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Obelisk is a reminder of uncivil days

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By Brad Bowman

The marble obelisk in Eminence Cemetery serves as a reminder of the division between families and in the state so fiercely enforced as to blur the line of between soldier and guerilla.

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By 1864, Gen. Stephen Gano Burbridge of Georgetown secured himself in command as a Union general in Kentucky. Burbridge showed his aptitude as a leader during his successful victory against Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan at the Battle of Cynthiana.

In a previous battle, Morgan had captured the town 2 years earlier. Burbridge met Morgan with more than 2,000 men from Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky.

Burbridge received much favor with Kentucky Gov. Thomas Elliott Bramlette. Burbridge also received praise during the Vicksburg Campaign from Union Gen. William T. Sherman. Gen. Henry Halleck appointed Burbridge commander of the military district in the state and enforced martial law. Burbridge initially was to regulate the Confederate guerillas, diminish their influence in the state and restore order.

Burbridge made his hyberbolic order No. 59 in the same year. The order stated that “Whenever an unarmed Union citizen is murdered, four guerrillas will be selected from the prisoners in the hands of the military authorities, and publicly shot to death at the most convenient place near the scene of the outrage.”

Burbridge would later earn the nickname ‘Butcher Burbridge’ for killing without trial not just guerillas, but also Confederate soldiers who were Union prisoners. Historians estimate that more than 50 people were killed by this order. Burbridge allegedly claimed land and property as restitution to the victims.

The monument to this atrocity in Eminence is one of four throughout the state. An inscription on the monument states, “…three CSA soldiers were shot on Nov. 3, 1864 at Pleasureville by order of Gen. Burbridge in pretense of retaliation of two Negras that were killed near Port Royal; sleep on ye braves for you have got our sympathy to our latest breath. We would not have thee buried on a lot with him who has caused thy death.”

The Confederate soldiers named on the monument are inscribed as, “…William Tighe aged 30 years, R.W. Yates aged 30 years and William Datbor aged 20 years.”

In the Henry County Historical Society book, Henry County, Kentucky, 1798-1995, it states that in August in the same year four guerillas from Eminence were transported to an adjoining county to be shot and four from Lexington were shot in Pleasureville in November, not three. The account in the book also states that the bodies laid on the floor of the Pleasureville Depot for 16 hours after their execution.

Burbridge evolved into a blight for the Union cause.

Some historical accounts credit Burbridge with alienating the state from the Republican party given his personal and professional connections. Burbridge seized John Helm, who later became governor and several public figures on baseless accusations of treason. Burbridge fell out of favor with Gov. Bramlette for his actions and his attempt to control presidential elections within the state. Bramlette reportedly said because  President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and put Kentucky under martial law in conjunction with Burbridge’s actions “…the state was bloodily baptized into the Confederacy.”

Burbridge made another proclamation, continuing division in the state, historically called The Great Hog Swindle. The general ordered farmers to sell surplus pigs to the government below market price. Burbridge allegedly cost Kentucky farmers over $300,000 in loss. Lincoln later removed Burbridge from his command at the plea of Bramlette and stopped the program.

 

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