What better follow up to the cannonball mystery than to relate the story of the man who fired the shot. I mentioned that it was Capt. Jerome Clarke. Clarke was John Hunt Morgan’s chief of artillery and would have given the order to fire the shot. He became well known for other reasons following the death of General Morgan.

Brigadier General Hector M. Clarke and wife Mary Hail gave birth to a son, Marcellus Jerome Clarke, Aug. 25, 1845, in Simpson County, Kentucky. He was an orphan being raised by an aunt by age 10.

When the War Between the States broke out, 16-year-old Jerome joined the Confederate Army.

His family was well-connected, but not wealthy. His uncle was a Kentucky congressman and he was related to the Confederacy’s “Gray Ghost,” John Singleton Mosby.

Clarke was described by those around him as having “eyes large and dark, hair black as a raven’s wing that hung in clusters about the shoulders, a dreamer, little educated but literate, an avid reader and one who was of a restless nature, bold, daring, fearless and brave as a lion yet gentle as a tender woman.” In fact, he was known to dress as a woman to glean information from unsuspecting Union officers.

He was a man who would go down in history as a legend known as “Sue Mundy.” Books have been written about Sue Mundy and his gang, but was Clarke really a man or was he a woman?

On July 4, 1861 at Camp Burnett near Clarksville, Tennessee, Clarke was mustered into Company B, 4th KY Infantry. He trained as an artilleryman and fought at Fort Donelson, lobbing cannonballs at Union gunboats on the Cumberland River. The federals under then-unknown U.S. Grant prevailed, causing an “unconditional surrender.” At the surrender, Clarke was among the prisoners taken to Camp Morton near Indianapolis. After six-months of captivity, Clarke was exchanged in a prisoner swap.

He served for a time with Henry Magruder, a fellow Kentuckian who had also joined the cause at age 17. Magruder was captured at Fort Donelson and escaped captivity. He joined the personal bodyguard of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, serving under him at the Battle of Shiloh. Following General Johnston’s death, Magruder transferred to General John Hunt Morgan’s Kentucky Cavalry. He took part in Morgan’s raid into Ohio and Indiana; and once again escaped capture. He was eventually able to cross the Ohio River back into Kentucky.

Clarke strongly resembled Magruder not only in looks, but in many of their feats as well as serving together from the time of their enlistments. The resemblance of their exploits became so intertwined that they have become confused over time.

Clarke too, eagerly sought out and enlisted in John Hunt Morgan’s famed 2nd Kentucky cavalry. Morgan, the “Kentucky Cavalier,” was a dashing and popular figure in the South. More importantly to Clarke, he was a fellow Kentuckian, and beloved by his men who followed him willingly. An expert horseman since the age of 5, Clarke longed to mount up and ride with “Morgan’s Men,” but he was still an artilleryman. Under Morgan’s command, he was assigned to a cannon instead of a horse.

In the mountains of Virginia, he found himself swabbing and loading a cannon beside Morgan himself, where he made an impression on his commander. From this time until Morgan’s death, he would be Morgan’s chief of artillery.

Following Morgan’s death on Sept. 4, 1864, in Greeneville, Clarke formed his own unit and returned to Kentucky in October. He raided throughout the state, killing Union soldiers and destroying supplies. His raids inspired the Louisville Journal’s stories of the infamous “Sue Mundy,” causing U.S. Maj. Gen. Stephen G. Burbridge, military governor of Kentucky, substantial embarrassment. Clarke’s unit was referred to by the Louisville Journal as “Mundy’s Gang,” joining up with William Quantrill’s Raiders. Clarke was seen as a dangerous enemy of the Union. On the night of Feb. 2, 1865, this joint force of Quantrill and Clarke rode into Lair Station, Kentucky, and burned the railroad depot and freight cars. A week later, on Feb. 8, 1865, the guerrillas killed three soldiers, took four more prisoner, and destroyed a wagon train.

George Prentice was the editor and principal writer of the Louisville Daily Courier. A Union supporter, even a one-time friend of Lincoln, he was growing increasingly disenchanted with the bungling and brutalities of the occupying Union troops. Often seen as “thieves and rowdies,” the Union troops had little support among the population. Prentice and other journalists reported in great detail, with little sympathy, the successes of the Confederate partisans, perhaps to embarrass the ineffectual General Burbridge. It made for good copy.

