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Cynthiana War Claims

This article was written by Bill Penn

During the Second Battle of Cynthiana, on June 11, 1864, Morgan’s Raiders set fire to buildings downtown. For almost thirty six years citizens who lost property that day attempted to convince the federal government to repay them. Lobbying for this group of twenty-nine claimants was W. S. Haviland.

W. S. Haviland was born March 22,1823, in Havilandsville, Harrison County, and died March 13,1914, with burial in the Battle Grove Cemetery. According to his biographical sketch he had a cabinet shop earlier in his life but beginning in 1850 was being “engaged in establishing the legality and collecting claims in the United States and foreign countries.” This description implies he was a “country lawyer,” without formal legal training. A letter of introduction that he carried to Washington supports this notion for it stated he was “a prominent business man” and “thoroughly informed on the bills pending” on the Cynthiana war claims.

Clearly, it was during the Civil War that Haviland was most active in collecting claims. Besides acting on behalf of soldiers’ families seeking various government pensions as surviving invalids, orphans, and mothers, Haviland represented citizens requesting payment for quartermaster and commissary stores furnished to the Federal army, allowed in the act of Congress of July 4, 1864. Stores included hay, corn, forage of all kinds, wood, lumber, horses, flour, bacon and other provisions. In addition, hire of teams was allowed, but “in no case extends to damage done by either Army or to stores taken by soldiers without the authority of the proper officer” and proof of loyalty. His papers and journal list many claims he made on behalf of masters who could collect a bounty when their slaves enlisted in the Federal army. However, the largest claim he pursued was that of the citizens who lost buildings burned by the Rebel soldiers.

Why did Morgan burn the town during that battle? Colonel D. Howard Smith later gave an affidavit in support of the city’s war claims of damages from the fire: “In order to dislodge said Federal forces, in compliance with orders from Gen. John H. Morgan, our said forces did fire said city to drive said Federal forces out of said houses.” An officer ordered Lieutenant William J. Stone, who was in Smith’s brigade, to set on fire a house on Pike Street and thus dislodging Federal troops who occupied it and nearby buildings. Stone said the house, apparently one of the first ignited, was “on south side of Pike street, on east side of Rankin House, near the Kentucky central Railroad.” This was the residence of J. J. Parrish. The Rebels set fire to other buildings and the spreading flames destroyed a total of thirty-seven buildings, nearly half the property in the city. Morgan justified the burning by stating he had no artillery to use in forcing the Union soldiers from the buildings. A witness said Mr. Rankin begged Morgan’s men not to burn his new 111 Pike Street hotel, so instead they set fire to the adjacent stable on the east side of the railroad tracks. Stone carried the coals to set the fire from Rankin’s old tavern across from the courthouse. Many of the Confederates demanded drinks from Rankin’s tavern throughout the morning until all the liquor was consumed. Before the Cynthiana raid, the only buildings burned by Morgan’s raiders appear to have been public buildings in Lexington.

Most of the destroyed buildings were on Pike Street between the railroad and Main Street, continuing on South Main Street about one-half block. One account summarized the results of the fire as follows:

The fire commenced at Rankin’s stable and continued to the West House, burning all the buildings; thence across to Broadwell corner and down to I. T. Martin’s store; thence across to Dr. Broadwell’s buildings, to the jail, including that and the adjoining buildings. The buildings destroyed are the following: Rankin’s stable, a large frame; Oxley’s blacksmith and wagon shop; Charles Daniel’s law office; Nouse’s paint shop; Smith’s shoe shop; Dr. Woodruff’s office; Carpenter’s carpenter shop; Gray’s dwelling house and confectionery; Henry Johnson’s barber shop; Charles A. Webster’s hardware store; Remington’s storehouse, occupied by Deebey as confectionery, and by David Givens as store rooms; McIntosh’s three story store, brick; Miller and Redmond’s storehouse; Mrs. Snodgrass’s house; Jack Kelley’s tailor shop; Frizell’s storehouse, occupied as a clothing store; Frank Box’s tin shop; Tom English’s shoe shop; William L. Northcutt’s storehouse; Frizell’s drugstore; John L. McGee’s residence; Luken’s boot and shoe store; Dr. Smith’s residence; Nebell’s clothing store; Dr. Boodwell’s house and office; a log house on the river bank belonging to Caleb Walton; the old Lowry house; the old jail.

