Pastfinders to commemorate future president's sojourn in Logan
By Jim Turner

Posted on October 4, 2015 4:04 PM

Ask long-time residents which U.S. presidents have been to Logan County, and most will quickly answer that Andrew Jackson fought a duel against Charles Dickinson outside Adairville in 1806. Some will recall that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had his train make a “whistle stop” in Russellville during a reelection campaign, as a favor to Kentucky political kingpin Thomas S. Rhea. Some of us recall that George W. Bush was on a campaign bus that traveled the length of Logan County between campaign stops in Fort Campbell and Bowling Green in 2000 as he campaigned against Vice President Al Gore.

Many, however, were probably not aware that 29-year-old Benjamin Harrison made a crucial visit to Russellville in 1862, 26 years before he was elected president, an office that his grandfather, William Henry Harrison, had held in 1841.

Unaware, that is, until recently when a concentrated effort by some dedicated Logan County history buffs resulted in a historical marker being authorized to commemorate his short but impactful visit here.

That marker is to be unveiled this Wednesday at 1 p.m. on the grounds of Logan County Public Library, the exact site that was his destination when he took a train from Bowling Green to Russellville on Sept. 30, 1862, slightly over153 years ago.

Here’s a brief recap of the purpose and success of the future president’s brief sojourn in the Land of Logan.

Benjamin Harrison was born and reared in Ohio but moved to the Indianapolis area in 1854 after completing law school and marrying Caroline Lavinia Scott. They had two children.

Military service ran in his blood. It was success in the Battle of Tippecanoe against American Indians that earned General William Henry Harrison the nickname “Old Tippecanoe.” His presidential campaign slogan was “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too.” Tyler proved to be important, since Vice President John Tyler took office after the first President Harrison died 32 days into office from pneumonia which he apparently developed after speaking two hours at his own inauguration.

So, when the citizens of the United States fought another battle against each other (as did the “founding fathers” against the Native Americans), Benjamin Harrison volunteered for the Union forces in the War Between the States. He was made a lieutenant in the 70th Indiana Volunteer Regiment, which trained in Louisville.

According to Russellville pharmacist David Guion, the long-time president of the Southern Kentucky Pastfinders club in Russellville, Benjamin Harrison was assigned to lead the men sent to Bowling Green in July 1962. Two months later they were dispatched to Russellville after receiving word that one of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan’s brigades had set up shop in the Logan County seat.

“He and 600 men from Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky boarded a train on Sept. 30 and came here. They stopped in Auburn to rebuild a bridge over the town creek which Confederate troops had burned, and then came to Russellville,” Guion says. “They stopped outside of town and met a man who told them where the Confederates were camped. Harrison had some of his men get off and come into Russellville from the southern end while the train came on to the northern part of the city.”

About 300 Confederate soldiers were camped in the area where the library is located and on into what is now known as Chapman Subdivision. Harrison and the remainder of his troops exited the train near where the Kentucky National Guard Armory and a city sports park are now located. They took the Rebel forces by surprise.

Guion says 35 Confederate soldiers and just one of Harrison’s men were killed in the skirmish. Eight Confederate soldiers were captured. The Southern forces retreated and were never a factor in Russellville again.

Harrison and his men took home some of the Confederate muskets and other materials. They also confiscated 40 horses. “One of the horses was so nice that Harrison had it sent to his home in Indiana,” Guion says.

Benjamin Harrison built his war resume by leading many men toward Atlanta, part of Major General William T. Sherman’s March on Atlanta that hastened the end of the War Between the States.

After the war ended, Brigadier General Benjamin Harrison returned to Indianapolis where he resumed his law career and entered politics. He was narrowly defeated for governor but was soon elected to the U.S. Senate. Then in 1888 he was the Republican nominee for president. He finished behind incumbent President Grover Cleveland in the popular vote but won the Electoral College vote by a large margin.

He ran for reelection in 1892 but his wife became seriously ill, limiting his campaigning. She died a month before the election and Cleveland defeated Harrison this time to return to the White House.

Guion learned much of Harrison’s history by reading James M. Perry’s Touched by Fire, which deals with the five presidents who had been involved in the Civil War. Harrison was the last one of them. The battle of Russellville is part of the Harrison history. “Buddy Linton was in the drug store and told me I should read this book that mentioned Russellville,” he recalls. “That’s what got it started.”

From there, he and others read Hoosier Warrior, a three-volume biography of Harrison written by Harry J. Stevens. Diaries of Logan Countians include accounts of the brief battle in Russellville. The best known of these is Dick Browder’s The Heavens are Weeping.

The Pastfinders began researching this five years ago and decided to make securing the historical marker the group’s 2014 project. Carl Foster, a member of the Pastfinders, is the director of historical markers for Logan County. After the research was complete and state approval was received, the group raised the $2,500 to pay for the marker, which will be unveiled Wednesday. Some 30 donors were involved.

Before the formal ceremony, visitors to the library will be treated to an exhibit of military artifacts that Guion and others have found using metal detectors in the area. Guion has devoted countless hours over the decades following the beep of his metal detector. “People don’t know what we’re walking on here,” he says.

Barry Kennedy of Russellville, who is a professor of history at Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College, will speak on local Civil War history at the 1 p.m. ceremony.

Also scheduled to speak is Becky Riddle, director of the state historical marker program. Judge-Executive Logan Chick and Mayor Mark Stratton have also been invited to participate.

This is the 33rd historical marker approved for Logan County. When the program began and the late historian Mrs. J. Wells Vick was working to make them a reality, the markers were free.

Another marker is in the works. It will commemorate Bethel College.

The Southern Kentucky Pastfinders club has about 40 members and was founded in Bowling Green by the late Stan Ray of Russellville in 1982. The group meets the third Saturday evening of each month at Roy’s Bar-B-Q for a meal and a program.


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