Harry Peake McDonald, the oldest son of
Angus W. and Cornelia (Peake) McDonald, was born in Romney April 14th,
1848, and named for his great uncle, Harry Peake.
His first regular instruction was
received at the old Winchester Academy where Peyton N. Clarke was the
Principal. And his first military experience was as a member of a
company of his school companions, called "The Selma Guards," in which
company he held the office of corporal. Allan and Kenneth, his younger
brothers, were also members of this distinguished organization.
The recent raid of John Brown and his
vandals into Virginia had not only roused the military spirit of the
men, but the young boys too had caught the infection, and with corn
stalks for guns and bows and arrows for side arms, they marched and
countermarched, and held their dress-parade as regularly as their
It was not long after the breaking out of
the war that the school which Harry attended was suspended, and his
father and older brothers all having gone into the army, Harry was left
sole protector of his mother and the younger children, though but
thirteen years of age. Their home being; within the Yankee lines, most
of the time, they were in constant danger of a battle [There were 27
engagements in sight of my father's home during the four years of the
war between the States.] being fought over their heads and living in
such an atmosphere was well calculated to develop all sorts of unusual
traits in any boy. In Harry, being naturally courageous and
self-reliant, these attributes found ample opportunity for fruitful
During, the occupation of the town by the
enemy, those citizens who had remained in their homes in the vain hope
of protecting them, were sometimes reduced to the verge of starvation
and on several of these occasions Harry would be sent through the lines,
to a designated point where his father kept on deposit, for such
anticipated emergencies, what was then called "Virginia" money, as that
currency alone could be exchanged for "greenbacks," though at a
considerable discount. but the necessaries of life could be purchased
with "greenbacks" alone.
The town was always surrounded with a
double line of pickets but, on these expeditions Harry invariably
'flanked'' them successfully both going out and returning. I asked him
once, on his return, how he managed to get by without being caught, and
he replied: 'Oh, well, I took a long whip with me and roamed around the
field awhile and then as I got near the picket I asked one of them if he
had seen a stray cow anywhere around, and he said that he had seen one
shortly before, and pointed in a direction outside his lines, and I just
walked deliberately by, without being challenged." That was only one
time though, and he went on those missions several times. Such a life
was well calculated to sharpen even a child's wits.
They—the three little boys, Harry, Allan
and Kenneth—invariably found out when the Yankees expected the
Confederates and at the risk of their lives always went up the Valley to
On one occasion, the Yankees having been
surprised by the Confederates in their camp, in order to make good their
escape, abandoned their camps and divested themselves of all superfluous
articles, and the fields where they had bivouaced in the neighborhood of
our home, were literally covered with muskets, side-arms, canteens,
overcoats, knapsacks, etc. The three boys went industriously to work and
collected every article which they thought might be of use to the
Confederate army, working like beavers to accomplish it, and then,
laborously lugging everything to the third story of the house, they
ingeniously removed a part of the flooring and tying a rope around the
lightest one of the party (Allan) he was lowered to the only spot about
the house which the Yankees had not. already discovered and searched,—a
large space over a closet on the first floor.
Each precious find was thus secreted and
the flooring put carefully in place again, and when the Yankees did
return a few days later, suspecting that these things had been picked up
by the boys, they searched the house again and again for them but in
vain, even though Harry, on one occasion, held a light most patiently
for the searching party as they ransacked all the dark corners.
And the captured articles remained in
uninterrupted security until the next advent of the Confederates, when
the little fellows marched down to the quartermaster's office and
reporting their capture, asked to have a wagon sent for them, and it was
with considerable pride that they loaded the big army wagon with their
trophies, and turned them over to the Confederate Government.
On another occasion Harry had converted
some abandoned gun barrels into what he dignified with the term
"field-pieces" and ingeniously mounting them on carriages he "fortified"
a mound in the yard and trained them in the direction of the Yankee
encampment, which occupied the fields and orchards surrounding our home.
Unable to resist the temptation, one morning, he applied a match to one
of them and the explosion which ensued made such a noise, that a
detachment of "blue coats" from one of the neighboring camps was soon
observed approaching at a double-quick.
Harry was at once arrested and carried
before the Colonel of an Ohio regiment camped near, and occupying as his
winter quarters a stone hut, built of stones taken from the nearby
residence of Senator James Al. Mason. This officer was Col. Rutherford
B. Hayes, after President of the United States. With a severe reprimand
from the Colonel for "disturbing the peace," and an order to at once
dismantle his fort, on penalty of arrest, Harry was dismissed without
more serious punishment.
When the enemy finally tools complete
possession of the house (they had occupied a part of it for some time)
and the family was forced to leave, they moved to Lexington and soon
after that, Col. 'McDonald, being now almost helpless from rheumatism
and unfit for active service, was given the appointment of Commandant of
the Post. Harry, always sturdy and willing, now became his constant
companion and nurse and I have heard my father say that Harry's rubbing
did him more good than all the doctor's prescriptions.
When it was known that Hunter was
approaching on his memorable raid through the Valley, Col. McDonald
having no force suitable to defend the town, determined to leave
Lexington in order to avoid capture, and seek some secure retreat, until
the enemy should have passed. Taking Harry with him, they went to the
spot where Iater, they were attacked and captured by twenty-two of the
1st New York Cavalry, though not until they had made considerable
resistance (see full account in sketch of Harry's father, Col. Angus W.
