charles m. meacham



Both Sides Occupy Hopkinsville; Federal Col. Sam Johnson; Confederate
Col. Thos. G. Woodward Killed; Execution of Captain James F. Brewer; Confederate Gen. H. B. Lyon Burns the Court House.

The war between the States in 1861 found Christian County much divided, though in a general way the Southern half of the county was intensely Southern and the Northern half was Unknown in sentiment. The people in the Southern part of the county were, many of them, slave owners and men of large estates, owning farms of hundreds of acres cultivated with slave labor. The slavery question was really the cause of the war and it was but natural that the slave owners should give their allegiance to the South. On the other hand, the northern section of the county had been peopled with a hardy race of citizens who owned small farms and worked their own lands. In Hopkinsville there was a sharp division of sentiment and the city, as well as the county, contributed many soldiers to both sides.

Kentucky attempted to be neutral but the people themselves divided so sharply that in some instances brothers volunteered for service in different armies.

Christian County was not in the theatre of important military operations and no battles of importance were fought in the county. The soldiers of both armies made occasional incursions into the county for recruiting, observation, or other purposes, but not until the year 1864 did any clashes occur. In the fall of that year, Cot. Sam Johnson occupied Hopkinsville at one time with Federal troops and undertook to rid the county of Confederate detachments from Forrest’s and other commands who were making occasional recruiting expeditions into the county. In October, Col. Johnson’s men captured Capt. Jas. G. Brewer, a local. Confederate officer, while he was in the county and when he was brought into town, Col. Johnson had him summarily executed, together with another prisoner named Bassett, from Webster County. Soon afterwards, Col. H. B. Lyon, afterwards Gen. Lyon, made a raid into the county with a superior force and Johnson withdrew to Clarksville, taking some civilians with him as prisoners. One of these was Dr. R. W. Ware, of Gracey, arrested for giving medicine to Confederate soldiers. The latter’s son, Jas. H. Ware, says his father was taken on foot, under a guard, with other prisoners. While crossing a small stream, being thirsty, Dr. Ware took off his hat and dipped up some water from the strea n, but a soldier punched a hole in the hat with his bayonet and thought it a great joke to see the water run out before he could drink it. On reaching Clarksville, Dr. Ware found Maj. John W. Breathitt, whom he knew, and who went to Col. Johnson’s superior officer and secured his release. Dr. Ware lived to be 80 years of age and was a life-long Democrat. Maj. Breathitt, a Republican, filled many offices in the county after the war and Dr. Ware always voted for him. Maj. Breathitt performed many similar acts of kindness to his Confederate home boys that made them his life-long friends.

Gen. Lyon found no one to resist his entrance into the city, but he burned the courthouse where Johnson’s men had been quartered and a detachment of troops under Cot. Chenoweth was left in the city. While these troops were in the city the most sanguinary conflict in the county took place. One night in December, while the soldiers in large numbers were attending a ball at the Phoenix Hotel, word came that Gen. McCook was approaching by the Russeliville road, with a body of Federal soldiers. The Confederates went out to meet them and near the Western State Hospital encountered a much superior force. In the exchange of shots two or three were killed or wounded on each side. The Confederates retreated by the Nashville road in the direction of Pembroke. Gen McCook came on and occupied the town. He sent 100 men in pursuit of another detachment who had retreated towards Princeton. They came upon the Confederates under Cot. L. A. Sypert, who was waiting for them near Bainbridge and assumed the offensive and charging them, drove them back to town. The Confederates made good their escape but some time later Col. Thos. G. Woodward was killed in Hopkinsville. He had been under discipline and deprived of his command and returning to the county, collected a few followers and announced that he was going to take Hopkinsville, held at that time by a small detachment of Federal troops and an organization of home guards, one of whom was a policeman named Paul Fuller. He came in from the South and at the corner of Main and Fifteenth Streets the small number of men with him halted and refused to follow him. One man rode with Woodward, who was under the influence of liquor, and endeavored to dissuade him from the foolhardy undertaking, as the windows along Main Street were filled with armed men. This man finally stopped and Woodward rode slowly down the street to within a few paces of Ninth Street, when he was commanded to halt. He stopped his horse and was in the act of raising his pistol to a window occupied by Peyton Breathitt, where the First National Bank now is, when a volley was fired at him from the windows of the building on that corner and from the upper windows of the Phoenix Hotel, and other nearby buildings. One bullet struck his horse in the neck and four entered the body of the rider. The horse sank to the ground and Woodward was picked up and carried into the office of the hotel,
where he expired within a few minutes. The soldier who had been with him escaped out Main Street and from the hill at Fifteenth, the Confederates fired a volley down Main Street and disappeared. A small sugar maple tree in front of Dr. W. H. Hopson’s residence, at Eleventh and Main, had just been planted and a bullet cut out the top of this little tree. The tree was still living until forty years later, when it obstructed the street and was cut down. Woodward was shot by two rifle balls and two musket balls. Paul Fuller claimed the credit of killing him, and the home guards did not dispute his claim. It was pretty well known, however, from the guns used, who fired some of the shots that took effect. A few years later, Fuller became involved in a shooting affray almost on the spot where Woodward fell and was himself shot to death.


