The 5th USCC at Simpsonville, Kentucky
January 25, 1865 

On January 25, 1865, the men of Company "E" of the 5th United States Colored Cavalry were driving a herd of cattle on a narrow road to Louisville when they were ambushed outside of Simpsonville, Kentucky by a band of Confederate guerillas.  Many of the men were killed, but were never accounted for.  What follows are two newspaper accounts of the event; one published just days after the event and the other written in 1913.*

Official Military Reports Concerning the Incident Near Simpsonville

Dedication and Unveiling of Simpsonville Massacre Historical Highway Marker, January 25, 2009 / Photos

Cincinnati, Ohio
Saturday Morning, January 28, 1865
Vol. 76 No. 183
Horrible Massacre by Guerrillas — Thirty-five Colored Soldiers Murdered— Eight More Dangerously Wounded

From The Louisville Journal, 26th

A drove of Government cattle, about nine hundred head, was on the way to this city yesterday from Camp Nelson, guarded, by eighty negro soldiers detailed from various regiments. The day being cold, and no danger being apprehended, the soldiers were allowed to straggle along by themselves, while their officers stopped to warm at various houses on the road. One half of the command marched in front of the cattle, while the other portion kept in the rear of the drove. The cattle and the guards were not yet out of sight of Simpsonville when fifteen guerrillas, headed by the desperate Colter, dashed into the town. Three of the negro officers were loafing in the tavern at the time, but they succeeded in making their escape from the outlaws. The guerrillas robbed the citizens of the place of goods amounting to about twelve hundred dollars when they started in pursuit of the negro troops guarding the cattle. They were not long in over-taking them as the citizens of Simpsonville, soon after their departure from the place, heard rapid firing down the road. In about half an hour the guerrillas returned; loaded down with booty, and stated that they had killed twenty-five of the negroes. They gave no further explanation, but moved off in the direction of Shelbyville. A gentleman who was detained at Simpsonville by the outlaws, after they were out of sight, resumed his journey toward Louisville. Not more than half a mile this side of the village a terrible scene was presented to view. The ground was stained with blood and the dead bodies of negro soldiers were stretched out along the road. It was evident that the guerrillas had dashed upon the party guarding the rear of the cattle and taken them completely by surprise. They could not have offered any serious resistance, as none of the outlaws were even wounded. It is presumed that the negroes surrendered and were shot down in cold blood, as but two of the entire number escaped-one of them by secreting himself behind a wagon, the other by running, as he was met several miles from the scene of tragedy, wounded and nearly exhausted. Thirty-five dead bodies were counted lying m the road and vicinity. It was a horrible butchery, yet the scoundrels engaged in the bloody work shot down their victims with feelings of delight.

The cattle stampeded, and as soon as the advance guard learned of what was going on in the rear, each individual in blue made a tall scamper for a place of safety. Colter, Berry and Sue Mundy were the leaders of the murderous gang. The outlaws were but fifteen in number-one of them a black scoundrel, who boasted on the return of the band to Simpsonville that he killed three of the soldiers. In making the attack, the guerrillas were only armed with navy revolvers. After the wholesale murder, they took good care to secure the arms and ammunition of the slain. The officers in command of the negro troops should be held responsible for the slaughter, for it is certain that if they had been with their men, and enforced a proper discipline, the outlaws would have been whipped  with ease.

If the soldiers had not been straggling, Colter would never have ventured to make the attack. A heavy responsibility rests with some one, and we trust that the facts of the case will be fully inquired into by the authorities.

LATEST: A gentleman who left Simpsonville at 8 o'clock last evening, and arrived in the city at a late hour last night, states that the citizens, up to the time he left, had collected and buried fourteen dead bodies of the murdered soldiers. Eight negroes, so severely wounded that many of them will die, were receiving medical treatment. It was thought that several more bodies would be found this morning scattered about the fields, as after they were shot many of the negroes ran in different directions and fell and died. The guerrillas were traveling towards Shelbyville at last accounts.

Friday, February 21, 1913
Pg. 9 Vol. XIV, No. 8
Edward Shinnick, Ed.
Nineteen Negro Soldiers Shot Down In Cold Blood, and Twenty Others Seriously Wounded.
What Coulter And Fourteen Guerrillas Did Forty-eight Years Ago

Never until now has there been published an account of a tragedy that occurred near Simpsonville February 2nd, 1865, [January 25, 1865] in which a number of negro soldiers were killed and wounded by a handful of guerrillas. Tradition is responsible for a number of stories in reference to what was practically a massacre, but we propose herewith to give an authentic account of the affair as we have learned it from Captain Richard George, then and now, a resident of Simpsonville, a man who was on the scene of the killing within an hour and a half after the bloodthirsty guerrillas had played havoc with the soldiers. In those days there were numerous bands of guerrillas, or "independent scouts" as they were pleased to call themselves, in this part of the country. The captains, or leaders, were Sue Mundy, Quantrill, "one arm" [Samuel] Berry, David Martin, Captain Coulter and others.

