October 20, 2020

Pages 3850-3853
Whole Number 156


by Paul E. Sparks

[Editor's Note: A number of years ago, Dr. Paul E. Sparks, president of our association, prepared a record pertaining to his great-grandfather, Hugh S. Sparks. Paul wrote this for members of his immediate family, but your editor has obtained his permission to publish it here and thus share the story with a larger audience. Not only does this provide a fascinating glimpse of the horrors of the Civil War (the War Between the States), but it also illustrates how persistent research into the lives of our ancestors can sometimes solve family mysteries of long ago.

[Paul learned part of this story from his grandfather, Colby Sparks, who was born September 22, 1857, at Mount Savage, Carter County, Kentucky, and who died on June 3, 1951, at Louisa, Kentucky, at the age of 93. He was a son of Hugh S. Sparks and Nancy (Curnutte) Sparks. A photograph of Colby and his wife, Martha (Chaffin) Sparks, with their son, James William Sparks (born January 18, 1880), appears on the cover of this issue of the Sparks Quarterly.

[Paul believes that neither his grandfather, Colby Sparks, nor anyone in his immediate family, ever knew what had become of his father. Paul has written:

[ "Many years ago, a person not related to the Sparkses told me that he well remembered how Colby (my grandfather) and Hugh Sparks (Grandpa's brother) went to West Virginia once to 'track down' a rumor that their father was alive and living in a remote section of that state."

[A brief autobiography of Dr. Paul E. Sparks appeared in the Quarterly of December 1956, Whole No. 16, pp. 183-84. A record of his branch of the Sparks family appeared in the Quarterly of December 1955, Whole No. 12. Hugh S. Sparks, Paul's great-grandfather, and the subject of the following account, is noted there on page 102; he was born on May 21, 1829, and was a son of George and Nancy (Short) Sparks.

Most of you who will receive this paper will remember that our grandfather, Colby Sparks, told us many times about his experiences as a small boy during the Civil War. What some of you may not know, however, is that prior to his death, Grandpa had Aunt Rose write his memories down. A copy of her notes, typed by our cousin, Margaret Graham Thomas, was sent to me recently. After doing some research, I have changed my mind about the fate of our great-grandfather, Hugh S. Sparks.

Our great-grandfather, Hugh S. Sparks, participated in the Civil War as a soldier in the Confederate States Army. Grandpa was fond of recalling incidents that happened when his father would come home from the war. His last remembrance of his father was when he rode away in February before peace was made, and never returned. Grandpa died in 1951 without knowing what had happened to his father.

After Grandpa's death, I wrote to the National Archives to see if any military records could be found of Hugh S. Sparks who had served in the 5th Regiment Kentucky Mounted Infantry, Confederate States Army. I received the following information, most of which I have shared with you previously:

Hugh S. Sparks was present for duty in Company C, commanded by Capt. Hiram Hawkins, from October 19, 1861, to June 30, 1862. On February 4, 1862, he was promoted to First Sergeant. He was captured by Union forces on September 1, 1862, in Lawrence County, and sent to Camp Chase, Ohio. Three weeks later he was transferred to Cairo, Illinois, where he was put aboard the river steamer, The Emerald, and taken to Vicksburg, Mississippi. He was exchanged there on November 1, 1862. No further records of him have been found.

At this point in my search, I concluded that Hugh Sparks never did return to his family, nor to Lawrence or Carter Counties. This conclusion, I am now convinced, was incorrect. New evidence has been found that proves that he did, in fact, return to his family and that, in all probability, he was killed in the guerrilla warfare that marked the Civil War in eastern Kentucky. I have tried to fit this new information into a proper sequence to share with you. I have also tried to fit in the recollections that Grandpa dictated to Aunt Rose.

