Incident near Bardstown, Ky, December 29, 1864

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John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
As told in Minty and the Cavalry: a history of cavalry campaigns in the western armies, by Joseph G. Vole (1886), pp. 417-9:

The division was in the saddle and on the move again at 7, A. M., on the 29th, and marching two miles beyond Bardstown to the camp of the Third Ohio, which had remained at that place, bivouacked for the night. The day was very cold and many of the officers and men preferred to march on foot, leading their horses. Just before going into camp, when near Bardstown, Dr. J. L. Sherk, Seventh Pennsylvania, surgeon of Minty's brigade, and Captain R. M. McCormick, company G, Seventh Pennsylvania and brigade inspector, obtained permission of Colonel Minty to go about a mile to the left, and call on Mrs. Wm. B. Grigsby, who had been very kind in caring for the officers and men of the Seventh Pennsylvania while sick, during their first march through Kentucky in the winter of '61-62. The two officers rode on accompanied by one orderly.​
In about an hour, the orderly came up, just as we were going into camp, and reported that McCormick and Sherk were killed, they having been attacked, while in the house, by guerrillas. A squad of the Third Ohio was immediately sent out, but failed to catch the murderers.​
It appears that Sherk and McCormick had dismounted and entered the house, leaving their horses under the care of the orderly. After a short conversation, while they were sitting in the parlor, and the young daughter of Mrs. Grigsby was playing on the piano, Captains Magruder, Davis, and Summerland, with about fifteen guerrillas, surrounding and entering the house, through the doors and windows, immediately commenced firing on them. Dr. Sherk announced to them, while they were firing, that he was a surgeon, and McCormick offered to surrender, and asked for quarter. It is also said that the young lady, then a child of about fourteen years of age, tussled between the brutal Magruder and one of the officers, declaring that he should not be murdered. The brave little girl was struck by the brute, with either his hand or pistol, and knocked one side, and paying no attention to either the doctor's announcement of his pacific character or the repeated offers to surrender, much less to the prayers, screams, and frantic efforts Mrs. G. made to save them, the whole band of murderers continued firing. Dr. Sherk was soon killed, by a bullet through the head — he had previously received one through the body — when McCormick, seeing that his death was inevitable, obtained his pistol and defended himself to the last. He was shot twice through the body and once through the left arm; his pistol was shot from his hand while in the act of firing, the marks of bullets being on the pistol when it was found.​
The two bodies were brought in to camp after dark, and that night sent to Louisville, and from thence to their homes in Pennsylvania. Thus were two of the brave men of the old Keystone State deliberately, and in perfect cold-blooded fiendishness, murdered by the boasted "chivalry" of Kentucky, for no offense save that of belonging to the army of the United States, at a time when they were making a call in testimony of their gratitude for the kindness extended to them and their comrades, by the noble lady at whose house they met their fate. The author was personally acquainted with Mr. Grigsby, his wife and daughter, as also with a brother of Mrs. Grigsby, who was a prominent physician of Bardstown, and bears testimony, from his personal knowledge and experience, that there never lived a nobler, more humane, or loyal person than Mrs. Grigsby, and to the fact that she voluntarily made her house a hospital for the sick of the Seventh Pennsylvania, when in camp near by in 1862. It will partially satisfy the reader's sense of justice to know that the self-styled Captain Magruder was, on the 20th of October, 1865, hanged by the neck until he was dead, in public, in Louisville, Kentucky, for this and other murders. The fate of Davis and Summerland is not known. Possibly they may be Congressmen from Louisiana or Mississippi by this time.​
"The Other Side"
The following account of this inhuman affair, from the quasi rebel source of the Louisville Courier Journal, is inserted as the "other side." In speaking of Sue Munday, Quantrell, Magruder, and other guerrillas, the correspondent says: “The man among them all who most belied his looks was Magruder, who was the most affable and gentlemanly man in his outward manners that I ever saw. He was rather tall and slenderly built, with a hand- some, almost effeminate face, light blue eyes and curling auburn hair. In spite of his gentle face and polished manners, he was one of the most cold-blooded and cruel men of the whole band, ranking next to Berry in brutality.​
“One instance alone will suffice to show the kind of a man he was. A few miles from the rendezvous of the guerrillas, lived a lady, Mrs. Wm. B. Grigsby, who was a supporter of the Federal cause, and the soldiers of the army often paid her visits, and were always hospitably received. On one day Major Sherk and two (?) other Federal officers came to her house, and were sitting in the parlor talking to Mrs. G. About half a mile away from the house sixty thousand (?) soldiers were camped, with guards alert to detect the slightest movement. Magruder and three (?) of his companions had been hid, securely watching every movement, and when the officers entered the house, rode rapidly up and dismounted. Rushing in the door with cocked pistols, and without a moment's warning, they commenced firing at the officers. Two (?) of them fell dead, and, coolly putting his pistol close to the other helpless man, fired. Some of the blood splashed out on the pistol barrel, he placed the weapon to his lips and kissed the blood off the polished barrel. Mrs. Grigsby remained in the room almost paralyzed with terror, and, approaching her, this outlaw coolly tipped his hat, and, with a polite bow, apologized in his polished manner for being compelled, to kill the men in her house. ‘We could have taken them to the woods, but for the soldiers that are camped close by, who might make it warm for us,' and after making his apology, all of them withdrew, and, mounting their horses, galloped off and escaped."​
It will strike the general reader, as it did the author, when he perused the above extract, that the writer of it stands a self-confessed colleague of the murderers, if not one of the actual participants in the murder itself, and aside from its untruthfulness, there is in it a covert sneer and cold-blooded malignity which marks the rebel fiend as plainly as though the word mark of his Satanic Majesty was branded on his forehead. We wonder to-day whether or not any of the class to which Magruder and his coadjutors belonged yet live to blast the earth with their shadows.​
To THE Murdered Sherk and McCormick.
"Where hearts like thine have broke and bled,​
Though quenched the vital glow,​
Their memory lights a flame instead,​
Which, e'en from out the narrow bed​
Of death its beams shall throw,​
Thou art not dead — thou art not dead.”​
This story also appeared in the Danville News (Pa.), of January 21, 2015, with additional detail from other sources, and a photo of Dr. Serk.
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