There was no Sue Mundy.
There was an orphan boy. There was a clever, unscrupulous newspaperman. And there was a long, cruel and bitter war.
It was a war between slavery and freedom, between secession and union, between North and South. Kentucky was split: Southern in culture and sympathy, a slave state (originally part of Virginia), but Northern in commerce and strategic importance. It’s longest border, the Ohio River, was the Mason-Dixon line. Early occupied by Union troops (“I would like to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky!” —Lincoln), the state had a star in the Confederate flag, and representatives in the CSA congress in Richmond. With at least half its citizens opposed to secession, it declared itself officially neutral but neutrality didn’t mean peace.
Marcellus Jerome Clarke was born in Simpson County, Ky., the youngest of nine. Orphaned at age eleven, he was adopted (unofficially) by an “Aunt Mary” of McLean County in the Green River country of western Kentucky. His closest connection was an older cousin, John Patterson. We know little about his early years. Richard Taylor’s well-researched novel, Sue Mundy, depicts Jerome as a dreamer, little educated but literate, indeed an avid reader. (1) His was a slave-owning family, not wealthy but well-connected. His uncle was a Kentucky congressman, and he was related to the Confederacy’s “gray ghost” cavalrymen, John Singleton Mosby. (2)
Jerome followed his cousin Patterson into the Confederate army in 1861 when he was 17, and his rural boyhood was quickly over.
In Bowling Green, the CSA’s last official stronghold in Kentucky, he was assigned to General Buckner’s “Orphan Brigade,” so called because the men didn’t see home or family until the war was over; or never. (3)
So it would be with Jerome.
He trained as an artilleryman and fought at Fort Donelson (precursor to Shiloh), lobbing cannonballs at Union gunboats on the Cumberland River, until the federals (under then-unknown U.S. Grant) prevailed. He was captured with several thousand others and lodged in a POW camp in Indiana. Discipline was loose and he escaped and made his way back south, bypassing now-surrendered Bowling Green, to Tennessee, where he eagerly enlisted in John Hunt Morgan’s famed 2nd Kentucky cavalry.
Morgan, the “Kentucky Cavalier,” was a dashing and popular figure in the South. A bit of a glory hound (and mistrusted by his CSA commanders) Morgan was beloved by his men who followed him willingly to share in his glory and also in the loot of his raids into Kentucky and even into Indiana and Ohio. An expert horseman since the age of five, Jerome longed to mount up and ride with “Morgan’s Men,” but he was still an artilleryman—under Morgan’s command, but assigned to a cannon instead of a horse.
In the mountains of Virginia, Jerome found himself swabbing and loading a cannon beside Morgan himself. (4) He must have impressed his commander, for before long he was issued a horse and a carbine, and soon found himself riding as one of “Morgan’s Raiders” on a desperate raid across the mountains into the Union-occupied but Confederate-leaning Bluegrass of Kentucky.
This was late in the war, 1864, which was already going badly for the South. Sherman had burned Atlanta, scorched South Carolina, and was heading north toward Richmond. The “June Raid” was to be Morgan’s last.
With a force of 2,000, the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy” burned bridges, derailed trains and twisted rails (“Morgan’s neckties” (5), robbed banks and emptied barns of horses, eluding or defeating the Yanks as far north as Cynthiana. It was thrilling, and for young Jerome a kind of deliverance; this was the sort of action he had signed up for! Then a surprise attack by Union General Burbridge (of whom, more later) forced Morgan’s hasty retreat and scattered his forces. Jerome was wounded and separated from his unit.
His transformation into a guerrilla didn’t happen right away. Together with a few others he joined up with a Colonel Allen, a CSA regular who was collecting Morgan’s scattered forces and leading them south into Tennessee.
It was here that Jerome met up with Henry Clay “Billy” Magruder, another of “Morgan’s Men,” a fellow Kentuckian who was only a year or two older but far more experienced—and war-hardened. The two were to become lifelong friends.
