I was born in Caldwell County, Kentucky, June 26th, 1841, in that part of said County that became Lyon County in 1854. My Father’s name was Leasil Stone and my Mother’s name was Nancy Killian. They were both born in Spartanburg District in South Carolina and were brought to Kentucky in their infancy. My father was born December 14th, 1805 and my mother was born March 17th, 1800. My Grandfather Stone’s name was Caleb, and my Grandmother Stone’s name was Rebeccah. My Grandfather Killian’s name was William and my Grandmother Killian’s name was [transcriber could not read]. Leasil Stone and Nancy Killian were married August 21st, 1822. Six children were born to them:
Temperence Goodwin Stone born December 5, 1824
Caleb W. Stone born December 29, 1826
Mary M. Stone born August 7, 1828
Sarah Jane Stone born October 25, 1830
Rebeccah Frances Stone born October 28, 1837
William Johnston Stone born June 26, 1841
My grandparents on both sides were farmers as were my parents. My brother was a farmer and my sisters all married farmers. I was reared on a farm; my early educational advantages were very limited. I attended the public school in the school district where we lived. School lasted for three months and was conducted in the winter months, and I like other farmers’ sons of that day attended school when there was no work urgently needed to be done. I had to miss school every day when there was wood to cut and haul (wood being the only fuel used in that section at that time), when tobacco was sufficiently moist to handle and when there was corn to be gathered. The time thus missed from school often amounted to one-third of the term. My time was spent between work on the farm and attending school until I was twenty years old and then the work was constant.
The only holiday we had was Christmas Day and the first Mon4ay in August which was election day when County, State and other officers were elected. The political campaign and presidential election of 1860 brought to culmination the long and bitter agitation of the question of states rights. The question was whether a state had the right to withdraw from the Union when it decided that it could not remain in the Union without being deprived of the power to regulate its local affairs in its own way. It showed plainly that war between the states of the North and the states of the South was inevitable. I had heard enough and read enough to convince me that the contention of the southern states was right and that patriotic duty demanded that I join the Confederate Army. I made my decision known to my father and mother. They agreed with me and with heavy hearts approved of my determination to enlist.
From early in June until about September 1, 1861, I was actively engaged in recruiting service, that is in persuading young men to enlist in the army. Then we went into camp without tents and other camp equipage. We were armed with muzzle-loading shotguns. When the time came that I must leave home and go into camp, my mother said: “William, you are my youngest child, and if I have a favorite among my children it is you. You have been obedient and a dutiful son. To be a good soldier, you will have to be obedient and dutiful to your officers. I want you to be a good- soldier. Do your duty and if you live, come back with an honorable record or not at all.” Then she kissed me and I rode away. I saw her next when I was wounded and in a prison hospital. I became a member of Co. G., 1st Kentucky Cavalry, CSA. The Regiment was in camp at Bowling Green, Kentucky. Two companies, Co. G. (of which I was a member), and one other were detached and sent to Hopkinsville, Kentucky in October, 1861 to reinforce the army at that point. While we held that position our company was kept active doing picket duty and scout duty in the country between Hopkinsville and the Ohio River. The winter was severe; our camp equipage was poor, the service was very hard. In January, 1862 I contracted pneumonia. We had no hospital or other place to care for the sick. I was put into an old abandoned log cabin. Word was conveyed to my father’s home, more than 40 miles away, of my serious condition. My sister Mary came to me, having traveled on horseback along the almost impassable roads and nursed me day and night for more than a month.
Early in February, 1862 the troops at Hopkinsville were ordered to Fort Donelson and I had recovered sufficiently to go back into service. The battle of Fort Donels6n occurred on the 14th and the 15th of February, 1862. On the 16th our army was surrendered to the enemy and most of our company were taken prisoners, but with some others of the company I escaped. The exposure during the battle and my weakened condition caused a relapse and again I was unfit for duty for about one month after which I returned to the command and served continuously till I was shot June 12th, 1864.
