THE ENGLISH WESTERNERS' SOCIETY

 

DECEMBER 2015 BOOK REVIEW

This review first appeared in the Tally Sheet (Autumn 2014, Volume 61, Number 1)

CONFEDERATE GUERRILLA SUE MUNDY - A Biography Of Kentucky Soldier Jerome Clarke

By Thomas Shelby Watson with Perry A. Brantley. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2008. 238pp; illustrations; notes; bibliography. Soft cover; ISBN: 978-0-7866-3280-6. $35.00.

This reviewer first became aware of Thomas Shelby Watson some forty years ago when he read Watson’s first dabbling in historical research, The Silent Riders. Guerrilla Fighters of the Civil War. Then, Watson was a 32-year- old News Director with WAKY Radio. This current book, after so long, is, in a way, another result of his interest in the Civil War and Kentucky. The book is also enhanced by an introduction by James M. Prichard, a gracious gentleman at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives.

Marcellus Jerome Clarke, the main subject of this book, was born in 1844 and died, by hanging, shortly before the end of the Civil War, aged just 20. In the latter years of his life he became notorious as ‘Sue Mundy’. While we know where the fictitious name came from, its exact derivation is still unclear. Also for reasons not entirely explained, George D. Prentice, editor of the pro-Union Louisville Daily Journal ‘invented’ the female guerrilla. Such was his success, that in November 1864 The Soldier’s Journal reported, “The female guerrilla who has been robbing and murdering in Kentucky is named Sue Mundy.” John Newman Edwards in his Noted Guerrillas, or the Warfare of the Border speaks of Clarke as having a waist like a woman, six-inch long hair in love knots and hands like a school-girl, with “an exterior as effeminate as a woman”. Watson gives various possibilities as to where the name ‘Sue Mundy’ came from.

Clarke’s first military experience was with the Fourth Kentucky Infantry in late 1862, fighting as an artilleryman at Fort Donelson before returning to the infantry for a short period and then joining John Hunt Morgan as a cavalryman. In June 1864, Clarke’s group was caught unawares in camp by a superior Union force and scattered; he being wounded. Soon after a Confederate, McIntyre, was shot at while trying to commandeer fresh horses and died from his wounds. His commander, Lieutenant Colonel George McCracken Jessee, ordered revenge for McIntyre’s death and a 79-year-old Virginian died in the reprisal. Clarke was not involved in the incident, but a Union order decreed that in a similar situation - on the death of an unarmed Union citizen - four guerrilla prisoners were to be taken out and shot in a place near to the killing. As a consequence many ‘innocent’ people, on both sides, were murdered, including an estimated 50 ‘guerrillas’ by firing squads; including 25 in thirteen days of November 1864.

The men, previously with Morgan, had to scatter before coming together to form a small group under Captain “Gabe” Alexander which made its way into Tennessee, sustaining heavy losses and prompting the survivors to retreat into Kentucky, where Alexander was killed. Around this time, Clarke became acquainted with Henry Clay Magruder, Bill Marion, Dick Mitchell, Samuel Oscar “One-Arm” Berry, Jr., James Warren “Jim” Davis and others, making up a guerrilla band. In September 1864, Morgan himself had been killed, but this had no effect on guerrilla activities, with murders and robberies continuing at a pace.

Towards the end of January 1865 a group of guerrillas killed twenty-two black soldiers near Simpsonville, Kentucky. Jerome Clarke later denied participating in the massacre, though a widow of one of the victims said that “Sue Munday” had led the attack. In early March, luck ran out for some of the guerrillas, when federal troops captured Magruder, Clarke and Henry Metcalf. The prisoners were taken in shackles to Louisville. Jerome faced a court-martial, where his defence was that he was a regular Confederate soldier – and not a guerrilla – but this argument was not allowed. He was sentenced to be hung on 15 March and he duly died on that day, strangled by the rope when the fall failed to break his neck.

Magruder followed Clarke up the steps off a gallows, being hung in October 1865. Of the trio, Henry Metcalf was similarly sentenced to be hung but the punishment was reduced to five years in prison in June, but was released in October.

This book is highly recommended to any reader interested in Civil War guerrillas, coming replete with photographs and notes; do add it to your collection.

Robert J. Wybrow

 

 

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