Allen’s Confederates picked up green recruits on their way south. In Glasgow, Kentucky, they were welcomed at first—until they broke into the shops of rebel and union sympathizers alike and stripped the shelves of boots, coats, guns and gold watches, and helped themselves to whiskey and hams. (6) It was perhaps Jerome’s first taste of armed outlawry, and he found it sweet.
Nashville and much of Tennessee was Union occupied, and before they could cross the Cumberland River, Allen’s troop was cut off by a larger federal force. More mob than army, they fled rather than fight. In the attempt to rejoin the Confederacy, Jerome had been promoted to captain as a CSA “recruiter” but it was meaningless, as the disorganized men scattered back into Kentucky,
Jerome blended with the population, working as a “hired man” (he was good with horses) for a few weeks until he was told that the locals all knew he was one of “Morgan’s Men” —and were not all to be trusted. Isolated and alone, afraid he might be betrayed and made a POW again, Jerome was at a loss until a sympathizer gave him a horse and suggested he join up with one of the many Confederate “irregular” or partisan bands that were harassing the Union occupation all through Kentucky. Like the one led by “One-arm” Berry and a certain Billy Magruder.
Jerome swung into the saddle and set out to find his friend.
George Prentice was the editor and principal writer of the Louisville Daily Courier. A Union supporter, even a one-time friend of Lincoln, (7) he was growing increasingly disenchanted with the bungling and brutalities of the occupying Union troops.
Kentucky was thick with rebel supporters, and partisan guerrillas
were stealing horses, robbing Union payrolls and raiding troop encampments with near-impunity all over the state, even into the outer suburbs of Louisville. The Union military commander, General Burbridge (the same who had scattered Morgan’s June Raid), sent several companies to wipe them out, with no success.
Often seen as “thieves and rowdies” the Union troops had little support among the population. (8)
Prentice and other journalists reported in great detail (though with no sympathy) the successes of the Confederate partisans, perhaps to embarrass the ineffectual Burbridge. It made for good copy.
In October, 1964, Prentice wrote about a guerrilla attack in Pleasant Hill, near a peaceful Shaker village. A small band of partisans had robbed the Crawfordsville stagecoach, stealing the mail (which was war booty) and relieving the passengers of their valuables but not their lives.
Relying on the report of the stage driver, who had mistaken one of the robbers for a woman (perhaps because of “her” long hair) Prentice described the “second in command of the band of cutthroats” in some detail:
This officer is a young women, and her right name is Sue Munday. She dresses in male attire usually sporting a full Confederate uniform. Upon her head she wears a jaunty plumed hat, beneath which escapes a wealth of dark-brown hair She is possessed of a comely form, has a dark, piercing eye, is a bold rider and a daring leader. (9)
Thus, based on the testimony of a shaken stage driver and an imaginative newspaperman, Marcellus Jerome Clarke’s transformation into a legend began. Certainly he wore his hair long, and his boyish figure and beardless cheeks might confuse a frightened man peering into the muzzle of a Colt navy .44.
Whether Prentice originally believed this fiction or not, we will never know. But the image pleased him and his readers as well, since he could use it to beard Burbridge for his failure to control, contain or capture the guerrillas.
His brutal occupation was being defied and beaten by a woman. Hell, a mere girl!
Jerome was probably not second in command. The partisan bands in northern Kentucky had shifting membership, but he usually he rode with Billy Magruder, “One-Arm” Berry, and the older Bill Marion (all of whom had been Morgan’s Men) and often deferred to them. But even though the youngest, he was among the leadership.
Magruder was a native of Bullitt County, and he knew the outer Bluegrass and the Knobs well. Their home territory was in and around the village of Bloomfield, which defiantly flew the “stars and bars” throughout the war. Halfway between Louisville and Danville, it was rebel territory, where “many a latchstring was hung on the outside” for the guerrillas.(10)
At first they rode as Confederates, thinking (or imagining) themselves as covered under the CSA’s Partisan Ranger Act, (11) designed to shield them from outlaw status under the Laws of War. They often rode in uniform, or what remained of their grays, stealing (“pressing”) horses and sending them south (after selecting out the best for themselves). They robbed stages, post offices and trains, cut telegraph wires (carrying a double-bladed axe for the poles) and were commissioned to capture Union soldiers home on leave, and harass and threaten Unionist Kentuckians.