In subsequent claims against the U.S. Government for fire damages by Morgan’s men, which Congress never paid, several store and building owners complained that Confederate soldiers interfered with their attempts to save what they could from the burning buildings and then ransacked the establishment. William L. Northcutt lost the entire contents of his rented dry goods store. While held prisoner by the Confederates, Northcutt watched helplessly as his store burned. The loss was exacerbated by rumors of explosives in James S. Frizell’s drug store next door. He complained that “the impression got out when the drug store took fire (which it did before my store) that there would be such an explosion from the great mass of combustibles said to be contained in it, that both it and my store would be blown into atoms. Hence my house was left even by my own clerks and friends to burn, goods and all, to ashes, and directed their attention and labors to the saving of other property where they believed they were not in so much danger.”

Morgan ordered a special detail to burn the jail and adjoining jailer’s house on West Pike Street, according to a deposition by Jailer John Bruce. The soldiers produced a written order from Morgan and refused to allow the removal of furniture or personal items. A reason for destroying the jail buildings is not apparent, since Federal soldiers were not reported occupying them. Perhaps Morgan believed Home Guards or Federal troops stored military supplies there.

J. W. McIntosh’s son-in-law, R. C. Wherritt, a member of the city council, recalled that Rebel soldiers stole some of the contents of his burning building while he was in the process of removing goods. The Confederates loaded down their horses “with goods of all descriptions, including whole bolts of muslin, jeans….” The ongoing fighting prevented the use of the city’s fire engine; however, Morgan’s men eventually allowed it to extinguish the fire. One witness vividly remembered: “Stores whose cellars were filled with whisky and other inflammable liquids, had fragments of their contents sent like rockets far into the air on blue and yellow flames that reached to heaven.”

Federal Adjutant Edmund Wood and another young man on Colonel Garis’s staff were hiding in the courthouse when the Confederates surrounded the building, but escaped detection when they hid in the dark recesses of the clock tower. From this vantage point overlooking downtown, Wood could hear the Confederate soldiers “making a great deal of noise down stairs, breaking guns, and swearing.” Wood reached the clock tower by way of a ladder in the jury room. “I shinned across on the stringer. There were no floor boards. At two different times I saw a rebel soldier come up and look all around and go down again.” Wood saw buildings on two sides of the courthouse square in flames and the courthouse yard was “strewn with goods taken from the burning buildings” as Morgan’s men helped themselves. The fire burned “half a square each side of the courthouse—south and east.” The hiding place had one drawback: earsplitting noise from the large clock bell which “struck the hours regularly.”

There is one account where Morgan considered burning the courthouse but was convinced by Anne Curry Todd to spare the building. She was married to Mary Todd Lincoln’s brother Dr. George Rogers Clark Todd, a Cynthiana physician who was serving in the Confederate army as a surgeon. Since Federal soldiers used the courthouse for protection and this was the excuse given for Morgan’s orders to burn houses earlier in the battle, it is conceivable the story is true. However, no other evidence supporting this statement has been found.

Between 1877 and 1913, W. S. Haviland assisted twenty-nine Cynthiana citizens to request federal government reimbursement based first on the act of March 3, 1871, and later through both the Bowman and Tucker Acts for buildings burned and damaged during the devastating fire set by Morgan’s men on the morning of June 11, 1864. Haviland, in turn, hired T. W. Tallmadge, an attorney in Washington, D. C., practicing as solicitor of claims.

Congress had provided for the payment of loyal citizens for property losses during the Civil War, however the act of July 4, 1864, excluded “the destruction or appropriation of, or damage to property by the army or navy, or any part of the army or navy engaged in the suppression of the rebellion, from the commencement to the close thereof.” Not until 1871 did Congress pass legislation to provide remedy for the losses of the loyal southern Unionists, in the Act of March 3, 1871, which provided for the Committee on War Claims to report bills making appropriations. Under provisions of the Bowman Act of 1883 and the Tucker Act of 1887, any claims that had been previously barred or disallowed by the commission could be reconsidered by Congress and submitted to the U.S. Court of Claims for “findings of fact” but not a judgment.

