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Past and Present of Livingston County
Volume 1. History
by Major A. J. Roof. 1913
The subject of this sketch, Capt. Joseph B. Kirk, is a highly respected resident of Chillicothe, but the historian would be derelict in his work did he not make a record of the operations of Captain Kirk which is of more than local interest. Therefore we glean the following from the 0. P. Williams & Co.'s History of Livingston County, issued ill 1885:
After a brief term of service in the army of General Price south of the Missouri, Captain Kirk returned to his home, in Jackson township, with a commission authorizing him to recruit for the Confederate service. A man of middle age, with the attributes of undoubted personal bravery, sagacity, tact and presence of mind, and withal of integrity and good character, Captain Kirk at once had the confidence of the people of Confederate sympathies, and in a short time he had gathered about him quite a company of well armed and mounted men, some of whom were as desperate fighters as the war produced.
Kirk's plan of operation seemed to contemplate the holding of Jackson township, or the country between the forks of Grand river, as Confederate ground, into which the Federal troops must not enter. In the summer of 1861, as elsewhere noted, his notices to the Federals warning them not to trespass on his dominions were numerously posted, and he persistently refused to go South with his company, but remained to make good his warnings, and as he said, to protect his friends. His operations were chiefly of the partisan ranger style of warfare - the forming of ambuscades, sudden waylays, surprises, and predatory incursions and foragings on the enemy. While under commission in the Confederate service and perhaps entitled to be called Confederates, yet, from their style of warfare, Kirk and his men were called bushwhackers.
In the fall of 1861 the bushwhackers drew the first blood. A band of them under John Blackburn waylaid and fired upon Lieut. E. West, of Daviess county, an officer of the 23rd Missouri, who was on return to his regiment with some recruits. Of this incident, the Lieutenant, now deputy sheriff of Daviess county,
I started from my home in Bancroft, on Sunday morning, October 13, 1861, with six recruits, a driver and myself (making eight in all), in one one wagon to go to Chillicothe, and from there to St. Louis by rail. When we got within about three miles of Spring Hill and were just passing out at the eastern border of what we called Blacks Grove, and immediately on entering the prairie, a band of bushwhackers arose from their concealment, all in line, about fifteen steps from us and commenced firing upon us. We were all unarmed, which fact their leader, John Blackburn, knew, for he had talked with us not more than two hours before, and knew we had no arms with us. When the firing commenced five of the recruits jumped out of the wagon and ran through some high weeds to make their escape. Only two of them were badly wounded; Ransom Shores received two bad wounds and Jack Duncan four. The driver, John Roe, one recruit, John Shire and myself remained with the team and were all wounded, the driver slightly, Shire severely in the head, and I received four severe wounds. All eventually recovered.
The year following a band of bushwhackers waylaid another lot of recruits going to Chillicothe, under the leadership of Joseph Conkling, at the northwestern border of the same grove and half a mile from where we were fired upon. Many persons get the two occurrences mixed.
By the early spring of 1862 Kirk and his men had become quite notorious throughout this county and the eastern part of Daviess, and had given the Federals no little trouble. They defied all attempts at capture and frequently fired on small parties of their pursuers. A thorough familiarity with the country, and the fact that nearly every citizen was not unfriendly towards them greatly facilitated their movements and they kept the Federal forces in the country in a constant state of uneasiness and annoyance. At last a plan was matured by Lieut.-Col. A. M. Woolfolk, of the 1st M. S. M., for their capture or dispersion.
At ten o'clock on the night of May 24, 1862, Colonel Woolfolk left Chillicothe with Captain Ballenger's company (G) and a detachment of Captain Peery's (K) for the Spring Hill country. At the same time Captains McGhee and Folmsbee with their companies (A & B) left Breckinridge for the same destination. The two detachments intended to cooperate as soon as they reached the enemy's country.
The expedition was fairly successful. Colonel Woolfolk's battalion succeeded in capturing Joe Kirk, John Cooper, Jr., and James Hale. The detachment from Breckinridge, under Adjutant Doyle, captured Charles Cooper. Three horses and three revolvers were also taken. Some days previously a number of horses had been taken from Union men in Jackson township and Kirk's and Cooper's men were accused of having taken them.
Kirk was taken to Breckinridge and confined in a railroad car with other prisoners. One night he succeeded in cutting a hole in the floor of the car and through this he made his escape. In twenty-four hours he was again in the saddle.
