No event in its 200-plus-year history was more traumatic for Ashland than the Civil War. Not only was the largest engagement in Lexington fought on the grounds of the estate, but like so many other families, the Clay family was torn asunder by the war. The war would ultimately cause the Clay family to relinquish ownership of the property 1865-1882 for the only time before its 1950 opening as a public museum.
The Battle of Ashland
On October 8, 1862 Confederate forces were routed at the Battle of Perryville and shortly thereafter began an exit of the state of Kentucky. Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan began conducting attacks in an effort to distract Union forces to the rear of the Confederate line.
Late in the night of October 17, 1862, Morgan learned of an encampment of Union troops in the woods to the rear of the mansion at Ashland. Morgan decided to take the opportunity to create distraction by attacking this Union encampment.
At dawn on October 18, 1862, Morgan attacked the 294 members of the 3rd and 4th Ohio Cavalry at Ashland with some 1800 of his 2nd, 3rd, and 9th Kentucky Cavalrymen and artillery section. Morgan divided his forces and they attacked the small camp of Ohioans from both sides. The engagement lasted only about 15 minutes due to the overwhelming Confederate force.
Four Union troops were killed, 290 (including 24 wounded) were taken prisoner. The number of Confederate casualties is unknown but included John Hunt Morgan’s cousin George Washington “Wash” Morgan who was mortally wounded. Morgan paroled the Union prisoners on the steps of the Ashland mansion later that day.
The monument to the Battle of Ashland sits just to the left behind the formal garden today, close to Woodspoint Road. For many years we believed the battle to have taken place in this area of the estate. In 2013, National Geographic’s show, Diggers, visited the estate and found artifacts from the battle in the meadow between Richmond Road and the rear of the Ashland Mansion. We now believe the skirmish to have taken place there instead.
The Clay Family and the Civil War
The Civil War in Kentucky not only divided communities, turning friends and neighbors into foes, it also tore many families apart as well. The Clays were no exception. Henry Clay once said that he hoped he would never live to to see his beloved Union torn apart by Civil War. Henry Clay got his wish. Unfortunately, his family was not so lucky.
Clay Family Members in Service During the War
Lieutenant James B. Clay Jr., CSA
Captain Henry Clay III, USA
Lieutenant Thomas Julian Clay, CSA
Grandson of Henry Clay. The last act of the Confederate Department of War was to accept Jimmy’s resignation, making him the last Confederate officer.
Grandson of Henry Clay. Henry wrote of his fear of meeting his brother on the field of battle and his relief that his brother was a prisoner of war. Henry died of typhoid in 1862 at the age of 28.
Grandson of Henry Clay. Tommy was captured at the surrender of Ft. Donelson and imprisoned at Camp Chase. Tommy died of typhoid in 1863 at the age of 23.
Lt. Colonel Eugene Erwin, CSA
Captain Harry Boyle Clay, CSA
“Major” Henry Clay McDowell, USA
Grandson of Henry Clay. Eugene served in the Vicksburg campaign and is the only Clay family member to die in battle. He was shot dead leading a charge on June 25, 1862. A promotion to the rank of General was waiting for him had he survived.
Grandson of Henry Clay. Harry served under General John Hunt Morgan. Harry was captured in a raid on September 4, 1864 and forced by the commanding Union officer to identify the body of his commander.
Grandson-in-law of Henry Clay. McDowell served first as a Captain under General Rousseau, then as a U.S. Marshal for the state of Kentucky. McDowell ended the war as a Lt. Colonel in the 62nd Kentucky Militia. For unknown reasons, he was always known as Major McDowell.