Lt. Col. James Bennett MCCREARY (1838-1918), of the 11th
Kentucky Cavalry, CSA. After the war, McCreary became a U.S. Senator for
Kentucky and twice was Governor of that State. He was a lifelong resident
of Richmond, Madison Co., KY. He was the great grandson of Capt. Robert
McCreery (American Revolutionary war veteran) and Polly McClanahan of Clark
Co., KY, who were also my direct ancestors. He was of Highland Scottish ancestry, his family migrated from Scotland to Ireland then to Maryland,
to Augusta Co., Virginia, and finally Kentucky.
Here is a story I found in the "Confederate Veteran" magazine written in
1911 about Lt. Col McCreary:
"On the Fourth of July 1863, at the very beginning of Morgan's Ohio raid,
the battle of Green River occurred. The 11th KY Cav bore the brunt of that
conflict. Col Moore, of a Union Iowa regiment , was in charge of a stockade
at that point. General Morgan (Gen. John Hunt Morgan) had easy sailing from
where where he had crossed the Cumberland river to this place. A demand for
surrender met with the response that "the Fourth of July was a bad day to
ask a Union soldier to surrender, and that if General Morgan wanted him he
would have to come and get him".
"An assault was immediately ordered. It was met with determined
resistence, and in the end with a deadly repulse. While standing by Col
Chenault that officer was shot through the head and fell dead at Major McCreary's feet. Assuming command of the regiment, McCreary passed along
the line to designate Captain Treble as his second in command; and as the
order was issued and Treble waved his hand in acknowledgement of the promotion, he too was shot down at McCreary's side. A second Captain was
killed in like manner. Maj. Theophilus Steele rode up to learn what were
the conditions, and his horse was killed as he leaned over to hear the report from the gallant McCreary. On that day no man ever acted with
calmer courage or handled a regiment with more skill and bravery. And he
won the admiration and respect of all his command by his splendid bearing..."
"You will remember that all of Morgan's officers who were captured in the
Ohio raid were confined for some months in the Ohio penitentiary. Among these was Lt. Col. James Bennett McCreary. From this prison General Morgan
and some of his companions escaped by tunneling into an air shaft and sewer. To escape became the highest hope and ambition of those prisoners.
Col. McCreary had concealed $100 in gold in the seams of his clothing. With
part of this he had induced a Federal soldier to sell him a long knife. It
was agreed that McCreary with the knife should grapple the guard, overpower
him, then the two escape to Canada."
"The fact that McCreary had a knife was in some way betrayed to the
warden of the penitentiary. He demanded its production, and the prisoner
refused its surrender. He was thoroughly examined for its presence and
threatened with the dungeon if it was not given up. Search was in vain,
but finally a detective advised ripping open the mattress in the cell and
the knife was discovered. The thermometer was then below zero. Col McCreary was hurried into a dark, dismal dungeon, with no furniture, no bed
[this was an air tight metal clad cell that was either very hot in summer
or very cold in winter]. Without food or water, he was kept in this horrible place for thirty-six hours, and then the name of the person who
had given him the knife was again demanded. This was positively refused."
"You may kill me or freeze me or starve me, but I will not betray the
man who gave me the knife', was the courageous response of this young Kentuckian. He was returned to the dungeon, where he could keep from
dying with cold only by walking across the floor of his cell for two days
and nights. In awful isolation, in the terrifying darkness, tortured with
hunger and burning thirst, the only relief that came to the dreadfulness
of the place was one tin cup of water and a slice of bread handed in through a small opening of the door. Death seemed near at hand, but
another demand for the name of the man who had given him the knife was met
with a calm and determined refusal. After an awful experience for many hours, the surgeon of the penitentiary passed in front of the dungeon. He
heard the moaning of what he believed to be a struggling, dying human being. He ordered the door opened, removed the unconscious soldier to the
hospital, and by humane and merciful attendance saved his life."
"Fellow citizens, a man who courted death rather than betray a Federal
soldier who had sold him a knife is incapable of a mean or dishonorable act. If this thing were to happen in the year 1911, the Carnegie medal
fund would give him a splendid testimonial and in addition add enough to
make him comfortable for the remainder of his life. No man in Kentucky has
emerged from as many political conflicts with a better record. He can hold
up his hands with a lime light of truth shinning through and through, and
not a single dollar in his political life ever stuck to his fingers. He
was always kind and courteous and true to his party and to his principles.
He never politically did anything of which a Kentuckian need be ashamed."
The above is from a speech of Gen. Bennett Young of the United Confederate
Veterans. Young was with McCreary participating in Morgan's Indiana/Ohio
raid and was confined in prison. He escaped to Canada and afterwards led
the raid on St. Albans, Vermont from the Canadian border. The Northern-most
Confederate land attack upon the North (yankees) during the war.
It is my assumption that the "Federal soldier" that provided McCreary
with the knife, was the same insider that got Gen. Morgan and companions
their change of clothes and train tickets. There probably was a vow taken
amoung the prisoners that they would go to their deaths rather than betray
McCreary's problems did not end with the Ohio penitentiary. He was sent
east to Ft. Delaware before being sent to Morris Island, S.C. and was held
with others as "human shields" in front of Union artillery emplacements that were shelling the city of Charleston. The yankees were mad that the
Confederate government took the Union prisoners from Andersonville and put
them with better conditions in the city of Charleston, which is where the
yanks wanted to shell. In attempt to punish the Confederates for this act,
Confederate prisoners of war were held as human shields. By an act of God,
no Confederate prisoners were hurt or killed by the incomming shells, the
only casualities to shells were the Union soldier guards. These were not
white soldiers but black soldiers, given this work where no white troops
would serve. The Confederate casualities on the Island were not from shells
but from shots fired by the guards at the prisoners, often with no justified reason.
After Morris Island, the prisoners were taken to Ft. Pulaski where they
were intentionally starved to a point as close to death as possible. Some
did die of starvation and associated illnesses. The doctors were ordered
to treat only symptoms even though they had the cure to the disease (scurvy) all around them. POWs lost their teeth, hair,ect. Those that lived
had their health ruined for the rest of their lives. Although Col. McCreary
was starved on Morris Island, he was fortunate to be one the last to get an
exchange before conditions at Ft. Pulaski became extremely worse. Upon returning to Richmond, Virginia, McCreary testified before the Confederate
Congress about the atrocities being committed upon Confederate soldiers in
the POW camps.
McCreary had many reasons to become bitter at what the yankees did, but
he didn't. As a committed Christian he forgave them and stressed reconciliation for Kentucky and the nation. He believed it was important
to erect monuments in memory of the Confederate soldiers, to remember their
valor, fight for States rights, but not dwell on the atrocities that took
place. The two major lessons, McCreary gave in a speech before the veterans
of the blue and the gray during the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg were that the Union must be preserved and the States have rights
that must be maintained.