In October 1864 Prentice wrote about a small band under Clarke who had raided the town of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. They robbed the Crawfordsville stagecoach, stealing the mail bags and “relieving the passengers of their valuables but not their lives.” The driver of the stage described the leader of the group as being a woman. He said, “this officer was a young woman, and her right name is Sue Mundy. She dressed in male attire sporting a full Confederate uniform. Upon her head she wore a jaunty plumed hat, beneath which escapes a wealth of dark hair. She is possessed of a comely form, has a dark, piercing eye, is a bold rider and a daring leader.”

Thus, based on the testimony of a shaken stage driver and an imaginative newspaperman, Marcellus Jerome Clarke’s transformation into the legend of Sue Mundy was born. While he wore his hair long, along with his boyish figure and beardless cheeks, which might confuse a frightened man peering into the muzzle of a Colt Navy .44.

Whether Prentice originally believed this story or not, we will never know. But the image pleased him and his readers as well. He would use it to barb Burbridge for his failure to control, contain or capture the guerrillas.

A story appeared almost every week, and Burbridge couldn’t flush out or even locate the guerrillas, but Prentice, delighted with his invention, followed their every exploit. Soon every partisan raid in the Bluegrass of northern Kentucky was laid to “Sue Mundy’s gang.” It simplified things and increased the drama. It increased newspaper sales too. In his paper, Prentice kept up a running, almost affectionate banter with his imaginary creation.

One front page barb read, “You have been an awful girl, Sue. You have killed so many persons, of all colors, that no doubt white, yellow and black ghosts haunt you continually …”

“Sue Mundy, the she-guerrilla who murders people for pastime is said to be unmarried. There’s a nice opening for some enterprising young rebel.”

“Sue Mundy is reported to say she won’t marry any man. We guess she is reserving herself to marry Satan.”

“Pretty and gentle Sue … We would rather feel the wadding of your bosom than your pistol wad. We should be almost as willing to see the nipples of your bosom as the nipples of your fire-arms.”

Prentice was nothing if not generous. Soon “Sue” was promoted to “the outlaw woman, the wild and daring leader of the band.” Clarke with his girlish looks and long locks was clearly “Sue.” At first, he resented it, but later took a certain pride. He even identified himself to captives and supporters as well. “I am Sue Mundy,” he was heard to say. Even Magruder, at least in public as they were looting stores and houses, began to call him “Sue.” He never cut his hair, which only added to the legend.

Clarke began to inhabit his legend, which he was perhaps beginning to understand was likely to outlast his life. Clarke did have a girlfriend, 16-year-old Mollie Thomas who he would “court” whenever he was near. She was said to be “entranced by the dashing cavalier with his long locks.”

That winter, as the record cold again set in, Kentucky’s coldest in years, “Sue Mundy’s gang” was riding high, fast and hard.

Burbridge had had enough and hired a bounty hunter, putting under Union contract a brutal mercenary named “Bad Ed” Terrel. He and his men rode as “decoy guerrillas” and were feared by ordinary citizens as much as the guerrillas they were hunting. The hunter was more brutal than the hunted. “Bad Ed” once shot and killed a nine-year-old Negro boy who was watering his horse, just to test a new pistol. “Bad Ed” and his gang had little success capturing Clarke but were very successful in turning the Union population he encountered into Rebel supporters.

One newspaper wrote of Clarke, “He is a quiet, gentle, soft-spoken dandy, with his hair in love knots six inches long, a hand like a schoolgirl and a waist like a woman … When he fought, he fought savagely. His long hair in battle blew as the mane of a horse. The dandy in a melee became a Cossack.”

That January with the created “Sue Mundy” becoming a hero to the everyday Kentuckians, Prentice was forced to admit that “Sue” was indeed a man, Jerome Clarke. He followed it up with another lurid piece of fiction to try and cover himself: “Even John Morgan, on a certain occasion, mistook him for a female.” The readers delighted in it all, and as “Sue Mundy’s gang” rode on, their legend only grew.

On March 12, 1865, 50 Union soldiers from the 30th Wisconsin Infantry, under the command of Maj. Cyrus Wilson, who were tasked with capturing Clarke and his gang, surrounded a tobacco barn 10 miles south of Brandenburg near Breckinridge County. Four Union soldiers were wounded in the ensuing altercation, but Clarke and two others were eventually captured.

Major Wilson signaled a cease-fire, ordering his troops to stand down. The war was all but over, and this could perhaps be ended in a more civilized fashion. He approached the barn under a white flag to confer with the guerrillas’ leader.