The members of our company who had been captured at Fort Donelson were exchanged late in August, 1862. Soon after this the company was reorganized. I had served as. a private until the reorganization, when I was elected First Orderly Sergeant and was also made drill master by order of the Captain. It then became my duty not only to perform the duties of Orderly Sergeant, but to command the company being drilled in military tactics. It soon fell my lot not only to drill the Company but to command the Company in battle.
When the first reorganization took place the company was attached to the 8th Kentucky Infantry Regiment, with which we served till March, 1863. The company having enlisted in the Cavalry arm of the service, the men were anxious to be mounted again and applied to the Secretary of War for a transfer to the Cavalry service. The request was granted and an order wa4 given to report to Gen. John H. Morgan, which we did. We were assigned to the 5th Kentucky Cavalry commanded by Col. D. Howard Smith, with whom we I served till the disastrous raid of Gen. Morgan and his entire Division in to Indiana and Ohio in July, 1863. The result of that raid was that most of Morgan’s command was captured at Buffington Island in Ohio because of the high water in the Ohio River. I escaped with a number of others (three hundred in all) by swimming across the river, which was almost at flood tide. After that raid the men who had escaped capture and those who had been left behind because of illness or because of lack of good horses were organized into two battalions commanded by Col. R. M. Martin. One of these battalions was commanded by Captain Dertch, the other by Captain J. D. Kirkpatrick. Our company was made a part of Kirkpatrick’s battalion with which it served till the close of the war. In June, 1864 Gen. Morgan was ordered to move into Kentucky through Pound Gap in the Cumberland mountains. He was to get in the rear of a heavy federal force which was moving on Saltville, Virginia with the intention of destroying the salt works. The movement was successful and we passed through the Gap, gained the rear of the federal force and turned it back and saved the salt works. We had an exceedingly hard march and were fighting almost every day. We captured Hazel Green, Mount Sterling, Winchester, Lexington and Cynthiana and the force which held them, while still in advance of the federal forces. We reached Cynthiana on June the 11th and captured the federal regiment stationed there. We also captured Gen. Hobson and the two thousand men who had been sent to meet us. Then a mistake occurred that has never been explained or accounted for. Our whole command could have left Cynthiana by twelve o’clock on the 11th, but we were ordered to remain and rest ourselves and horses.
About four P.M. of June 11th Gen. Morgan sent an order for me to report to him. When I reached his headquarters he handed me an order which he had already prepared which stated that he had observed my conduct in command of the company, my courage and gallantry in the execution of orders. He felt that I was worthy and that my conduct deserved recognition. By authority vested in him, he breveted me a Captain. I was to return to the Company till further orders. I was not conscious of having done anything out of the ordinary, I was mindful of my Mother’s admonition to obey my superior officers and to do my duty. Words cannot tell the degree of my appreciat1on of the order when it was handed to me nor how greatly I have valued it ever since. Just at nightfall, we were placed in a line of battle one mile south of the town and ordered to lie down in line and keep perfectly quiet, which we did. Just at daybreak on the morning of the 12th we were attacked by the federals under the command of Gen. Burbridge who had three times as many men as we did. We charged their line and drove it back about half a mile, when their whole force came into line in front of us and forced us to fall back.
We had retreated for about half a mile in perfect order, fighting all the time when our lines were broken and we were driven off the field. About one half hour after sunrise, just before the break occurred, a Spencer rifle ball passed through my right leg just below the hip joint. This eventually resulted in the loss of my leg and ended my military service. I lay on the battle field all day. Just at dark I was hauled in a federal ambulance to a church house in the town which had been turned into a hospital for the Confederate wounded. The seats had been removed, except for two rows across the rear of the church, and all the vacanted space was filled with wounded men who had been laid on small low beds. I was laid on the floor in an aisle in the rear of the building. I lay without having any attention to my wound till the morning of the 15th of June, three days after I had been shot.
