Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Day the Civil War Came to Albany, pt. 4, "Blessed are the Peacemakers"

It was during the late winter and early spring of 1862, as the civil war was now in full swing, that the Union and Confederate factions of the Upper Cumberland attempted to reach a peaceful compromise in order to prevent the raids that were occuring in Fentress and Overton counties in Tennessee, and Clinton County in Kentucky.

Murder, theft and arson had become commonplace during the absence of regular soldiers who had gone off to fight in the war. It was decided that a peace conference should be held in hopes a solution might be reached that would end the senseless acts of guerilla warfare. It was agreed the meeting would be held at Monroe in Overton County.

The Northern side was represented by men from Fentress and Clinton counties. The Southern side was represented by men from Overton County. Since confederate guerilla Champ Ferguson was committing the largest number of atrocities, he was invited to the conference to represent the Confederate interests of Clinton County. It would prove to be a big mistake.

Even though the parties agreed to stop the raids into adjoining counties, on the way back to Clinton County, Ferguson and his men killed four Overton County men. Before the wars' end, most of the Union men who had participated in the peace conference were killed, while others were pursued but only terrorized. Those killed were James Zachary, Thomas Wood, William Johnson, Robert Martin, Joseph Stover, Louis Pierce, Eli Hatfield, Parson Joseph Dalton, John McDonald and a Mr. Taylor. Another was my third great-grandfather, Elisha Koger.

Elisha had been a member of the home guard in Clinton County. On the morning of Sunday, June 1, 1862, just as the sun was starting to rise, he rose from his bed and headed out to the spring that ran beside his home at Oak Grove, with his wife, Nancy, by his side. Shots rang out as a band of men appeared suddenly out of nowhere. Nancy screamed for him to run, but it was too late as Champ Ferguson overtook him and shot him. Elisha threw up his arms and said something, but Nancy couldn't make out his words because the couple's children were screaming.

As shots continued to ring out, he ran toward a fence some fifty yards away. He reached the fence and tried to cross it, but Ferguson and nine other men rode up to him and continued shooting. By the time Nancy reached the fence, the couple's 11-year-old daughter, Sarah, was holding her daddy in her arms, covered in his blood. Elisha gasped once, but never spoke. He had been shot more than 30 times. Nancy knelt beside her dead husband's body as Ferguson and his outlaw gang ransacked the Koger home.

Seven months earlier, on Nov. 1, 1861, Ferguson had killed Nancy Koger's brother, William Frogge, as his wife Esther, also watched in horror.

On October 20, 1865, Ferguson was hanged for the brutal murder of 53 people. Nancy and Esther were two of those who testified against him at his trial.

The historical significance of the peace conference rests upon the premise of what might have been, a story of reasonable men who searched for solace during unreasonable times.

For the record, I had family members on both sides of the Civil War conflict who were both persecuted and harmed over what they believed in.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Tale From Caney Gap, KY

There once was a wealthy farmer who lived at Caney Gap in Clinton County and his name was Bill Burchett. He always had something to sell. He didn't count his money, he measured it in a cedar water bucket that held a peck. When he'd get this bucket four or five times full he'd have a bushel. He also had an earthen crock to measure gold that held $3,000 worth when it was full. Sid Burchett, an old African-American who was born a slave, always lived with Bill or some of his children. Sid couldn't read or write and he stuttered, but when he finally got the words out of his mouth they were words of wisdom. Sid could lean on a hoe handle in a cornfield and smell the atmosphere and tell within thirty minutes when it was going to rain. No deal or business transaction was ever made without consulting Sid, and his decision about anything was seldom wrong. If he told them to sell a hog and they didn't sell it, it would die of the cholera the next week. - J. H. McKinley, The New Era, April 12, 1951

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Hymns of Hope: Faith is the Victory!

Rev. John H. Yates was born in Batavia, New York on Nov. 31, 1837. He was licensed as a Methodist preacher after high school, but instead was forced to get a job to help maintain his aged parents. His father had been a shoemaker, so John's first job was in a shoe store. For thirty years he worked at different retail jobs, including a hardware store and a department store, eventually becoming the editor of the local newspaper.

All through his years of working Yates still managed to preach here and there, sharing his faith in Jesus Christ. Before his death in 1900, he switched from a Methodist to a Free Will Baptist and in 1897 began pastoring at a church near Batavia.

