Articles & Stories

Robert D. Houp: Jessamine
County's Last Civil War Veteran

Soldier's Life Defined By Conflict

By Jason Brock - 2012

It sometimes seems that my fourth great-grandfather's life was defined by conflict. He came into the world four months after the start of the Mexican War and left it two months after our entry into WWII. He was known around Wilmore and High Bridge as "Uncle Robert," the old veteran with a cane who had been a boy soldier during the Civil War. I don't imagine he minded the distinction. No doubt he felt fortunate to have lived to be an old veteran with only a limp and a few bad memories to show for it.
Robert David Houp was born on August 26, 1846, in Bledsoe County, Tennessee, the son of Edmund and Sarah Ann Abel Houp. After Sarah Ann's death in 1848, Edmund moved his family to Kentucky, eventually settling in Estill County. At Estill Springs on October 28, 1861, 40-year-old Edmund and his 15-year-old son, Robert, enlisted in Company K, Eighth Kentucky Infantry. Formerly mustered into Federal service on January 15, 1862, the Eighth Kentucky became part of the Third Brigade of General Horatio Van Cleve's Division along with the 21st Kentucky, 35th Indiana, 51st Ohio, and 99th Ohio. Present but not engaged at Perryville, Robert's first real combat experience came in Tennessee at the battle of Stones River, also known as Murfreesboro.
On January 2, 1863, the Eighth Kentucky found themselves in the path of a major attack, at one point fighting head to head with the Confederate Sixth Kentucky Infantry. Although the assault ended up being unsuccessful, the Eighth Kentucky and the rest of the brigade suffered heavy casulaties.

Robert D. Houp was at High Bridge in Jessamine County, Kentucky, in June 1938, when this photo was taken. He was probably on his way to the Gettysburg Reunion on the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania. The year 1938 was the 75th anniversary of that battle.
(Photo courtesy of Jason Brock.)

During the course of the December 31, 1862, through January 2, 1863, battle, Van Cleve's Third Brigade lost 583 men killed, wounded, and missing. Of all the major battles of the Civil War, Stones River had the highest percentage of casualties for the number of men engaged. One of the casualties was Edmund Houp, who was captured. He was later released in a prisoner exchange and promoted to sergeant.
Robert's next fight and closest call was in North Georgia at the Battle of Chickamauga, which proved to be the bloodiest of the war after Gettysburg. When the battle started, the Third Brigade, commanded by Colonel Sidney Barnes of the Eighth Kentucky, was loaned out to the division of General Thomas J. Wood. On September 20, 1863, Wood's division was ordered to plug a nonexistent gap in the Union lines. In so doing, they created a real gap into which a massive Confederate attack was launched. In the ensuing chaos, Robert was wounded in the left leg and counted himself lucky. After the battle, he counted 12 holes in his clothing. There's a good chance that the leg wound and the near misses came from the shell that killed Private Simpson Lynch, a buddy in Company K, who was "literally torn to fragments" by it. The regiment took 79 casualties during the fight. The brigade as a whole, without the 21st Kentucky, lost 299 men.
Robert was laid up in a Nashville hospital during the Battles for Chattanooga, missing the sight of the Eighth Kentucky's flag being the first to be planted on the summit of Lookout Mountain.

The Houp family gathered at High Bridge, Jessamine County, Kentucky, on August 30, 1936, in honor of Robert's birthday. Front row, l-r: Lena Houp Swim, Claude Houp, Robert D. Houp, Mary Woods Brown Houp, and Mary Jane Rue Houp. Back row, l-r: Willis Houp, Charles Oliver Houp, Henry Houp, Flemon Houp, and George Wesley Houp. (Photo courtesy of Jason Brock.)

