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Captured at Buffington

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

Just one quarter mile south of the Battle of Richmond Visitor's Center in Madison County, Kentucky lies the Blue Grass Memorial Cemetery. This cemetery was created when the Blue Grass Army Depot was commissioned in 1941 and the army needed to remove at least two cemeteries from what would become the depot grounds. The United States Army would create two cemeteries that would lie off base, one being for whites, and the other for blacks. The Blue Grass Memorial Cemetery along U. S. Highway 421 is the location for whites. One of those that were reinterred in Blue Grass Memorial Cemetery was a young man from Madison County who was captured at Buffington Island.

James W. Coulter

Standing at a strapping six feet tall, James W. Coulter would have hovered over most of his comrades in Company F of the Eleventh Kentucky Cavalry. This regiment, formed in the late summer of 1862, was under command of David Chenault at the beginning of the Great Raid (Chenault would be killed at the Battle of Tebbs Bend on July 4th, 1863). Coulter, a dark haired man of twenty-five years, had been born on St. Valentine's Day, 1837 in Kentucky. He would marry Zeporah Todd in 1860, and be listed on the 1860 Census as a farmer. The marriage would produce seven children. Coulter would enlist in the Eleventh in Madison County during aftermath of the overwhelming Confederate victory at Richmond that took place on August 29th and 30th. Coulter would join the company on September 10th, being sworn in at a location that lies in the northwest corner of the intersection of modern Eastern Bypass and Big Hill Road, south of downtown Richmond (see map below).

The orange circle shows where Coulter mustered into service, while the green circle shows the location of the Blue Grass memorial Cemetery.

On March 11th, 1863, while at Albany, Kentucky, Coulter would write a letter to his "wife, sister, and aunts." He would go on to speak of his health ("alive and well") and talked about the officers of his company ("The officers were all elected before I got there and I could not have been better suited in the officers if I had have had choosing of them myself."). He also mentioned that he has been seven fights "but by the grace of God I have come out without a scratch."

In 1863 Coulter would be on the Great Raid, moving through Kentucky, Indiana, and then Ohio, being captured at Buffington Island on the morning of July 19th (one source mentions that he was wounded at Buffington, but I am unable to confirm that). First sent to Camp Morton in Indianapolis, Coulter would be transferred shortly thereafter to Chicago's Camp Douglas on August 17th. On May 16th, 1864, Coulter would swear an oath of allegiance to the United States and as far as can be determined his Civil War service was over.

In 1870 Coulter was running his farm, with several children and relations living in the homestead. His property was valued at $1,200.00. Alas, Coulter would die on May 9th, 1875, aged just thirty-eight years of age. His wife and some of his children would later move to the Pacific Northwest. Zeporah would live until 1924 and is buried in Oregon.

James W. Coulter's story is just one of the hundreds that have a connection to the Buffington Island battlefield.

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