In the hills and hollows of eastern Kentucky are many mysterious legends. They range from the absurd to the comical. Yet they still exist and who are we to doubt, for there are unexplained events occurring around us daily.
There are those who have lived close to Graveyard Holler that swear they have heard gunshots in the night coming from the old abandoned portion of West Wood Cemetery, located in Whitesburg, Kentucky. There are a few who say they have seen shadowy figures walking in the misty moonlight. They recall in detail the uniform and even the rank on the sleeves and shoulders of those walking along the turbid veil. It was stated by men of yesterday that on a moonlight night one could hear the whining of horses, the shouts of men and gunfire in the distant hill where the old Sandlick Cemetery is located. “You can sometimes hear noises like gun shots firing when no one is in the woods, then see what looks to be civil war soldiers running and disappearing.” (http://www.forgottenusa.com/haunts/KY/6670 and www.originaltales.com)
In an effort to explain the reported phenomenal occurrences, men of the SCV Ben Caudill Camp #1629, set out on a quest seeking a rumored Confederate cemetery. They had several important documents to assist them in their search. Records kept by Edward Guerrant in his diary talked of a hospital cemetery one thousand feet from the “confluence of the Sandlick Branch and the Kentucky River.” He stated that Whitesburg was no more than a “few houses and one large hospital.”
In another source by General Humphrey Marshall’s Adjutant General Reports, he makes mention of the hospital in Whitesburg and the dead soldiers. General Marshall mentioned men of the 29th Virginia and 1st Kentucky Calvary died at that location. Official records of the 5th Kentucky Infantry confirm at least ten soldiers who died there. The question remained as to the location of the cemetery.
All directions pointed to the old Graveyard Cemetery that existed prior to the War Between the States. It was on the land owned by John Caudill, whose sons fought for the Confederacy. In fact Colonel Ben E. Caudill raised over eleven hundred men for the Confederacy due to his fiery preaching. His men proudly carried the name Caudill’s Army and created a banner with a blue background and white cross to lead the way.
When standing at the confluence of the two merging waterways, the only land able to hold such numbers was approximately one thousand yards in a northeasterly direction. When interviewed regarding the location of the cemetery, Chaltas remarked, “We thought it strange that a prime piece of real estate was abandoned and no other graves were placed right in the heart of the cemetery”. Combined with interviews with some senior citizens who recalled their parents calling the hill “the Confederate Cemetery”, the dye was cast for rediscovery of the graves.
Donning axes, chainsaws, and lawnmowers several men began the arduous task of cleaning an abandoned portion of the cemetery. Trees and brush were cut down and removed. Soon a pattern of graves began to materialize. Not surprised though, they were close to John and Rachel Caudill’s grave, which was on the apex of the ridge.
After a laborious task of removing tons of debris and thick underbrush six military type rolls came into focus. Each grave was three feet apart and running from Lieutenant James Fitzpatrick to Private Joseph E. Cornett’s grave. Private Stephen Caudill’s grave was marked but unfortunately the stone markers of seventy two graves did not yield any information. In addition the abandoned portion of the cemetery went to the edge where the road to town was located.
The mystery of the abandoned cemetery has been solved. The Caudill men petitioned the government for stones for those clearly marked and placed small white granite markers in honor of the memory of those ‘known but to God’. A large monument was ordered and placed on site with two stone markers with the words of ‘I Asked God’ and a poem by Dave Chaltas entitled the ‘Potter’s Field’ A dedication was organized and held to remember those men who served, lest we forget the very fiber of our American legacy.
Special thanks to the research of The Ben Caudill Camp #1629 for their ongoing endeavors in rediscovering more names and graves. Noted is the research of Faron Sparkman, Richard Brown and many others efforts in preserving the integrity of our ancestors’ graves.
Where is the Potter’s Field?
Where are the Fields of Potter?
Where do their bodies lay?
They lay beneath the fodder:
Those men of blue and gray.
They’re hidden on a mountain
Or by a gentle stream.
At dusk I hear faint shoutin’
As they walk in between.
They hide within the valleys
Just praying to be found.
Their numbers can’t be tallied:
They’re hidden under ground.
Remains of them are scattered
On dust and on the wind.
Their life on earth was shattered
By bullets from a friend.
But where is their location?
Will secrets be revealed?
Unknown they wait salvation
Within the Potters’ Field.
The Potter’s Field is a biblical term referring to a plot of ground reserved for those that could not afford a place of burial. It was a place usually donated and set aside for the unknown and poor. While researching the medical and death records of our area, we could not help but note the number of Civil War soldiers that had died in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Since we were from the area and knew it extensively, the research brought forth several questions. Where was the hospital? Why were they brought to our area to receive medical attention? Was there more action in the area than previously thought? If so many died, what did they do with the bodies? Did they send them home and if so, how? If they buried them, where was the Potters’ Field? Ten years after the initial research, cleaning, reclaiming of the abandoned cemetery and dedication the search for more identities and grave sites continues. Somewhere within the confines of Whitesburg, Kentucky, lies the remains of numerous soldiers and it has become our passion to locate their burial site. (Poem taken From Poetry of the Civil War by David Chaltas).
-By Dave Chaltas