Family Stories

Colonel Frank Wolford – Fought In Two Wars – Dishonorably Discharged During Civil War – Adair County

Colonel Frank Wolford was a life-long citizen of Adair County, and lies buried in Columbia Cemetery, a modest stone atop his grave.  At a young age he became a lawyer, a life-long service where he never named a fee for his clients, but accepted whatever was offered for his services.  Wolford was a born soldier and fought in two wars.

His first war experience was during our fight with Mexico.  He was one of those who fought during the bloody battle of Buena Vista.  ‘His arms it was that bore young Henry Clay off the field, and his bayonet it was that saved the body from mutilation at the hands of the barbarous lancers.  Wolford was wounded ‘desperately’ in the battle and sent home.  Who were his comrades in arms?  John Hunt Morgan, Jefferson Davis and other southern leaders who later he fought against during the Civil War.

Wolford was voted a member of the State Legislature for the years 1847 and 1848.  Between his chosen profession of the law and now politics, he tried to persuade that ‘the only salvation of the country was the triumph of the Whig party and Whig principles.’

Frank Wolford’s Civil War record is more complex.  At the age of 44 years he joined the army in Casey County, Kentucky, on June 22, 1861, and received the appointment of Lt. Colonel the last of June; was appointed Colonel August 10th and commissioned by the President September 10, 1861.

He was wounded May 5, 1862, at Lebanon, Tennessee, in a fight with John Hunt Morgan and left wounded and sick at that place, where he remained until June 7th when he started to Kentucky on sick leave.  He returned to join the regiment at Reynolds Station, Tennessee, August 4, 1862, and was not able, due to his wounds, to join the regiment at any earlier date.  It was said he furnished his own horse and equipment.

Wolford was a model soldier until the Emancipation Proclamation January 1, 1863.  This proclamation declared that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states are, and henceforward shall be free.  Many of the newly freed slaves joined the Union army and Colonel Wolford disagreed with this policy.  The problem was Frank didn’t keep this belief to himself.  He had to proclaim it.  In the specifications printed in the September 29, 1864, issue of The Weekly National Intelligencer, of Washington, D.C., it noted:

In this, that Frank Wolford, a citizen of the State of Kentucky, and recently a Colonel in the army of the United States, in a public speech addressed by him on or about the 28th day of May, 1864, to a large assemblage of the citizens of Kentucky and others at Lebanon, Kentucky, [I believe this should be Lexington, Kentucky] a State in the military department of the Ohio, within the lines of the army of the United States, and at that time the theatre of military operations on the part of the Government of the United States against the public enemy, did declare in their presence and hearing as follows, or in words to the following effect, namely:  That the President of the United States was a tyrant, a usurper, and a fool; that (the President’s) policy had added two hundred thousand men to the rebel army, stopped volunteering at the North, promoted it in the South, struck down civil liberty everywhere, and transformed the whole country, under his control into an infernal inquisition; that under his administration the morale and discipline of the army had been degraded; that the appointees of the President were reeking in corruption, and, like the President, their master, had not thought of their country’s good for two long bloody years; that President Lincoln was as great an enemy to the country as Davis, (meaning Jefferson Davis, the President of the so-called Southern Confederacy) that to take the alternative of Lincoln (meaning President Abraham Lincoln) or said Davis was like being crucified between two thieves; that if President Lincoln was not defeated in the next election the country was gone; and in that, further, he denounced and abused the President of the United States for summarily dismissing him (Wolford) from the service as a disloyal person, and declared that the President’s order of dismissal contained a vile slander; and in that, further, he denounced the policy of negro enlistments.

A small portion of the very long letter Wolford sent to President Lincoln:

. . . I have frankly to say that I cannot bargain for my liberty and the exercise of my rights as a free man on any such terms.  I have committed no crime.  I have broken no law of my country or of my State.  I have not violated any military order or any of the usages of war.  No act or word of mine has ever given encouragement to the enemy.  I have no sympathy with the rebellion.  All my sympathies are with and all my hopes are for my country. . . On the 10th day of March, 1864, in the city of Lexington, Kentucky, the Union men of Fayette County were pleased to present me with a very fine sword, a pair of valuable pistols, and a pair of spurs.  In response to an eloquent presentation speech, made by a learned divine, I delivered a Union speech, the leading purpose of which was to promote the recruiting of men for a division of cavalry, which I then had the honor to command, whose ranks had been greatly thinned by heavy losses in battle – the division having just come to Kentucky from the front for the purpose of recruiting, refitting and remounting.  I made a long speech, in which I fully discussed the wickedness of the rebellion, and contrasted the misery and despotism of the so-called Southern Government with the happiness and freedom of our own.  In the course of the speech I spoke of your abolition policy, and condemned it.  But I insisted that it was the duty of all good citizens to defend their country by fighting the rebellion, whether they approved the course pursued by the Administration or not.  For the true character of this speech I refer you to the statements of M. C. Johnson and others, which I enclose.  The men whose names are subscribed thereto are men of the highest order of intellect and of the most elevated moral character.  The substance of what they say therein can be proved by five hundred ladies and gentlemen. . . I did not violate the fifth article of war, nor did I ever violate any article of war in my life.

