James Craddock’s Unusual Will

Most 19th cen­tu­ry wills start some­thing like this: “I, John Smith, of the County of Clark and State of Kentucky, do make this my last will and testament . . .”

James W. Craddock’s will began a lit­tle dif­fer­ent­ly — “Dear Sweet, The mails are stopped for the present . . .”  This was the begin­ning of a let­ter to his sweet­heart, Margaret Nicholas, in Winchester. 

The let­ter was writ­ten on March 23, 1863, dur­ing the Civil War, while Craddock was serv­ing in the Union army as com­man­der of 16th Kentucky Infantry reg­i­ment at Lebanon.  At the time he wrote the let­ter, his unit was aid­ing in the effort to repel Gen. John Pegram’s Confederate inva­sion of Kentucky.  Craddock’s let­ter went on to state, “The rebels are now at Somerset, about sev­en thou­sand strong, advanc­ing toward Danville.  They will be in your County shortly.” 

He con­clud­ed the let­ter with the fol­low­ing para­graph:  “If I fall, D. A. Sayre & Co. in Lexington are my Bankers.  Mr. Buckner also owes me.  Whatever they say about it will be right. I want you to have what­ev­er I may leave and to this extent this is my will.”

James Wesley Craddock was born in 1830 in Hart County.  At the age of 18, he joined the Army dur­ing the Mexican War.  He was assigned to Company D, 8th Infantry, but he enlist­ed too late to join the fight­ing in Mexico.

By 1860 Craddock had made his way to Winchester.  That July he was resid­ing at the National House, pre­de­ces­sor of the Rees House and Brown-Proctoria.  At that time the hotel was res­i­dence to a dozen or so of the city’s unmar­ried busi­ness­men.  When war broke out, three of them would don Union blue and three Confederate grey.

In January 1862, James W. Craddock mus­tered in as cap­tain of Company A, 20th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry.  He joined a num­ber of local men, includ­ing Col. Charles S. Hanson — a broth­er of Confederate Gen. Roger Hanson — who was in com­mand of the regiment.

That April his reg­i­ment was in the bloody bat­tle at Shiloh.  They fought at the Peach Orchard, where Albert Sidney Johnston—a Kentuckian and Confederate general—was killed.  The shock­ing num­ber of casu­al­ties at Shiloh—more than 23,000—far exceed­ed any oth­er bat­tle of the war up to that time.

A few weeks lat­er, while still at Shiloh, Craddock was pro­mot­ed to colonel and placed in com­mand of the 16th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry.  Craddock’s reg­i­ment would serve in Kentucky.  His first post was Munfordville, his home­town.  That win­ter Gen. John Hunt Morgan launched his sec­ond Kentucky raid—the so-called “Christmas Raid.”  In late October Union Gen. Jeremiah Boyle sent the 20th Kentucky to Bowling Green and Russellville.  With the 16th still at Munfordville, Boyle hoped to dri­ve Morgan into a trap, but the plan did not suc­ceed.  In December Craddock’s reg­i­ment, strength­ened by the addi­tion of the 7th Tennessee, was in pur­suit near Lebanon, but Morgan slipped away again.  The new year found the 16th still chas­ing Morgan; how­ev­er, the infantry­men were unable to catch up to his fast-mov­ing cavalry.

The day before Craddock wrote his March let­ter to Margaret, General Pegram had crossed the Cumberland River with his Confederate cav­al­ry brigade.  Craddock’s Union reg­i­ment was at Lebanon antic­i­pat­ing the path Pegram would take, but Gen. Quincy Gilmore’s forces stopped and defeat­ed Pegram at Somerset on March 31.

As Craddock warned Margaret, the rebels did reach Winchester that month.  Col. Roy Cluke led a small raid into Kentucky ter­ror­iz­ing the countryside—including his home coun­ty of Clark—before with­draw­ing safe­ly to Tennessee. 

Col. James W. Craddock, 1861
Col. James W. Craddock, 1861. (Submitted)

Craddock’s let­ter to Margaret proved prophet­ic.  He died at the Officer’s Hospital in Louisville on June 2.  His cause of death was list­ed as “Haemorrhage from Bowels.”  He was 33 years old.  The offi­cers of his reg­i­ment resolved to hon­or him as “a true gen­tle­man, an earnest patri­ot, and a brave sol­dier . . . untime­ly called to fill an hon­ored grave.”

Upon learn­ing of Craddock’s death, Margaret took his let­ter to Clark County Court in June 1863.  After Benjamin F. Buckner and Samuel G. Stuart tes­ti­fied that they rec­og­nized Craddock’s hand­writ­ing, the court accept­ed the let­ter as his will and admit­ted it to pro­bate.  No fur­ther men­tion appears in the pro­bate records, per­haps because he left no estate here.  The Army pro­vid­ed an inven­to­ry of the effects found at his death — cloth­ing, a pis­tol, gold watch and $347 in trea­sury notes — which they sent to his broth­er, G. W. Craddock, a Frankfort attor­ney.  Presumably, his broth­er sent it on to Margaret.

James Craddock’s gravestone in Frankfort Cemetery
James Craddock’s grave­stone in Frankfort Cemetery. (Submitted)

A few years lat­er Margaret mar­ried Jesse T. Williams. He and Craddock had been two of the founders and char­ter mem­bers of the Winchester Independent Order of Odd Fellows — Hickman Lodge, No. 72 — in April 1861. This is the lodge that lat­er erect­ed the hand­some build­ing at 66 South Main Street.* In the 1860s Williams was the own­er of a wool card­ing fac­to­ry on East Broadway that lat­er became Clark Chapel AME, then Jordan Electric, and has now been repur­posed and as the Regeneration Distillery Company.

James W. Craddock was interred in Frankfort Cemetery.  His sweet­heart died 37 years lat­er, in 1900.  Margaret is buried beside her hus­band in Winchester Cemetery.

*After a dis­as­trous fire in 2019, the Odd Fellows sold the build­ing to 66 South Main, LLC.  The own­er, Perry Williams, DC, DACBSP, is a local chi­ro­prac­tor who is restor­ing this valu­able down­town landmark.

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