Between the years 1862 to 1865, the area was inundated with ‘Bushwackers‘, irregular soldiers from both the Union and the Confederacy. These troops mostly ambushed individuals or family farms in the rural parts of the county for food, horses, money and or enemy collaborators. In some cases, gangs hired themselves to either army and indiscriminately attacked people, regardless of their stance in the war.
On March 25th, 1864, the Battle of Paducah occurred. A Confederate Cavalry force led by Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest launched a successful raid against Paducah, Kentucky to capture supplies and horses. Setting out from Columbus, Mississippi and into Western Tennessee and Kentucky, Forrest had approximately 1,800 men to recruit soldiers, re-outfit their force with supplies and to disrupt Union activities in the area. 1
The Union had a garrison in Paducah consisting of 665 men under the command of Col. Stephen G. Hicks and when the Confederates occupied the town, they retired to Fort Anderson on the town’s west side and refused to surrender. Hicks had two gunboats, the Peosta and the Paw Paw, on the Ohio River and the fort’s artillery to fire into town at Confederate positions. 2
Forrest loaded up on the supplies that he wanted and destroyed what was not needed. He searched for horses and mules while a small force was sent to assault Fort Anderson but his attack was repulsed suffering many casualties. Shortly afterwards, Forrest withdrew his force from Paducah.
Fourteen Union soldiers were killed, forty-six were wounded and forty were captured. The Confederates lost approximately 300 men. The raid didn’t cause too much lasting damage for the Union but underscored the dangers of future raids. 4
On April 14th, Forrest discovered that he had not found more than a hundred of the best horses that were hidden during the raid. Forrest sent Brigadier General Abraham Buford with a force to capture the missed horses and was successful. 5
In 1864, Brigadier General E. A. Paine took command of the Union forces in Western Kentucky and used Paducah as his headquarters. In Mayfield, Kentucky, he ordered fortifications built around the public square and used the local population to help build it. As a local history of Mayfield suggests, “He caused a fortification to be thrown up around the public square of Mayfield, in which the citizens, irrespective of class or sentiment, were compelled to assist.” 6
General Paine was considered by those in Mayfield to be a tyrant. The local history continues, “Such was the vigor with which he exercised his authority, that sixty-one persons in the Purchase, many of them entirely innocent, are said to have been executed during his short ‘reign of terror’. 7
After General Paine was removed from command in the latter part of 1864, there was much rejoicing in Mayfield and the townspeople believed they were very fortunate with his replacement, General Solomon Meredith. They said he treated them as a true gentleman and that his conduct won over their confidence and esteem. 8
General Meredith abandoned the fortifications constructed by Paine saying they were useless and threw up earthworks on the high ground in the southwest part of town that commanded a wide range of the countryside. 9
At the close of the war, their was a long period of time for the resentments to be resolved between the residents in the Jackson Purchase. With families that had sons fighting for both sides, this must have been especially difficult. Many in the area chose to forget about this sad chapter in our history and went back to life as if the war never happened.
1 Rebellion Record: a Diary of American Events: Documents and Narratives, Volume 8.Frank Moore, Ed., (G.P. Putnam, New York 1862), Frank Moore, 132.
2 Paducahans in history, (Young Printing Company, Paducah, Kentucky 1922), 55-68.
3 The Kentucky encyclopedia, (University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky 1992), John E. Kleber, 706.
4 Paducahans in history, (Young Printing Company, Paducah, Kentucky 1922), 55-68.
6 Story of Mayfield through a century, 1823-1923, (Billings Printing Company, Paducah 1923), D. Trabue Davis, 15-16.
- McCracken County (mission120ky.com)
- 6 Civil War Guerrilla Leaders (history.com)
- Secret Confederate post office once operated on Baltimore Street (times-news.com)
- This Week in the Civil War (kansascity.com)
- On This Day In 1864, Rebels Crushed at Battle of Franklin, Tennessee (rememberinghistory.wordpress.com)
- This Week in the Civil War (miamiherald.com)
- The Jackson Purchase in the Civil War – part one (johncashon.wordpress.com)
- Early days in the Jackson Purchase (johncashon.wordpress.com)