Gibson Taylor - Letters from the Johnathan Gibson Taylor Family
Letters Within Series
Most of the letters in this series were written by Jonathan Gibson Taylor, a Kentucky Confederate Cavalryman who rode with General John Hunt Morgan. He was captured at Cynthiana on 12 June 1864 and subsequently placed in Rock Island Prison where he died from pneumonia on 14 October 1864. The letters were written during the summer and early fall of his confinement. Included in the series is a letter from Gibson’s brother, Robert Walker Taylor, who also served under General Morgan in the Tenth Kentucky Cavalry and who was, at the time of his writing, a POW at Camp Douglas.
The eight letters in the Gibson Taylor Series include: five letters written by Gibson to various family members while he was a P.O.W. at Rock Island Prison, two written by fellow prisoners from the prison to Gibson’s father each informing him of Gibson’s death and describing the care given by the Federal officials, and one written by Robert W. Taylor, Gibson’s brother, in which he poignantly expresses his loss to their sister Millie. While the Taylor letters provide a rare glimpse into the life of a POW at Rock Island Prison, there are two other letters in the archive written by Nelson Green, a guard at the prison during Gibson’s incarceration, that provide a different perspective and serve to enrich our knowledge of the prison, the community within, its geographical surrounds, and most importantly, the relationship that existed between the guards and the prisoners. The Green letters are not part of the Gibson Taylor letters, but are accessible from the main menu. Additionally, the University of Notre Dame has a collection of Taylor letters available online which includes an excellent summary written by Jeremy A. Kiene of both Gibson's and Robert's military sevice.
According to Lewis Thompson, author of the book, “History of the Orphan Brigade,” Gibson was a lieutenant in Co. F, First Cavalry, till the summer of 1862, when he was transferred to Morgan’s command. After this transfer, he is listed on the rosters of both the Third Kentucky Cavalry and the Seventh Kentucky Cavalry, which is likely due to either the consolidation of various units or the shuffling of soldiers within units. Thus far, research has not revealed what period of time was spent in each, but his grave marker at Rock Island indicates that he died as a member of the Third. What is certain is that he was under Morgan’s command when he fought at Mount Sterling Kentucky (See image 1) and when he was captured 12 June 1864 at Cynthiana. From the content of the letters in the Notre Dame Collection, it is apparent that after his capture, Gibson was temporarily housed at the military prison in Louisville, Kentucky as he wrote a letter to his cousin, Mollie Davis, from that location on 19 June 1864; a second letter in the University’s collection places him at Rock Island on 27 June 1864.
Gibson’s father was Jonathan Gibson Taylor, Sr. (b. 16 Mar. 1811) and his Mother was Susan Elizabeth Hawes (b. 28 Oct. 1816). Both the Taylor and Hawes families were enormous and prosperous clans that often intermarried giving rise to names such as Taylor Hawes and Hawes Taylor. The Taylors were descended from James Taylor I (b. 1616), which in turn related them by blood to Presidents Zachary Taylor and James Madison, and a host of other notable military figures, congressmen and judges; by marriage they were related to Jefferson Davis, Virginia's Lee and Custis families, and numerous other names chronicled in American history. Much of the Taylor migration to Kentucky was due to land grants they received for their overwhelming participation in the Revolutionary War. The name Hawes is intricately woven into the history of Kentucky as well; in fact, Richard Hawes (1797-1877) served as the Confederate Governor to Kentucky during the Civil War and U. S. Senator, Thomas McCreary, was the husband of Clara Hawes, Gibson's cousin. To look at a map of Kentucky and read the names of towns and counties and landmarks, is to recognize the impact the Taylor and Hawes families had on the state's early history.
Like their ancestors, Gibson’s parents were quite prolific and Gibson had ten siblings: Samuel Mitchell Taylor (b. 24 March 1833, d. 30 September 1837), Richard "Dick" Hawes Taylor (b. 27 Jan. 1835), Clara Ann Taylor (b. 14 Dec. 1836), Robert "Bob" Walker Taylor (b. 8 Dec. 1840), Mildred "Millie" Catherine Taylor (b. 23 July 1843), John Aylette Taylor (b. 25 Oct. 1845), Albert Zachary Taylor (b. 25 Oct. 1847, d. 11 February 1859), Edwin Pendleton Taylor (b. 7 Feb. 1850), Benjamin "Bennie" William Taylor (b. 3 Sept. 1854), and George Edward Taylor (b. 20 Oct. 1856). In his 1864 correspondence, Gibson mentions most of the surviving family members in one letter or another. Unfortunately, two of the Taylor children, Samuel Mitchell and Albert Zachary died in childhood, a rather common experience for large families living in the early nineteenth century. In addition, Gibson’s mother, Susan Taylor died 11 February 1861 leaving Mr. Taylor with four children under the age of 16. In his letter from prison, Robert alludes to these losses when he describes his grief over the death of Gibson and notes that the family has had “similar bereavement.”
I would like to thank Ms. Virginia Haase McCreary for her invaluable input into my research on the Gibson Taylor Letters. She is the great granddaughter of Robert Walker Taylor, and the person who provided me with a means of tying up many of the loose ends I had gathered after years of research. Additionally, she provided me with the photograph of her great grandfather which can be seen with his letter. The Taylor series is particularly important to me because the 24 September 1864 letter in which Jonathan Gibson Taylor, Jr. writes home from prison to his little brother George about fishing, studying, and matters of childhood, is one of the first letters I ever collected, long before there was a “Poe Archive” or “James Poe Collection.” At the time I purchased it, I was not even aware of his full name, as all of his correspondence was signed Gibson Taylor. I did know from the content of the letter that he was from Kentucky and I knew the names of several of his siblings, and with those initial clues, I spent days searching the 1850 and 1860 Federal censuses until I was satisfied I had located the family in each. As the years went by, I was able to acquire more of his letters and with each one, Gibson and his brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles and fellow prisoners began to emerge. Finally, in the spring of 2006, I discovered that the University of Notre Dame had several Taylor letters in The Special Collections Department and through its curator, George Rugg, I discovered a descendant--Ms. McCreary. If anyone has a special interest in the Hawes or Taylor family, she maintains an excellent website relating to the Hawes Family Cemetery in Yelvington, Kentucky.
Other excellent Links:
For those interested in seeing the other Gibson Taylor letters that were mentioned as being at the University of Notre Dame: http://www.rarebooks.nd.edu/digital/civil_war/letters/taylor/
There is also a website about Rock Island Prison and its history which can be found at the following link: http://www.mvr.usace.army.mil/rockislandhistory/Prison.htm