John Wells, Civil War Soldier Story
John B. Wells III
733 Court Street
Paintsville, KY 41240
The War Between the States has been called the most difficult period in our nation’s history. It was a time of bloodshed, confusion, and heartbreak for all participants. Conditions were particularly bad in East Kentucky where the war was a personal struggle, family against family and hollow against hollow. In Johnson County, men disappeared for no apparent reason, victims of this partisan warfare. The situation became so chaotic that entire families fled the region, seeking protection in areas more sympathetic to their own political beliefs.
During these troubled times one of the Wells families of Johnson County suddenly left their mountain home, never to return. Until now the reason for their departure has been a family mystery.
John Wells, the son of Richard and Susannah (Hutchison) Wells, was born in Scott County, Virginia, about 1815. Coming to Kentucky with his parents in the 1820’s, he settled on Oak Log Fork of Daniel’s Creek where, on May 4, 1836, he entered a Kentucky Land Warrant for 100 acres of unclaimed land. In 1838, he received an additional patent for 29 acres and 15 acres from his father’s estate. To this small farm he brought his new bride, Nancy Ann Webb, who he received consent to marry on December 4, 1839, in Floyd County. The couple remained on Oak Log Fork until they left Kentucky in 1865. The farm’s size varied through the years from 25 to 200 acres, but John continued to raise hogs and cultivate small crops of corn, wheat, and tobacco. His largest tobacco crop came in 1862 and amounted to only 100 pounds.
John and Nancy had a total of eight children, seven of whom were born on the farm:
- Alexander G. born 1842
- William C. born 1846
- Peter Francis born July 8, 1849
- Julia Ann born 1853
- Martha F. born March 20, 1857
- Margaret J. born March 18, 1859
- Melissa born 1862
- Edward born 1865 (in Ohio)
At the beginning of the War Between the States, John Wells was already forty six years old, considered by military authorities as too old to fight. However, John Wells did fight, and it changed his life and that of his family, forever. Maybe it was because of a Union raid on his farm, or a personal difficulty with a neighbor, or deep political beliefs, but for whatever the reason 48 year old John Wells enlisted in the Confederate Army on September 1, 1863, in Floyd County, as a private in Company F (K) of Col. Ben Caudill’s 10th Kentucky Mounted Infantry (also called the 13th Kentucky Cavalry). Regimental receipts list him as present on December 31, 1863, and April 7, 1864. In May 1864, the 13th Kentucky Cavalry was assigned to the command of Gen. John Hunt Morgan, and Private John Wells participated in Morgan’s last Kentucky raid as one of “Morgan’s Men”. After a disastrous defeat at Cynthiana, Kentucky, on June 12, 1864, the 13th Cavalry was scattered. It was soon afterward that John Wells made his way back to Johnson County where he joined a Confederate partisan ranger company called the “Greasy Creek Guards”. This regular cavalry unit was commanded by John’s brother, Capt. William Green Wells. Often, members of the Guards took the war into their own hands and made unofficial raids on local Unionist owned businesses. According to Johnson County Circuit Court files, Private Wells led such a raid in September 1864, along with William M. Baldridge, a Confederate soldier in Co. F of the 5th Kentucky Infantry, and four Union deserters: Joseph Webb, Thomas Davenport, and Andrew and John Baldridge. According ot the court records, the little band “did wilfully + feloneously take steal + carry off shoes calicos linens wearing apparel + other dry goods” from the stores of Joseph Borders and Jeff Meek, both strong Union supporters. Although court records indicate that the raid took place on January 1, 1864, Union and Confederate service records show that the actual date was in September of that year. All of the ex—Union soldiers had deserted on August 1, 1864, and all but one had been captured and placed under arrest by September 30, 1864. Joseph Webb was also indicted in Floyd County for stealing a horse during a separate raid with another band of Confederates.
During the last month of the war criminal charges were brought against the raiders in Johnson County Circuit Court and formal indictments were handed down on June 1, 1865. Anticipating trouble from his Unionist foes, John Wells chose to flee. On March 18, 1865, through a third party, he sold the farm “whereon the party [Wells] now resides” to Andrew Ducher for $3,445.00. On March 23rd, just five days later, Wells surfaced in Lawrence County, Ohio, where he purchased 96 acres of farmland from John W. Earles and Thomas Betts for $2,200.00. If there was any doubt about his reasons for leaving in such a hurry, it was dispelled on March 2, 1868, when the Governor of Kentucky was petitioned by the Johnson County Circuit Court to have Wells extradited for trial. The request noted that “John Wells has fled to the State of Ohio and has taken up residence there … the offense with which he is charged was high handed in the extreme and the goods taken were sold out in the neighborhood and public boast made by John Wells of the crime”. Accordingly, on March 6, 1868, the Governor issued requisition for John Wells … for Grand Larceny on Governor of Ohio”.
