A Kentucky Rebel Lost His Leg but Won a “Sweet Girl”

A young Confederate officer is shot in the right leg and left for dead on a sun-baked battlefield. A local belle shades the suffering soldier with her shawl. He loses his shattered limb, but wins the “sweet girl” as his bride.

True romance

“Her nobleness of character so manifested itself through her gentle manner and kindly words and actions that my heart was completely captured,” Capt. William J. Stone, who overcame his disability and served 10 years in Congress, remembered.

Stone was from Lyon County, Ky. A Confederate surgeon amputated his leg after the battle of Cynthiana, Ky., in 1864. Three years later, he married his battlefield samaritan, Cornelia Woodyard.

“The story, if told in the shape of a novel, would be considered improbable,” the New York Times reported. “But truth is stranger than fiction, and there are more romances all around us than there are on the book shelves.”

Stone wrote about his romance in a brief autobiography which apparently was never published. He penned his memoir after he had left Congress and was Kentucky’s commissioner of Confederate pensions. He died in 1923 at age 81.

Bloody battles

Stone was 22 when he was wounded. A veteran of many bloody battles, he was a captain under Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan, the famous Kentucky cavalry raider from Lexington.

Morgan assaulted Cynthiana on June 11, 1864. Stone was wounded the next day when Union troops counterattacked and forced Morgan to retreat.

Stone said he “lay on the battlefield all day” after a Union rifle bullet smashed his leg. Before his bride-to-be arrived, a Union soldier brought him water, Stone said.

Stone was “gasping for water, with his leg shot [a]way almost to the hip,” the Times reported. The erstwhile enemy “raised the wounded man, and gave him a drink, and then in kindness left his own canteen by the side of what he thought to be the dying rebel. Said he: ‘I will leave this, as you may want to drink again after a while.’”

Stone added that the man also saved him from another Union soldier who threatened to shoot him, according to the congressman’s memoirs. Stone said the Yankee who befriended him warned, “If you do you will be the next one to die; I will kill you as quick as my gun will fire!”

Bed side manner

Woodyard was one of several young women who tended the wounded, according to the Times story, which was published on May 16, 1886.

“They had gathered the ramrods scattered among the dead, and… [Woodyard] finding Mr. Stone still alive and the hot sun beating down upon him, took a bundle of these ramrods and stuck them into the earth, making a half moon of paling-fence about his head,” the newspaper explained. “Over this she spread her shawl, and did what she could to ease him.”

Stone was taken to a local church that Union forces converted to a hospital. There were so many injured soldiers that Stone said he “lay without having any attentions to my wound till the morning of the 15th of June.”

One of Morgan’s surgeons stayed behind to aid the wounded. He removed Stone’s leg on August 11.

While the captain recovered, visits from Woodyard lifted his spirits.

“This…beautiful young lady often came to administer to the needs of the wounded in whatever way she could,” Stone wrote. “She was often at my bedside.”

Battle of Cynthiana

The Battle of Cynthiana, Ky., fought June 11-12, 1864, claimed the right leg of Capt. William. J. Stone but also led him to the love of this life. But this battle location and Union victory, also known as Kellar’s Bridge, has been estimated to have claimed 2,092 casualties – 1092 Union soldiers and 1,000 Confederate soldiers.

Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan arrived to Cynthiana with 1,200 Confederate soldiers and Col. Conrad Garis with an initial approach of only 300 Union soldiers. At first, Morgan’s forces drove Union forces back by destroying buildings – and along with them – many union troops.

Then another Union troop, with 750 soldiers, led by Brig. Gen. Edward Hobson arrived to provide assistance. Morgan maintained control trapping this group and forcing the surrender of Hobson. In the overnight hours, Morgan held 1,300 Union troops as prisoners.

At dawn on June 12, Brig. Gen. Stephen Gano Burbridge approached with 2,400 Union soldiers and attacked Morgan. These Union forces drove back the Confederate soldiers forcing them into town where many were captured. Morgan, however, escaped.

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Later years

Woodyard kept seeing Stone after he was transferred to a house in Cynthiana. After a while, he was paroled and allowed to go home. Fitted with a peg leg, he became a farmer near Eddyville, the Lyon County seat.

The loss of a limb did not stop him from returning to Cynthiana once the war was over. He went to Woodyard, confessed his undying love for her and proposed. On Oct. 29, 1867, Stone wrote, “this sweet girl…became my wife.”

The Stones reared two daughters and were married for 39 years. Woodyard died in 1906.

“God called my wife home,” Stone remembered. “She went to Heaven to be with the redeemed of the Lord throughout all eternity.”

Meanwhile, Stone, a Democrat, had become one of Kentucky’s leading politicians. Elected to the state House of Representatives in 1867, 1875 and 1883, he was chosen speaker in 1875, according to the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-present.

In 1884, voters in western Kentucky’s First Congressional District sent him to Congress. He served from 1885 to 1895 as a populist-minded champion of his region’s many small farmers.

In 1899, Stone sought the Democratic nomination for governor. He lost to the controversial state Senator William Goebel of Covington, who, in 1900, became the only American governor assassinated in office. Stone maintained that Goebel’s followers stole the nomination from him “by the most dishonest means ever practiced in a Convention.”

Stone married Elizabeth H. Chambers, a widow, in 1909. He said she was as “kind and thoughtful of my comfort and welfare as it is possible for any wife to be.”

But Stone’s autobiography reveals that Woodyard was the love of his life.

“No man had a sweeter, nobler, more loving or helpful wife than I,” Stone wrote. “No children had a more loving, kind and devoted mother…My only regret was that I was not a better husband. It was hard to give her up but my only consolation was that she had gone to Heaven where she would have no more pain and no more sorrow.”

Berry Craig is a correspondent for O&P Business News.

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