In a July 17, 1864, note from President Lincoln:

Col. Frank Wolford – My Dear Sir:  By this mail I send to Hon. John Speed a blank parole in duplicate, which, if you choose, you can sign and be discharged.  He will call upon you.  I enclose a printed copy of the letter I read to you the last day you were with me, and which I shall be pleased for you to look over.  Very respectfully, A. Lincoln.  This document in blank bore the following endorsement:  Col. Frank Wolford is discharged from his parole given me July, 1864, and allowed to go at large upon the conditions of the parole by him signed on the other side of this paper.  A. Lincoln.

It was felt by most at the time that Abraham Lincoln held nothing against Frank Wolford, but the War Department definitely wanted him made an example.  He was held prisoner at the Phoenix Hotel in Lexington through 1864, then was dishonorably discharged.

After the war, tempers that flashed so hot during must have cooled.  Colonel Frank Wolford received a pension beginning May 16, 1877.

Frank Wolford died August 2, 1895.

The Kentucky Advocate, Danvile, Boyle County, Kentucky

Monday, August 5, 1895

Frank Wolford Dead

The Old War Horse, Lawyer and Legislator Passes Away

Gen. Frank Wolford died at his home in Columbia Friday afternoon, at 2:53 o’clock, after having been unconscious for several hours.

Had he lived until September 2 he would have been seventy-eight years old.  He was a grand old man and has been a constant sufferer for years on account of wounds received during the war.  A few days since he said when God called him, he would be ready for the summons.

The funeral took place at 10 o’clock Sunday morning from the Christian church, conducted by the Masonic fraternity, of which he was an honored member.  Col. T. P. Hill, of Stanford; Gen. Hobson, of Greensburg, and Col. Silas Adams delivered funeral orations.

‘Sovoyard,’ in a sketch of Col. Wolford, prepared for the Courier-Journal, said of him:  The death of Frank Lane Wolford severs a link that bound the Kentucky of the last decade of the last half of the nineteenth century with the Kentucky of the last decade of the first half of that century.  Soon the time will come when it will be as impossible to find in Kentucky that picturesque character of whom Frank Wolford was a type, and the most pronounced type, as it is now impossible to find in Scotland a type of the Black Douglas or the Red Cumin, embalmed in the history, in the romance and in the poetry of that most historic, most romantic and most poetic land.

‘Frank Wolford was born in Adair County, Kentucky, September 2, 1817.  He was the child of humble and honest parents, and the heir to no estate, except a good name and Roman virtues.  He acquired such education as was then afforded by the primitive “old field school.”  He was endowed with an incisive mind and an imagination that, properly trained and restained, would have astonished and delighted the world.  A natural orator, he sought the field where orators gleaned, and when yet a youth was admitted to the bar.  At that time the bar of his section was brilliant in the extreme.  There was George R. McKee, who could have stepped into Westminster and on the shortest notice made an argument that would have delighted and instructed the bench of England; there were Thomas E. Bramlette, William T. Willis, Richard A. Buckner, the greatest nisi prius judge in Kentucky’s annals; George Alfred Caldwell and his brother Isaac, each in turn to become the head of the Louisville bar; there were Timoleon Cravens; Zachariah Wheat, E. L. Van Winkle, Joshua F. Belle, Fontaine T. Fox and Aaron Harding, and there, of a junior class, were Samuel H. Boles, James A. Roussea, M. H. Owsley, James Garnet, John H. C. Sandidge, Eldridge Hayes, T. C. Winfrey, William Stewart, Gideon Suddarth and William E. Russell.  Among these men Frank Wolford was far from the least.  In that day it was oratory that told; then it was that the criminal practice invited the fancy lawyer, and he might well have thrown away his license and gone to the plow or the artisan’s bench that possessed not the tongue of eloquence.  It was before a jury that Wolford gained his fame.  He was rude, unlettered and uncouth, but there was a fire in his eye, a poetry in his imagination, an enthusiasm in his heart, that rendered him one of the most effective advocates of his day.  No man ever defended more criminals, few men ever successfully gained so many verdicts in desperate cases.  He cared little

What the evidence was, and less about the law.  If there was one salient fact in his client’s favor it was sufficient for him.’

General Wolford served his country in two wars and his people in many positions of trust.

Frank L. Wolford, September 2, 1817 – August 2, 1895.  Columbia Cemetery, Adair County, Kentucky.

4 replies »

  1. Just a note: Col. Wolford was not a life-long resident of Adair, but resided a number of years in Casey, coming back to Columbia a few years before his death.

  2. What an interesting article! Love to read about people like this ,that lived in a very interesting time in our nation’s history. Thanks so much for your research!

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