The Cynthiana claimants petitioned Congress in a bill dated November 5, 1877, for $231,500 (later amended to $230,323), but received an adverse report on March 3, 1879. To support the claim, the petitioners provided affidavits numbered by parcel, listed the contents and damage for each location, and attached a map cross-referenced to the numbers showing each building’s location (see page 7.) The petitioners based their claim on the fact that Union soldiers took possession of the buildings to defend the town and their command. The committee concluded, however, that the destruction was from the general ravages of war “for which payment is never made” and noted that it would be a “dangerous precedent to recognize or establish the principle that property destroyed by Confederates shall be paid for by the United States Government.” The committee concluded that the claimants had no valid rights against the United States, gave an adverse report, and the bill was tabled.

On March 27, 1888, H. R. 8640 was introduced, which directed the secretary of war to appoint a commission to ascertain the facts of the destruction of property at Cynthiana on June 11, 1864. Although the committee recommended passage, this bill was also tabled after a short debate in which an opponent to its passage noted that the federal government did not even compensate Gettysburg’s citizens for the extensive war damages and wondered why the sponsor of this bill thought the committee should treat Cynthiana’s claims differently. This request to appoint a commission was introduced again on H. R. 3402, April 5, 1890, H. R. 3697, February 18, 1892, and H. R. 5911, March 18, 1896, (another, H. R. 5354 in Fifty-fifth Congress, did not reach the War Claims Committee). All had the committee’s support, but again, were reported back without passage. The Kentucky General Assembly supported these bills through resolutions to Congress (see illustration p. 5).

Haviland’s agent in Washington, T. W. Tallmadge, finally wrote a letter February 20, 1899, concluding payment for the claims would never take place under the Bowman Act and suggested another approach: “I have come to the conclusion and so has all the persons that have the opportunity of knowing that Congress will never pass any bills to pay for claims during the war of the rebellion except they have been investigated by the Court of Claims…and the amount due is by that court favorable defined. Since we presented our claims before the Court of Claims under what is known as the Bowman act and they were thrown out for want of jurisdiction under that act, Congress has passed what is called the Tucker Act and by it if one of the Houses of Congress will send any claim to the Court of Claims it gives that court jurisdiction…. I have no doubt at all but the court will find due what we have claimed…. “

The Court of Claims again turned down the claim, and so Haviland approached another Washington lawyer, C. C. Calhoun, to pursue the matter. Haviland was no doubt disappointed to receive a letter from Calhoun in 1913 stating “As I have before written you I am afraid that there is no chance to recover on the Cynthiana burning claims, about which you write. It may be possible that Congress may enact some law in the future which will give relief in such cases, but I feel that it would be an injustice to you and to myself to expend any further money and time upon them under existing conditions.”

Although these twenty-nine people received no reimbursement from the government after their years of persistent requests, the committee approved another claim by a Masonic lodge in Cynthiana. St. Andrew’s Lodge, No. 18, Free and Accepted Masons, claimed on House Resolution 194, introduced April 1, 1902, that from about June 1, 1864, to October 1, 1864, Company H, 162nd Regiment Ohio Infantry Volunteers occupied their hall without lease or rent payments and inflicted damages to a room. The resolution recommended that the Court of Claims handle the case, and on March 16, 1906, that court approved payment of $1,246.50 to the lodge.

Haviland’s thirty-six year attempt to have the Cynthiana war claims approved was probably based partly on his determination and pride, and partly on the prospect of a lucrative commission. He usually based his fees as a percentage of the claims, and in his correspondence with lobbyist T. W. Tallmadge, he could charge from thirty-three percent up to fifty percent of the amount paid to his clients as compensation to be split between the two.

The Cynthiana-Harrison County Public Library has a microfilm from the National Archives with records of the House of Representatives on the “claims of certain citizens of Cynthiana, Ky., for damages suffered in the Civil War.” Included are affidavits from the twenty-nine persons claiming losses in which they list the specific items lost. A map, with numbers corresponding to the affidavits, is on the microfilm, and a copy is attached to this article. This is the only Cynthiana map found so far dating to the Civil War showing the location of specific buildings and the railroad passenger depot.

Sources: Penn, William A., Rattling Spurs and Broad-Brimmed Hats: The Civil War in Cynthiana and Harrison County, Kentucky, (1995), 110-112;163-165;: Haviland Papers, photocopy in author’s collection, courtesy of Robert Haviland.

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