While I was laying on the battlefield a federal soldier approached me in a very kindly way and began a conversation. He went to a nearby spring, filled his canteen with water, and gave it to me to keep, saying II would want more water before I could be removed from the field. While he stood by me in friendly conversation, another federal soldier came riding down the hill above me and called to the man standing near me saying, Ills that fellow: dead?” The other answered, “No.” “Well,” said the man on horseback, “stand out of the way and I will kill him!” I looked and he had his gun pointed at my head. The man standing by me instantly drew his gun to his shoulder and said, “If you do you will be the next one to die; I will kill you as quick as my gun will fire!” He ordered the villain to leave the field. The man who saved my life stood near me until the other one had gone. He expressed hope for my recovery and bade me a kind goodbye. Words can never tell the degree of gratitude I have always felt towards the man who saved my life.
I lay in the hospital with every attention given me by the citizens of the town and our chief surgeon, Dr. David Keller, who had been allowed to remain with us. He made every possible effort to save my leg. On the morning of the 11th day of August, 1864; two months after I had been wounded, he decided that amputation of the leg was the only hope by which to save my life. I protested against the amputation. Dr. Keller said it was sure death to leave the leg on and not more than one chance in ten to save my life even by amputation. I consented, and at 4:00 p.m. of that day the amputatl0n was performed. For several weeks my life seemed to hang by a mere thread. I became a mere skeleton. The joints of my backbone and my hips were seen through the skin.
Three weeks after my leg was amputated, Dr. Keller had me turned on my left side and was dressing the sores on my back, when a federal surgeon came in with a squad of men to remove our wounded to a general hospital at Covington, Kentucky. When he saw me he said, “Just let him alone boys, he won’t bother anybody but a day or two.” I was left alone in that church house till the next day. I think that was the most harrowing night I ever spent. I was practically helpless. A federal guard paced up and down in front of the door. Rats had become numerous about the building. When it became dark the rats came and played football, prisoners base, baseball, ante-i-over, and other games all night long. It seemed to me they had a language I could not understand. At rest periods, between the games they amused themselves by nibbling at the bandages and dressings on my wound and back. Morning came at last and with it friends who arranged for my removal from the church house to the home of Mr. T. V. Dills. No kinder or more hospitable people ever lived than he, his wife and daughter. It was two months before I could raise my head off the pillow. The federals kept an armed guard over me all the time. The citizens of the town were extremely kind and gave me every needed attention. I recovered slowly but steadily. The wound did not heal until September in 1865. In May, 1865 after Gen. Lee had surrendered, I was paroled and allowed to return home. I reached home May the 16th, 1865, but was confined to my bed until the month of August.
My education was very limited. My father had been broken up entirely by federal soldiers who had taken all his property. My brothers and sisters were married and had families of their own. My mother and father were old and infirm. I had no money and no way by which I could attend school to qualify myself to enter one of the professions. There was nothing left for me but to go to work at manual labor, which I did to support my mother and father and myself. I worked for about one year at a saw mill during which time I learned’ to and did perform the duties of every position connected with operating the mill. I then went to work on a farm and had a hand at every kind of labor that is done on a farm except to walk behind a plow. During all the time I was applying myself to the study of the text books used in the schools of that day. I read books that would fit and qualify me to fill any position of honor and trust to which the people might be willing to elect me. In the meantime, through the kindness of Hon. W. B. Machen, of Eddyville, Kentucky, 1. had access to his law library and read authorities on various subjects under the supervision of Judge John R. Grace, to the point that he decided I was entitled to a license to practice law. My work at the saw mill had ended. I had a talk with my parents in which I told them it would be necessary for me to leave them alone and go to some other county or state to build up a law practice. While I talked they both sat in silence, tears rolled down father’s cheeks. I was greatly distressed and went to my room and to bed, but not to sleep. All night long I wrestled with the situation. The question being whether I should leave my parents alone in their old age to follow my chosen profession or remain with them and do my best at farming. The result was that when morning came I told them that I had changed my mind and was going to stay with them and going into farming. Thus farming became my occupation for life. I continued the labor on the farm for many years.
