Civil War tales about the William "Mannon" Jenkins family of Letcher County,
A Civil War sketch written by Ella V. Preston [date unknown]:
"...When the Civil War
came, Isaac Adams and his son Stephen were drafted, along with [William]
Mannon Jenkins and his son Arch, in the Harlan Battalion [Kentucky, Union]
under a General Morgan. This Yankee company was made up, for the most part,
of men too old and boys too young to be in the regular army. They camped
in what is now the "New York" part of Cumberland, Kentucky. Often they walked
across Pine Mountain to come home [near Whitesburg, Letcher Co., KY] to see
their families. Since the Rebels were camped near the mouth of Sandlick Creek
behind where the Whitesburg Cemetery now is, they constantly had to be on
quard or they might be captured.
"They did not have
sufficient clothing to stay warm so the loved ones at home spun and wove
wool for underwear and socks.
"One late autumn
Great-Grandma Jenkins [Polly Cornett Jenkins] and her daughter, Martha (who
was a sweetheart of Stephen Adams) took turns, one riding, the other walking
across the mountain to take some clothing. They stopped to spend the night
with a cousin, Alp Blair (Enoch Blair, Alp's father, married a niece of Mannon
Jenkins). It had been prearranged to meet the soldiers at this home.
"About dusk-dark they
were sitting around in the yard near the one-room log cabin when they suddenly
saw, silhouetted against the sky, a group of what they thought were Rebel
soldiers---soldiers stooped over and closely following one another in single
file! Hastily saying good-by and leaving a group of very scared women-folks,
the excited soldiers slipped away in the darkness to avoid capture or a fight.
Several breathless minutes later a distinct, but very unmistakable "baa-baa"
was heard in the still night. The "Rebels" were a herd of sheep!
visit with the Blair cousins ended, a company of soldiers, including Mannon
Jenkins, Stephen Adams, James Lewis (who was a cousin of grandma's, and others
were sent afoot to the head of Big Cowan to kill or capture some Rebels they
knew were staying in a log house there. Stephen Adams and _____ Morgan (whether
or not it was his general the writer [Ella] does not know) went on to the
mouth of Little Cowan to watch for anyone passing either way. In the dark
frost-filled air, they crouched silently behind a stake-and-rider fence.
"What was that Stephen
and Morgan heard? Footsteps?? Yes?? No?? Yes, more distinctly on the frozen
ground they heard hurrying footsteps. Every sense alert, they strained their
eyes and ears to watch and listen. Closer and closer came the footsteps until
they could hear a gasping panting breath as the tired man came onward! Waiting
until he was directly abreast, Grandpa arose from one side of the fence and
Morgan from the other.
"A much-surprised Clabe
Polly, whom they knew, surrendered his gun and they started the return trip
to their camp at Cumberland.
"Along the way, Morgan
threatened to kill the prisoner. Very badly frightened, he begged, pleaded,
and prayed for his life. Grandpa [Stephen Adams], feeling compassion for
his fellowman, could stand it no longer. He told Morgan if he shot Polly,
he, Grandpa, would shoot him. Seeing the stubborn determination of the man
he was facing, Morgan sullenly hushed his tirade and they went on to their
camp. Later Polly was exchanged for a Yankee prisoner.
"In the shooting at
the house on Big Cowan, John Collier (Rebel) was killed and James Lewis (Union)
"Lewis called to Mannon
Jenkins who was shooting near him, "I am killed."
"No, I don't guess you
are," Mannon replied.
"Yes, I know I am,"
Lewis insisted, as he grabbed at the gaping wound in his abdomen. Then he
slowly slumped over.
"The Yankees, after
he was wounded, withdrew out of rifle range. Shortly afterward, they carried
James Lewis, badly wounded, back across the mountain where he died on the
"The following day as
Great-Grandma Jenkins and Grandma Adams [Martha Jenkins Adams] returned home,
the soldiers were burying James Lewis in the Maggard Cemetery on Cumberland
"The only help on the
farm that Great-Grandma Jenkins had was her oldest daughter, Martha, and
her son, Arch, before he was drafted. They plowed, raised wheat, and corn,
turkeys and hogs. They hid the hogs from the roving bands of the Home Guards
until it was cold enough to butcher them. Either she or Arch, who was only
a boy, would hold the hog while the other would knock it in the head with
a hammer. It was much easier to hide the meat than it was the hog. They had
many a good meal that was all the better because they felt they had outwitted
"Another time when Grandma
[Martha] outwitted them was the winter they took the honey. The men [Rebels]
carried the bee gums [belonging to the Adams] to the near-by river and immersed
them in the water to drown the bees. Then they pulled the gums up on the
bank and took the honey without fear of bee stings. Grandma managed to slip
one gum upstairs to the loft. When spring came, the bees went in and out
and survived to start other hives after the war ended.
"Once they raided and
one soldier shot and killed one of Great-Grandma's [Polly Cornett Jenkins]
prized turkeys. Great-Grandma raced with him and snatched the turkey first
while the others watched and laughed.
"Captain Ben Caudill
said to him, "Stop! You cannot take it since you let a woman outdo you."
family feasted on turkey the next meal.
"The soldiers from the
Harlan Battalion were allowed to come home in groups of two so they could
cultivate their crops. About dusk another time, the Rebels came and, finding
Great-Grandpa Jenkins at home, captured him. They took him along with them
as they followed the path up the hill in front of their house. When they
were near the top of the hill, the folks at the house heard a gun fire. They
were sure the Rebels had killed Great-Grandfather. After the family spent
a sleepless night grieving, next morning at dawn Grandma [Martha] followed
the same path looking for the body of her father. Only sixteen years old,
shivering from cold and crying, she stepped up on a log to rest and look
around. There in the laurel and rhododendron lay Great-Granpa along side
the log, motionless and frost-covered.