As “Partisan Rangers” they had also had orders to “discourage Negro enlistment.” (12)This official Confederate policy they followed with a vengeance. Any Negro bluecoat unlucky enough fall into their hands was summarily hung from the nearest tree and often left hanging by the road as a warning.
Such vicious racism was not uncommon in the South, even among the unionists, and went unremarked. But their casual–and increasingly gleeful–outlawry began to bother even citizens on both sides. More and more of the gold they stole from Union payrolls ended up in their saddlebags. Even southern sympathizers found their sidearms, their jewelry, their mounts and their pocket watches stolen. It was easy enough for a band of 15-25 men on horseback to “sieze” a town long enough to loot the stores, empty the pockets of friend and foe alike, top off their canteens with bourbon and then ride off with Rebel Yells. The ineffective Yanks –many of them reluctant draftees this late in the war–were less an adversary than an annoyance.
Frustrated, and under pressure from Washington, Bubridge issued his infamous General Order 59 in July of 1864, declaring the partisans outlaws, not soldiers, to be shot on sight.
When an unarmed Union citizen is murdered, four guerrillas will be selected from the prisoners in the hands of the military authorities and publicly shot to death in the most convenient place near the scene of the outrage. (13)
The prisoners “selected” (forced to draw straws) were most often not guerrillas but Confederate sympathizers, many of whom had never taken up arms but merely violated occupation statutes. Some were mere children and one at least a preacher. Memorials to those thus executed can be found today in many places around the state.
Even Kentuckians with Unionist sympathies were outraged, and support for the guerrillas was increased.
In a subsequent stories, Prentice “corrected” Munday to Mundy, perhaps to rag the Union Provost Marshall of Louisville, Marcellus (Roman names were popular in those days) Mundy, a personal adversary of Prentice, who had tried (and failed) to censor his newspaper. (14)
And a story appeared almost every week. Burbridge coudn’t flush out or even locate the guerrillas, but Prentice, delighted with his invention, followed their every exploit. Soon every partisan raid in the Bluegrass or northern Kentucky was laid to “Sue Mundy’s gang.” It simplified things and increased the drama.
And it increased newspaper sales. In his Louisville Daily Journal Prentice kept up a running, almost affectionate banter with his imaginary creation.
You have been an awful girl, Sue. You have killed so many persons, of all colors, that no doubt white, yellow and black ghosts haunt you continually …
Sue Mundy, the she-guerrilla who murders people for pastime is said to be unmarried. There’s a nice opening for some enterprising young rebel.
Sue Mundy is reported to say she won’t marry any man. We guess she is reserving herself to marry Satan.
Pretty and gentle Sue … We would rather feel the wadding of your bosom than your pistol wad . We should be almost as willing to see the nipples of your bosom as the nipples of your fire-arms. (15)
And Prentice was nothing if not generous.. Soon “Sue ” was promoted to “the outlaw woman, the wild and daring leader of the band.” (16) Jerome with his girlish looks and long locks was clearly “Sue.” At first he resented it, but later took a certain pride. He even identified himself to captives and supporters as well. “I am Sue Mundy,” he was heard to say. Even Magruder and “One-Arm,” at least in public as they were looting stores and houses, began to call him “Sue.” (17)
Whatever he thought of Prentice’s caricature, he never cut his hair.
Jerome began to inhabit his legend, which he was perhaps beginning to understand was likely to outlast his life.
Jerome even had a sweetheart: the 16 year old younger daughter of the Thomas family, whose farm on a remote back road near Bloomfield was a favorite haunt for the Confederates, who were always assured of a welcome, a meal and sometimes a fresh horse. Whenever they were near, Jerome would court young Mollie, who was entranced by the dashing young rebel.