In January 1864 the Eighth Kentucky was reduced to battalion size, Companies D and K combining to form the new Company D. They mostly did garrison duty in Tennessee and fought in the opening stages of the Atlanta Campaign at Rocky Face Ridge, Georgia. On November 17, 1864, the men who chose to serve out their three-year enlistments were mustered out, and those who reenlisted for the duration of the war were placed in the Fourth Kentucky Mounted Infantry. Robert was in the former group, deciding to take his discharge and head home, a seasoned veteran at 18. During the course of the war, the Eighth Kentucky lost four officers and 56 men killed and mortally wounded, and one officer and 144 men to disease. One of the men who decided to reenlist was Robert's cousin, Benjamin Houp. He was captured in Alabama toward the end of the war and was one of around 1,600 released prisoners killed on the steamboat Sultana when its boilers exploded near Memphis on April 27, 1865.
Robert married Amanda Horn, the daughter of Jackson Horn and Mary Warner, in Estill County on February 10, 1865. George Wesley Houp, my third great-grandfather, was born on November 26th of that year. Robert and Amanda went on to have nine more children. Amanda died on October 20, 1895. Robert later married Mary Woods Brown, who died on September 9, 1952. They had one daughter. Sometime around 1880, Robert moved his family to the High Bridge area in Jessamine County, Kentucky, where he worked as a farmer and lived the rest of his life. Unfortunately, in March 1902, Robert's father, Edmund and his second wife, Zanah, were murdered in their home at Munday's Landing in Mercer County, Kentucky. Robbery was assumed to be the motive, because Edmund was known to draw a Civil War pension and a large sum of money was missing. The murderer was never caught.

This is a five-generation photo of the family of Jason Brock, the author of the accompanying article, from his fourth great-grandfather to his grandmother. Shown in the photo are Robert D. Houp (1846-1942) seated on the bench in the center of the photo, George W. Houp (1865-1937) visible above man seated on right side of bench, Ollie Houp Shylock (1888-1964) far right with hands on hips with face obscured, Geneva Shyrock Million (1912-1980) seated on left of bench third left of Robert, and Maxine Million Byrd (1929) second in front of her mother in front of girl with hat. Others in the photo (not in order) are Lena Houp Swim, Claude Houp, Mary Houp, Mary Jane Rue Houp, Willis Houp, Charles Houp, Henry Houp, Glemon Houp, Betty West Carroll, Leona Shyrock Hart, Grace Houp Johnson, Raymond Houp, Myrtle Houp Morgan, Lydia May Houp Horn, Raymond Houp (Jr.), Jimmy Land, Beatrice Houp Woods, Mary Emma Shyrock Underwood, Virgil Underwood, and Jimmy Underwood. The photo was taken at High Bridge Park, Jessamine County, Kentucky, on August 30, 1936. The occasion was Robert Houp's 90th birthday. (Photo courtesy of Jason Brock.)

In his later years, Robert was active in attending veteran's reunions, the largest being the one at Gettysburg in July 1938, the 75th anniversary of the battle. At the age of nearly 92, he braved the Southern Pennsylvania heat and humidity to be one of 1,845 veterans from across the country to attend. The Kentucky contingent was represented by 28 old soldiers. One of the attendees was Asberry Estes of Lee County, an old comrade from the Eighth Kentucky and an uncle by marriage of Robert's son, George. Two years later, he went to the movies and saw Gone with the Wind. He considered it pretty accurate. By that time, he was the only man living in the county who could have said so based on actual experiences.
On February 23, 1942, Robert Houp, who was a soldier at 15, wounded in battle at 17, and a father at 19, died at his home in Wilmore at the age of 95. He was the last Civil War veteran in Jessamine County and was buried with military honors in the Wilmore Cemetery.

Sources: The Houp/Houpe/Houpt/Haupt Family Historian Quarterly, April 1985, by Kenneth L. Houp; Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. 3, Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, editors, 1995; History of the Eighth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment During Its Three Year Campaigns, T. J. Wright. the Estill county Hisotrical and Genelogicial Society, reprinted 1996.

Jason Brock, 108 East Avenue, Wilmore, KY 40390; [email protected], shares this article with our readers.