Bullitt County History

A Civil War Episode

The following letter to the editor was printed in The National Tribune, Washington D.C., Thursday, May 3, 1906.

In it, the writer, John W. Ratliff, describes how a troop of Union soldiers found themselves drunk and transported south to a Confederate camp in Tennessee.


The Way It Was Carried Over to the Confederacy.

Editor National Tribune: Please allow me to come in and correct in a slight way a point you overlooked in your write-up of "The Army of the Cumberland," regarding the State Guard of Kentucky in 1861. You failed to mention that the whole State Guard, including men, horses, arms of all kinds, one battery complete, wagons and all camp equipage were put on two trains on the L. & N. R. R. and shipped to Camp Boone, Tenn. I will now give the facts as well as I remember them.

The Governor of the State called all the State Guards to assemble at Muldraugh's Hill, in Camp Joe Davis, on the L. & N. R. R., to drill and be on the alert for the invader. All the companies were named, not lettered. My company's name was the "Bitter Water Blues." So we assembled and began to drill and do camp and picket duty. Everything went on finely for about two weeks, when an order was read at dress parade by Col. Thos. Hunt announcing that one of our comrades had died and that he would be buried by candlelight. The name of the dead comrade was John Barleycorn.

We were dismissed and got supper. After supper reassembled, and every man was given a large black bottle and a small piece of lighted candle in the mouth of the bottle. "Forward—March!" was given, and we marched some distance, when we came to a large open grave. Here we were ordered to throw our bottle in and march on. We did so, and were soon back in front of company headquarters. Here a barrelful of whisky sat with the head knocked in and a tincup tied to the barrel by a string, and an order from Capt. Phil Lee (my Captain's name) "to come up and drink and be good boys." There was a stampede for the barrel and the boys began to drink. I had a tent-mate by the name of Joe Samuels, who was a good sober boy (and at that time I was too). I said to Joe: "Suppose we go home. I don't like this whisky business, and am afraid some one will get drunk and kill some one." So Joe and I concluded to go home. We walked to the depot, about one mile, and when we got there we saw standing on the sidetrack two trains of cars. I stepped over to one of the engines to see what was up, and I found a young engineer whom I knew. I asked him where he was bound for, and he said, "The Southern Confederacy," and asked me if I was going. My answer was "No." About that time the wagons began to come in bringing the helpless, drunken, poor fellows that were so drunk that they were senseless. The teamsters threw them into the open box cars just like so many hogs, and just as we heard the drums and the rest of the command coming the northbound express came up and we (Joe and I) got aboard and went home to Shepherdsville, Ky. We were met at the depot by friends, and we told the truth about what had happened and what we had seen. We were laughed at, but the next morning the old Louisville Journal came out and confirmed all that we had said. The poor boys who were made drunk and shipped to the Southern camp awoke the next day to find their mistake, and commenced to plan their escape. Quite a number came back home, and, without a single exception, all donned the blue, and all made good fighters for Uncle Sam. Those who stayed were either killed or wounded. But three of the crowd ever came back home after the war was over, viz. Capt. Phil Lee, John Lee, and John Cundiff. Peace to their ashes. Hope this may be seen by some one whom it may interest.—John W. Ratliff, Sergeant, Co. L., 5th Ky. Cav., Boyd, Tex.

John W. Ratliff was a son of Ambrose and Mary Eliza (Glass) Ratliff who were married in Bullitt County on 19 Nov 1840. Census records indicate that John was born about 1845. He and his younger brother, Royal G. Ratliff, were living with their widowed mother in the 1850 and 1860 Bullitt County censuses. John would have been about 16 years old at the time of the incident he describes above.

His friend Joe Samuels was likely the son of Robert F. and Malinda Samuels who was living nearby to the Ratliff's in the 1860 census. Joseph B. Samuels was 13 in that census.

As a sidenote, the father of Mary Eliza Ratliff was Royal Glass. Linda Deppner has shared with us that Royal Glass was first married to Mary McLean on 10 Feb 1820 in Hardin County, Kentucky; and that he was later married to Elizabeth Smith on 9 Feb 1834 in Nelson County, Kentucky. She also indicates that Elizabeth Smith Glass had no children. Thus it appears that Mary Eliza's mother may have been Mary McLean Glass.

Royal and Elizabeth Glass's wills have been transcribed and are available offsite at these locations:

The original article is shown below.


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The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 11 Sep 2020 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/cwratliff.html