But the visits were short and one assumes properly chaperoned. Perhaps love and marriage lay in the future, but young Jerome’s heart was drawn to the headier romance of fast horses, black powder and the enticements of war. “A quiet, gentle, soft spoken dandy, with his hair in love knots six inches long, a hand like a school girl and a waist like a women … When he fought, he fought savagely. His long hair in battle blew as the mane of a horse. The dandy in a melee became a Cossack.” (18)
Burbridge hired a bounty hunter, putting under Union contract a brutal mercenary named “Bad Ed” Terrel. He and his bounty-hunters rode as “decoy guerrillas” and were feared by ordinary citizens as much as the guerrillas they were hunting. The hunter was as brutal as the hunted. “Bad Ed” once shot and killed a nine year old Negro boy who was watering his horse, just to test a new pistol. (19)
In September, sobering news came from the South. Morgan himself was dead–surprised and killed in his nightshirt by a Union cavalryman in Tennessee. One can imagine Jerome and his companions around a campfire (or in a tavern, for they now had money) raising a solemn glass to the beloved memory of the “Kentucky Cavalier” and vowing to fight on. They were loyal sons of the South, dedicated to the Cause. Plus it was capital sport! Robbery, especially sanctioned by war, is a heady business.
That winter, Kentucky’s coldest in years, “Sue Mundy’s gang” was riding high—and fast and hard.
Flush with Union greenbacks, they sometimes shared their bounty with sympathizers who provided them with mounts and hiding places. But more often simply demanded their due at gunpoint. A cross word was answered with a pistol whipping or even a shot to the knee—or the head.
By now even rebel sympathizers dreaded their coming, They slipped their horses out the barn and hid them in the woods. They bid reluctant farewell to their pocket watches and wedding rings as “Sue Mundy’s gang” kicked in their doors.
Raiding a family homestead near Salt River, Magruder and Jerome demanded horses, and even though the owner was a rebel sympathizer, they hung his teen-age son to slowly choke while his mother watched until the horses were delivered. They allowed her to cut down her son, still barely alive, then shot her husband (an ex-schoolmate of Magruder) dead.
Intercepting a Union Army courier, they first relieved him of his messages then shot him full of holes for sport.
Things were getting meaner.
A squad of Negro soldiers delivering livestock to an Union army base not only had their cattle stolen but were lined up after surrendering and each one shot in the head. And left laid out on the road. Magruder later bragged that they got “plenty of wool.” (20) At least twice they “liberated” rebellious Negroes from local jails, turned them loose at the edge of town and shot them like game as they ran.
If they were considered outlaws, no better than pirates, why not look the part? Jerome and Magruder hired a tailor in Bardstown who made them colorful outfits–red velvet coats, ostrich feathers in their hats, three and even four cap-n-ball revolvers in their belts giving them more firepower then even the best
Union regulars. And better mounts. One for a while was the world-famous thoroughbred stud Asteroid “pressed” from a horse farm in Woodford County. (and later sold back to its owner for $250. (21)
Rather than the stars and bars they rode under a black flag which announced “no quarter.” It was a pirates’ flag, and pirates they had become, fueled by bourbon instead of rum. Jerome grew into the role. Magruder already wore it well.
In Lebanon Junction they shot two uniformed “God Damned Yankees” home on leave in cold blood, then kicked over the coal stove in the telegraph office and rode off, leaving the building to burn down. Rebel Yells.
“Bad Ed” and his boys caught up with “Sue Mundy’s gang” but
they were outridden and outshot and sent running. Another Union force, the “Halls Gap Tigers” under a regular Union army Major Bridgewater, had no better luck.
in January Prentice admitted that “Sue” was a man, Jerome Clarke, and followed it up with another lurid fiction: “Even John Morgan, on a certain occasion, mistook him for a female.” (22) The readers delighted in it all, and “Sue Mundy’s gang” rode on.
But the hunted were feeling the noose tightening as the Union was winning the war and diverting more forces into the effort to stamp out the guerrillas. Jerome and Magruder began to sense that their luck was running out.
The number of their band was much diminished. Kentucky sympathizers were getting less sympathetic to the partisans, whom they began to style “bandits.”
