Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Family Torn by the Civil War

by Marilyn (Cole Posey and Donna Gloff

The Cole family came to Orlando when Henry H. and Mary Jane (Heater) Cole bought a farm on Three Lick around 1900. Today Henry & Mary's great-grandchildren own the Cole homestead where Three Lick and Grass Run meet.

Their portraits are to the left.

Orlando is known for its straight southern sympathies, so the story Henry brought with him of his family's dramatic and ambivalent role in the Civil War is not like the Orlando stories. Henry Harrison Cole's father William H. served the Union in the war and his grandfather Henry Kuhl was hanged because of his Confederate actions. Henry's dad William H. changed his family's name from "Kuhl" to "Cole" because of his father's disgrace.

Early in the Civil War, not long after the first Federal troops had marched through Gilmer county, a boy, his name was Casper Prislor, stopped at the Kuhl homestead on Steer Creek. Henry Kuhl, his son Conrad Kuhl and two hired hands, John Conrad and Hamilton Windon, were in the fields cutting hay and weeds with a scythe. Only Henry's wife, Betsy (Skidmore) Kuhl, about 35 years old and pregnant, was home.

The boy told Betsy that he had lost his regiment and was trying to get to them (they were at Bulltown) to rejoin them. Actually, he was an orphan who had been shining shoes, getting water etc. for the soldiers. When a soldier had died, they had given him the coat to wear as it was cold then. When the Union troops were called to Bulltown, he wanted to go but the Captain said no, because he was so young. After they left, he tried to follow them and got lost.

When the troops, with Casper, had come through the area earlier some of the Kuhls' property had been stolen. The neighborhood as a whole was keeping an eye out for the "Yankees."

The boy asked Betsy for something to eat. While he was eating, she went out the back door to the hillside field (see the photo below) and told Henry ”that damn Yankee is back.” Henry and all present felt sure that the boy had been sent to spy so they could come later and rob them again. So Henry told her to send the boy his way after he ate. Just to be on the safe side, Henry sent his son Conrad and the hired hand John Conrad to see what was keeping the boy. They met him on their way back to the house. Conrad Kuhl and John Conrad pointed him in the direction of Henry and Hamilton Windon. Henry and Hamilton killed Casper Prislor, cut his head off with a scythe. They laid him neatly in a small ravine and placed his head under his body and covered him with rocks.

These photos of the former Kuhl farm where the event unfolded were provided by Marilyn (Cole) Posey. Identified are

1. where the house stood

2. where the boy was killed

3. the stone grave

They might have gotten away with it, but several days later Windon hinted about the killing to a drinking buddy, who went to the authorities and reported the killing.

Henry pled guilty to the local authorities and they chose not to prosecute, possibly in light of charges of trespassing and attempted theft of food, guns and horses. However, the Adjutant General for the military commission, a man named Fremont, took a dim view of what he called “lawlessness and anarchy” and ordered a full-scale and much publicized military court-martial in Charleston to make an example of these “undominated civilians.”

Here fortune separated the five who conspired to kill the boy. When he heard the Kuhls had been arrested John Conrad fled. The three Kuhls and Hamilton Windon were arrested and taken to Charleston, West Virginia to be tried. Betsy was pregnant with their child Mariah and because of her delicate condition, she was simply fined (I believe it was $100.00) and allowed to return home to the Kuhl farm. A court martial commission consisting of 9 Colonels and a Captain sentenced Henry Kuhl and Hamilton Windon to be hanged. Conrad Kuhl was sentenced to prison.

Henry Kuhl and Hamilton Windon were taken to Braxton County and hung on May 9, 1862. Their bodies were buried on Town Hill. One of the streets passes over their remains.

We know what happened to Conrad Kuhl from Thomas Bland Camden, author of My Recollections and Experiences of the Civil War.2 He was arrested as a Southern sympathizer and confined at Camp Chase in Ohio. He wrote “a prisoner by the name of Kuhl from Steer Creek, Braxton County, who was suspected of being implicated in the murder of a Federal soldier was also at Camp Chase who had a ball and chain attached to his ankle. He could slip it off and on as he pleased, as the guards came and went. He was adept at ring making and inlaying with silver. He made one with TBC in silver letters which I have yet today” His recollections and experiences were published in 1927. After Camp Chase, records show that Conrad Kuhl was sent to Fort Delaware.

And the hired hand John Conrad who had fled when he heard the others had been arrested? Henry Kuhl's ggg-granddaughter Marilyn (Cole) Posey tells us, "I traced him to Pendleton County where he eventually married and when the war was over he returned to the area. The deed was done, two of the guilty hung, and one sentenced to Camp Chase and then to Fort Delaware for the duration of the war, but John Conrad was not punished in any way. The war was over and everyone forgot about him."


Two of Henry Kuhl's sons, John and Christian, were already serving in the Confederate Army when the killing took place. John was wounded at the Battle of McDowell and died from those wounds in Staunton, Virginia. Christian Kuhl wrote a fascinating and enlightening paper, the Memoirs of Christian Kuhl, about his service in the Confederate Army.

After the trial two other sons, William Harrison Kuhl and Henry Kuhl, volunteered to serve in the Union Army and served through the war in the Tenth West Virginia Infantry. Later in life, as a result of their father's actions and demise, both men changed their family's name to "Cole." To the right is veteran of the Union Army Wiliam Harrison Kuhl/Cole with his wife Mary (Hefner). 3 These were the parents of Henry H. Cole of Three Lick.

See also the entry about Henry Harrison Cole's life and death which was posted Jan '07, titled Henry Cole Was a Hero.

Thanks to Marilyn (Cole) Posey for the information and photos.

1. Henry Kuhl was born in Germany in 1802 and married Catharine Yeagle there. Catharine was born in Germany March 9, 1804. Three sons were born in Germany. The family arrived at Baltimore, Maryland in September 1839. They moved to Lewis County VA (WV), where three children were born from 1841 to 1849. Catharine died in Braxton County February 5, 1854. Henry married Elizabeth "Betsy" Skidmore in Braxton County May 16, 1855. Betsy, a daughter of Levi and Nancy (Belknap) Skidmore, was born in 1829 and died in 1907. Betsy brought 2 children from a previous marriage, Reuben and Wesley Ellyson. Henry and Betsy had four more children, Ellisana, Alice, George and Mariah.

2. From Don Norman's tree published by the Hacker's Creek Pioneer Descendants.

3. William Kuhl /Cole married Mary Hefner from Pendleton County on Jan. 8, 1860 in Gilmer County. William and Mary set up housekeeping in the Blackburn community of Gilmer County.They are both buried in the Blackburn cemetery.

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