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A Letter From One of Morgan's Men

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

James W. Coulter, one of Morgan's Men

I stumbled across this soldier's letter in the post-tour high of co-leading the Battle of Richmond tour. I was checking to see if the cemetery that is located close to the Rogers' House, location of the Battle of Richmond Visitor's Center, had any Civil War veterans buried within the property, particularly any related to the battle. While I have not found any Richmond veterans there, I did come across one young man whose story led me to write a short blog post on the Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation's website as the man had been captured at Buffington Island (see that post HERE). I decided to transcribe his full letter that I had quoted a few times in the blog post, and thought the readers might have interest. A Madison County resident, James W. Coulter served in the Eleventh Kentucky Cavalry until his capture on July 19th, 1863, during John H. Morgan's Great Raid (or as I like to call it, the "Not-So-Great" Raid). Coulter's life is covered on the BIBPF site, so I will not repeat it here.

The Coulter's, James and Zeporah.

I have only edited the punctuation of Coulter's letter where needed, and left his at times interesting spelling intact. I have added notes below to add to the context of Coulter's letter and those he mentions where I could locate some information. Interestingly enough the envelope was addressed not to his wife Zeporah (Zeppy), but to his aunt who lived in the Coulter farmhouse.

And now, a letter from one of Morgan's men:

Albany, Clinton Co. Ky.

March the 11th, 1863

Dear wife, sisters, and aunt,

I have seated my self with pen in hand to write you a few lines to let you know that I am alive and well and hope that these lines may find you all in joying the same blessing. I have had my health very well ever since I left home. I weigh one hundred and ninety pound. On my rout from home I fell in with Kavenaugh and went up in Virginia with him and staid two weeks before I went to my company.[1] The officers were all elected before I got there and I could not have been better suited in the officers if I had have had the choosing of them myself. Thomas Collins is captain, Joseph Oldham first lutenant, Jef Park second, and Kit Covington third.[2] D. Waller Chenault is the col. of our regiment.[3]

We have been in some right tight places since I left home. I have been in seven fights and by the grace of God I have come out without a scratch, none of our boys have been hit yet nor none died except Alie Wood, poor fellow who died before he ever saw any service.[4] The rest of the boys are all well. If you have a chance tell Mrs. Harris Ance is well.[5] Tell old Jimmy that Harry and Sid and Dave are all well.[6] Tell Ray and Edna that Jim Cosby says he is all rite.[7] Tell Edny that Harry says he had rather see her than to eat fritters. Tell Uncle Eliza that Dick is well and as fat as a pig. Tell Uncle John that I have never heard anything of Will and John yet. I was in the neighborhood where we left them last week and there is a grat many bush whakers in that place and I am fearful that they were kild.[8]

Give my love to Aunt Polly and Milly and Molly and Jose and all the rest of them. Tell them that I want to see them all very much and I hope it will not be long before I can see you all.

Give my respects to Bob Watts and Milly. Tell Bob that he must have a jug of brand for me when I come home. Ask my Union friends how they like Abe’s proclamation.[9] Tell them to get ready to pay there taxes and arm there negroes. Zeppy, give my love to your father and mother and the rest of the family tell them that I would be glad to see them.

We have been at this place eight weeks.[10] Tomorrow we leave for Montosello.[11] I have been bording with a very kind old lady ever since I have been here. She has three very nice girls that waits on me very well. They seem almost like home folks. I have been with them so long I feel at a loss to leave but I am coming nearer home. Tell Bot Watts that I was very glad that he staid at home. Give my love to A. F. Dudley and Susy and Patty and Mrs. Jarvy and Miss Lucinda and the rest of the family. Tell Miss Patty that Pres is a good soldier.[12]

Tell Web’s folks to tell Jane that Will is with us and is well and a very good boy. I hope that you are all agetting along very well. I want to be at home very bad. This morning look like I aught to be there aplowing but I beleave I am afighting in a good cause and I don’t beleave that any of you will suffer. You must all bear up as well as posable. Beleaveing that all things work to gather for good to them that love the Lord. Tell Aunt Polly to remember me in her prayers.

For the preasent I will say nothing more but remain your truly,

J. W. Coulter

P. S. I don’t know whither it will be worth while for you to wrigt to me or not as we are agoing to moove. Zeppy you must kiss little Patty for me.

J. W. Coulter

To Zeppy Coulter and all the rest of the family.


[1] Most likely Archibald W. Kavanaugh. He would enlist at Albany, Kentucky in Company F on February 9th, 1863. After the war he would move to Kansas, dying on March 29th, 1911. [2] Thomas Bronston Collins enlisted at Cumberland Gap on October 8th, 1861, as a private. He would be promoted to captain on September 10th, 1862. Wounded at Greasy Creek, Kentucky on May 9th, 1863, he would recover in time to participate on John H. Morgan’s Great Raid. He would escape the debacle at Buffington Island by swimming the Ohio River. He would rejoin Morgan’s command in time for the disastrous Last Kentucky Raid. Cut off from his unit he would make his way to Canada and participate in the raid on St. Albans, Vermont. He would die in Paris, France on April 12th, 1869, of tuberculosis. He is buried in Richmond Cemetery in Richmond, Kentucky. Twenty-four-year-old Joseph F. Oldham also enlisted as a private at Cumberland Gap, same day as Collins. He would be promoted to first lieutenant on September 10th, 1862. Also captured on the Great Raid, he would be sent to Allegheny Prison. Living until 1898, he is also buried in the Richmond Cemetery. Robert Jefferson Park would enlist on September 10th, 1862, as second lieutenant of Company F. He was captured at Buffington Island and sent to Allegheny Prison and will die as a prisoner. C. H. Covington joined the Eleventh on September 10th, 1862 and would die of “brain fever” just twelve days after Coulter’s written was written. [3] David Waller Chenault was born in Madison County, Kentucky in 1826. He would see service in the Mexican War in Humphrey Marshall’s First Kentucky Cavalry. Forming the Eleventh Kentucky Cavalry after the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky, Chenault would be named colonel of the regiment on September 10th. Chenault would be killed in the Battle of Tebbs Bend, Kentucky fought on July 4th, 1863, one of the early actions of the Great Raid. His brother brought the body to Madison County, where Chenault was buried in the family burying ground. Chenault would be moved in 1901 to the Richmond Cemetery. [4] Some of the actions Coulter had been involved in would have included Post Oak and Hartsville, both in Tennessee, along with two actions at Springfield, Kentucky, two at Smithville, Tennessee, and some around Albany, Kentucky. Alexander Woods of Company F would die on November 13th, 1862, most likely of disease. [5] Company F’s Anderson Harris had served in the Mexican War and was killed in an action at Greasy Creek, Kentucky, May 8th, 1863. [6] It is unknown who these men are. There are no Dave (or David) or Sid first names on the roster of Company F. There is one Harry, last name Ellison, but he is the only Ellison in the company. [7] James Cosby, another member of Company F, and who is buried in the Richmond Cemetery. [8] Most likely William B. and John Benton. John would die of disease as a prisoner of war on March 14th, 1864, at Camp Douglas, Chicago (one source mentions that he died of “brain fever” on March 25th, 1863, at Monticello, Kentucky). William would survive the war and is buried in nearby Estill County. [9] This is in reference to the Emancipation Proclamation, a document that enraged many Unionist Kentuckians, causing many Federal Kentucky officers to resign their commissions in protest. [10] Burkesville, Kentucky. [11] Monticello, located thirty miles east of Burkesville. [12] Preston Oldham, another member of Company F who enlisted on September 10th, 1862.

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