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"The secesh...are perfect savages" - The Murder of Abraham G. Wileman

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

Abraham G. Wileman

Cincinnati, Wednesday, Oct. 7. - Maj. Wileman, of the Eighteenth Kentucky regiment, who was wounded in the Battle of Chickamauga, and who lately returned home, was taken from his house, in Pendleton County, Ky., on Monday, by a gang of guerrillas, stripped of his clothing, tied to a tree, and shot. Five of the marauders were caught and brought to this city today.

The short account above, printed in the New York Times on October 8th, 1863, exemplifies the brutal guerilla activities that were taking place in Kentucky during the Civil War. Kentucky, along with Missouri, showed that there was a divide between loyalty to the Union and allegiance to the Confederacy. After the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the divide not only became larger, but also increasing bloody. Many Federal officers, feeling that their loyalty to the Union cause was betrayed by Lincoln's decree, resigned their commissions. Increasing rebel and guerilla activity occurred within the Bluegrass State. Wileman's murder was but one example of this widening divide between Union citizens and those who were determined to wreak havoc and kill loyal citizens.

Ester Coates Wileman

Abraham G. Wileman was born in Stark County, Ohio in 1821. The son of Quakers, Wileman would marry his first wife, Ester Coates, in Pennsylvania in 1844. Wileman would study medicine in Ohio, and by 1855 was living in Pendleton County, Kentucky, without Ester. In 1851 Ester left Abraham as she wanted to study medicine, but apparently he did not approve of her desires. She returned to Ohio but by 1853, according to divorce papers she "became discontented and disposed to isolate herself from the company about the home of the plaintiff to such a degree as to render the married state to both miserable". She left Ohio once again in 1854 and returned to Pennsylvania while her husband moved to Kentucky. Ester discovered that she was with child. On August 14th, 1858 Abraham filed divorce papers and the separation became final as Ester did not appear to testify. Wileman married his second wife, Parthenia Rice from Pendleton County, on October 28th of that same year. One of those in attendance for the ceremony was William A. Warner, later to become Wileman's commanding officer in the Eighteenth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Abraham and Parthenia would have three children.

Wileman would serve as a captain in the Kentucky Police Guard for one month during the fall of 1861, the police guard serving to protect the Kentucky Central Rail Road. Wileman then would muster into the Eighteenth Kentucky on February 8th, 1862 as captain of Company D. He would see action with the Eighteenth at Richmond and Stones River, then serve as acting assistant inspector general of the Second Brigade, Crook's Division. In May of 1863 Wileman was promoted to major of the Eighteenth, and would see more action at Chickamauga, where he suffered a gunshot wound on his left forearm on September 20th (the Eighteenth was in John B. Turchin's brigade). On September 27th he requested leave, and returned to his farm near Knoxville, Kentucky to recover.

On the night of October 5th, local guerillas burst into Wileman's home while Wileman was sitting in the parlor with his wife and some neighbors. The October 23rd edition of the Paris Western Citizen carried the details of Wileman's murder:



Pendleton County, Kentucky

October 8, 1863

Dear Sir:

I have just returned from the funeral of Maj. A. G. Wileman, of the 18th Kentucky, who was foully murdered and robbed in this county on Monday night last. He had only returned on furlough, on Friday last. He was wounded at the battle of Chickamauga River. The Cincinnati papers have incorrect statements as to the particulars of his sad end. He was brave and true a man as ever lived; behaved with marked gallantry at the Battles of Richmond, Howe's Gap, and Chickamauga. He was a man of superior intellect and education; a Physician with a large practice when he joined our regiment as Captain, and was promoted for bravery and good conduct on the battle-field as Major in May last.

He was sitting in his house between 6 and 7 o'clock P. M.; with four of his neighbors, three gentlemen and one lady and his wife, when the murderers entered with pistol in hand presented, demanding money and person. They represented themselves as belonging to Breckenridge's Command, and said their forces had taken Falmouth and they had been sent for him. He refused positively to let them have his money, which they did not get, but they got near two hundred dollars from two of the gentlemen present. They then took him out and carried him about a mile and a half from his house, and there stripped him of all his clothing, with the exception of his boots and shirt, shot him through the head, the ball entering the left temple and powder-burning his wounded arm, his chin mashed down and jaw broken. After murdering him, they dragged him down a branch some thirty steps and left him dying on his face, his shirt over his head, being dragged by his feet. They afterwards robbed a store in the neighborhood owned by a former Lieutenant, Samuel Patterson, of the 18th Kentucky, who was severely wounded in the Battle of Richmond. They met in the road a farmer, Thomas Winn, whom they arrested. They held a consultation over him and determined (as they said) to serve him a disposition to make of him. He, however, overheard their conversation and concluded to run the chances by making his escape, which he fortunately did. The number of the gang is variously estimated from 8 to 40, and several of them recognized as former citizens of this county.

This is the beginning of a terrible state of affairs in this part of the State, and a stop must be put to it. If I only had my trusting Old Eighteenth here, we would soon quiet the Northern half of the state, as have done theretofore.

There is great excitement here, and well there might be - We have several returned Morgan men here that will have to take their washing further South. They are made heroes of and nursed as pinks of perfection, whose hands a short time ago were red with the blood of their fellow citizens, riding their stolen horses, and are allowed to settle down quietly amongst us until a fresh opportunity offers for them to commence their hellish work again.

The Major left a wife and three children to mourn his sad fate.

Yours truly,

W. A. Warner

P. S. They got Winn's horse, saddle, and bridle, all the clothing of the Major, his gold watch, and a heavy gold ring, which I heard this evening, they cut off his finger to obtain. W.A.W.

Pendleton County circled in red - Location of Wileman's murder indicated in light blue

Also appearing in the same newspaper is this account of Wileman's murderer:

JIM KELLAR CAPTURED - A detachment of the 71st Indiana Mounted Infantry, captured the notorious Jim Kellar, and five of this men, on Saturday night, near Sharpsburg. On Thursday night, Kellar and his gang were in Flat Rock and robbed Mr. Alexander Evans of about $400.00; Mr. W. Watkins of $350 and a horse; Mr. Lewis Earlywine of $180, and all his wife's jewelry.

While taking the gang down in Flat Rock, Kellar told Watkins that he was the man who killed Wileham, and that he come to kill him; but as he was a pretty fellow he would not do it this time, but said if another Union Flag was put up in Flat Rock, he would kill him and Evans. The soldiers who made the capture, not being acquainted with the country, took with them, Mr. Wm. Fox of Flat Rock, who, it is thought, was mainly instrumental in securing success. The prisoners were taken to Mt. Sterling on Sunday morning, and while under guard, in the Provost Marshall's office, we are told, Mr. Watkins, late a member of the 9th Kentucky Cavalry, stepped in and shot Keller twice, who died from the effects of the wounds. On Monday night, we learned that a man named Jones, from the neighborhood of North Middleton, and two of the Sheshires from this place, were among the captured.

Abraham Wileman's remains would be sent to Ohio and he was buried in Marlboro Cemetery in Stark County. After her husband's murder Parthenia would move to Stark County to be supported by Wileman's family. She would eventually remarry and live in the Cleveland area until her death in 1928. The Grand Army of the Republic camp in Falmouth, Kentucky, the Pendleton County seat, would be named in Wileman's honor.



American Civil War Database (

Find A Grave (

Pendleton County Historical Society newsletter, Vol. I Issues 4 & 5

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