Four Confederate Soldiers Martyred at Pleasureville

Submitted By: Uley Washburn

Many Union Generals appointed to command Military Districts in the Border, and occupied Confederate, States grew to be hated by Confederate troops in the field, as well as by their families at home. A large number of these Generals were political appointees.  One of these was General Stephen Gano Burbridge, appointed commander of the Military District of Kentucky on August 7, 1864.  Burbridge made several questionable decisions before his removal from command in February 1865.  One questionable decision was "Order No. 59"; this order made him the most hated District Commander in Kentuckians' eyes, and earned him the sobriquet "Butcher Burbridge"

While Burbridge issued this order in an attempt to curtail repeated guerrilla activity, he actually made things worse.  The order stated that each time a Union man was killed by guerrillas, four suspected guerrillas would be executed in way of retaliation.  The fifty executions statewide resulting from this order nowhere near matched the bloodshed and grief caused by it. 

The particular incident dealt with here involves the areas of Port Royal and Pleasureville. Two African-American soldiers were murdered near Port Royal. This act resulted in the execution of four men in Pleasureville in 1864. Confederate sympathizers in the slave state of Kentucky were already enraged over the enlistment of African-Americans, many of whom were former slaves.  Under the laws of Kentucky at that time, African-Americans were considered property, not citizens.   One must recall that slavery was not banned by Kentucky law until after the end of the War.  It seemed wrong to most of the people, for this reason,  to use African-Americans as soldiers. Seeing men they perceived, as "Negras" in Union uniform was more than enough to incite local guerrillas to murder. 

Following the spirit, if not the letter, of Order No. 59, four prisoners were selected from a Lexington prison.  Considered to be "guerrillas", though three seem to have been legitimate Confederate soldiers, these men were sentenced to death in retaliation for the death of the two "Negra" soldiers.  The four Confederate men were brought, heavily guarded, to Pleasureville in a freight car.  Herded from the car like the animals General Burbridge considered them to be were: William Long of Maysville, William Tighe of Williamstown, William Daibro of Owen County, and R. W. Yates from Hart County.  After being taken from the train, these suspected guerrillas were marched about 200 yards away from the depot and lined up.  One can only hope they made their peace with God as the guns were aimed, for three died instantly in the first volley of fire.  Long was only wounded, and dragged himself back to his feet in defiance.  He spat back at the Union troops that he was not afraid to die.  Long was given the chance to prove his statement by a second volley of rifle fire.  Then all was still.

The Union men left the bodies where they fell.  There they lay, sprawled in the dirt, for another sixteen hours.  There were some who felt the four had "gotten their due".  Many others were extremely upset over the execution of men who had not been involved in the murders they were shot for.  But, these were unwilling to be marked as "guerrillas" themselves, and left the bodies untouched.  However, someone did contact the local guerrillas, probably some of Col. Jesse's band.  A group rode up to the depot, collected the four bodies, and just as quickly disappeared.  The bodies were carried to Eminence and buried in the cemetery there.

Because of the reasons stated earlier, the reference in the following inscription calling the murdered Union troops "Negras" may be seen as an attempt to express disfavor toward this recruiting policy.  Just as likely however, is that this reference was because most white persons at the time felt that the executions were less than justified, simply because the initial victims were "Negra." It seems that even the officials may have felt this way also.  Order No. 59 stated, "four guerrillas to be executed for each Union man killed", but in this case four were shot in retaliation for two "Negra" troops.

A white marble obelisk still stands over the graves of three executed Confederate men, in the cemetery at Eminence.  It bears the following inscription: "Three CSA Soldiers who were shot at Pleasureville by order of Gen. Burbridge in pretense of retaliation of two Negras that were killed near Port Royal."  "Sleep on ye braves for you have got your last breath. We would not have thee buried on a lot with him who has caused thy death.  William Tighe aged 30 years, R. W. Yates aged 30 years, William Datbor aged 20 years."  It is not readily known what happened to the body of William Long.  Nor is it clear whether part of the inscription is meant to allege that Long committed the murders, or was somehow to blame for the death of the other three men