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Ronald L. Nelson

That cannon fire from the battle of Ft. Donelson, Tennessee, could have been heard as far north as Elizabethtown, Illinois, seems impossible. Still, the tradition persists that this battle fought in Tennessee was clearly heard in Illinois.

For instance, the noted attorney, the late James Gordon Gullett told David Humphrey, Treasurer of Hardin County, that from her home at the Rose Hotel, his grandmother heard the cannons in the distance. 

The following excerpt from the memoirs and diary of Eld. J. W. Crewdson (1828-1896), who was teaching school near Elizabethtown at the time of the battle, Feb. 13-16, 1862, plainly states that he and his pupils heard the ominous sounds of the battle all day long. According to the School Board minutes of 1861-62, he was teaching at Sycamore School, near the Illinois Iron Furnace on Big Creek at the time of the Battle of Fort Donelson.

Crewdson’s diary and memoirs were found in Florida by Jane Gorham, great-granddaughter of J. W. Crewdson, and brought back to Paducah, Kentucky. The material was graciously shared with this author by Mrs. Gorham and Jan Brandstetter. These documents recover for Hardin County some of its history, which was lost as a result of two courthouse fires. 

In the fall of 1860, [portion of sentence illegible] by the offer of a larger salary than I had heretofore gotten, to teach in a [illegible] district. I went on horseback from home. It was while I was teaching this school, and in the spring of 1861 that the great civil war broke out.

I will omit, only a casual mention of this great ‘fratricidal’ contest as I do not care to refresh my memory by a recital of the dire deeds, crimes, casualties, broken friendships, bitter animosities, feuds and strifes among the people, and added to this, the roar of cannon, and the sickening sound of other death-dealing implements of modern warfare, doing their deadly work of maiming, mangling and killing outright thousands of our young men, and veiling our entire land with a cloud of gloom, the horrors of which were better comprehended by the hearing of the signs, groans, and wailings of wives, mothers, sisters and others for their dear dead, who found a now forgotten grave on some distant battlefield.

In the winter of 1861-62 I taught my last school. It was while engaged in this school, and in the month of February, that the battle of Ft. Donelson was fought. All day we heard plainly the firing of cannon, and knew a great battle was being fought, and that the work of death, on a gigantic scale, was going on. Teacher and pupils alike were sad that day. In a few days the news of the battle and terrible slaughter reached us. Soon a few of the citizens with permission from the rightful authority visited the battlefield and brought home all the bodies of the dead of our neighborhood which they could. I went and aided in burying them."


Rev. J. W. Crewdson was born July 23, 1828, in Logan County, KY, a son of Samuel B. and Nancy H. (Milliken) Crewdson. He was thrown upon his own resources early in life, his father dying when he was four years old, and his mother when he was seven. After his parents’ death, he made his home with an uncle, Amos Milliken, with whom he lived until twenty years of age, serving as an apprentice to a tanner in the meantime. He worked at the tanner’s trade about eighteen months.

He was converted, baptized and joined the United Baptist Church at Birds Creek, Henry County, Tennessee, in 1844, at the age of 16.

In 1849, he moved to Pope County, Illinois, where he found employment at different occupations. Also in 1849, he was married to Amanda Jackson, daughter of George and Susan (Vineyard) Jackson, of Hardin County, Illinois.

One year later he moved to Hardin County, where he purchased a farm and engaged in agricultural pursuits, teaching during the winters.

"It was while teaching school at the ‘Stone Meeting house’ that I united, by letter, with Big Creek Baptist church [now First Baptist Church of Elizabethtown, Illinois, ed.] This was a little band of Baptists, 17 in number, that worshipped in a school house 1 ˝ miles north of Elizabethtown, Ill. [Big Creek Baptist Church was meeting in the log one-room Bassett school house. This was located about a quarter of a mile west of the present Hardin County Schools and just west of Hosick Creek, ed.] I was considered a good accession to this church, as I was qualified for clerk, and the church at this time was greatly lacking in the particular. I was elected clerk, and served the church until I was ordained to preach three years afterward" (Diary of Elder J. W. Crewdson.).

Licensed to preach by Big Creek United Baptist Church, Hardin County, in 1856, he preached in Pope and Hardin Counties, about 15 years, and ministered to almost all the churches of his denomination in the above and adjoining counties.

In 1861, he was elected county judge of Hardin County, which office he held for four years. He moved to Kentucky in 1871, settling in Livingston County, between Birdsville and Carrsville, and purchased a farm.

Mrs. Crewdson died in November, 1872. On December 17, 1873, J. W. Crewdson married Mrs. S. C. Wiley, daughter of J. L. and Mary Rutter, of Livingston County (Kentucky, A History of the State, Louisville, KY: F. A. Battey Publishing Company, 1885). Rev. Crewdson died on March 8, 1896, in Livingston County and was buried on his farm.

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