Yesterday's News

Discharge mix-up may have soured historian on service with the Union Army

By FRANK BOYETT, Gleaner staff
February 6, 2005

Henderson's first historian got a dishonorable discharge in 1865, but it turned out to be a mistake.

Edmund L. Starling published his "History of Henderson County" in 1887 and it has long been a primary resource of local history. I've always found his writings about the Civil War interesting in that he was a staunch Union man, but his book was often disapproving of the Union Army.

Starling was a captain in the state militia at the outbreak of the war and later enlisted as adjutant of the 17th Kentucky Volunteers. He wound up his military career as a colonel in the 35th Kentucky Volunteers. But in writing about the war two decades later he was sometimes severely critical of the Union Army's actions in Henderson.

I've always assumed Starling's ambivalence about the Union Army stemmed from its high-handed operations as a occupying force in his home town of Henderson. I'm sure that was the main reason. But there may have been another reason, judging from an item in the Feb. 9, 1865, issue of the Henderson Reporter. The local paper carried the following article copied from the Louisville Journal:

"A few days ago it was stated that Col. E.L. Starling of the 35th Kentucky Volunteers had been dismissed the service of the United States for making false musters of men in his regiment. We are glad to learn that the whole affair was the result of a mistake and that justice has been done the gallant Colonel by the mistake being promptly rectified by the War Department."

The paper then reprinted an order from the Adjutant General's Office in Washington, D.C., which said that "full and satisfactory explanations" had been provided, that the dishonorable discharge dated Jan. 25 "is hereby revoked," and that Starling was honorably discharged from the 35th Kentucky as of Dec. 29, 1864.

Now, I don't mean to cast aspersions on Mr. Starling, because he's one of my heroes. He performed an invaluable service to this community in recording huge amounts of local history that would otherwise now be lost.

But apparently that dishonorable discharge rankled, even though it was later rescinded. I say that because a biography of Starling written by his daughter, Mary Starling Price, was published in The Gleaner on Feb. 23, 1930, and it makes no mention whatever of the incident.

In fact, although it gives a meticulous account of Starling's military career, including his participation in the battles of Fort Donelson and Shiloh, it says absolutely nothing about his service with the 35th Kentucky -- even though that's the unit in which he earned his rank as colonel. Perhaps Starling was a mite touchy about the slight to his honor?

I bring this up primarily because it might have some bearing on how best to interpret Starling's writings on the Civil War.

The 1930 article was originally published in the Filson Club Quarterly. Although it covers up this embarrassing incident, it contains a great amount of detail about Starling's life. For instance, he was an orphan. His mother died when he was nine months old and his father died when he was 11.

Consequently, he was raised by his grandmother, Ann Todd Starling, who was the daughter of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thomas Todd. "She inherited rare mental qualities, and it was her delight to inculcate in her grandson a love of good literature."

For more than three decades Starling was a newspaper man, starting as editor of the Reporter in 1875 and moving on to positions on both the Journal and the Gleaner. In fact, he was one of the founders of the Henderson Journal in late 1883.

In the spring of 1893 he suffered a knee injury "that left him a cripple for the remainder of his life." He died in 1910, at the age of 70, after suffering two years from tuberculosis.

A final tidbit is that Starling had a fine bass singing voice, which he delighted in using at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. No doubt he adds it still to the heavenly choir.

120 years ago

"Peck's Bad Boy," a popular play of the 1880s that gave rise to a well-used term for juvenile delinquents of that time, opened at the Opera House and was a big hit, according to an 1885 item in the Reporter. "There is really nothing in the play ... its only claim to public favor rests upon its power to provoke hearty laughter."

75 years ago

Henderson County's first oil pipeline began pumping crude oil from the Niagara area to Utica, according to a 1930 article in The Gleaner. The 24-mile long pipeline was capable of moving up to 5,000 barrels a day from 29 wells in the Niagara area. It was built and operated by the Illinois Pipe Line Co.

50 years ago

The Henderson City Commission gave its first official recognition of a plan to build a swimming pool for blacks when it hired a Lexington engineering firm to design the structure, according to a 1955 article in The Gleaner.

The pool, which was completed later in 1955, was named in honor of W.C. Handy and lasted until 1984. Handy had come to town in October 1953 to play benefit concerts to raise money for the project.

25 years ago

A Kentucky Educational Television transmitter at Reed was just about ready to begin operations, according to an article in The Gleaner that ran on this date in 1980. Up to that point, the only public TV channel available locally was WNIN from Evansville.


Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS