On Broadway and the corner of 18th Street in downtown Louisville, I stumbled across a highway marker (Kentucky’s obsession with highway markers is intense and most welcome) for the “Execution of Sue Mundy.” Sue Mundy was actually Jerome Clarke, a Confederate soldier who escaped from a Union prison camp and launched a career as a guerrilla soldier…a FEMALE guerrilla soldier. He was twenty years old when they hung him for his crimes. It’s a strange story, and one I was happy to have come upon thanks to a random marker.
Marcellus Jerome Clarke was born in Franklin, Kentucky in 1844. In 1861, at the age of seventeen, Clarke enlisted to fight in the Civil War and ended up in the 1st Kentucky Brigade — nicknamed the “Orphan” Brigade — on the side of the Confederacy. Kentucky’s position during the Civil War was reflective of it’s position geographically: neither north nor south, neither eastern nor midwestern. Officially, Kentucky remained a part of the Union, but internally the state was divided pretty well down the middle and became a microcosm of the country at large. Heck, the presidents of the Union and the Confederacy were both from Kentucky! The Orphan Brigade was Kentucky’s largest mustering of Confederate troops, commanded by Major General John C. Breckinridge, a former Vice President of the United States under John Buchanan, congressional senator, and ultimately Secretary of War for Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Brigade fought in several of the Civil War’s most notable battles, including Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chickamauga. Also among the members of the Brigade was a man by the name of John H. Weller, brother of William LaRue Weller and one of the founders of the Weller & Brother whiskey company that eventually evolved into the famed Stitzel-Weller Distillery.
Anyway, the Brigade was defeated during a battle at Fort Donelson, a Confederate stronghold along the Cumberland River, and young Clarke was captured. But the wily young lad promptly escaped his imprisonment at Camp Morgan and joined the infamous Morgan’s Men, commanded by Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan. The group was best known for Morgan’s Raid, an incursion in 1863 into Northern stronghold states like Ohio and Indiana. The raid was eventually thwarted and Morgan’s Men defeated, but the Great Raid of 1863 still served to shake some Northern confidence and distract Union soldiers who could have been put to better use at the two major battles occurring at the same time: Vicksburg and Gettysburg. In September of 1864, Morgan himself passed away and Clarke decided to form his own band of fighters — a proper Confederate unit in Clarke’s eyes, but a rag-tag gang of rebel guerillas and terrorists in the eyes of the Union.
Owing to his youth and fair appearance, Clarke was sometimes assumed to be a wild Confederate woman, and a Louisville newspaperman by the name of George Prentice used a fictionalized version of Clarke — dubbed Sue Mundy — in his articles lambasting Union Major General Stephen G. Burbridge, who was charged with the protection of Kentucky and seen as incompetent at executing his duties. “Sue Mundy” and “her” gang regularly foiled Burbridge, pulling off hit-and-run attacks on Union soldiers and supply lines. They even joined forces with William Quantrill and his infamous Quantrill’s Raiders to pull off major guerilla raids. But while it was generally assumed that Clarke was Sue Mundy, Prentice denied that the long-haired lad had served as the model for the character. Muddying the historical waters further, Henry C. Magruder, another guerrilla soldier riding with Clarke, claimed that he was the original Sue Mundy. At at least a few people claim that Sue Mundy was actually Sue Mundy, a Confederate woman who rode with Quantrill’s Raiders. Whatever the truth of the matter, the historical record has officially entered Jerome Harris as Sue Mundy, and it is his legend that became hers (or vice versa).
The Union finally caught up with Clarke and his gang in March of 1865, and Clarke was captured just south of the town of Brandenburg and quickly shipped to Louisville for a trial with a forgone conclusion. Clarke insisted that he and his men were Confederate soldiers and deserved to be treated and tried as prisoners of war. The government disagreed, however, and tried and convicted him as a guerilla and terrorist. On March 15, 1865, Clarke was executed via public hanging just west of the corner of 18th and Broadway. Several thousand people witnessed the execution, enticed by the believe, true or otherwise, that Marcellus Jerome Clarke was the legendary Sue Mundy. Clarke’s sidekick and potential other Sue Mundy, Henry Magruder, was executed in quieter fashion on October 29, 1865, after he’d recovered from wounds sustained during the siege in which he and Clarke had been captured. Clarke’s body was returned to Franklin in Simpson County, and his grave is located in the Green Lawn Cemetery.