(December 14, 2012) - On this date in 1862, Humphrey Marshall was a lawyer without a law library.
A federal district judge had just ordered Marshall’s law books shipped to Cincinnati and sold “because he was…making war against the government,” according to Lewis and Richard Collins’ old History of Kentucky.
Marshall was an attorney turned Rebel general.
Born in Frankfort in 1812, Marshall was also a West Point graduate and a Mexican-American War veteran. Before the Civil War, too, he had been a U.S. minister to China and a two-term congressman, according to The Kentucky Encyclopedia.
A longtime Whig, Marshall nonetheless supported fellow Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge, the Southern Democrat, for president in 1860. After the war began in April, 1861, Marshall came out for Kentucky neutrality. But after the Bluegrass State declared forthrightly for the Union in September, 1861, Marshall became a Confederate general, the encyclopedia says.
Marshall wasn’t the only member of his family reviled as a traitor to Kentucky. His grandfather, a U.S. senator for whom he was named, was stoned in Frankfort and nearly thrown into the Kentucky River in 1795 for voting for Jay’s Treaty with the hated British, according to the encyclopedia.
At the same time, the elder Marshall, a rare Federalist in a staunchly Jeffersonian state, was outspokenly anti-religion. His militant atheism so embarrassed his descendants that they burned his papers, the encyclopedia says.
Marshall the younger was not nearly as colorful as his grandfather, who fought a duel with Henry Clay in 1809, and fast-talked his way out of the dunking, according to A New History of Kentucky by Lowell H. Harrison and James C. Klotter. He appealed thusly to Baptists present: "Now allow me to say that according to Baptist rules it is irregular to administer baptism before the receiver gives his experience. If you are determined to proceed, let the exercise be performed in decent order. Let me give my experience first."
The crowd laughed and let him go, the historians wrote. But the other mob was not forgiving and he had to flee their fusillade of rocks, bricks and sticks.
Humphrey II did not go down in history as one of the war’s great combat commanders. Nonetheless, he loomed large among generals on both sides. He was 5-11 and weighed more than 300 pounds, according to the encyclopedia.
Marshall mostly led troops in the rugged eastern Kentucky mountains, where he achieved little success.
He fought the Yankees in mostly hostile territory. Slavery was weak and attachment to the old Union was strong in Appalachia, the Bluegrass State’s most Unionist region.
At the same time, Marshall’s obesity made it hard for him to get up and down mountainsides, even on horseback.
A Yankee bullet never hit Marshall, but he was the target of numerous verbal broadsides fired by George D. Prentice, sharp-penned editor of the Louisville Daily Journal, Kentucky’s most important Unionist paper.
Once, Prentice unflatteringly compared him to another favorite target of his: the similarly rotund State Sen. John M. Johnson of Paducah, who was expelled from the senate for helping organize Kentucky’s rump Confederate “government” at Bowling Green in the fall of 1861.
“There is no bigger scoundrel of a rebel in all Kentucky,” Prentice wrote of Johnson, “except Humphrey Marshall, who has the advantage by avoirdupois, though not perhaps in heart.”
After the war, Marshall practiced law in Louisville until his death in 1872 at age 60. He is buried in the Frankfort Cemetery, the encyclopedia says.
-- Berry Craig is a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and is the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. The books are being sold to raise money for scholarships at WKCTC. They are available by contacting Craig by phone at (270) 534-3270 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.