Col. Thomas Woodward was a native of New England, probably born in Vermont. He was small of stature and wore his hair in flowing locks that came down on his shoulders. A long moustache and a stubby beard covered the lower part of his face. He was a graduate of West Point and highly educated. Leaving the army he came to Kentucky in 1848 and taught school for ten or twelve years at various points in Christian County. He was teaching at the Brick Church, on the Princeton road, when the war came on and was one of the first volunteers to tender his services to the Confederacy.

In 1862, according to Perrin’s History, he made a dash into Clarksville and with 200 men, surrounded the college where Col. Mason was encamped with a superior force of Federals. He trained upon it a mock battery of logs mounted on wheels, and demanded Mason’s surrender. The ruse worked and Col. Mason surrendered without a fight. When he was brought into Col. Woodward’s presence and saw the little man with his long, unkempt auburn hair, his drooping moustache and his face as dark as a Spaniard’s and his boots coming up to his knees, he laughingly challenged Woodward to go across the street and sit for a picture, saying: “I want to send it North to show to my friends what an insignificant little cuss I surrendered to.” Col. Woodward had the picture taken and presented it to Col. Mason. The picture used herewith was copied from an old daguerreotype, said to be a duplicate of the one referred to. I secured possession of it nearly thirty years ago and prepared an historical sketch that appeared in the Courier Journal October 4, 1903.


While discussing local events of 1864, it may not be out of place to tell more about the execution of Capt. Brewer in October, 1864. At a picturesque spot on the north bank of Little River, in the city of Hopkinsville, between what is now Means Avenue and the river, was enacted a deed that caused a great deal of bitter feeling against Cot. Sam Johnson, who had Brewer shot without any sort of trial. Cot. Johnson was a Methodist preacher in Logan County at the outbreak of the war. He had often preached in Christian County, and was connected by marriage with well-known families of the county. He developed intense Union sentiments, and quitting the pulpit, became Colonel of the 48th Kentucky Regiment. It is said that as a warrior he was a relentless hater of the Southern soldiers and sympathizers and was cruel and bloodthirsty in the extreme.