He also had another way of serving the Lord. His mother had been a school teacher who loved poetry and literature, and it was at her beckoning that Yates became a writer of poetry and songs. It wasn't long before hymns he had written were being sung all over the land.

“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” - 1 John 5:4

John's faith was severely tested when his wife and two sons all died within the space of one week from an outbreak of diphtheria. He eventually remarried and kept going, giving living illustration that our faith in the promises of God and in our Lord Jesus gives us overcoming victory.

His success as a hymn writer led the famous singer and musician, Ira D. Sankey, to ask Yates to write hymns for him. Perhaps the deaths of his wife and children, and the testing of his faith, is what led him to write his most famous hymn, "Faith is the Victory."

Encamped along the hills of light
Ye Christian soldiers rise
  And press the battle ere the night
  Shall veil the glowing skies
Against the foe in vales below
  Let all our strength be hurled
Faith is the victory we know
That overcomes the world

Faith is the victory!
Faith is the victory!
Oh glorious victory
That overcomes the world

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Day Aeronauts Fell From the Sky in Kentucky

Metcalfe County, Kentucky has been known for a lot of different things over the years: The Kentucky Headhunters, Black Stone Cherry, UK basketball star J.P. Blevins and the natural gas pipeline explosion at Beaumont in 1985, but in 1910 it was known as the place where a hot air balloon fell from the sky.

On May 8, 1910, Viking, said to be the largest hot air balloon in the world with a gas capacity of 85,000 cubic feet, left Quincey, Illinois on a journey to set a long-distance record. The balloon, piloted by A. Holland Forbes of New York, President of Forbes Publishing Company, sailed over Missouri, Indiana and then Kentucky. At 16,000 feet they encountered a thunderstorm which caused their virtually uncontrollable aircraft to shoot up to an altitude of 20,600 feet, which was a new altitude record.

As the balloon approached Tennessee, Forbes and his crewman, J. C. Yates, also of New York, almost passed out from the effects of the high altitude. Forbes later said the air pressure at that moment was no more than four pounds. The trauma caused both men to lose their ability to function properly. Forbes panicked and pulled the rip cord too hard in a rush to slow his descent. The two men were forced to discard all ballast and provisions to check their descent when suddenly, at a distance of almost 500 feet above ground, the rip cord tore Forbes' new balloon open and, like a piece of lead, it dropped straight to the ground in the Center community in Metcalfe County. Residents there arrived to find both men unconscious and seriously injured, Yates' injuries were more severe. The two men might have been killed had it not been for a pneumatic mattress that was laying on the basket floor. When they began their journey in Illinois, thirty-three bags of sand were onboard the Viking. There was only one left when it hit ground.

Forbes was internationally known as a balloonist. There was not another balloonist in the United States, and probably in the world, who had more enthusiasm about the sport than he did. He had made so many trips skyward that newspapers and magazines dubbed him the "Cowboy of the Air." A year earlier he won a trophy for the longest flight made in the United States during the year after his balloon, The New York, covered 731 miles in 19 1/4 hours. The accident in Metcalfe County wasn't his first narrow escape. At the Berlin races in 1908, his balloon, The Conqueror, caught fire and fell rapidly. Fortunately, the torn bag formed a sort of parachute that enabled Forbes to escape serious injury.

After the ordeal in Metcalfe County, Forbes continued to be an active member of the Aero Club of America, retaining his keen interest in all forms of aviation until his death on Dec. 23, 1927.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Little Richard was the Architect of Rock and Roll

In two years time, Richard Penniman of Macon, Georgia cut a series of unstoppable hits that became the rule of rock and roll music: “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally” and “Rip It Up” in 1956, “Lucille” in 1957 and “Good Golly Miss Molly” in 1958. He never hit the top 10 again after 1958, but he didn't have to. His influence was massive, stretching across musical genres, from rock to hip hop. His music helped shape rhythm and blues for generations to come. His contemporaries, including Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, all recorded covers of his works.

The Beatles were also heavily influenced by Penniman. Paul McCartney idolized him in school and later used his recordings as inspiration for his uptempo rockers, such as "I'm Down." "Long Tall Sally" was the first song McCartney performed in public. McCartney would later state, "I could do Little Richard's voice, which is a wild, hoarse, screaming thing. It's like an out-of-body experience. You have to leave your current sensibilities and go about a foot above your head to sing it."

