COLUMN: Rebel recruiter Jack Allen had mixed success

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By Tom Watson

During the Civil War, Taylorsville native Jack Allen fought for the South and rose in rank to colonel.

He enjoyed some success in persuading area youths to sign up for a hitch with the Confederate Army.

The following is an excerpt from my book “Confederate Guerrilla Sue Mundy.”

Allen, although suffering from an undisclosed illness, was in charge of a recruiting effort and under orders by the Confederate War Department to raise a brigade of cavalry. Allen was headquartered in a rolling, peaceful Nelson County valley that was called “Camp Charity.” John Hunt Morgan and his Lexington Rifles had used the same site as a camp. So much good food was prepared for the southern warriors by the Charles Dawson family at the eastern edge of the valley that the family’s cabin became known as “Dawson Hungry Lodge.”

Morgan cavalryman Henry Magruder of Bullitt County was also recruiting  for the Confederate Army and one sojourn into Bardstown got the attention of Louisville Journal Editor George Prentice. He reported in the Oct. 3, 1864 Louisville Journal:

“When Magruder was at Bardstown with his guerrillas, he remarked that he was hunting up drafted men to take them away with him, and wished some friend would let him know who they were.

A young traitor, overhearing the remark, ran out of a store and placed a full list in his hand. Let that young Rebel miscreant be identified and punished. His neck is too long.”

Prentice had a son on each side in the war, but his newspaper was pro-Union.

Allen hoped that as many as 2,800 men would gather for the move south, but only 120 reported. Many of James Pratt’s band in Bullitt County refused to go without their leader. Pratt was injured and could not make the trip.

His horse had recently run into a tree and Pratt was knocked out of the saddle. Jerome Clarke, Magruder, Isaac Coulter and Dick Mitchell were among those expressing a willingness to ride toward Dixie.

In fact, Jerome had 45 green recruits with him that he’d rounded up in the Bloomfield-Taylorsville area.

Before the trip south began, Jerome’s recruits refused to go and ran away.

Allen, Magruder and others went to see Col. George Jessee, but, Jessee, the officer in command of a large remnant of Morgan’s cavalry, would not make the attempt to head south.

Berry was unable to ride due to a wound and with the defections, only 40 or fewer men left with proper intentions of returning to regular soldiering. Prentice reported the effort Oct. 19, 1864 and half-heartedly praised Allen.

“Allen says that he has grown tired of a partisan strife and we give him credit for desiring to secure some protection to the people of Kentucky by using his influence to effect the withdrawal of outlaw bands from the state.” Most of those who Prentice called “outlaws” were Morgan’s men who were scattered when Morgan lost a battle in Cynthiana. Many of the Rebel cavalrymen, including Jerome Clarke, headed for Bloomfield, Taylorsville, Chaplin and other communities where there were plenty of southern sympathizers.

The significance of Jerome, Magruder and others making an effort to resume regular soldiering is evidence that they were more interested in helping secure a victory for the South than pursuing the rewards of irregular fighting.

Had they successfully returned to regular Confederate units, it would have been difficult to convict them of acting as guerrillas and easier to prove they were Partisan Rangers.