Whitesburg KY

Civil War vets faced peril ‘back home’

Battle was hell during the Civil War. Soldiers often met face to face and shot at each other. Some did so after the war as well.

Battle was hell during the Civil War. Soldiers often met face to face and shot at each other. Some did so after the war as well.

Thousands of soldiers returned home after the Civil War. The return home for the weakened men was difficult and filled with hazards. They came by water, train, and horse, but practically all had to do a lot of walking. Many found no peace with little or nothing remaining of their homes.

The citizens of eastern Kentucky, east Tennessee and southwest Virginia suffered greatly from the presence of the soldiers of the competing armies. At times the wife was dead or gone and the children were scattered with “one here and another there.”

They had to deal with those who “fought on the other side during the war.” Some hid in bushes overlooking the paths in order to take a potshot at their supposed adversary. For a spell there was a constant tension that filled our hills and valleys during the Civil War as neighbor was pitted against neighbor and in some instances members of the same family were on opposing sides. The war separated the country, causing hatred, resentment and bloodshed that persisted for many years several after the war.

The route for many of the released confederate prisoners was along the Wilderness Road through Pineville and Cumberland Gap and into Tennessee. One confederate soldier from Tennessee named Bailey unfortunately mistook Stinking Creek as a tributary of the Cumberland River. He took the trail leading away from the beaten path that provided some safety.

The land became more and more desolate the farther Bailey traveled. It is unlikely that he recognized the extreme danger from an unknown enemy who was stalking him. If he sensed danger, he probably felt his only recourse was to hope and pray.

Several men from Roaring Fork, a tributary of Stinking Creek, served in the Union army and some had returned home. They noticed Bailey as he traveled along Stinking Creek and made plans to bushwhack him at the gap of Roaring Fork and Long Branch.

As Bailey neared the head of the fork, he came to the Thomas Carnes home where he paused to ask for food and drink. Carnes was not at home, but his wife Jane gave him bread and water.

She learned from a neighbor that there were men waiting to ambush Bailey in the gap of Long Branch, so she warned him to take a different route down Buffalo Creek. Bailey took her advice and headed down the altered route, but Bill Simpson spotted him along his way.

The southerner paused to eat the bread and rest atop a fence that separated the property of Thomas Carnes and William Carnes. William Carnes had served the North in the war but had not yet returned home from the conflict.

A gunshot shattered the silence of the afternoon and Bailey fell from the fence, shot in the back. Bill Simpson, his gun readied, came out of the woods to where the man lay wounded.

Bailey did not know Simpson, but he immediately knew he was approaching him with bad intentions. He begged Simpson not to shoot him again. His pleas fell on deaf ears.

Mrs. William Carnes heard the initial shot and hurried to the site where Bailey lay seriously wounded. Her presence did not deter Simpson from his ominous deed. He shot the praying man at point-blank range.

Simpson then carried the dead man up the hill and stripped him of his boots and clothing. The dead man’s body was placed behind a log. Later that night several men buried the dead Tennessean in a coffin carved from a hewed log.

When Bailey failed to return home, his family made inquiries to learn of his whereabouts. They were unsuccessful for over 30 years.

In the late 1890’s, someone told of the murder at Roaring Fork and the Bailey family learned there was reason to believe it was their kin. They petitioned the Knox County, Kentucky, Court for permission to move the soldier’s remains to Tennessee.

L. R. “Rice” Bingham approved the request and the Tennessee contingent was taken to the hidden grave. Area residents assisted in finding and removing the skeletal remains for reburial in the Bailey graveyard.

Unfortunately, atrocities of this kind were too common on both sides following the war. It resulted in many of these young men relocating westward after the war to Texas, to Oklahoma, Missouri and many other states, picking up the pieces of their lives and participating in the reconstruction of America.

Getting back to our story, the tale has persisted that the day Bailey was killed, “Bill Simpson danced in the dead man’s boots.”

l Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, Tennessee. His writings are both historical and nostalgic. He thanks Lincoln Memorial University, Alice Lloyd College and the Museum of Appalachia for their assistance.


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