Monthly Archives: January 2012

Bad dude, small world

The Knoxville News Sentinel has been celebrating its birthday with a retrospective of notable stories from its century-and-a-quarter-long run.  A recent article highlights one of the more colorful episodes in Knoxville history.

On the night of Dec. 13, 1901 two police officers tried to break up a brawl in one of the city’s less reputable establishments and ended up getting shot by one of the participants, who managed to flee the scene despite being beaten over the head withe the officers’ clubs.  The shooter was later arrested and subsequently identified as Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry—one of the most notorious members of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch gang.  He had been traveling throughout the country passing off notes taken in a Montana train holdup before his pool hall fight landed him in a Tennessee jail.

Logan’s trial turned into one of the twentieth century’s first legal media circuses, and ended in the summer of 1903 when he managed to snag a jail guard’s neck with a wire and make off with the sheriff’s horse.  You can read the full story in the book Harvey Logan in Knoxville by Sylvia Lynch, who happens to be my mom.

The Sentinel article notes that Logan refused to have his picture taken, so the newspaper recruited an East Tennessee artist to visit the jail and produce a sketch to run on the front page.  The artist was Lloyd Branson.  Loyal readers of this blog might recall that Branson’s name has appeared here before.  He painted the famous picture of the Sycamore Shoals muster preceding the Battle of King’s Mountain that now hangs in the Tennessee State Museum and adorns the banner at the top of this site, and he also depicted the battle itself in a painting which burned in a Knoxville hotel fire.

I told my mom about this, and she mentioned that she’d discussed Branson’s sketch of Logan in her book.  I pulled a copy off the shelf, and sure enough, there was a picture of Lloyd Branson working on a self-portrait.  So when I was a teenager, before I had any inkling that I’d study history, my mom wrote a book about an outlaw who got his picture drawn by Lloyd Branson, and then years later I wrote my thesis about a Revolutionary War campaign which was the subject of two paintings by Lloyd Branson.  I then realized that Lloyd Branson stands at the nexus of all that is.

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Filed under Appalachian History, Tennessee History

Re-animating George Washington

So William Thornton, the guy who designed the U.S. Capitol, wanted to bring George Washington’s corpse back to life.  Good to know.

Here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth:

I proposed to attempt his restoration, in the following manner. First to thaw him in cold water, then to lay him in blankets, and by degrees and by friction to give him warmth, and to put into activity the minute blood vessels, at the same time to open a passage to the lungs by the trachæa, and to inflate them with air, to produce an artificial respiration, and to transfuse blood into him from a lamb. If these means had been resorted to and had failed all that could be done would have been done, but I was not seconded in this proposal; for it was deemed unavailing. I reasoned thus. He died by the loss of blood and the want of air. Restore these with the heat that had subsequently been deducted, and as the organization was in every respect perfect, there was no doubt in my mind that his restoration was possible. It was doubted by some whether if it were possible it would be right to attempt to recall to life one who had departed full of honor and renown; free from the frailties of age, in the full enjoyment of every faculty, and prepared for eternity.

Reminds me of that joke about a zombie protest.  “What do we want?  BRAINS!  When do we want it?  BRAINS!

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Hey, it’s the bicentennial of the War of 1812!

Remember that one?  Old Hickory, the White House on fire, the rockets’ red glare, and all that?  The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece on what folks are doing to commemorate it.

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Extending the American Battlefield Protection Program

…to help preserve early American sites is an idea whose time has come.  More info here.

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Lincoln quoted and misquoted

I’ve been thinking about all the irrelevant and sometimes false Lincoln quotes that pop up in the news, which prompted a post over at the Lincoln Institute blog.  Enjoy!

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Filed under Abraham Lincoln, History and Memory

“Insult and indignity”

You’re probably aware that a video which apparently shows a group of Marines urinating on enemy corpses in Afghanistan has been getting a good deal of attention lately.

Is there any possibility that we can connect this incident to some obscure bit of Revolutionary War trivia?  I’m glad you asked. Supposedly, in the aftermath of the Battle of King’s Mountain, some of the victorious Patriots did the very same thing to the body of Maj. Patrick Ferguson, the Scottish officer who commanded the Tories encamped on top of the ridge.

Ferguson's final resting place. Image from National Parks Traveler

Assuming it happened—I’ll get to that issue in a second—what could have prompted the militiamen to do such a thing?  Backcountry militia weren’t too scrupulous about observing the niceties of military convention, but relieving oneself on the corpse of the enemy commander still seems a little extreme.  In the eighteenth century, the bodies of dead soldiers often received callous treatment, but that generally wasn’t the case for officers, as Caroline Cox explains in her examination of life in the Continental Army.

In trying to account for the Whigs’ behavior, some commentators cite a proclamation Ferguson issued to rally the backcountry Tories when he discovered that the militiamen were on his trail.  It read in part as follows: “The Backwater men have crossed the mountains; McDowell, Hampton, Shelby, and Cleveland are at their head, so that you know what you have to depend upon.  If you choose to be p—d upon forever and ever by a set of mongrels, say so at once and let your women turn their backs upon you, and look out for real men to protect them.”  According to this line of thinking, the Whigs who urinated on Ferguson’s body were indulging in a bit of poetic justice.  What insult could be more fitting than to urinate on the body of a man who warned Carolinians that they’d be “p—d upon forever and ever” if the Whigs prevailed?

Interestingly enough, this most inflammatory part of Ferguson’s circular got watered down in later accounts. Many nineteenth-century historians who quoted it altered “p—d upon” to something more palatable to a genteel audience.  J.G.M. Ramsey and Lyman Draper changed it to “degraded,” while Washington Irving used “trodden upon.”

If you ask me, the question of what might have prompted the victors of King’s Mountain to urinate on Ferguson’s corpse is probably moot, because I can’t find any eyewitnesses who said it actually happened.  As far as I can tell, the oldest source that mentions any desecration of Ferguson’s body is a 1787 book by Banastre Tarleton, the controversial young officer who commanded the British Legion. He wrote, “The mountaineers, it is reported, used every insult and indignity, after the action, towards the dead body of Major Ferguson, and exercised horrid cruelties on the prisoners that fell into their possession.”  Tarleton wasn’t there, but he could have gotten the details from some of the defeated Tories, since many of them escaped during the march northward and made their way back to British-held territory.

None of this is to say that it couldn’t have happened; the aftermath of the Battle of King’s Mountain was notably ugly, even by the standards of the nasty partisan war that erupted in the Carolina backcountry.  Through some combination of rage, confusion, and ignorance, the Whigs continued to fire into the ranks of the surrendering Tories as the battle wound down, and during the march away from King’s Mountain they continued to plunder, beat, and slaughter their vanquished enemies.  Loyalist newspapers printed accounts of the horrors the prisoners endured, including letters from those members of Ferguson’s outfit who were lucky enough to survive the ordeal.  The controversy over treatment of the prisoners made it all the way up to the armies’ commanders; Cornwallis complained about the Whigs’ behavior in a letter to his American counterpart, who responded that if Patriots were committing outrages against British troops, they were simply giving as good as they got.

Whether or not those outrages included urinating on the body of a fallen officer, the whole episode demonstrates that debates over soldiers’ conduct in wartime aren’t new, and it probably won’t stop when the seemingly endless War on Terror finally grinds to a halt.

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Brian McKnight has an article

…over at the Times blog about early Civil War battles in Appalachia.  Check it out.

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Filed under Appalachian History, Civil War