On or about December 15, 1862, a party of Rebels, possibly members of Field's Company of Partisan Rangers, captured four Union soldiers (or more probably Union sympathizers) at Sink Roberts' farm on Cat Fork of Blame Creek. As Grandpa described the incident, those men were four more noted characters, viz., Hi Huff, Wash Shelton, James Ross, and Mint Ball, who were not Union soldiers, but claimed the Union side. They (the Rebels) took them by way of Dry Fork to Bruin, a tributary of Little Sandy. Those boys never came back."

Grandpa continued his tale: "Shortly after this, father and I were passing where they were buried. Father sang, 'Ha! Ha! Ha! Don't you see me now crying to free the niggers, when the Rebels pulled the triggers, and sent you on your way to the happy land of Canaan.' While father sang, he had me dance on their graves."

Official records confirm Grandpa's story. These men were captured and taken to the head of Wells branch, a narrow hollow near the place where Lawrence, Carter, and Elliott Counties come together. There they were shot to death and stripped naked. Their bodies were placed in a shallow mass grave and covered with flat rocks. Several days later, on December 30, 1862, the bodies were discovered. After the discovery, Ross's body was taken away and re-buried in the Boggs Cemetery on Caines Creek in Lawrence County. The other bodies were re-buried on Wells Branch in unmarked graves.

Note that this incident took place on or about December 15, 1862. This was about six weeks after Hugh S. Sparks had been exchanged as a prisoner-of-war at Vicksburg. For this reason, I am now convinced that he did return to his family in Carter County.

Why were these four men killed? The primary reason, of course, was the enmity and hard-feelings caused by the Civil War. It was also said that these men were responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of some of their neighbors. At least one of the men was known as a thief and for his "general cussidness." All four, according to Grandpa, were noted characters.

Hiram Huff had enlisted in the Union Army, but had been discharged because of poor eyesight. He had returned home and had joined an organization called the Home Guards. He was wanted for counterfeiting in Johnson County, Kentucky. Wash Shelton was a constant companion of Huff from the outbreak of the war until their deaths. James Ross lived at Fielden, Kentucky. He and James Minton Ball were said to have been on their way to enlist in the Union Army when they were killed.

We can only guess about the role that Hugh Sparks played in these killings. Quite certainly, he knew of the killings and where the bodies had been buried. We have no way of knowing whether he participated in the killings or not. We can be sure that he felt a bitter hatred towards these men, as Grandpa's memories show, or he would not have treated their deaths so callously.

On March 16, 1863, Hugh Sparks joined Field's Company of Partisan Rangers in Lawrence County. Three months later, at the June 1863 term of the Carter County Circuit Court, he and his brother, John W. Sparks, along with ten other men, were indicted by the grand jury for stealing a horse from H. Easterling which was valued at $4.00. Of course, there was no trial. That fall, on October 16, 1863, his brother, John W. Sparks, was captured in Magoffin County and sent to the prisoner-of-war camp at Johnson's Island, Ohio, where he was kept until the end of the war.

In January 1865, Field's Company of Partisan Rangers was reorganized as Company M, 10th Regiment Kentucky Cavalry, Confederate States Army. The regiment was furloughed at the same time and many of the men returned to their homes. It seems quite likely that Hugh Sparks was home in February 1865, just before peace was made, as Grandpa remembered.

The final piece of evidence pertaining to the fate of Hugh S. Sparks comes from Dr. Nelson T. Rice of Blame, Kentucky, and a Union soldier during the Civil war. A short time before his death, Dr. Rice told a member of the Ross family that David Ross, a Union soldier and a son of James Ross who was killed on wells Branch, had shot and killed a Rebel soldier named Sparks. Although the killing may have been for revenge, it was also an official act, for in early 1865, Union troops in Kentucky were ordered to kill Rebel Guerrillas on sight without mercy. It is estimated that Federal forces in eastern Kentucky exterminated three or more guerrillas per month in this way.

We have searched the military records of the persons named Sparks in this section of Kentucky who fought on either side during the Civil War. To the best of our knowledge, Hugh S Sparks was the only Sparks who served in this conflict whose whereabouts we cannot account for after the war ended. Little wonder that Grandpa and his brothers never found their father nor learned what had happened to him.