James Caldwell

James Caldwell


Information comes from an article by Jim Reis in Pieces of the Past Volume 3 pages 58-60 and reprinted here with his permission.

The men who rode up to John Richenour's store on Twelve Mile Creek, about seven miles south of Alexandria, were not there to shop, at least not in the way Richenour would have liked.  They took whatever they needed and made it clear that anyone who tried to stop them would face the barrel of a gun.  With $250 in cash, boots, clothes, food and everything else they could stuff in their pockets, they rode off.  There were soldiers, not bandits.

But lacking Confederate General John Hunt Morgan's daring, these men were termed guerrillas.  Among the guerrillas operating in Northern Kentucky was James Caldwell.  When the Civil War started in 1861, Caldwell was 28 and living in the Grants Lick community.  He was the son of George and Jane Caldwell and was the oldest of his brothers, John, George W and sisters Susan and Nancy.  They were descendents of Alexander, John and Robert Caldwell, brothers who came in the late 1700s from Berkley County Virginia.  There is an old Caldwell Cemetery in a fenced area near the swimming area of A J Jolly Park.

Guerrilla units operated in Kentucky throughout the war, but they primarily date to the Confederate invasion by Gen. Braxton Bragg and Major Gen. Kirby Smith in 1862.  Even though Confederate hopes to control Kentucky were dashed at the battle of Perryville, Jim Caldwell continued to wreak havoc for Union troops in Campbell, Pendleton, and Bracken counties.

An account in a Cincinnati newspaper on April 13, 1863 said Caldwell made regular visits to Morris' Mills in Campbell County for supplies, horses and recruits.  Caldwell provided a link between local Southern sympathizers and the main Confederate armies in the South.  Union soldiers of the 118th Ohio Regiment camped near Demossville were sent to capture Caldwell but could not find him.

They did capture two men first incorrectly identified as Caldwell's men. Jefferson McGraw and William Corbin were rebel recruiters working independently of Caldwell.  They were tried by a Union military court and executed.  Caldwell, meanwhile, slipped away with 18 mounted men, identified primarily as Newport residents.  The two groups apparently camped within gunshot of each other, unaware of the other's presence.

The Confederates moved out first the next morning.  The federals traced Caldwell to near Germantown on the Mason Bracken County line, where Caldwell's men stopped to rest.  The federals attacked and Lt. M D Daniels was killed and three other Rebels wounded.  Caldwell escaped.  On one of the horses they captured, Union troops found a carpet sack containing Confederate mail, horseshoe nails, yarn, socks, undershirts, and a quantity of small cakes baked for Caldwell's men by the wife of Ben Mullins, one of the captured Rebels.

In June 1863 a number of complaints from Union supporters reported robberies and shootings in the Alexandria, Persimmon Grove and Carthage areas.  One day searchers were camped at an old Baptist church building near Persimmon Grove when a rider approached.  Speaking in an excited voice the rider said Caldwell was asleep in his father's house nearby.  The Union troops waited until about midnight when twelve handpicked soldiers slipped off to capture Caldwell.  Surrounding the house, they checked the out buildings, house and cellar, but found no trace of Caldwell.  The only ones at home were women.

The Union soldiers ordered the women to fix breakfast and left, stomachs full but without Caldwell.  Joseph B Lewis later wrote in the Covington Journal on April 3, 1875 that Caldwell was there all along, dressed as a woman and perched in a window chair knitting.

By early 1865 most Confederates realized that the war was lost.  That left the guerrillas in a precarious position since there was no guarantee they would be treated as prisoners of war rather than criminals.  But Caldwell surrendered to Major Gen. John Palmer.  After the war he returned to life as a farmer, married Mary Jane Stilwell, raised a family and moved to Newport in 1890 and worked as a teamster.  He died in January 1905 and was buried at Evergreen Cemetery.

Children of James Caldwell and Mary Jane Stilwell

1. Dr. J Hadley Caldwell of Newport
2. Dr. James Asher Caldwell of Pendleton
3. Frank Caldwell-superintendent of Frigid Ice Co
4. Jane Caldwell
5. Albertus Caldwell-a dressmaker in Newport


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