One night early in February, [late January] 1865, snow being on the ground and the thermometer registering below zero a company of negro soldiers, officered by white men, having driven one thousand head of cattle from Central Kentucky and through Shelbyville, stopped for the night at the farm now owned and occupied by Arch Bell, less than four miles west of this city. The cattle belonged to the U.S. Government and were being taken to Louisville, to be distributed among the soldiers in the Union army. The cattle were turned into the lot and fed, the soldiers had erected their tents, and the officers were quartered in the farmhouse on the place.

Suddenly there was a loud knocking on an outer door, and a white man, who said he was employed on the adjoining farm belonging to Squire Absalom Matthews, demanded admittance and a chance to speak to the captain. This was accorded him, and he told the captain that the cattle were ruining a field of unshocked corn belonging to Squire Matthews, a Union sympathizer. The captain asked what could be done. The man asked how many men he had and was told there were near one hundred, and that there were one thousand cattle. The man, who was, in fact, a guerrilla spy, suggested that the captain go out instruct his men to each turn out ten head of cattle and in that way there would be no confusion. He said, too, that he would take the matter in charge himself, but that he had no suitable boots in which to tramp through the snow. The officer then told the man to take his boots and superintend the work. After getting the boots the guerrilla spy, who had tom down the fence which separated the cattle from the cornfield, before he had his talk with the officer, left for parts unknown, presumably towards the Spencer county line, while the negro soldiers got the cattle out of the corn as best they could.

The next morning the soldiers and the cattle started for Louisville, about half the men in front, and the other half in the rear of the herd. As they passed through Simpsonville, the captain stopped in a store to warm his almost frozen feet and buy a pair of boots. The cattle and the soldiers in the meantime proceeded towards Louisville. Suddenly, while the officer was looking at the boots, someone ran into the store and shouted: "Here comes Coulter and his guerrillas)" The quality, price and size of the boots had no longer any interest for the officer, and he ran out of and down under the storeroom, where he remained in hiding until after his men had been massacred and the guerrillas had passed back through Simpsonville on their way east towards Shelbyville.

The soldier and cattle had gotten to a point on the State pike between where R.G. Bryan and T[homas]. S. Byars now live, not much more than a half-mile west of Simpsonville, when Captain Coulter and his fourteen guerrillas, yelling like very devils and shooting their pistols in the air, rode rapidly towards the panic stricken rear guard of the herd of cattle. They began shooting down the men without compunction, and without effort on their part to return the fire or to protect themselves in any way. Only one shot was fired by a soldier, and it went wild. In less than twenty minutes nineteen of the soldiers were dead and more than twenty were wounded, mortally, the guerrillas believed. To get to the guard in front was impossible, on account of the excited cattle in the roadway, and the guerrillas turned back toward Simpsonville, believing they had killed every man that was in the rear of the herd. Every man in the front of the herd made his escape, as did three in the rear guard. One of them was found lying "flat on his face" on the ground, an hour and a half afterwards, by Captain George and others who went to the scene of the trouble. He was unhurt, as was one who hid himself under the bed of the commissary wagon that was overturned early in the action, and was not discovered by the guerrillas. The third, who was far up in the front of the rear guard, started on a run as soon as he heard the firing.

This man reached a farmer's house without being seen by anybody. He immediately divested himself of his soldier's clothing and running to the wood pile, began chopping very enthusiastically. He was still at it several hours later, and when asked what he knew about the killing, said: "Fore God, boss, I don't know nothin’ 'bout no nigger soldiers, nor no cattle, nor guerrillas. All I knows is has to cut this white man's wood." When the guerrillas had passed back through Simpsonville the white officer came out from under the store, and without waiting to buy boots, left hurriedly for Louisville. The nineteen negroes that were killed were buried in a long trench near where they were massacred. The twenty wounded men were taken to Simpsonville by Captain George and other citizens of that community, and attended to for several days, when Government officials sent a lot of ambulances and they were taken to Louisville.

*These accounts of the Simpsonville event were provided by John Trowbridge, a Kentucky historian.

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