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Mini Bios of People of Scots Descent
Lt. Col. James Bennett MCCREARY


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 this soldier. 

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.


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