Even the CSA was deserting them. An order from Richmond called on all the Confederate “partisans” to rejoin the army by March 1 or be considered “deserters.” (23)
With a few of their remaining compatriots, Jerome and Magruder made their way south and west, perhaps hoping to reconnect with the Confederates in Paris, Tennessee, in which case they would be more likely to be paroled as uniformed combatants when the end came, as was looking more and more likely.
Appomattox and Lee’s surrender was only weeks away.
They made their way west, through the steep hills and bottomlands along the south bank of the Ohio to Daviess County, robbing stores and farms along the way. They hooked up with a west Kentucky guerrilla, Davison (who earlier had burned the Daviess County courthouse and summarily executed 15 Negro bluecoats). He was also, perhaps, hoping to retreat into Tennessee. But they were betrayed by a blacksmith shoeing their horses, and in a brief firefight with 100 federals riding from Owensboro, Davison was killed and Magruder was shot in the chest. (24)
“Leave me,” he begged Jerome, to no avail. Leave his only friend? Jerome was not about to be orphaned again. With the help of Metcalf, another surviving veteran of “Sue Mundy’s Gang,” he dragged Magruder into a canebrake and they managed to give the federals the slip.
After several frigid nights in the woods, horseless and hungry, the three made their back up the river to Meade County, to the keeping of a rebel sympathizer, a farmer named Fox, who of course “had no idea” there were guerrillas holed up in his log tobacco barn. Neither did the doctor Fox summoned, who treated Magruder’s wound and gave him the bad news: It would be at least a month before he could be moved, and even then, he was unlikely to survive.
Magruder just shrugged. He knew his war, and with it his life, was all but done.
March in Kentucky can be mean. A few old quilts and firewood was provided against the cold. Food showed up from time to time: a little dry corn bread and beans. Their whiskey was soon gone. Magruder’s labored breathing had an ugly, whistling sound. Metcalf was whining, complaining. Jerome cleaned and loaded his revolvers and laid them out on a plank, ready for action. The promised month lasted only a week or so—
They awoke one morning in March to find the barn surrounded by soldiers, the Fifth Wisconsin, which had been placed under the command of Colonel Cyrus Wilson, one of the Union officers charged with rooting out the guerrillas.
Perhaps the doctor had betrayed them, or perhaps he had been “forced at gunpoint” as he later claimed (25) But either way, the game was up.
“Come out with your hands up,” they were ordered.
They were silent. Waiting.
Three bluecoats kicked open the loose door of the log barn and ordered “Surrender!”
Jerome emptied two revolvers at the enemy, and three Wisconsin soldiers were wounded, another killed. The rest scurried back into the woods and peppered the barn with musket balls.
Their commander, Colonel Wilson, signalled a cease-fire and stood down his troops. The war was all but over and this could perhaps be ended in a more civilized fashion. He approached the barn under a white flag to confer with the guerrillas’ leader.
Jerome invited him in. Wilson was surprised, and perhaps disappointed, to find only three dog-tired, hungry and desperate men. Until Jerome introduced himself: “I am the man they call Sue Mundy.” (26)
The two shared a cordial cigarette. And perhaps a cup of what passed for coffee in those lean, penurious days.
The colonel, wanting no more bloodshed, diplomatically advised Jerome to surrender. “Do it,” said Magruder, who lay patiently waiting to die. He knew the game was up. So did Jerome. Playing his last card, he insisted that he be treated as a Confederate prisoner of war.
The Colonel agreed, but admitted that it probably wouldn’t wash in Louisville. Under #59 he was authorized, and indeed encouraged, to shoot guerrillas on sight. “At least you will live a few more days,” he told Jerome.
And so he did.
Jerome was allowed to formalize the surrender by presenting a matched set of revolvers to their host, Fox, before his hands were tied behind his back. Then the three men were marched—Magruder in the back of a buckboard—to Hardinsburg and put on a steamboat to Louisville, sixty miles upriver.
Magruder was hospitalized, in chains. Metcalf was hauled off to prison. Jerome was jailed, tried, convicted and sentenced in three quick days. The order for his execution had been signed before the trial began.