"Sis (his pet name for
her)," he whispered.
"Then in a low tone
he told her to keep going--- to go on to the Rebel camp and inquire for him
as though she knew nothing about him. Then he would slip on to his camp which
"The only means of travel
was afoot or horseback, so horses were prized very highly. Great-Granfather
Jenkins, a well-to-do miller of his day, kept several horses hidden in the
pasture up the branch from his home. He gave Grandma [Martha] a beautiful
young colt a few weeks before she was to be married. A roving band of
"Bushwackers" took it along with some more horses. After peace was declared,
she talked with Captain Caudill. He told her there were some horses at Rob
Bates' place on the head of rockhouse Creek. He thought possibly her colt
might be there in a pasture. So starting very early one morning, she and
one of Aunt Kizzie Blair's girls walked there and back---a distance of some
twenty-five miles. Her colt was not there---only some worthless old nags
stomped and pickered in the warm sunshine."
"On March 6, 1864, Stephen
Adams and Martha Jenkins were married. In getting ready for the occasion,
Grandma [Martha] and Polly Ann Craft, who was to stand up with her, worked
three weeks on their dresses. the material for Granma's dress was a white
and pink floral material called challis. The material had been brought to
her by Grandpa from Harlan. She made it entirely by hand--sewing over two
threads of the material then under two. She styled it after the fashion of
the day---tight basque, wide gathered skirt, very full, with rows of ruffling.
"They went to house-keeping
in a log cabin at the head of Little Cowan near where Wilson Day's house
and garden now is. they had a dirt floor and all homemade furniture, but
they were as well off as any other couple. This cabin had previously been
used as a barn by Grandpa's father, Isaac [Adams]. Their furniture consisted
of two benches and a table made of poles hewn smooth across the top. Their
one bed was made of puncheon (or hewn poles) fastened in a crack across one
corner. Cooking was done on a wide log fireplace in one or two iron kettles.
"By this time the army
camp at Cumberland had been disbanded and the men allowed to return to their
homes. But a group of men called by the name of "Bushwackers" were roaming
the countryside harassing people and raiding homes. So they constantly had
to be on the lookout.
"About sunset a few
months after the marriage of Grandma and Grandpa Adams, Grandma heard someone
call her name. She looked out the door and saw Aunt nancy Webb, Grandpa's
sister, top the bank running and waving. She knew the prearranged signal
"bushwackers coming." Granpa had just come in from his day's plowing and
was resting barefooted. So grabbing his shoes in one hand, his rifle in the
other, he ran up the mountain and crouched behind a stump to put his shoes
on. By the time he was able to get farther out of sight, several men and
one woman had come into view. They tried to make Grandma tell where Granpa
was and forced her to cook their supper. Since it had been drizzling a little,
the woman hung her straw bonnet on a peg above the fire. Grandma wished mightily
that a wind would blow that bonnet down into the fire. Next morning they
raided the house taking everything they wanted and destroying the rest they
left---even dumping their meal on the floor. One man took her reticule (handbag)
which contained her wedding ring, her thimble, and pins, a ribbon from the
flagstaff which her father [Mannon Jenkins] had so recently carried and many
little keepsakes from her girlhood days. He remarked, "My wife would like
those." The woman gaily pinned the ribbon on her bonnet.
"Then as they were leaving,
Ike Burton snatched her only blanket off the bed and draped it around his
shoulders as a shawl. Grandma clung to the blanket until he got out in the
yard but he would not let go. Through her tears, Grandma saw them turn the
bend in the road, the blanket folded over his arm and the ribbon fluttering
in the breeze.
"Later Grandpa said
he had lain hidden behind a log so he could see and hear most of what was
happening. He said he aimed his gun many times and pondered, "I could kill
one, but I know then they'd kill me, and maybe even Martha." He did not shoot
even though it was so hard to see them wrecking the few possessions they
had. He stayed in hiding until they passed from sight.
"This story does not
end here. Some thirty-five or more years later, a faint "Hello" was heard
at the gate. manerva, the oldest daughter at home, went to the door.
"Where is the lady of
the house" a man on horseback asked. So she sent Grandma to find out what
the man wanted.
"Pleading for sympathy,
"Lady," he whined, "I am all worn out and have the headache. Could I have
a cup of coffee? My head aches something terrible. The place where I stayed
last night didn't have any coffee. I've come all the way from Louisville
where I've been in a hospital. I'm going to Virginia to see my family. Why,
lady, I used to be in these parts back in the war. Don't guess you'd remember
much about that."
"Escaping from his talkative
mood, Grandma went back to get his coffee. She COULDN'T turn a traveler away--not
even THIS one! Used to strangers, the children, nevertheless, saw in their
pale and trembling mother something of the drama that was being enacted before
their eyes. Following shyly behind, they hung around to watch and listen.
"As he drank the coffee,
Grandma led him to reminisce about his part in the Civil War. All finished
at last, he questioned, "What do I owe you for the coffee?"
"Why, nothing," Grandma
replied, "But I'd like for you to pay me for that blanket you took off my
bed that day back in the war."
"Why, lady, I'm sure
I didn't take any blanket from you," he answered.
"Oh, yes, you did,"
said Grandma. "It was the only blanket I had. I'd know you anywhere. YOU
"Well, now, lady, if
I did I'm sorry. I--I--I guess I did do things I shouldn't have done."
"Anxiously, now, and
eager to get away, Ike Burton climbed on his horse and resumed his journey.
"Turning to the round-eyed
children, Grandma's only comment was, "Well, I guess he's got the headache
worse now than he had when he came."