In the forenoon of the day that I lay wounded on the battlefield, a gentleman and five young ladies came with ice water and various kinds of stimulants to do what they could for the wounded. They came to me, gave me ice water and wine, and remained a few minutes to learn my name, residence and the nature of my wound. When I fell, my hat rolled out of the reach of the hands. I was on the south side of the hill and the sun was shining in my face and eyes. I was shading my face and my eyes with my arm. I asked for my hat and they gave it to me. We used muzzle loading guns (guns in which the charge is forced down the barrel with an iron or steel rod). Several of these rods which had fallen from the guns of men killed or wounded were nearby. One of the young ladies gathered four of them, stuck them in the ground in proper positions, took a cape or mantle from her shoulders and fastened lit to the rods so as to make a shade for my face. While I was in the hospital at Cynthiana, this same beautiful young lady often came to administer to the needs of the wounded in whatever way she could. She was often at my bedside. After I was removed to the home of Mr. Dills, she continued her visits while I was almost helpless. Her nobleness of character so manifested itself through her gentle manner and kindly words and actions that my heart was completely captured. After I was well enough, I went back to see her and told her of my love. On October 29th, 1867 this sweet girl, Miss Cornelia Woodyard, became my wife. On August 7th, 1868 our first child was born and was named Sudie; and on August 25th, 1875 our second child was born and was named Willie. Both girls were children who would delight the hearts of any parent. They were healthy, intelligent, dutiful, obedient, studious, cheerful and industrious. In womanhood they were the pride of our lives. We lived together as husband and wife for thirty-nine years, when God called my wife home. She went to Heaven to be with the redeemed of the Lord throughout all eternity. No man ever had a sweeter, nobler, more loving or helpful wife than I. No children ever had a more loving, kind and devoted mother than our two sweet daughters. No better Christian ever lived than she. My only regret during our married life was that I was not a better husband. It was hard to give her up but my only consolation was that she had gone to Heaven where she would have no more pain and no more sorrow; and she would live throughout eternity in the presence of the Savior and enjoy all the happiness of that beautiful land.
In August, 1867 I was elected to represent Lyon and Caldwell’ Counties in the state legislature. At the expiration of my first term, I went home to work on the farm. In August, 1875 I was elected to represent Lyon and Marshall counties in the legislature, and I was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. At the end of that term I again went to work, on the farm. In August, 1883 I was again elected to the legislature to represent Lyon and Marshall counties, and I could have been elected Speaker but declined. I preferred to serve as Chairman of the Committee on State Prisons and endeavored to reform the management and treatment of convicts. The result of my labor on this Committee was the building of a branch prison at Eddyville and separating younger convicts from older and hardened criminals.
November, 1884 I was elected to represent the First Congressional District of Kentucky in the Congress of the United States. I was! re-elected in 1886, 1888, 1890 and 1892 making five terms or ten years of continuous service as a member of the Congress. When I became a member of Congress, the Mississippi River was cutting away the bank in front of the towns of Columbus and Hickman to the extent that both towns were on the point of being carried into the river. I secured appropriations from the United States Treasury to improve the river bank at these towns. The work was done and both towns made free from further danger from caving in of the river banks. A public building had been commenced at Paducah, Kentucky. Enough money had not been appropriated to finish it and it had stood in an unfinished condition for two years. I secured an appropriation of enough money to finish it and the work was done. The Ohio River at a point above Paducah had commenced to change its channel and cut off the point of land above the mouth of the Tennessee River. This caused the current of the Ohio to strike squarely against the city of Paducah just above the business center, which would in a short time have caused destruction to the business portion of the city. I secured an immediate survey and an estimate of cost by the Secretary of War. I secured a prompt appropriation of a sufficient amount to make the necessary improvements on the point to force the river back to its former channel, and thus saved Paducah from further danger from that source. In cooperation with the Hon. Benten McMillan, I secured a survey and estimate of cost of improving the Cumberland River so as to make it navigable all year round from its mouth a distance of six hundred miles. We also secured an appropriation to begin the construction of the necessary locks and dams by which, with subsequent appropriations, that work is now being carried to completion.