On the 5th of August about twenty men of Co. B, 1st M. S. M., under Lieut. J. T. Goodbrake, and about twenty-five enrolled militia attacked Kirk's and Capt. Frank Davis' companies at Diamond, in Daviess county, and defeated them. Five of the Federals were wounded, and some six or eight of the Confederates. The next day the Federal militia captured a young man named Thomas Hinklin, who had been with Kirk in the fight the day before. Because he refused to give the names of his comrades or betray their rendezvous, the officer in command had him cruelly shot to death. No soldier of Rome or Sparta ever died braver. He unhesitatingly refused to purchase his life on the terms offered and calmly facing his executioners died without a tremor of fear or a murmur of protest. Before he was shot he wrote a few lines to his widowed mother and two sisters, but the militia officer tore up the paper. The place of his execution was in Daviess county, twenty-five miles from his home, but his two young sisters recovered his body and bore it to the family cemetery for final interment.
The same day, or the next, Daniel Hale, a brother-in-law of Kirk, was killed in a cane patch, where he was hiding. This was west of Spring Hill. The killing was done by the same detachment that killed young Hinklin, but while the latter's body was treated with some respect, being decently buried, the body of Daniel Hale was shown shameful indignity.
After the Diamond fight Kirk returned to Jackson township, He refused to follow off Poindexter when the latter came into the Spring Hill country, but continued to fight on his native heath. About the 17th of August he captured five Union men, citizens of Jackson township (some of whom belonged to the militia, and had come here from Chillicothe, on leave), at W. G. Eads' residence, in Daviess county. This was on Sunday, and the following Tuesday a part of Kirk's company under Lieut. David Martin, bushwhacked some twenty of the enrolled militia on Hinklin’s branch, northwest of of Spring Hill. The militia was returning to Chillicothe from Grundy county and some of them were in a wagon. One militiaman named Joseph Conklin was killed and another named Thomas was mortally wounded The remainder scattered in every direction. The bushwhackers suffered no loss. Kirk himself denounced Martin's conduct on firing on the Federal detachment.
At this time Kirk was endeavoring to secure an exchange of prisoners with the Federals of Chillicothe, and had sent in one man that he held - J. B. Weaver - with a note to Lieutenant Turner, demanding the release of two of his man whom the Federals had previously captured. Kirk threatened that unless these men were returned to him he would shoot two of the militiamen in his hands the next morning at nine o'clock. One of the men demanded was sent to Spring Hill, but the other was wounded and could not be sent. Kirk refused the man sent him.
Matters were becoming serious for the two Federal prisoners in Kirk's hands, when on Tuesday evening Colonel Shanklin sent a force of militia out from Chillicothe towards Spring Hill. In the van of the militia rode William Hale, Sr., Kirk's father-in-law, and his son who had been made prisoners, and were used as hostages for the safety of Weaver and Marion Hicks, the two militiamen.
Colonel Shanklin says: "The night after Turner's report of Kirk's capture of Hicks, my headquarters at Chillicothe were visited at midnight by a young lady who claimed to be a rebel sympathizer, but a friend of Hicks. She said unless Kirk's wrath was appeased in some way, he would cause Hicks to be killed. I immediately issued the necessary orders to give the people of the forks to understand that if Hicks was killed – and whether he was or not, if Kirk’s band was longer harbored and fed in the forks – I would make the whole country between the two rivers a wilderness, and we would call that peace. The next morning I sent out two or three companies."
Kirk had moved down from his position on the Doss farm to the Indian hill, whence his scouts saw the Federals approaching with the two Hales conspicuously in front. Seeing that he was outwitted, knowing that if he harmed his prisoners his relatives would be killed, Kirk retired, and the same night released Marion Hicks unconditionally.
Not long afterwards Kirk crossed Grand river with his company and took up a position on the east bank of the river, in the Van Winkle bend) about four miles northwest of Chillicothe. Learning of his presence, Colonel Shanklin sent Captain Spickard with his and Captain Winters' companies of Grundy and Captain Turner's of Livingston, all enrolled militia, from Chillicothe to attack him. Bursting suddenly upon the bushwhackers the militia routed them completely, driving them across the river, and capturing a number of horses, arms, etc. One of Kirk's men, Joseph Allen, was drowned in swimming the river. Some of the horses captured were identified as belonging to certain Union men of Jackson township; five had been taken from James Hicks, Sr.
Thereafter the movements of Kirk and his men were practically insignificant. By reason of the presence of an overwhelming force of his enemies he was forced to give up the forks, and went south of the Missouri. Here he was desperately wounded and obliged to leave the service. Bold and shrewd as ever, he made his way back to the county, and then went to California where he remained until after the war. He is now a quiet, well respected citizen of the county.