However, on May 16, 1865, Private John Wells of “Caudill’s Kentucky Cavalry” took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States in Lawrence County, Ohio, and became a citizen of The State of Ohio. Ohio’s governor refused the request for extradition, noting that “It appears to have been a war incident” and “the war is now over and should be buried with the dead”.
“JOHN WELLS MYSTERY UPDATE!!”
John Wells was born in Scott County, VA, in 1815, the son of Revolutionary War veteran Richard Wells and his wife Susannah Hutchisorn His married to Nancy Ann Webb in Floyd County, KY, on December 4, 1839, and settled on a 200 acre farm on the Oak Log Fork of Daniels Creek in what is now Johnson County.
On December 28, 1861, he was mustered into the Confederate Army at Paintsville as a private in Company H of the 5th Kentucky Infantry. No further record of his service survives until September 1, 1863, when he re—enlisted in Floyd County in Co. F of Caudill’s 13th Kentucky Cavalry.. He later transferred to Companies D and K and received clothing on April 7, 1864..
After the disastrous Battle of Cynthiana in June 1864, Wells was separated from his unit and found his way back to Johnson County – According to Johnson County Circuit Court Records, sometime after August 1, 1864, he and William M. Baldridge, a Confed- erate veteran of Companies K and F of the 5th Kentucky Infantry, robbed the stores of Joseph Borders and Jeff Meek in Johnson County. Both Borders and Meek were well—known local Union leaders.. Also along on the raid were several other Confederate soldiers plus at least four deserters from the 39th Kentucky Union Infantry.. By September 30, 1864, all but one of the robbers had been arrested..
Formal indictments were handed down on June 1, 1885, claiming that Wells had sold the goods “out in the neighborhood and made public boast …. of the crime.” Authorities were dispatched to the Wells farm, but John Wells was nowhere to be found.
On March 18, 1865, John sold his Oak Log Fork property to Andrew Ducher through a third party for $3,445.OO and disappeared.. Just five days later, on March 23, 1865, Wells surfaced in Lawrence County, Ohio, where he purchased 96 acres of farmland for $2,200.O0 from John W. Earles and Thomas Betts.
He was eventually found by Johnson County authorities and on March 2, 1868, the Johnson County Circuit Court petitioned Kentucky’s Governor to have him extradited for trial.. However, John Wells took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States at Windsor, Lawrence County, Ohio, on May 16, 1865, and became a citizen of the Buckeye State.. Although initially agreeing to the request, the Ohio Governor eventually refused extradition stating that “it appears to have been a war incident ….. the war is now over and should be buried with the dead..”
On March 31, 1888, in response to the Governor’s initial acceptance, a fascinating article appeared in the Ironton (Ohio) Register which relates a rather confused account of the odyssey of John Wells:
“John Wells, a citizen of Lawrence County, who lives on his farm in Windsor township, and is a highly respected, honest Union man, was last night dragged from his home, run over the river and handed to the Rebel authorities in Kentucky, to be tried and convicted by the rebels at Paintsville for an act of which he has been acquitted by an Ohio Court?’ The story goes on to claim that Wells had always been a Union man and that the store of Zephaniah Meek, a Confederate veteran, was robbed by four Union P.0. W. s who were forced to do so by their Confederate captors. Wells was among those forced to commit the robbery. Later, Meek brought suit in Johnson County and Wells was forced to flee to Ohio. According to the article, Meek was now trying to have Wells taken back “into the rebel hands in Johnson County, to be tried by a rebel Judge, and Sheriff and Jury” so that Meek could “wreak his vengeance on his Union victim” and send him to “Rebel Penitentiary.” “Wells is in the Paintsville jail. Mr. Wells will stand as much chance for justice . . – in Rebel hands in Johnson county, as among the Feejee Islanders. Thus another victim is made to suffer from the fiendishness of Rebellion?’
This article is so full of inaccuracies as to make it almost laughable. First, after the War Between the States, Johnson County was firmly in the control of Unionist Republicans, not ex-Confederates. Johnson County had been a Unionist stronghold throughout the war sending over 400 men into the Union Army. The stores that Wells helped rob were those of Jeff Meek and Joseph Borders, both strong Union men. Zephaniah Mock, also a strong Union man and Methodist minister, was an agent of the Johnson County Circuit Court and not a plaintiff. Although John Wells moved to Ohio in March of 1865, he was certainly no Union man. Having served in the Confederate Army for at least 2 1/2 years, Wells was a registered Democrat whose brother served as a Captain in the Confederate Army.
However, the article remains a wonderful example of how early the “bloody shirt” was waved in the political arena in Ohio and Kentucky to gain personal advantage. Probably the wisest advice came from Ohio Governor Hayes when he finally concluded that “the war is now over and [this case] should be buried with the dead.”
It appears that John Wells was released rather quickly by Kentucky authorities and returned home to Lawrence County, Ohio, where he was listed in the 1870 census. He died in Lawrence County sometime after December 4, 1874 and before May 7, 1880, the date of the 1880 census.