HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (119/12)—Hopkins County, as well as the surrounding region and the state of Kentucky in general, is built upon a lengthy and intriguing line of historical heritage. In an attempt to recount some of the interesting history from our area, which might be “new” to many, SurfKY News reporters will be paying a visit to several historical markers and sites over the upcoming weeks. Soon after, we will try and post photos from the site, a description of each site’s significance, and some historical research gathered in relation to the site.
For the third installment of “A Nod to the Past,” SurfKY News chose historical marker number 1425 at 218 South Scott Street near downtown Madisonville, KY: The Hockersmith House.
A Victorian (“Second Empire”) style home erected in the latter half of the 19th Century, the dwelling was inhabited by one of the Civil War’s most infamous fugitives/escapees, Captain L.D. Hockersmith, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 13th, 1988. In fact, the incidents and fellow Confederate cohorts Cpt. Hockersmith involved himself with during the war—mainly General John Hunt Morgan and his “Great Raid” of 1863—have spawned a variety of national articles and research, including a piece in The New York Times courtesy of the Ohio State Journal (1963), as well as a variety of modern historical works.
The marker posted at the site of Hockersmith’s former home reads as follows:
“The home of L. D. Hockersmith, Captain, l0th Ky., General John Hunt Morgan's Cavalry, CSA. Hockersmith captured by Federal troops during Morgan's Ohio raid, July 20, 1863. Held with Morgan in Ohio State Prison at Columbus. Helped dig tunnel by which he and five other officers escaped with Morgan on Nov. 27, 1863. This escape was one of most daring of all time.”
According to an 1863 “wanted poster” issued under the authority of Colonel W.M. Wallace, which is regarding the capture of the men (see photo and link), those who escaped with Gen. Morgan and Hockersmith were Confederate Captains J.C. Bennett, L.B. Taylor, Sheldon T.H. Haines, and G.S. Magee. Whereas the capture of Gen. Morgan guaranteed an especially hefty reward of $1,000, the capture of the Captains would warrant “a suitable reward.”
Referred to as the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy,” Gen. Morgan’s "romanticised" historical reputation often times precedes his actions. While raids under his command saw success, it was his 1863 attack on both Indiana and Ohio territories that led to the capture of his entire command near New Lisbon, Ohio on July 26th, 1863.
Research displayed in relation to the escape, which was compiled in reference to the historical work and/or autographical collection, Autograph Book of John Hunt Morgan and His Men, states that, “Morgan and his men were initially moved down river to Cincinnati following their capture. From this embarkation point, enlisted men were sent to Camp Douglas near present-day Chicago, Illinois. In late July, Morgan, and sixty-eight of his officers were sent to Columbus and interred in the Ohio State Penitentiary. By late October, Captain Thomas E. Hines had devised an escape plan after the discovery of a ventilation shaft below his cell floor from which a tunnel was ultimately dug through two six foot thick walls and 12 feet of grouting to reach the prison wall. On the night of November 24th,  Morgan, Hines, Captains J. C. Bennett, L. D. Hockersmith, C. S. Magee, Captain Ralph Sheldon, and B. Taylor escaped. Hines and Morgan traveled by train to Cincinnati, crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky and wound their way back to Confederate lines in Georgia.”
As most would imagine, the escape was a direct “slap to the face” of the Union troops. In adding insult to injury, several accounts mention that patronizing notes written by the escapees were found within the prison and escape tunnels following their exodus.
More in-depth, albeit partially conflicting, information on the soldiers’ capture, their planning, and the actual escape can be found in an 1863 article by the Ohio State Journal, which is published online via The New York Times. To view the report/article in its entirety, please click here.
Additionally, over 50 other historical markers directly related to John Morgan Hunt in the state of Kentucky can be reviewed by clicking here.
*While the Hockersmith House is a historical location available to the public, it should be noted that the location is currently in use. Common courtesy suggests that those wishing to visit the location/home should plan a trip during daylight hours. While the exterior is viewable, the interior of the historic home is not open to the public at this time.
To view previous "A Nod to the Past" articles via SurfKY News, click the following links:
Photos taken by Jeff Harp of Focus Photography LLC
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