A Civil War Reprisal

Historical Marker #504 in Frankfort notes the location where four Confederate men were executed in 1864, as an act of retaliation for the murder of a local Unionist by guerrillas.

In the border state of Kentucky, allegiances were sometimes fluid and untenable. Neighbors who were on friendly terms before the war often became bitter enemies when political ideals did not align. Although Union forces occupied Kentucky in large numbers after the 1862 Confederate invasion of the state in the fall of 1862, bands of pro-Confederate raiders and guerrillas made occasional forays into the state to disrupt Union army operations and communications. Some home-grown guerrillas just used the war as an excuse to take out grudges on old enemies and steal for personal gain.

In 1864, as more Kentuckians became disillusioned with the war aims of the Lincoln administration—including emancipation and the enlistment of enslaved African American men—guerrilla violence increased. In an effort to curb the rise of bloodshed, Union General Stephen G. Burbridge, the military commander of Kentucky, issued General Order 59. The order mandated that when any loyal Union citizen was killed, four guerrilla prisoners were to be executed.

On November 1, 1864, a Unionist Franklin County man, Robert Graham, from the Peaks Mill community in the northeastern part of the county, was killed by Confederate guerrillas. The following day Burbridge ordered that four Southerners be executed in response to Graham's death. Detailed to be shot in a south Frankfort pasture—near where the present Kentucky state capitol building stands—were four Confederates: Thornton Lafferty, a Pendleton County political prisoner; Elijah Horton from Carter County, who had served in the 10th Kentucky Cavalry; and Thomas Hunt and John Long of Mason County. After a spiritual word or two was provided by Rev. B. B. Sayre, a moment of silence fell. Lafferty managed to break free and run before the command to fire was given, but he was quickly shot down. The others were summarily executed. Hunt's body was taken back to Mason County for burial, while the other three were interred in the Frankfort Cemetery.

Burbridge was relieved of his duties in February 1865, and was replaced by General John M. Palmer. Although Burbridge was gone, bad seeds had been sown between the Federal government and many people in Kentucky, who were already upset over Lincoln's change in war aims. A combination of these factors and others led many Kentuckians to embrace the Lost Cause during Reconstruction and the years beyond.