Saturday, July 3, 2010

Confederate Images: William Francis Corbin

By Capt. J. C. DeMoss (from 1897 Confederate Veteran) Darlene Mercer and Joey Oller

In the Summer of 1860, J. C. Demoss raised an independent military company, of which he was chosen captain and his friend William Francis Corbin was made first lieutenant. Gen. Buckner was in command of the state forces. This company was received, armed, and equipped in the “regulation gray.”

In the Summer of 1862 the company was called into camp, with many other companies, near Cynthiana, for state drill and general military instruction. This was during the period of “armed neutrality” in Kentucky . During this encampment the chivalric spirit took possession of the soldiers, nearly all of them determining to join the Confederate army. DeMoss induced his company to deliver their arms to the state authorities, but Corbin and a score of the company made their way through the Federal lines to Paris, Ky., where on September 25 they were sworn into the Confederate States service and joined Capt. Tom Moore’s company of the Fourth Kentucky Cavalry. Corbin was at once commissioned as captain, but had no command, and he spent that winter with Moore’s company in the mountains of Virginia.

In March following Capt. Corbin was sent to Kentucky to raise a company. On his way out of his native state with the recruits secured, he was captured near Rouse’s Mill, in Pendleton County, April 8, 1863, with Jefferson McGraw. They were assured that they should have terms as regular prisoners of war, but it was given on May 5, from Johnson’s Island, that they had been tried by court martial, and were to be shot in ten days. This action by the authorities was in pursuance of an order from Gen. Burnside, issued at Cincinnati, April 13, after they were captured. Intense zeal was maintained by Miss Corbin, the sister, who enlisted many prominent Union people’s petition, but without avail. She appealed to Gen. Burnside, but in vain. His only reply was that he had determined to make an example of those two men, and that he would not even recommend clemency.

There are pathetic reminiscences in connection with efforts to save Capt. Corbin and Comrade McGraw. Miss Corbin determined to appeal to Lincoln himself and made the long and difficult journey to Washington. While en route, the guardianship of family friend J.C. DeMoss was insufficient to protect this distraught young woman from the insults and vulgar behavior of the yankee troops with whom they were forced to share their train car.

After she was refused an audience with the President, an eloquent, earnest letter was written by Miss Corbin, begging for her brother's life. The "compassionate" Lincoln declined to even read the letter.

Rev. Dr. Sunderland, pastor of the church at which Lincoln worshiped in Washington sought his consideration, but Mr. Lincoln declined to be informed upon the subject, claiming these men were “bridge burners, etc.”

Hope was maintained until the last, and the officers in charge at Johnson’s Island delayed the execution until the last moment. Captain DeMoss had gone there, and reports the events of May 16th, 1863:

“After reading and prayer Capt. Corbin said, speaking of himself, that life was just as sweet to him as to any man; he was ready to die, and did not fear death; he had done nothing he was ashamed of, but had acted on his own conviction, and was not sorry for what he had done; he was fighting for a principal, which in the sight of God and man, and in the view of death which awaited him, he believed was right, and, feeling this, he had nothing to fear in the future. He closed his talk by expressing his faith in the promises of Christ and his religion. To see this man, standing in the presence of an audience composed of officers, privates and prisoners of all grades, chained to and bearing his ball, and bearing it alone, presenting the religion of Christ to others while exemplifying it himself, was a scene which would melt the strongest heart, and when he took his seat every ear was softened and every eye bathed in tears.”

McGraw received the same sentence. The two young men met their doom manfully. The condemned men were allowed a last interview with Mr. DeMoss and then two hours later were marched out of their cells, each surrounded by 12 men. They were blindfolded and seated upon their coffins in preparation for death. They both appeared to observers to be calm and resigned to their mutual fate. Not so the firing squad. Their anxiety was so intense that one man fainted when the order to fire was given. Corbin’s body was brought back to the family graveyard and laid to rest in the family cemetery. McGraw was buried in his church cemetery where the UDC later erected a monument over his grave.

Mr. DeMoss accompanied both bodies back to Cincinnati where he was rejoined by the grieving sister, Melissa Corbin. With breaking heart, the two of them brought the remains of the courageous young soldiers back to Kentucky. Will Corbin was buried on his family's farm alongside a brother who had died 10 months before. Jeff McGraw was then carried to the Flagg Springs Baptist Church where he was laid to rest. (McGraw's grave was later marked by the U.D.C and the cemetery is well maintained by the congregation.)

Their families' anguish was not yet over. Both young men were the sons of widowed mothers. Mrs. McGraw took her younger children and left the area soon after the burial. Mrs. Corbin, who had buried half of her children in less than a year's time, did not long survive her soldier son.

On July 3, 2002, Joey Oller (Ky. Division SCV Grave Registrar) and Darlene Mercer (Ky. Division UDC Historian) made a pilgrimage to the Corbin farm in California, Kentucky where they were warned that the difficult to climb to cemetery might be overgrown. They carried with them flags and flowers to be left in tribute when the grave was located. The cemetery was indeed "overgrown." Stones were overturned and broken, some being driven several inches into the ground. Fallen trees and weeds obstructed the way as the two searchers tried vainly to locate the final resting place of Capt. William Francis Corbin. This was not the neglect of one or two seasons. It was obvious that no one had been near the spot in years.

Nancy Hitt joined the search on the next trip, and through much effort, the exact location of Capt. Corbin’s final resting place was found, the cemetery restored, and the new marker was placed this year. The neglect of his gravesite was one injustice done to Captain Corbin for which something could be done. The injustice done to him and his family by the yankees is eternal.

Originally published in the Winter 2005 The Lost Cause

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