In 1864 he was stationed in Hopkinsville and his persecution and intimidation of citizens recalls the most unpleasant recollections of the war in Hopkinsville. My father was a Baptist minister who had known Col Johnson as a minister. The neighborhood doctor had been arrested by him and my father, who entered Hopkinsville to secure some medicine for  his sick wife, was ordered not to leave the city. He went to Cot. Johnson and asked to be allowed to return home and told him that in addition to his wife’s illness, he had an appointment to preach the next day, which was Sunday. Johnson refused with a volley of oaths, saying: “If you were Jesus Christ and had an appointment to preach in the temple at Jerusalem, you couldn’t leave this town.” After nightfall, Johnson’s superior officer arrived and assumed command and as soon as the case was laid before him he let the prisoner depart. He reached his home ten miles away late in the night.  It was Johnson’s custom to require citizens to furnish provisions for his men and his demands on John A. Twyman were so frequent that one day Mr. Twyman flatly refused and told the messenger to tell Cot. Johnson tha t he had sent about all he had, and the messenger added that he had said if he wanted any more he could come and get it. The message caused Johnson to swear like a trooper and he started a squad after Twyman, probably to have him shot. Lewis Wailer, a friend of Twyman’s, was standing within earshot and notified Twyman just in time to let him escape by his back door as the soldiers appeared at the front door. He succeeded in getting out of town and went to Canada and stayed until it was safe to return. It was about this time that the shooting of Brewer occurred. This was the beginning of his military executions. On another occasion he had a young man shot who had been captured on one of his raids because he had two or three pairs of socks in his pockets, claiming that he was trying to send them to a Confederate soldier. On the same raid, he captured Milton D. Brown, afterwards City Judge of Hopkinsville, on suspicion of being a Southern sympathizer. Young Brown was being brought in and was riding last in the column and through the kindness of David Boyd, a second lieutenant, who knew him, he was allowed to drop out and escape. Boyd believed that Brown was to be shot and while going through the woods gave him his opportunity. Brown, by the way, was a cousin of Brewer.

Brewer was brought in by some of Johnson’s men and riding up to where he stood near the courthouse the soldier in charge of him pointed to Brewer, who sat on a horse with his hands tied and said: “Colonel, we’ve caught Jim Brewer, what do you want us to do with him?” “Shoot him,” was the order. “By God, get a squad and take him down to the river bank and shoot him.”

The soldiers with their prisoner turned to go and Johnson called after them: “Go down to the jail and get that damned fellow Bassett and shoot him too. There’s no use to take two bites at a cherry:’ The circumstances of the execution were narrated by Allan M. Wallis, who as a small boy— one of several who followed to see what would happen - was an eyewitness. “Bassett was taken out of jail protesting his :nnocence of any wrong-doing and begging for his life with tears in his eyes. He was a young fellow of gentle, manly appearance and was wearing a high silk hat. Brewer was taken off his horse and marched along with Bassett. His step was firm and his manner unafraid. Reaching the spot selected, the boys climbed upon a rail fence not far away and sat on the fence while the soldiers placed the victims, stepped off ten paces and the squad made ready. The men were directed to kneel with their backs to the squad. Bassett did so, sobbing aloud. Brewer stood erect and said, ‘I never turn my back to an enemy. I only ask that you do not shoot me in the face.’ Col. Johnson sat on his horse nearby. The order was given to fire and both men fell dead.”

Continuing his story Mr. Wallis said: “When the shots rang out we boys all jumped, the top rail broke and we fell in a heap. We thought we had been shot ourselves.” The man who was shot with Brewer was said to have been named Bradley, but in a story published in 1903 a man in Webster County corrected the mistake in the name, saying he knew the boy well and that his name was Thomas Bassett and that he had done nothing to justify his execution. James Fielding Brewer was a son of Joseph A. Brewer, who owned two mills on Little River; one on the site of Binns’ Mill of today and the other further up the river. The accompanying picture of one of these old mills was obtained from a member of the Brewer family. It was around this mill that Jim Brewer’s childhood was spent, some twelve miles southwest of Hopkinsville.

Young Brewer was about 28 years of age when shot. He had been in the Confederate army, holding a commission as captain under Col. Woodward. He claimed to be on duty as a cavalry scout, but the Federals claimed that he was a guerrilla. Whatever may have been his status, he was given no opportunity to prove the regularity of his services. In the years following the war, Col. Johnson re-entered the ministry and resumed his religious activity.

 Return to Table of Contents

All Rights Reserved