The death of cavalry Capt. W. K. Shacklett CSA

The News Standard (Brandenburg, Kentucky, Meade County) Friday January 8, 2010 p A5 and Friday January 22, 2010, pA5.


By Gerald W. Fischer

President of the Meade Co. Archeological Society

TOP: Jimmy Shacklett of Meade County. He may have been the older brother of Billy Shacklett. TOP RIGHT: The grave of Billy Shacklett, located in what used to be Meadeville in Meade County. The original stone is on the left. Note the small faded Confederate flag placed in front. BOTTOM RIGHT: John Wimp's grave only feet away from his friend's, Billy Shacklett. Both died on April 29, 1863.

On April 27, 1863, Union Captain Joseph Herr, with 100 cavalry soldiers and two negroes with four pack mules carrying provisions, was dispatched from Louisville with written orders to capture or kill Capt. William K. Shacklett of the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry CSA, and his associates, who were residents of Meade County.

Capt. Shacklett, better known as Billy, had been captain of the Brandenburg Home Guard, who switched sides and joined the Confederate Army enlisting Aug. 14,1862 in the 5th Kentucky Cavalry, Company F. at Big Springs, Ky. He, along with six officers, 28 privates, and non- commissioned officers, enlisted the same day. He was known for drilling his soldiers, and in one drill on Dr. Ditto's field he had his cavalry charge a line of infantry in a sham battle. The infantry withheld half of their fire until the cavalry were close upon them when they began firing the balance of their guns, causing the horses to bolt and their riders to become excited and angry nearly causing the sham battle to turn into a real one.

Shacklett had a fife and drum with his command; John Cain blew the fife while John Sealy beat the kettledrum. Billy had been scouting in Meade County preparatory to going south, and although little is known about his actions in Meade County, he was notable for several reasons. The large number of troops sent against him speaks volumes about the threat he was considered. He was also operating as a Partisan Ranger, and one member of his band, a man named Gossett, was reputed to be the first man in Louisville to accumulate and run guns to the Confederates. There is little doubt in my mind that he had contact, and probably rode at times in cooperation, with other guerilla raiders such as Stanley Young (aka Bill Marion), and Captains John Bryant, Thomas C. Supoyster, Horseley, Hays and others. He probably had connections with Hercules "Here" Walker, a gun runner and desperado in Jefferson County, Ky.

Billy Shacklett was 24 years old when he enlisted as a - Confederate, and he had seven months and 15 days to live.

The Federals bivouacked at the courthouse on East Hill the night of April 28, 1863, and when the bugle sounded early on the 29 of April they embarked on the raid to kill Billy Shacklett and his men. The route they took led them out of Brandenburg on what is now State Road 448, toward Garrett to Meadeville and onward toward the road to the Shumate schoolhouse, where, nearby, there were some overhanging rocks that were commonly referred to as "the sheep shed." Occasionally sheep were herded under the overhanging rocks that served as a shelter for them. A path to the school ran very near the rocks of the sheep shed.

The morning of April 29 dawned bright with the red buds showing their fading red hues and the dogwoods brilliantly blooming their white flowers with red centers that sprinkled their branches. The air was fragrant with blossoms and cool, but quickly warming, as Herr and his soldiers cantered toward Meadeville. The bright spring day was not lost on the Confederates and the only sounds heard were the wind in the trees and the songs of birds. There was good-natured bantering among the Captain and his rangers, and one of the men, named Jarrett, titled back a bottle of whiskey and drink deeply. As the Federals neared the place where they were to turn from the road toward the sheep shed, the informant that served as the guide left them and turned back toward Brandenburg.

Billy Shacklett and his men were staying in their camp under the rocks enjoying the fine spring weather when Joseph Herr's scouts, unobserved, spotted the Confederates. Herr ordered his charge before the Confederates were aware the Federals were near, and when the alarm was raised the guerillas scattered in all directions. The sound of the bugle, the thundering hooves of horses, the creaking of leather, the jangling of sabers and the shouts of men broke the idyllic spell of a peaceful spring morning.

The assault was so quick and unexpected that there was no time for the Confederates to form a line of battle. The first man killed was the gun-runner, Gossett. He spurred his horse to jump a small cliff but it stumbled, crushing out his life by pinning him against a tree. Dan Morgan Shacklett was trying to move Gossett out of his way when Herr's men came up and he was captured. To make sure Gossett was dead, one of the soldiers that captured Dan Shacklett placed a revolver under Gossett's nose and fired a bullet through his head so close that Gossett's moustache caught fire.

After Dan Shacklett was captured the troopers came upon John Wimp who emptied his pistols at them, only to find himself surrounded with his ammunition exhausted. He surrendered with his hands held high, but as soon as John Wimp was taken into custody, a Federal Orderly named Amos Griffin came up from behind him and fired a bullet into the back of his head, instantly killing him. This murder was done near the place where the Barnes' lived, on the path the children used to go to school. Billy Shacklett, while defending himself in another gunfight took refuge behind a large red oak tree and began firing at the troopers with his pistols.

During the melee he was shot several times, including a pistol ball through the eyes, and although badly wounded he continued firing revolvers, changing cylinders as he emptied them. Captain Herr ran up to him and demanded his surrender, but Billy - with no thought of giving up_ raised a revolver for the last time. Joseph Herr fired two or three more rounds into his body, and Billy fell unconscious from the shock of the bullets and the loss of blood. Herr, presuming Billy was dead, left him to other Federals that wanted to search his body for valuables. Billy, although unconscious, was still alive and two men wanting his guns placed their feet against his body and pulled his gun belt from his body, breaking the tick leather belt that held his holsters. Before he later died, Billy said those men hurt him worse than the bullets Left for dead, unarmed and fatally wounded, Billy Shacklett dragged himself some 50 yards through the woods and down the hill toward Mrs. Barnes' house because, as he later explained, he did not want to die alone in the woods.