There is an island in the Ohio River in front of the town of Smithland and the mouth of the Cumberland River. A sand bar formed above the mouth of the Cumberland River from the head of the island to the Livingston County shore. This entirely blocked the Ohio and turned its channel to the Illinois side of the island, which in low water made Smithland an island town and made it impossible for boats of any kind to pass into the Cumberland River from the Ohio. This practically destroyed the Cumberland as a navigable stream. I secured an appropriation of sufficient money for dredging out the sand bar and making other improvements such that for all time the channel of the Ohio will pass on the Kentucky side of the island and keep the mouth of the Cumberland River open and give Smithland water transportation facilities.
I secured the appointment of more persons to positions in public service than any other member of the House of Representatives from Kentucky during my ten years of service. I secured the appropriation for payment of just claims of citizens against the Government than any other member from Kentucky. I introduced into Congress the first bill ever written providing for the dissolution of trusts and making the organization of trusts unlawful. I introduced into Congress the first resolution ever presented providing for the election of Senators by the people. I was elected to Congress the first time on the same day that Mr. Grover Cleveland was elected President. I served through his first time, through the term of President Harrison and through the first two years of Mr. Cleveland’s second term. This tenure gave me the power to name all the postmasters for the First Congressional District of Kentucky as well as numerous other positions. This power to distribute patronage caused my defeat when I was candidate for re-election at the end of my fifth term. There had been large numbers of applicants for positions in the public service for whom it had been impossible to secure places. Every one of these people became an active angry enemy of mine and a strong friend of Hon. John K. Hendrick, my opponent in the race. They fought me with viciousness and misrepresentation that only unreasoning, unscrupulous, angry people can conceive. Those for whom I had secured appointments were, in most cases luke warm in my cause, and thus my defeat was accomplished by a small majority. In 1899 I was a candidate for the Democratic nominations for the Governor of Kentucky. P.M. Hardin and William Goeble were also candidates. After an exciting and heated campaign, a State Convention was held in Louisville in June 1899. It proved to be one of the most disgraceful and corrupt political gatherings ever held in any State. By the most dishonest means ever practiced in a Convention I was defeated by Mr. Goeble who was declared the nominee.
By economy and industry I had accumulated some property and a comfortable income, which by prudent management, should have kept me and my family in comfortable circumstances during the balance of my life. My long service as a public man had placed me in the position of feeling a deep sense of gratitude to a large number of people. I have since learned that there are many people who diligently seem to take advantage of that sort of feeling when it exists in any man. I was constantly being asked to give security for people who borrowed money or bought property on credit. I had not the cour4ge to refuse them and so I became involved in obligations for others to an amount that it became necessary after several years of struggle for me to sell my home and all my other property to pay the debts of persons for whom I had given security. When all my property had been sold and the money paid out I still owed about two thousand dollars. The persons to whom I owed this money were kind and gave me time to earn the money and repay them. In the meantime my daughters had married and my dear sweet wife had become an invalid. Not withstanding my mismanagement, neither of them ever uttered a word of complaint against me. No words can convey the degree of heartaches, self-condemnation and humiliation I felt because of my action and my lack of judgment in the management of my business affairs. By industry and economy I paid off the two thousand dollars in about a year and a half.
