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George Prentice and the Confederate She Devil

George Prentice and the "Confederate She Devil"
By Linus Joseph Dewald Jr., Editor
Summer 2006 and Revised 22 May 2006

The following item was published in Courier Journal of Monday, May 22, 2006;

    During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln imposed martial law on Kentucky, a border state where loyalties were divided between the Union and the Confederacy. It was during that time of bitter family divisions, raids and retaliations that the legend of outlaw Sue Mundy was born.

    The true story of this renegade is examined in "The Confederate She Devil," a one-hour documentary produced and directed by Tennessee producer David Ross.

    In 1864, Louisville Journal editor George Prentice wrote that a band of Confederate guerrillas in Kentucky was being led by a woman he dubbed "Sue Mundy." He described her as a "tigress" and "cutthroat" who "dressed in male attire" and was "possessed of a comely form."

    But there was no woman -- except in Prentice's imagination. He created Mundy as a way to embarrass the harsh Union commander in Kentucky who he disliked. In reality, reports of a Confederate woman outlaw were probably sightings of a long-haired young man from Franklin, Ky., named Marcellus Jerome Clark, who had joined the Confederate army as a teenager and rode for a time with John Hunt Morgan's raiders.

    But Prentice's bizarre hoax was believed. And by 1865, the capture of Sue Mundy and her gang had become a Union priority. Shortly before the Civil War ended, the outlaw Clark was captured in a Meade County barn. Although he demanded to be treated as a prisoner of war, he was hanged in Louisville as a criminal, partly because of the Sue Mundy myth.

    Ross' film features interviews with historians, including Franklin, Ky., native Lewis N. Hughes, and documents from Kentucky libraries and the Filson Historical Society. The first half of the film establishes the context of life in Kentucky during the early 1860s; the title character isn't introduced until the second half. And the central story of Clark (alias Sue Mundy) gets nearly lost in explanatory scenes, including an interesting but lengthy tangential look at the type of guns a Confederate guerrilla would have carried at the time.

    Still, "The Confederate She Devil" provides important documentation of a bloody time in Kentucky history. You can order the DVD for $19.95 directly from Ross at www.dwrproductions.com or from www.amazon.com. The Dish Network will air "The Confederate She Devil" at 9 p.m. July 3 on Channel 197.

George Prentice is George Denison Prentice, #203 in our John3 eBook which contains interesting biographical information about him.

More about Marcellus Jerome Clark, alias Sue Mundy, is found at http://www.tsgraves.com/theOutlaws/history.htm:

[After relating the killing of a soldier in a fight outside Richmond, Missouri]. . . Most of the bushwhackers, including Jesse James, followed Price into Texas, where they spent the winter. However, Frank joined a number of guerrillas who went to Kentucky. Frank James along with Quantrill formed a new gang called Morgan’s Raiders, with a new leader, Marcellus Jerome Clark (better known as Sue Mundy) and it totaled more than 50 guerrillas. On February 3, 1865 twenty-six guerrillas burned the town railroad depot at Midway, Kentucky. While the depot was burning, they robbed the stores and everybody they met, taking money, watches and jewelry and anything of value. Having done this they left, headed towards Versailles, and stopping at the crossroads, Frank must have had some thoughts about the old Black Horse Inn, his mother’s birthplace.

Earlier that year the Versailles-Midway Road Company had turned the old tavern into a tollgate house. No mention has been recorded whether he robbed anyone there, or let it be, however, he proceeded west about one mile and a half on the Old Frankfort Pike to the Harper’s Nantura horse breeding farm, with a band of some 50 or more guerrillas under the leader, Sue Mundy; raided the Harper family then proceeded to press horses (taking horses at will for the purpose to serve in the Civil War). Old John Harper tried to stop the band at his gate, but their drawn pistols deterred him. Shots were exchanged between residents of the farm and the guerrillas. Adam Harper, the younger brother of John was, shot dead.

Having taken the best riding horses they wanted they continued one half mile to Robert Alexander Woodburn Farm, although they were discovered and a confrontation took place. No one was killed because they had captured old man Viley and Mr. Alexander would not risk their desire to kill him. Instead he argued and bargained the amount of horses they could have. However, they did not keep their word and took many more horses, including some of his famous thoroughbreds. Included was one in particular, Norwich, for which Mr. Alexander had recently refused $15,000. Alexander and his employees pursued but soon had to give up the chase.

Maj. Warren Viley and Col. Zachariah Henry volunteered to rescue Norwich. They found the trail of the guerrillas on the other side of the Kentucky River and chased them into Nelson County. Viley and Henry masqueraded as irregulars themselves. Late in the day they came into hailing distance of two of the guerrillas, one of whom was Frank James, riding Norwich. At a call the bandits stopped and drew their guns. For a moment it looked as if the chase would end fatally for both Viley and Henry, but a parley ensued, during which Viley told Frank (setting astride Norwich) that the horse was a pet and asked him to sell it. Frank refused to listen, saying it was the best horse he ever rode. Finally he agreed to give up the horse for $500.00. Further haggling got the price down to $250.00. Viley promptly paid and took over the horse safe and sound back to Woodburn Farm.

Sue Mundy, his guerrilla gang increased in number because he was the most unsavory homegrown outlaw and became one of the most feared throughout the Border States. He was captured on March 11, 1865 in Mead County (Brandenburg, Ky). He was tried, found guilty and hanged in Louisville on Broadway near 18th Street on March 15, 1865.

If you have any information about the folks mentioned in this article, please send your information to us at the Prentice Newsletter. Be sure to give the full title and date of this article in the Subject line of the email.

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