin nailed to it, perhaps finding materials at a nearby dump. It stood “on the very banks where the Licking (River) and Ohio River meet.”

Inside the building, a support beam, resembling an “Indian totem pole” because of the moccasins, animal skins, and beads attached to it, helped hold up the roof, and a bed rested in the northwest corner of the single room. Other small items filled the place.

Pictures of exterior and interior of hut, KY Post 2-6-15. The quality is poor, but they give some idea of his small home. In the interior picture, note the support pole. Behind it, to the left is the bed and the chair is to the right. His body rested on those two pieces of furniture.
After viewing the awful scene, the police proceeded with their investigation. The unhelpful eyewitnesses Mackkenzie had disturbed remained in the home: “Four dogs lay on the bed by the side of the dead man. One huge white canine lay within a few inches of his master’s shattered skull. The white hair on the dog’s back was dyed to a clotted brown, where his master’s life’s blood had escaped over his back, as it seeped from the ugly wound in his skull.” It is difficult to comprehend the sheer horror the four pets had witnessed or what they may have understood or remembered about this heinous crime. (The fate of the dogs - did a kind local resident give them a home or did they become strays? - escaped notice from the reporters and probably will forever remain unknown.)

The investigators tracked down a few two-legged witnesses. A man named John King stated he had talked to Carr on late Thursday afternoon, helping place the time of the murder as later that night.

Mrs. Mackkenzie was another person of interest. Police spoke to her about the crime, but she provided no more help, claiming she often visited Carr, though without particular reason that sad day.

Three officers working the case, Lieutenant Lieberth and Detectives Burnside and Howe, questioned another woman, but received little information from her.

Police did locate two other potential witnesses, using a statutory charge of living together (a sign of how times have changed) to pick up Ella Owens and Owen McClaughlin. Interviews produced conflicting alibis from these two, who did, however, agree in denying knowledge of the crime.

Owens eventually claimed to be a distant relative of Carr, saying she sometimes visited him and occasionally cleaned his house and cooked his meals, though she had not visited Thursday night.

Investigators also discovered that Carr had given the 18-year-old Owens clothing and money and that when he visited her home, McClaughlin would hide behind a bed to make it appear Owens was alone.

The duo apparently provided no information relevant to the investigation, but another pair of neighbors shared more helpful stories.

The Kentucky Post reported that “a negro woman giving her name as Bassett,” who lived near Carr, said that about midnight on Thursday two men knocked on her door, waking and frightening her. She spoke to them through the closed door, leaving her unable to furnish a description of the unexpected visitors. She stated they wanted to know where Owens was, and then asked where Carr lived, which she told them. She soon thereafter heard a loud crash, then only a deafening silence. She heard nothing else, so she returned to bed. (This lady may have been Nancy Basset, a 67-year-old widow at the time of the 1920 census.)
    The Cincinnati Enquirer printed a similar story. It revealed that “a colored man named Bennett” reported that a stranger visited his house on Patterson Street, asked where McClaughlin was, then inquired where Carr lived. A short time later, Bennett heard Carr’s dogs barking, followed by a noise as though somebody was trying to break down a door. Mr. Bennett, who may have been a 74-year-old janitor named Johnson Bennett, did not investigate the sound.

    The newspapers mentioned no other witnesses, but reported that officials did have a theory about the crime. They believed that “a gang of thugs” had been traveling throughout the country, but had remained in town for a while since they apparently knew Carr’s movements. They theorized that the hoodlums attempted to rob the old man, but he resisted, leading them to “beat his brains out” with the sledge hammer, expecting or hoping that the nearby river, its level growing ever higher due to recent rains, would continue to rise and thus hide their crime by washing the corpse, and even the hut, downriver, to be lost forever.

    This was a sad loss for the community. Neighbors described Carr as a “peace-loving” man who loved flowers and they recalled that his yard “in summer days was a blaze of color from flowers of all varieties. He also raised vegetables.”

    Stories documented that “he was kind-hearted…always lending aid to the needy people living in that section,” and that he “bought clothing and other trinkets for children and women.”

    He had worked as a rag-picker, gathering items from area dumps, then selling them. (Think of an old-fashioned, more local version of the job depicted in American Pickers.) With this occupation, he “provided for himself and many others by the money he made from rags and other junk he picked from nearby dumps.”