During the Beatles' Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, George Harrison commented, "thank you all very much, especially the rock 'n' rollers, and Little Richard there, if it wasn't for (gesturing to Little Richard), it was all his fault, really. "Upon hearing "Long Tall Sally" in 1956, John Lennon later commented that he was so impressed that he couldn't speak.

For decades literally every single band covered, not only his top 10 hits, but also songs like "Rip it Up," "Ready Teddy," "Slippin' and Slidin'," "Lucille," "Jenny Jenny" and "Keep A-Knockin'." His stage persona and wardrobe also set the standard for rock and roll showmanship.

Elvis may have been the king of rock and roll, but clearly Little Richard was the architect.


In memory of Richard Wayne Penniman, born on December 5, 1932 in Macon, Georgia and died on May 9, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. He was 87.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Hymns of Hope: How Long Has It Been?

In Southern Gospel music circles, songwriter Mosie Lister was a legend. His best known songs include “Where No One Stands Alone,” “Till the Storm Passes By,” “Then I Met the Master” and “How Long Has It Been?” Born into a musical family in Georgia, at an early age it appeared he was tone-deaf. Although he gradually learned to distinguish pitches, he wanted to do more than that...he wanted to write songs.

He came to fame as he began to work with southern gospel quartets; singing, arranging, writing and producing. One day he thinking about how people can drift away from the Lord. "Once upon a time, they had told God they loved Him, but they hadn’t given Him much thought in recent years," he said. Sound familiar? All of a sudden the lyrics came and he started writing as fast as he could. In ten minutes he had written "How Long Has it Been?"

"How long has it been since you talked with the Lord
and told him your hearts hidden secrets
How long since you prayed, how long since you stayed
on your knees’till the light shone through

How long has it been since your mind felt at ease
How long since your heart knew no burden
Can you call him your friend, how long has it been
since you knew that he cared for you"

Within five years, more than a million sheet music copies had been sold. Jimmy Davis was the first to release the song on record in 1956. The Blackwood Brothers released it later that same year. Jim Reeves followed in 1959, Jimmy Dean in 1960, The Statesman Quartet in 1964 and The Cathedral Quartet in 1966. Mosie said he stopped counting in the 600's.

Albert Brumley, who wrote “I’ll Fly Away,” once declared “How Long Has It Been” to be greatest gospel song ever written. When asked, “What about your song?” he replied, “It’s not in the same class.” Billy Graham’s soloist, George Beverly Shea, often closed his concerts by singing this song.

"How long has it been since you knelt by your bed
and prayed to the Lord up in Heaven
How long since you knew that He’d answer you
and would keep you the long night through

How long has it been since you woke with the dawn
and felt this day is worth living
Can you call Him your friend, How long has it been
since you knew that He cared for you"

My favorite recording of this song has to be the version Jimmy Dean recorded in 1960 and released on his album "Hymns" (Columbia Records).

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Hymns of Hope: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Helen Lemmel, the daughter of a Methodist minister, was born in 1863 in Wardle, England. Her family migrated to America when she was 12, first to Mississippi then to Wisconsin. A gifted singer, she traveled and sang on the Chautauqua circuit, eventually, becoming a vocal music teacher at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Among her works was a hymnal used by evangelist Billy Sunday for over a decade. She and a women’s choral group she directed were part of his evangelistic crusades at the peak of his career. Lemmel died in Seattle, Washington in 1961.

Originally known as "The Heavenly Vision," "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" (the first line of the chorus) was inspired by a missionary's tract Lemmel had read. First published as a pamphlet in England in 1918, she included it in a collection of hymns, called "Glad Songs," in 1922, and then in an American collection, entitled "Gospel Truth in Song," in 1924. Today the hymn, especially the chorus, is widely known and has become a standard reprinted in many hymnals.

O soul, are you weary and troubled
No light in the darkness you see
There’s light for a look at the Savior
And life more abundant and free

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth
will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

His Word shall not fail you
He promised
Believe Him and all will be well
Then go to a world that is dying
His perfect salvation to tell

The Day the Civil War Came to Albany, pt. 4, "Blessed are the Peacemakers"

It was during the late winter and early spring of 1862, as the civil war was now in full swing, that the Union and Confederate factions o...