On March 10th, 1909 I was married to Mrs. Elizabeth H. Chambers of Morganfield, Kentucky, who at once became an active helpmate in my efforts. During all the years that have elapsed since my second marriage, my wife has been and is now as kind and thoughtful of my comfort and welfare as it is possible for any wife to be to her husband. She is a devout Christian with a cheerful disposition. She is intelligent, industrious and econoll1ical and she is doing all she can in her power to keep the road of life we travel beautiful and bright.
On July 1st, 1910 we purchased, mostly on credit, a hotel at Eddyville. The hotel had a fairly good trade as it was the only hotel in town, but it was in a dilapidated condition. We commenced at once to clean it up, repair it and to improve the service and the food we set before our patrons. Our business prospered and we were taking up the notes we had given before they fell due. We improved the building inside and out. At 8:00 p.m. on May 28th, 1911 fire broke out in a livery stable near the hotel. The hotel was completely burned with practically all its contents. At midnight we were out in the middle of the street practically penniless and homeless. We had some insurance on the building and some on the furniture but we still owed nearly as much on the property as the insurance covered.
On March 12th, 1912 I was appointed Examiner of Pensions at the State Capital in Frankfort at a salary of $1200.00 per annum. Out of this I saved a 1ittle money. In January, 1913 we moved to Frankfort and are now, trying to save enough money to buy a home and get fixed financially so that we will not suffer for the necessities of life in old age.
After the war between the States the United Confederate Veterans Association was organized among the men who had served in the Confederate Army. It was divided into divisions and brigades. There were four brigades in the Kentucky division. In 1900 I was elected Commander of the: 2nd Brigade with the rank of Brigadier-General and was annually re-elected till 1910, when I was elected to command the Kentucky Division, with the rank of Major-General, which position I still hold.
On March 12th, 1912 an act: of the Kentucky Legislature was approved granting pensions to Confederate soldiers and their widows. On March 18th, 1912, I was appointed a Commissioner of the Confederate Pension Department at a salary of $2500.00. I have now served nine years and have one more year of the present appointment to serve. When the first quarterly payment was to be made, the auditor of the State, who was required to issue the necessary funds to pay the pension refused to issue the warrants. He asked the Attorney General of the State for an opinion as to the constitutionality of the law. The Attorney General wrote an opinion in which he held the new law unconstitutional. I brought a mandamus suit in the name of James Harp (one of the pensioners) in the Franklin County Circuit Court to compel the Auditor to issue the necessary warrants. Not being a lawyer myself I asked permission of the presiding Judge Robert L. Stout to be heard in defense of the law. He willingly granted my request. The case was tried and the mandamus issued. The Attorney General took an appeal to the Court of Appeals. I then asked the Court to allow me to defend the law and my request was unanimously granted. The case came to trial on June 3rd, 1913 and I addressed the Court. The Attorney for the State Hon. Charles Morris replied. The Court sustained the mandamus and decided the law did not violate the Constitution. The law went into effect. I am the only person, not a lawyer, who was ever permitted to argue a case before the Kentucky Court ‘of Appeals. The fact that through my efforts the pension law was sustained and I have been able under it to render a service to the indigent and needy among my comrades and their widows has been and is a great source of comfort to me.
(Copied December 30th, 1934, from the
original by Walter E. Clinton
Rel, Chehalis, Washington
a nephew of Capt. Stone
Retyped, with minor spelling and
punctuation corrections, September 24, 1991
by Kathleen D. Woodbury
Salt Lake City, Utah
a great-great-great niece of Capt. Stone
Additional notes from Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
The only known copies of this autobiography, including the copy in the University of Kentucky collection, “William Johnson Stone papers, 1864-1953, 1864-1923,” are typed. The location of the original autobiography is unknown. If it could be obtained, it might be possible to determine if the unreadable name of Captain Stone’s maternal grandmother might be Mary or not (a William Killen married a Mary Goodwin in North Carolina in 1778, and some of the names of Nancy Killian/Killen’s siblings are also names of Goodwins living in North Carolina, so William Killen and Mary Goodwin may be Nancy’s parents).