Confederate spy serves time in Louisville military prison

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10th Kentucky Cavalry (Partisan Rangers), with extensive documentation revealing a fantastic history. A small but interesting group comprised of Woolfolk’s identified Colt M1849 Pocket pistol and unmarked cdv with an important original letter dated March 3, 1899 attesting to George Woolfolk’s prior ownership and relating his unusual experience of having been tried and convicted of spying by a Union court marshal and sentenced to death by firing squad in 1863. Woolfolk would be pardoned by President Lincoln.

A number of partisan companies composed of western Kentucky men (from 14 different counties) were active as early as July 1862, notably at Newburgh, Indiana, but they were not formally organized as the 10th Kentucky Cavalry until August 13, 1862 at Nebo, Hopkins County, Kentucky. George Woolfolk (Union County) is listed as a private in Captain Clay Merriwether’s Company H. on one roster dating to August 1862 but is entirely absent from a slightly later roster from September. At muster-in there were apparently two companies designated as H. and the weaker one was consolidated. During the summer the various companies loosely affiliated with the 10th Kentucky Cavalry engaged in active skirmishing and shortly after entering Confederate service, captured the town of Clarksville, Tennessee from Federal forces on August 18th.

Despite the intention of the Colonel Adam R. Johnson (later brigadier general) to have his regiment serve as independent partisan rangers, the 10th Kentucky was co-opted by General

Bragg and ordered to report to Murfreesboro where it was assigned to John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry division. With Morgan, the regiment participated in the Christmas raid into Kentucky and the capture of Mt. Sterling. The 10th Kentucky accompanied Morgan on his famous July 1863 raid into Indiana and Ohio and was captured at Buffington Island on July 19th. Over two hundred enlisted prisoners from the regiment were later sent to Camp Douglas in Chicago (including Wes Cowan’s great-great grandfather, Sergt. Samuel B. Withers of Union County) and the command never reformed.

George Woolfolk did not participate in Morgan’s Raid having previously been captured behind the lines in Lyon County, Kentucky on April 18, 1863 and held at Louisville Military Prison, later transferring to Camp Chase in Ohio. Woolfolk was charged as a guerilla, “Being secretly within the lines of the United States forces, at the same time belonging to the so-called Confederate Army” in violation of General Order No. 38. The specification presumed that he [was] by his presence, able to obtain information and communicate the same to the enemy. In practical terms Woolfolk was charged with being a spy. The Military Commission convened at Henderson, Kentucky on June 10, 1863, heard testimony, and found him “guilty” of both charge and specification. On June 15 he was sentenced to be shot unto death, as such a time and place as the Commanding General may direct…

In examining the transcripts of the proceedings it is clear that George Woolfolk was a Confederate Army deserter who was attempting to return to his home when captured. The transcript also states that when taken into custody he had a revolver, and was in possession of a horse that “belonged to some Iowa Cavalry.”Woolfolk freely admitted to being a Confederate soldier but said that he “had been on the dodge since our troops came to Madisonville, Kentucky” (August 25, 1862) having received a slight wound there. Two witnesses who knew Woolfolk testified that as early as September 1861 they had seen the accused in the company of armed Rebels engaging in acts of intimidation and hostility, suggesting banditry as a motive.

Source of text and image: Cowan’s Auction