Mattie Wheeler

Mattie Wheeler grew up in the Clark Mansion, “Holly Rood,” locat­ed at the inter­sec­tion of Burns Avenue and Beckner Street.  Gov. James Clark built the home and was suc­ceed­ed there by a num­ber of nota­bles, includ­ing Dr. J. L. Grigsby, Judge C. S. French, Judge William M. Beckner, and Floyd Day.  In 1846, Samuel Wheeler pur­chased the home and sur­round­ing farm of 462 acres for $30,000.  At that time, the farm was on the out­skirts of Winchester.  The wealthy Wheeler, one of the own­ers of the Red River Iron Works, had mar­ried Caroline Mason, daugh­ter of Col. James Mason of Montgomery County.  Martha was their youngest child, born in 1844 and always called “Mattie.”  Her father died when Mattie was ten years old.

Mattie Wheeler is best remem­bered today for the diary she kept dur­ing the Civil War.  As a six­teen-year-old girl, her atten­tion focused ini­tial­ly on fam­i­ly, friends, and the par­ties she attend­ed.  That changed in 1861, when she wrote, “I nev­er thought that I would live to see war in the United States.  But war is inau­gu­rat­ed.  The first blood has been shed & the first vic­to­ry won.  God only knows when the bloody war is to cease.  I pray that the time may speed­i­ly come.  The mil­i­tary com­pa­ny is drilling in our front pas­ture today.  Joseph Jackson [her cousin] is join­ing [Union Gen.] Rosecrans reg­i­ment in Louisville.” 

Though her three sis­ters all mar­ried Lincoln men, Mattie’s sym­pa­thies were with the South.  July 20, 1862, she remarked on “a day that will be ever mem­o­rable to me.  Col. John H. Morgan, with a great many of his men, var­i­ous­ly esti­mat­ed at 1,500 to three thou­sand passed through Winchester.”  That night her mood shift­ed as Morgan retreat­ed through town after a skir­mish at Cynthiana:  “I still hear their tramp, tramp on the Richmond Pike.  It is a dread­ful sound.” 

Two months lat­er, dur­ing the bat­tle of Richmond, she stat­ed that “we heard the fir­ing of can­non ear­ly Saturday morn­ing and heard it until about ten o’clock.  Ma called us all in to go to mak­ing bandages.”

Leeland Hathaway of Montgomery County
Leeland Hathaway of Montgomery County

During Col. Roy S. Cluke’s Kentucky raid the fol­low­ing February, Confederate troops occu­pied Winchester for sev­er­al days.  On the 28th, Mattie record­ed that “we were very much excit­ed this eve by the fir­ing of guns.  The rebels fired on the fed­er­al pick­ets sta­tioned near by Judge Simpson’s and had dri­ven them in.  The fed­er­als then formed in line of bat­tle oppo­site the National House and stood four or five min­utes and then start­ed after the rebels.  Most per­sons in town thought that they were fight­ing 3 or 4 miles from town.  O! this wicked war!” 

Cluke, one of Morgan’s com­man­ders, had pre­vi­ous­ly raised a reg­i­ment in Clark County.  James Simpson lived on North Main Street, and the National House—formerly the Rees House—stood on the site of the Brown-Proctor Hotel.

Mattie’s com­men­tary on the war expand­ed as the fight­ing dragged on for the next sev­er­al years, though she nev­er stopped report­ing on the lighter side: 

“We danced until near­ly one o’clock.  I caught a dread­ful cold.” 

“I nev­er enjoyed a wed­ding as much in my life.” 

“That night we attend­ed the most splen­did par­ty that was ever giv­en in this part of the coun­try.  We retired at 4 o’clock.” 

“We had a delight­ful time [hunt­ing], killed four­teen squirrels.”

After Lee’s sur­ren­der, Mattie made the fol­low­ing entry:  “When I wrote last the Southern Confederacy was in a pros­per­ous con­di­tion, but now it has fallen!”

Mattie’s Civil War jour­nal end­ed with an entry describ­ing the Clark County Fair:  “We had a fair here the last three days of August [1865].  I made a great many acquain­tances, among the rest was Mr. Leland Hathaway, one of the most inter­est­ing and fas­ci­nat­ing gen­tle­men I ever met.”

Leeland Hathaway of Montgomery County joined John Hunt Morgan’s com­mand and served as cap­tain of a cav­al­ry com­pa­ny.  Hathaway was cap­tured dur­ing Morgan’s Ohio raid and sent to a Federal prison along with Mattie’s broth­er, Levi “Lee” Wheeler.  When Lee showed Hathaway a pic­ture of Mattie, he declared that he would mar­ry her when he got home. 

Hathaway even­tu­al­ly bribed his way out of prison and made his way to Abbeyville, South Carolina.  Following Lee’s sur­ren­der, Captain Hathaway helped Jefferson Davis’ fam­i­ly make their way to Florida.  President Davis joined them there and all were cap­tured.  Hathaway was placed in soli­tary con­fine­ment at Fort McHenry.  His fam­i­ly went to Washington and pro­cured his release from President Andrew Johnson. 

At Lee Wheeler’s invi­ta­tion, Hathaway came to Clark County to attend a reunion of Morgan men.  There he met Mattie whom he mar­ried the fol­low­ing year.  The cou­ple resided at 253 South Main Street.  Hathaway estab­lished a suc­cess­ful law prac­tice in Winchester.  He also served as a mas­ter com­mis­sion­er, helped orga­nize a num­ber of Confederate reunions in Clark County, and main­tained an avid inter­est in foxhunting. 

Leeland and daughter Carrie Lee
Leeland and daugh­ter Carrie Lee.

Mattie and Leeland had one child, Caroline Leeland, called “Carrie Lee.”  Mattie died in 1895, Leeland in 1909, and Carrie Lee in 1951.  All are buried in the Winchester Cemetery.

  • Harry is a Mt. Sterling native who has lived in Clark County since1999. He has a pas­sion for the past and has researched and writ­ten exten­sive­ly about the his­to­ry of this area.