McDonald). Harry's own account of his escape, as I heard him tell it the
afternoon that he reached Lexington, is as follows:
"As soon as I found that I was to be
separated from my father, I made up my mind to escape at the first
opportunity, and at a given signal, I and another fellow who had also
agreed to attempt it, were to break through the guard and run with all
our might, so when we reached what I thought a pretty mood place to make
the trial I gave the signal and stating down a steep embankment, I threw
away blanket and canteen. I heard plenty of shots, but never looked
back, till I had gone some distance, then to my surprise I found that my
confederate was not along, and I never knew whether he had been
recaptured or shot, or whether he had followed me at all. Feeling pretty
safe after I had gone some distance, I took it more leisurely, though I
was footsore and weary, and night coming on I soon crawled into the best
place I saw and fell asleep. When I awoke the sun was just rising and
the only living thing in sight was an old mule, which from its
appearance had been turned out to die. I had no idea where I was, but it
didn't take me long to mount the mule and by persistent urging I finally
got him into a road, which Iead to a small farm house, and there I got a
meal and directions how to find my way back to Lexington."
There happened to be some "silver money"
[A heavy silver ladle had been sacrificed to obtain it. The paltry sum
of fifteen dollars being considered then a fair equivalent.] in the
house at the time my father left Lexington, and as a matter of
precaution he had taken some of it with him. Harry had been entrusted to
carry it and notwithstanding he had been stripped and searched by the
capturing party he had held the money tightly in his hand during the
search and it had escaped their notice, so quite triumphantly, he now
turned it over to his mother.
A few months later, Dec. 1st, his father
died in Richmond and Harry remained with the family in Lexington until
the following Spring, when he decided to enlist in the army, although
not yet seventeen, and in order to provide him with a uniform, his
mother found it necessary to part with a handsome crepe shawl.
Accordingly, he enlisted in Company D,
11th Va. Cavalry, April 6th, 1865. His service in the cause, however,
had been active and continuous from the first.
Soon after the close of the war he
entered Washington and Lee University and graduated in the engineering
department in 1869. He then went West to Kentucky and was engaged for
sometime with Mr. John McLeod in the construction of the Elizabethtown
and Paducah R. R., now a part of the Illinois Central. He remained with
the railroad until its completion and was made resident engineer. He
finally resigned that position and came to Louisville and established
himself as an architect, in which business he was eminently successful.
Among his first achievements in that line
was the City Workhouse, under Mayor Jacob's administration. He Iater
formed a partnership with his two brothers, Kenneth and Donald, in the
business, and the firm, "McDonald Brothers," constructed some of the
most prominent edifices in the city. Among them, the old Southern
Exposition building, which occupied more than four squares of space, and
was especially unique in one feature of Exposition construction, viz: it
was completed and in the hands of the committee two weeks in advance of
the firm's contract. The Custom House is another building constructed by
the same firm.
On April 14th, 1875, he was married to
Miss Alice Keats Speed, of Louisville. daughter of Mr. Phillip Speed.
When the movement was inaugurated to
build a home for the Confederate soldier, he took a deep and active
interest in the matter, giving much of his time to the work and when the
Home was finally achieved, he was the first Secretary of the Board of
Trustees. In recognition of his services a memorial tablet has been
placed over the door of a room in the hospital, dedicated to his memory.
Although he always took an interested and
prominent part in politics, he never seemed ambitious to hold office,
and had never been a candidate for office until a short time before his
death, when he was elected as a member of the Legislature. And one of
the first measures which he introduced was a bill increasing the per
capita allowed the old soldiers in the Home from $125.00 to $175.00, and
also for appropriating $57,000 for a hospital and cottages.
.Just before his death he had left
Frankfort in company with other members of the Legislature to go to St.
Louis in order to be present at the dedication of the Kentucky Building
at the World's Fair. On arriving in Louisville, however, the condition
of his health became so serious that it was impossible for him to
continue the journey. And in a clay or so he developed a case of acute
pneumonia from which he never rallied, and he died at his home on
February 18th, 1904, leaving his wife and one daughter. He is buried in
Cave Hill Cemetery. He lost one child, a most attractive little
daughter, who died of measles at the age of six.
Though somewhat blunt-spoken, Harry was
possessed of a warm and tender heart and whatever claimed his interest,
always enlisted his warmest endeavors. He was a member of the Protestant
Episcopal Church and also a life member of the Knight TempIars, of
Louisville Commandry, besides being an Elk.
One of his colleagues said of him: "He
was a brusque but a true man. Absolutely fearless and a useful
legislator. No man in Kentucky did more for the Confederate Veteran than
A special from Frankfort to the
Courier-Journal at the time of his death, said: "The news of the death
of the Hon. Harry P. McDonald in Louisville was received here with
profound sorrow. Representative Laurence Reichert had called up the
house several times during the day over the long distance and the first
news received was a message at 6:30 o'clock.
"The lobby of the Capitol Hotel was
filled with members at the time and the deepest gloom was cast over
every one, for no member of the General Assembly stood in higher esteem,
or was more popular than Mr. McDonald. He was notable for his rugged
honesty and the direct and sincere manner with which he invariably
treated both men and measures.
"Out of respect to one of the strongest
characters in the body, the House will adjourn shortly after it
assembles, and after a committee has been appointed to attend the