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There were incidents during the American Civil War that helped independent thinkers take sides. Among such incidents were the Union executions of rebel prisoners in retaliation for the deaths of northern sympathizers.
The victims of Union firing squads did not know the people they were accused of killing. The prisoners were chosen at random, usually from a prison in Lexington.
Taylorsville apparently escaped the horror created by Brig. Gen. Stephen G. Burbridge’s prisoner killings, but Bloomfield was the site of five federal executions.
John May Hamilton of Prestonsburg and Richmond Berry of Livingston County were killed by a firing squad Aug. 15, 1864 in retaliation for the death of 79-year-old John R. Jones who lived in the brick house just south of the present-day Martha Layne Collins (Bluegrass) Parkway.
Jones was shot down on his porch after he mortally wounded a Rebel soldier who had been sent by Col. George Jessee to get fresh horses. Jessee and his men had been serving under Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan, but left regular service and became guerrillas after Morgan’s defeat at Cynthiana.
Jessee had sent a squad to the residence of Confederate sympathizers, but the soldiers mistakenly went to the Jones place. Jones was a staunch Union man.
The killing by Jerome Clarke and fellow travelers of three prisoners among several being taken to Bardstown by civil authorities Oct. 30, 1864, cost more confined Confederates their lives as well.
On Nov. 7, 1864, James Hopkins, John W. Sipple and Samuel Stagdale were executed at Bloomfield. They are believed to be buried at the rear of the Baptist Church Cemetery. It was federal policy to return guilty prisoners to the area where crimes were committed and execute them. Hopkins, Sipple and Stagdale had no idea why they were singled out to be shot.
While no Union executions are known to have taken place in Spencer County, there was an incident near Little Mount that raised the ire of federal authorities. The murder of Edward Darnaby Massie occurred Oct. 10, 1864.
Massie was born in Woodford County in 1816.
He was a member of the legislature from 1858 to 1860, and had been an orderly sergeant in the Union Army. He married Martha Coots, daughter of Shepherd Coots of Shelby County.
A story that Massie cast the deciding vote in the legislature that kept Kentucky from becoming a Confederate state was false.