Local historical marker displays inaccurate information

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Sign could be replaced, but at the county’s expense

By Tom Watson

After proof to the Kentucky Historical Society that Historical Marker 594 in front of the Spencer County Courthouse is wrong, the state has agreed to correct and replace it.


There’s only one catch. The state won’t pay for it.
The price is $1,750.
For those of you who may have tuned in late on this story, the “Courthouse Burned” marker has been telling the story for many years of how guerrillas came to Taylorsville on a cold night in January 1865 and forced the citizens to burn the courthouse.
In 1924, only one source was used by the state to tell the story of the courthouse burning. It was Collins History of Kentucky.
Here is how Marker 594 reads:
“Twenty-two Kentucky courthouses were burned during Civil War, nineteen in last fifteen months: twelve by Confederates, eight by guerrillas, two by Union accident. See map on reverse side. Courthouse at Taylorsville was burned by guerrillas in January 1865. Federal scouts caught them at Mt. Eden killing one; captured and executed one. Records saved.”
Collins does not give the exact date of the burning of the Spencer County Courthouse, but testimony from Confederate guerrilla courts martial and newspaper stories of the time say it was Jan. 22, 1865.
Thomas J. Barker, in testimony at the court martial of Confederate Henry Turner, said One-Arm Sam Berry walked into the Presbyterian church while services were in progress on the fourth Sabbath of January 1865. Berry, a Confederate guerrilla, told Barker the courthouse was going to be burned and he understood Barker was in charge of the Masonic records. He told Barker he would have a short time to remove any records he wished to save. Barker and others removed the Masonic records and apparently the important court records as well.
The church is still standing on the corner of Main and Jefferson streets and is now called “Sanctuary Arts Center.”
Witnesses also placed Turner in Taylorsville the day the courthouse was burned, along with outlaw Bill Marion.
The three, Berry, Marion and Turner, were the only guerrillas involved in the burning of the courthouse.
The line on the marker at the courthouse in Taylorsville that “Federal scouts caught them at Mt. Eden killing one; captured and executed one,” is false. Here’s what happened.
The person or persons who composed the information for the Taylorsville marker, using Collins as the only source, made an incorrect assumption. Collins had two entries for Jan. 25, 1865 under “Annals of Kentucky” that were not connected, but the marker composer connected them. Listed under events of 1865, they were:
“Jan. 25 — A Federal scout of 16, near Mt. Eden, Spencer Co., rout some guerrillas, killing 1; they also capture 1 and execute him on the spot.”
“Jan. 25 — Guerrillas have recently burned the court houses at Albany, Clinton Co., at Marion, Crittenden Co., and at Taylorsville, Spencer Co.”
The story about the two guerrillas being killed near Mt. Eden on Jan. 25, 1865 was probably concerning an incident on Jan. 28, 1865. That was when the guerrilla Dick Taylor and a compatriot named Smith were killed near Lawrenceburg.
After the war, Berry was tried for being a guerrilla and sentenced to be hanged, but due to support from letter writers, the execution of the former Mercer County school teacher never occurred and he died in an Albany, N.Y., prison.
Marion was killed April 15, 1865, in a skirmish with Union soldiers and Ed Terrell’s federal decoy guerrillas.
Turner was tried and his execution was scheduled for July 21, 1865, but the sentence was commuted to 10 years.
A petition for pardon said that Turner was 17 years of age during Morgan’s first raid into Kentucky. He was separated from the command during Morgan’s second raid into Kentucky, as were so many others who turned into guerrillas. It isn’t known who, if anyone, was killed by “federal scouts” just after the Spencer County Courthouse was burned, but it wasn’t any of the three who took part in the act.
The marker should read something like:
“Twenty-two Kentucky courthouses were burned during Civil War, nineteen in last fifteen months: twelve by Confederates, eight by guerrillas, two by Union accident. See map on reverse side. Courthouse at Taylorsville was burned by guerrillas Jan. 22, 1865. Rebel guerrillas ‘One-Arm’ Sam Berry, Henry Turner and Bill Marion, were unchallenged, forced citizens to torch courthouse, jail and another building. Berry and Turner had been with Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan. Marion had not served in military.”
There were indications that the guerrillas were angry that Union troops had recently used the courthouse for a headquarters while they were in Taylorsville.
The citizens being ordered to apply fire to the buildings in Taylorsville made no effort to oppose the guerrillas as Marion sat on his horse in the middle of Main Street with a rifle across his lap. Berry and Turner rounded up the people who were forced to become arsonists.
When the courthouse didn’t catch right away, some of the torchbearers were sent up into the cupola and started a blaze that quickly spread. Testimony said the young Turner directed operations to keep some houses from igniting due to flying ashes. Although Turner was not as uncaring as most of the guerrillas, he was no angel either. But the letters poured in after Turner’s capture and Maj. Gen. L.H. Rousseau wrote to President Andrew Johnson on April 29, 1866, asking that Turner be released, which he was the next day.
Guerrilla Dick Taylor and three companions had visited his father the night before Dick’s death, then robbed a tollgate keeper and several other residents in the community of Rough and Ready. Taylor’s father had admonished his son and instructed him to return to regular service with the Confederate Army. Dick Taylor refused to listen, and with his gang, visited the residence of Edward Martin, some two to three miles from Lawrenceburg. The elder Taylor went into Lawrenceburg and reported his own son to federal officers.
Lt. Moore of the 54th Kentucky tracked Taylor and his men to Martin’s, but Martin’s family denied they had been there.
A search resulted in the discovery of booty-laden horses in the barn. Pressed with the evidence, Martin then admitted the guerrillas had taken to the fields on foot. Taylor and Smith were tracked in the snow to a rail pile where they surrendered. As the other two guerrillas were being tracked, Moore put Taylor behind him on his horse and Smith behind a young federal soldier named Shouse. Taylor, using the ruse of adjusting his saddle blanket, became involved in a life and death struggle with Moore, which ended with Moore killing both Taylor and Smith.
(Louisville Daily Journal, Feb. 3, 1865).