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JIM, History: The death of Captain Robert Paxton, 1815


One hundred and ninety-seven years ago this Friday past -- January 8th, 1815 -- American troops under the command of Old Hickory routed the British in the Battle of New Orleans. Not surprisingly, a company of men from Adair County were on hand to make sure the Redcoats were thoroughly whipped. Wrote Judge H.C. Baker in his "Sketches of Adair County" (Adair County News, June 25th & July 3rd, 1918):

A company of soldiers, which was enlisted for the war of 1812, from Adair county and which served in the campaign in Louisiana, was that of Capt. Robert Paxton. This company was a part of the regiment of which William Mitchisson was the colonel, and was discharged on May 20th, 1815, in Louisiana. The officers of the company were Robert Paxton, Captain; Daniel Bibb, lieutenant; William Rhea, ensign; William P. Montgomery, Campbell Gilmore, Isham Ready, Alexander Brownlee, and James Armes were the sergeants; and Archibald Rhea, Asa Jones, Wm. Hogan, and Anthony Davis were corporals. Allen Miller was wagon master...

This company was mustered at a spring, which is near the present residence of Wm. B. Rowe, about three miles from Columbia, and near the highway from Columbia to Burkesville. The company took its departure for the war from that place. Campbell Gilmore or Gilmer, who was the second sergeant of the company, acted in the role of musician for the company when it marched away from its place of rendezvous, Gilmer played upon his fife the tune of the old hymn, "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, a Pilgrim in this Barren." On account of the circumstances the music is said to have made a very profound impression upon all of the persons who were present. (The second verse of the above-mentioned song is "Open now the crystal fountain /whence the healing stream doth flow / let the fire and cloudy pillar / lead me all my journey through."

An aged lady, whom the writer as a child knew, was wont to relate, that she was present, a child of nine or ten years, when the company mustered and marched away to war, and she would sing the old hymn to the tune by which Gilmore played upon his fife. At that early day a journey to New Orleans was not an inconsiderable undertaking. Western Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas were substantially a great wilderness, and means of communication between Adair county and New Orleans were so few, that it was farther away in that day than Hong Kong is from the present generation...

They arrived at new Orleans on January 4th, 1815, in the midst of an unusually severe winter, and went into camp without tents or blankets or bedding of straw out in the open. Their arms were such as they had brought with them from their homes, and such as the inhabitants of New Orleans furnished them.

When the campaign ended, they were discharged in Louisiana and found their ways homeward as best as they could. They furnished their own clothing, and received for their services the royal stipend of seven dollars per month. They made their ways to their homes in Kentucky upon foot, and along the wilderness roads. The distance traveled by the members of Capt. Paxton's company from their place of discharge to their homes was about one thousand miles. The journey homeward was probably more tolerable than their journey to New Orleans, which was made in flat boats, without beds or blankets and without a sufficiency of food.

At least one member of the Company, however, Captain Robert Paxton, was destined never to see his beloved family or home again. In early March, 1815, a fellow Adair Countian and soldier penned a letter addressed thus:

"Col. William Casey / Adair County Court House / Kentucky.
May be opened by John Montgomery."

Col. Casey was Capt. Paxton's father-in-law, the latter having married Col. Casey's daughter Jane. A transcription of Caldwell's letter bearing the news of Capt. Paxton's demise appeared in the July 25, 1906 Adair County NewsCamp Dupree, [Friday] March 3rd, 1815
Dear Colonel:--
I have undertaken the painful task of informing you of the death of Captain Paxton. It is painful to me because in him I lost a friend, but it is rendered more so when I reflect that I am constituting this paper the bearer of such doleful news to you, etc., through you to the ears of those who are connected to him by closer ties. The only cause his friends and relatives will have for mourning is his death, for I do assure you, that while living he discharged his duty as an officer and soldier, whereby he gained the esteem of the principal officers in the detachment, and all others with whom he became acquainted.

He was attacked by violently with the plurisy on last Friday [February 23rd], and died in one of the city hospitals on the evening of [Tuesday] the 28th ult. On the next day he was decently buried with the honors of war. Attended by Major Harrison and other officers of grade.

The Captain went to the hospital about two weeks ago with the measles and mumps, but on the day before the plurisy took him he appeared almost entirely well, and talked of returning to camp. His summons was short, but from the composure and willingness with which he resigned his life, we may have some assurance of his pleasing prospects of futurity.

With respects to all friends,Yours & c.,Isaac Caldwell (name as given in the transcription; an Andrew Caldwell was in Capt. Paxton's company)

fA microform copy of the letter is available at the Adair County Regional Library, 307 Greensburg Street, Columbia, KY

Compiled by JIM

This story was posted on 2012-01-08 10:10:33
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