Nestled in the beautiful mountains of Eastern Kentucky is the largest Sons of Confederate Veterans camp in the state. It is only fitting since this area was known as the Confederate stronghold in Kentucky during the Great Struggle. The camp is primarily made up of members from Letcher County Kentucky but also includes Perry, and Breathitt Counties as part of its base. The Colonel Ben E. Caudill Camp #1629 was founded in 1994 and now has a total of 108 men and continues to grow. What has contributed to their phenomenal growth? The answer may lie in the variety of activities that they endorse and sponsor. The primary mission of the camp is to honor its ancestors by perpetuating and emulating the honorable values that characterized the brave men that fought for the Confederacy.
One particular area of focus has greatly helped in the growth of the camp. Most all of the membership descends from ancestors who fought under the camp’s namesake – Colonel Ben Caudill in the 13th Kentucky Cavalry - which was based in and around Whitesburg and Letcher County Kentucky. Many members are not only kin is some way to Colonel Caudill but some have as many as fifty or more ancestors who fought in this regiment. For this reason the continued study of the 13th Kentucky and its battles holds captivating interest for members of the Caudill Camp.By far the camp’s most remarkable accomplishment has been in locating and marking the graves of soldiers from Eastern Kentucky. When organized there were three Confederate military markers in the camp’s base area. In less than ten years the Colonel Ben Caudill Camp has set 636 Confederate markers for Eastern Kentucky soldiers located in located in forty-four Kentucky counties and thirteen states. With a focus on Colonel Caudill’s 13th Kentucky, the camp has marked 466 soldiers from this regiment (one as far away as Colorado) and located 664 gravesites of soldiers from the 13th. The location of stones placed by the camp by county is as follows: Bath- 3, Bell- 1, Breathitt- 106, Carroll- 1, Carter- 4, Casey- 1, Clark- 3, Elliott- 7, Floyd- 43, Franklin- 1, Greenup- 3, Harlan- 1, Jackson- 3, Johnson- 8, Knott- 80, Laurel- 3, Lawrence- 1, Lee- 4, Leslie- 3, Letcher- 113, Lewis- 3, Madison- 6, Magoffin- 6, Mason- 3, Menifee- 13, Montgomery- 5, Morgan- 47, Owsley- 4, Perry- 81, Pike- 5, Powell- 1, Rowan- 13, Wayne- 1, Whitley- 1, Wolfe- 14, other states: Arkansas- 1, Colorado-1, Florida- 1, Indiana- 1, Missouri- 3, Ohio- 1, Oklahoma- 1, Tennessee-1, Virginia- 29, West Virginia – 2.
Many of these graves are in extremely remote, steep locations hidden deep in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Many are accessible only by 4WD vehicle or on foot. The basis of this effort is a constant, daily devotion to research. The Caudill Camp has assembled a dedicated team of professional researchers in eight counties who over the years have developed specific skills in finding lost burial sites. This team has spent countless hours seeking out lost records in courthouses and libraries across the state and in interviewing family members throughout the country in order to track down information that has ultimately led to the discovery of detailed family information, photographs and burial sites of Confederate soldiers.
They have conducted 132 memorial gravesite services in uniform, and continue researching, recording and guarding the historical truths of the soldiers willing to die for their cause. The camp offers living history as well as educational programs at schools, civic organizations and supports brother camps through out the region. Several of the members are active in reenactments and are associated with the Southern Guard Battalion as well as the 6th Kentucky, Company A Reenactment Group. They host the Battle of Leatherwood in Perry County Kentucky in October and are involved with the Wildcat, Chavies, Barbourville, and Whitesburg reenactments to name a few. They have served on community committees that have developed a Miner’s Memorial second to none and are active within the community. They are part of the adopt-a-highway program, having adopted 5 miles from the Virginia / Kentucky line on Rt. 23 and 119. They have met with the Letcher County Fiscal Court and the Jenkins City Council to propose a $20,000 monument to the War Between the States. It will be placed beside the new Welcome Center on top of Pound Gap where several battles and skirmishes occurred.
They have within their midst avid writers who have had several articles published in magazines and books. Lt. Commander David Chaltas has written several books including an excellent work entitled The Legend and Legacy of Lee. Camp commander Faron Sparkman has written A Sifter Full of Bullets, an in-depth biography on his great-great grandfather who served in the 5th Kentucky Infantry and 13th Kentucky Cavalry with an emphasis on the experience of the Confederate soldiers from Eastern Kentucky.
The camp has set several flag poles throughout the area honoring not only those men that fought in the War Between the States but also flagpoles as well as military markers for Revolutionary soldiers and other wars. They are blessed with a wonderful webmaster and a newsletter staff that offers others updated news of the most recent events. The camp has strong affiliations with the Daughters of Revolutionary Soldiers, Daughters of the South, Ladies Aid Society, Southern Guard and the East Kentucky Blacksmith Association. If you wish to review their site, go to www.bencaudill.com. Their goals are unwavering, as they look forward to continued growth based in no small part due to their ongoing historical research among Eastern Kentucky families, marking Confederate graves, and strong community involvement through reenactments, dedication services, and school and civic group presentations.
Originally published in the Summer, 2004 The Lost Cause