Meanwhile, he said his prayers and was allowed to say farewell to his Mollie. Not allowed pen and paper, he dictated it to the parson who had been assigned the shriving of his soul.
My dear Mollie:
I have to inform you of the sad fate that awaits your true friend. I am to suffer death this afternoon at four o’clock. I send you from my chains a message of true love; and as I stand on the brink of the grave I tell you, I do fondly and forever love you. (27)
And was handed the pen to sign it: “M. Jerome Clarke.”
When he was told he was to be hung instead of shot, which he had hoped as befits a Confederate officer, he muttered only one word: “Oh.”
Union executions were like celebrations, with drum rolls. Thousands turned out on the Louisville streets to get a look at the notorious Sue Mundy. They saw a boy, barely twenty, seated on his own coffin, riding a buckboard to the busy gallows.
He was allowed, and took, last words. He had rehearsed them in his jail cell. He spoke in low tones, which the parson repeated so that a few of those assembled could hear:
“I am a regular Confederate soldier and have served in the Confederate army four years. I fought under General Buckner at Fort Donelson and belonged to General Morgan’s command when he entered Kentucky. I have assisted and taken many prisoners and have always treated them kindly. I was wounded at Cynthiana and cut off from my command. I have been in Kentucky ever since. I could prove that I am a regular Confederate soldier. I am not guilty of the murders charged to me. I hate no one. I hope I will go to Heaven. I hope in and die for the Confederate cause. (28)
This mixture of truths, half-truths, falsehoods and fond hopes was the same as his “defense” at his hurried trial. Perhaps Jerome believed it, or was devoutly trying to. The parson placed a kindly hand on his shoulder and led him in the Lord’s Prayer.
Whether he ever delivered the letter to Mollie, no one knows.
The trap was sprung but the fall was short and the hanging was botched. Jerome struggled for almost ten minutes at the end of the rope, slowly strangling, before it was over. And then it was over.
Magruder lived, and recovered to be hung a few months later. In the meantime he dictated his memoir, Three Years in the Saddle, which was published as “Sue Mundy’s Story” even though Magruder never made that claim. It was a publisher’s promo, profiting from a newspaperman’s eager fiction.
Metcalf was released from prison after the war.
Jerome’s body was returned to Simpson County, where he was born and orphaned. He was buried in a borrowed uniform, not the outlaw regalia which he had come to favor. His gravestone in the Confederate section of the Franklin, Ky, cemetery reads,
Marcellus Jerome Clarke
2 KY Cav
No mention of Sue Mundy. Her career had lasted less than a year since she had been given birth by Prentice. “Her” proper memorial is found a hundred miles north, in Meade County: a Kentucky state historical marker on US 60.
“SUE MUNDY” CAPTURED
At age of 17, in 1861, Jerome Clarke, called Sue Mundy, joined Confederate Army. He was with Morgan’s Raiders from 1862 until Morgan’s death in 1864. He then became notorious as a guerrilla. On March 12, 1865, Union soldiers captured him here with two other leaders of guerrilla bands. Clarke, then only 20, was executed three days later in Louisville.
Watson, Thomas Shelby, with Perry A. Brantley, Confederate Guerrilla Sue Mundy, McFarland & Company, 2008
Taylor, Richard. Sue Mundy: a novel of the Civil War, University Press of Kentucky, 2006
Fischer, Gerald W., Guerrilla Warfare in Civil War Kentucky, Acclaim Press, 2014
1. Taylor, 27
2. Watson, 10
3. Watson, 19
4. Watson, 22
5. Taylor, 91
6 Watson, 69
7. Watson 14
8. Watson, 12
9. Watson, 56
10. Fischer, 45
11. Fischer, 47
12. Watson, 11
13. Watson, 29
14. Watson, 15
15. Taylor, 183
16. Watson, 63
17. Watson, 117
18. Fischer, 55
20. Watson, 130
21. Watson, 77
22. Watson, 118
23. Taylor, 276
24. Fischer, 56
26. Fischer, 72
27. Taylor, 325
28. Taylor, 341
This post was originally published on Radio Free.