Capt. Clarke invited him in. Wilson was surprised, and perhaps disappointed, to find only three dog-tired, hungry and desperate men. Clarke introduced himself: “I am the man they call Sue Mundy.”

The two shared a cordial cigarette and a cup of coffee. Wilson, wanting no more bloodshed, diplomatically advised Clarke to surrender. “Do it,” said the wounded Magruder, who lay patiently waiting to die. He knew the game was up. So did Clarke. Playing his last card, he insisted that he be treated as a Confederate prisoner of war.

Wilson agreed but admitted that it probably “wouldn’t wash in Louisville.” Under order #59 Wilson was authorized, and indeed encouraged, to shoot guerrillas on sight. “At least you will live a few more days,” he told Clarke.

Maj. Wilson escorted the three men to Brandenburg, where they boarded a steamer for Louisville. Military authorities kept Clarke’s trial a secret and the verdict had been decided the day before the trial. Even Wilson was not allowed to tell his side of the capture story. Clarke pleaded to be treated as a prisoner of war but was tried as a guerrilla instead. On March 14, military authorities planned Clarke’s execution, even though the trial had not started. At the brief hearing, Clarke was said to have “stood firm and spoke with perfect composure.” Clarke stated that he was a regular Confederate soldier and that the crimes he was being charged with he had not committed or they had been committed by Quantrill. During the three-hour trial Clarke was not allowed counsel or witnesses for his defense. Three days after his capture, Union authorities scheduled Clarke for public hanging.

On March 15, Rev. J.J. Talbott visited the 20-year-old Clarke in prison and notified him that he would be hanged that afternoon. Clarke knelt and prayed, asking Talbott to baptize him. With Clarke dictating, the minister wrote four letters for him: to Clarke’s aunt, his cousin, his brother John Thomas Clarke’s wife, Elizabeth Lashbrook Clark and his fiancée Molly Thomas. Clarke’s last requests were for his body to be sent to his aunt and stepmother in Franklin and to be buried in his Confederate uniform, next to his parents.

When the carriage arrived at the gallows, Clarke gave one last statement to the crowd. He said, “I am a regular Confederate soldier-not a guerrilla ... I have served in the Army for nearly four years ... I fought under General Buckner at Fort Donelson and I belonged to General Morgan’s command when I entered Kentucky.” His last words were: “I believe in and die for the Confederate cause.” Several thousand people were estimated to have attended Clarke’s execution, attracted by rumors that he was “Sue Mundy.” After authorities cut Clarke’s body down from the scaffold, some witnesses cut off buttons from his coat and locks of hair as keepsakes. Police arrested three men for fighting over his hat.

On Oct. 29, 1865, Union authorities also hanged Henry Magruder behind the walls of the Louisville Military Prison. He had been shot during that last raid and Clarke helped hide his only friend. He was allowed to heal from his wounds before being hanged. Before his death, Magruder wrote his memoir and declared he was the real “Sue Mundy.” Thus ended the careers of two famous Kentucky guerrillas. Was Magruder trying to protect his friend or steal his glory? We will never know.

There is no doubt that Clarke was Sue Mundy. I think Magruder could have been jealous of Clarke’s notoriety in making the claim that he was the real Sue Mundy. Just as likely, since he knew he was going to die, he wanted to remove blame from Clarke. I also believe that Clarke was correct in saying some of the charges against him were the work of Quantrill’s raiders. I also think some of the charges leveled against him were committed by Magruder and Clarke would not betray the man he called his “only friend.”

Nothing has been written locally about the man who fired the shot that hit the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Greeneville on the day Morgan was killed. Maybe no one thought it important. Marcellas Jerome Clarke is buried in Franklin, Kentucky, under a stone which identifies him by name and that he was a part of the “2nd KY Cavalry, Morgan’s Brigade, CSA.” His grave also has a footstone which identifies him as “Jerome Clarke (Sue Mundy), 1845-1865, Morgan’s Brigade CSA.” Nearby is a historical marker that reads, “Grave of Sue Mundy.” There are at least three other Kentucky historical markers, “Jerome Clark (Sue Mundy)” “Sue Mundy Here” and “Sue Mundy Captured.” Capt. Marcellus Jerome Clarke, aka Sue Mundy, was here in Greeneville and is another piece of the cannonball mystery that is now solved as we trail the past.

Greene County historian Tim Massey is an award-winning writer for Civil War News with more than 40 photos featured on various magazine covers. He has served on various boards and held positions in several historic organizations. He can be reached at horses319@comcast.net.

Recommended for you