In another running gunfight, three men, some say two of whom were Tom Tobin and Jim Gossip, and the third man, Jess Taylor, were chased on horseback exchanging fire with the cavalry troopers. In this same fight, Jess Taylor checked his horse in flight as the three men were being pursued. Taylor survived by feigning being shot and falling on the road as Herr's men, thinking he was dead, galloped by. After the soldiers were out of sight, Taylor, safely alone, crawled to a large rock near a sinkhole and secreted himself until friends later found him.

Jarrett was captured about 60 yards in front of the Shumate schoolhouse where he was hiding on the ground near a fence. Having imbibed of strong spirits before the battle and perhaps not thinking clearly, Jarrett got up to run off in sight of Herr and his men. The Federals seeing him run called for him to halt and Jarrett stopped unbuckled his belt and handed his revolvers over to them saying, "I surrender, captain."

No sooner than he turned over his revolvers he stood up against a tree and cursed the Federal soldiers, demanding they shoot him right then and there.

Part two of the history of Captain W. K. Shacklett's death will continue in next week's issue.

Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series written by local resident Gerald Fischer. See the Jan. 8, 2010 issue for the first segment.


By Gerald W. Fische
Guest columnist
The grave of Billy Shacklett, located in what used to be Meadeville in Meade County. The original gravestone is on the left; a restored one on the right.


The battle of the Sheep Shed had largely ended with the death of Gossett and Wimp, and the capture of Dan Morgan Shacklett. Billy was mortally wounded, and Jarrett had escaped the first part of the battle and then took to hiding while others escaped or feigned death and hid.

The following writing describes the aftermath of the battle, and a final mystery.

As the battle ended, the troopers took Jarrett to the schoolhouse that was still in session and the teacher, Susan Willet, brought him a gourd dipper of water.

One of Herr's man said, "Drink it. That will be the last drink you ever get."

And it probably was.

During the battle, five Confederates were killed and a sixth, a man named Duke, was shot to death the next day on the ride to Louisville. He was killed near the town of Garnettsville, Ky., while he was shackled because he cursed his captors.

After the battle, Captain Herr and his men went back to Meadeville and told Thomas Shumate to go up and collect the dead. Several men and women were enlisted for the death hunt and at least one student participated. The school children witnessed part of the raid, and saw Dan Shacklett held bound and silent as a prisoner.

The recovery team first found Gossett and next came to John Wimp and both were put in a wagon. Jess Taylor crept out of hiding when he saw the wagon collecting the dead and he was saved. Billy Shacklett was found by one of the Shumate School students, A.J. Thompson, a cousin of Wimp and Shacklett, who followed the trail Billy left as he crawled the 50 yards from the red oak tree through the woods. Tender hands picked him up and he was taken to Mrs. Barnes' home where his wife Anne was sent for, and Anne and their child, Juliet, were with him when he died at 11 p.m. that night. The wagon carried Wimp and Gossett to the house of Mr. Kendall, later called the John Jones house.

John Wimp and Billy Shacklett were buried in the Meadeville Cemetery a day later, and Gossett was taken to Louisville for burial. Captain Herr later stated that he regretted killing Billy Shacklett because he was the bravest man he ever saw. In all, six Confederate soldiers were killed as a result of the raid. There is no known casualty list of union soldiers, although there must have been men wounded.

I read a mention of the battle on the Internet and it was described as a small skirmish near the town of Meadeville. How easy it is to minimize a historic event, and in doing so forget the lives of the people that took part, their courage, devotion to a cause and willingness to make the supreme sacrifice that is so important to us today. Dismissing it as merely a skirmish does not come up to the truth, in my eyes.

The battle at the Sheep Shed, while small in size, is important because it illustrates how the Civil War affected the people in our communities. It shows how the rules of law, war and habeas corpus when suspended as they were during the Civil War, resulted not only in cruel murder but also polarization of the population.

When I discussed this story with Mr. Travis Shacklette and inquired about any information he might know about the fight, Mr. Shacklette, who teaches science at the Meade County Freshman Academy, told me how the Civil War caused a division within the Shacklett family resulting in a dual spelling of the family name.

When the Civil War was over, some of the Shacklettes added "e" to their name to separate themselves from those who favored the Confederacy. Since feelings ran so deep in that time of war, it might be the reason for the mystery I uncovered in the Meadeville Cemetery.

When I was researching this story I came across a recent tombstone with two bronze plaques attached to it that made me wonder if Billy Shacklett's men returned and took their revenge on a Union soldier that recently returned home. The top plaque on the stone gave James Irvin Newton's name and regiment of Union Calvary. The plaque on the front of the stone reads: "October 1998, In commemoration of James Irvin Newton, Husband of Elender Rhodes Newton, shot and killed in July of 1865 by the Nightriders at his Home across the Road from this Meadeville Cemetery."

Who led the nightriders when they attacked James Irvin Newton and why was he targeted?

He may have become a target just because he wore the federal uniform of the north and he could, of course, have been suspected as taking part in the raid on the Sheep Shed. Any number of people could have led the nightriders in the raid on the James Netwon house but we can eliminate several people.

Bill Marion was killed in April 1865, three months earlier, ironically in Marion County, Ky. Thomas Dupoyster was killed Sept. 12, 1864 in Taylorsville, Ky., and John Bryant met his end in late August 1864, when he was shot in his raid on the Coomes Cabin. The mystery is who murdered James Newton and why?

We may never know the answer to these questions but if James Newton was murdered in retaliation for the death of Billy Shack lett then how oddly fitting they should rest together in the same cemetery for so many years, separated by only a few feet.