    His small house, which a newspaper reported he built when he first began squatting (occupying unoccupied land) about 15 years earlier, sat on the “brow of the hill that slopes towards the Ohio and also to the Licking,” and had survived serious flooding in 1912. (Flooding was not unusual in the area; flooding was one reason the Newport Barracks, in use from the early 1800s through the early 1880s, were moved to Fort Thomas, and a historically devastating 1937 flood led to the eventual completion of a flood wall in Newport.)  Another article claimed that he had built his hut shortly after his wife had died 15 years previously, but she had actually lived until 1914. These timelines seem wildly inaccurate – it is doubtful that two people could inhabit such a small cabin for 14 years, plus the census indicates that James and Mary lived on James Alley in 1900, a 1908 city directory places him on Patterson Street, and the 1910 census shows them on Brighton Street. The small hut was clearly not a mobile home, so its year of construction remains uncertain.

    Carr had surrounded his hut with a fence fabricated mostly of old mattress springs, leaving an opening so that it looked like “a thoroughfare passed through to the east of the place.” A few old stoves also filled the yard.

    He had blazed a path leading to the river and while it may be ideal to picture the old man sauntering down to the water to enjoy a pleasant view or to fish for his next meal, a more practical use of the path may have been to access the water for bathing and other hygienic purposes since indoor plumbing was not an option. (The article did not clarify which river was the path’s destination.)

    2010 picture from Google Earth showing the Licking River (bottom) and Ohio River (top).  Carr's hut was on the right side of the Licking.  The concrete path is on top the modern flood wall which did not exist at the time of Carr's death
    View from the Carew Tower in Cincinnati showing the Licking River meeting the Ohio. Carr's hut was on the left of the Licking from this angle.
    Carr’s lack of nearby close relatives contributed to one issue and one potential problem. First, some confusion over his exact name existed, as his death certificate and the newspapers listed his middle initial as “P” instead of “M.” How exactly this happened is unclear, but the informant for the death certificate was Radel’s Funeral Home. Did the funeral home get it wrong and the reporters follow its lead, or was it vice versa? Either way, the evidence seems to show that the person called “James P. Carr” really was “James M. Carr,” as virtually all reports from newspapers, military forms, census records, and cemetery records agreed on other information, showing he was about 71 years old (one article said 74), a “rag picker” in Newport, had served in the Civil War, died on February 5, 1915, and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery. His headstone also shows “M.”

    After the coroner finished his work, the question of what to do with Carr’s corpse could have caused trouble, but his insurance policy and a kind act avoided that. A local union, the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel, and Tin Workers, took charge of the body and arranged a funeral at Radel’s Chapel on Saturday February 13, with burial at Evergreen Cemetery. (One puzzle is why no local camp of the Grand Army of the Republic offered to help. Perhaps none heard of his death, or maybe one tried to help, with that information now lost to history. Maybe no camp was active in the area at that time, 50 years after the war. It is also conceivable that Carr was not a member of the G.A.R., possibly disqualifying him from receiving benefits.)

    As for the criminal case, no resolution has yet surfaced. Police claimed that a law passed in 1912 – preventing cops from arresting a suspect without strong evidence – impeded their investigation. Detectives Burnside and Howe told a reporter that they knew who the killer was but that their hands were “tied” unless the state repealed the law. They felt the only way to get a conviction was through a confession which never came.

    (A call to the Newport Police Department confirmed that the unit no longer holds records from the time of this crime.)

    On February 5, 1915, a day when even the heavens wept, James Madison Carr, an orphan at age 19, a Union Civil War veteran, and, from all reports, a kind, generous, and peaceful old man, died tragically in his small home, the victim of an incredibly horrific, violent, and still unresolved crime. 

    Headstone in Evergreen Cemetery, Southgate, Ky., author's photo
    Rest in peace, soldier.


    Postscript: In a  crazy coincidence, several years after first finding this story, I later found out that Benjamin Franklin Davis, my great-great-grandfather, was in Company D of the same 7th West Virginia Cavalry Regiment. I naturally have to wonder if he ever met or knew James Carr.
    Undated photo of Benjamin Franklin Davis, author's collection

    Sources in addition to ones mentioned or linked in the post:

    Abolitionism Defined

    Here is another old article concerning abolitionists and their goals, at least as perceived by their opponents.  The Covington Journal of May 27, 1854 printed this brief story. Slavery was a huge issue throughout the country, as the Kansas-Nebraska Act was close to being passed when the paper published these few lines.

    Senator Brodhead of Pennsylvania, in an admirable speech in favor of the Nebraska bill, thus defines abolitionism:

    "Sir, the spirit of abolitionism is thoroughly venomous and implacable. No concessions will satisfy or appease it - Inspired by a deadly, indistinguishable hatred of our system of confederate government, it would rush to the accomplishments of its designs over a prostrate Constitution, and through the baleful flames of a civil war. Destructive in all its instincts and passions, it is to be resisted as an enemy to whom no quarter is to be given, and to conciliate whom is to betray our country.

    This story refers to Senator Richard Brodhead.


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