Isaiah Coalter Was An Effective Guerrilla In Ky

Morgan Coalter Cemetery Discovered In Anderson County
By Gerald W. Fischer 2016

Author’s note: Isaiah Coalter’s name has been spelled Colter, Coulter, Coalter, and as Collier. Names were often incorrectly spelled because some didn’t always know the correct spelling, and census takers sometimes wrote names phonetically as they had heard them pronounced. Therefore, Sinclair might become St. Claire; Bryant, Bryan; and Goins, Gowens, thus the probable variation in Coalter. Spelling as it appears on the tombstones found in the Morgan/Coalter Cemetery is Coalter. Hard evidence favors the Coalter spelling despite previously-written history generally spelling the name Coulter. In chronicling Isaiah Coalter’s exploits, things are also complicated because his given name is as inconsistently spelled as his surname. The initials Z. A. and the names Zay, Saiah, Isaiah, Isaac, and Josiah also appear.

Isaiah Coalter was born March 31, 1843, and died at the age of 21 on February 6, 1865. He is buried in the secluded Morgan Coalter Cemetery in Anderson County, Kentucky. (Photo courtesy of Gerald Fischer)

Isaiah Coalter was the fifth child of Sabra and Rowan Coalter. Rowan was born January 18, 1808, and died September 15, 1858. Isaiah’s wife, Sabra Morgan, was born April 17, 1821, thirteen years his junior, and died November 5, 1857. They had seven children: Josephine, Rosa Jane, Sabra H., John, Isaiah, Thomas, and Elizabeth Ann. Isaiah, commonly known as Zay, was born March 31, 1843, and died at the age of 21 on February 6, 1865. Because of his height, Isaiah Coalter’s sobriquet was “Big Zay.” He stood six feet, six inches in his stocking feet, with the physique of an athlete. Sporting a coal-black beard and hair, with sparkling black eyes, he was described as handsome, and was known to treat children kindly, sitting them on his knee. All of the Morgan and Coalter families were Confederate, residing in western Anderson County, Kentucky, a few miles east of the Spencer County line along the south side of Salt River.

There are two fords of the Salt River, within 200 yards and a quarter-mile east of its confluence with Raccoon Creek. The eastern most of these is Coalter’s Ford. These fords are in the shallows of Salt River and the headwaters of Taylorsville Lake. This hardwood-forested Kentucky land is lush with under-canopy growth, shrub, and ground cover. The flood plain has pockets of wetlands and wild game is abundant. Near the ford are signs of former dwellings built against the north and east slopes of forested hills on the south side of the river. It is a beautiful but desolate place, void of human life but for hunters, forays of forest rangers, and a rare December visit by a group of genealogists and historians. This is the area in which the secluded Morgan/Coalter Cemetery is located, and the place Isaiah Coalter sought refuge after being shot through the chest. He rode ten miles to an aunt’s house where he could hide and recover. He died there ten days later, and there he was buried.

“…the place Isaiah Coalter sought refuge after being shot through the chest. He rode ten miles to an aunt’s house where he could hide and recover…”

The Coalter-Prather Feud 

Isaiah Coalter was 17 years old when the Civil War began, and at that tender age, he had been on the periphery or perhaps participated in a family feud between his twin cousins the Prather brothers and his Coalter cousins. The Prathers were Unionists and the Coalters were Confederates. Harvey Prather was a large man and the twin brother of William Prather. Harvey and his cousin, Levi Coalter, also cousin to Zay, were dating the same girl. Harvey married the young lady. Levi came to the wedding and all went well, until after the banquet when Harvey and Levi got into a fight. Levi shot and killed Harvey. A few days later, Levi, expecting retribution for the killing, shot and killed William Prather as he rode toward Willisburg. The feud picked up when Levi and his father, Tom Coalter, were working in their field and a posse of Prather men took them prisoners. Tom and Levi surrendered peacefully, because the two had left their revolvers on a stump they couldn’t reach before being overtaken. Concluding they would be taken to jail for trial, they submitted. When they were taken deeper into some dense thickets, the two prisoners sensing they were mistaken, jumped from their horses and ran off. Tom was shot numerous times, but Levi got away. Left for dead, Tom was found and taken to Springfield for treatment. Upon hearing this, the Prathers rode to Springfield, retaking Tom prisoner. He was tied to a tree and shot to pieces. Levi Coalter fled the area, and with the killing of Tom the feud abated.

Coalter and the Civil War

A lasting effect Gen. John Hunt Morgan had on the Civil War, other than his “Great Raid,” was providing a training ground for the most effective guerrillas in Kentucky. It was while riding with him the guerrillas served their apprenticeship. Jerome Clarke (better known as “Sue Mundy”) Capt. Bill Marion, the Berrys, Dupoyster, Johnson, Magruder, Hines, Bryant, the Taylors, and Isaiah Coalter rode at one time with John Morgan. As they escaped prison or capture, making their way back to Kentucky in 1863 and 1864, and with the break-up of Morgan’s forces after Cynthiana, they became a full-blown army totaling more than 800 men in small bands numbering six to 25. The guerrillas were at their zenith during the summer of 1864. Partisans of Bill

These grave stones are located at the site of the raid Isaiah Coalter, Henry Magruder, Bill Davison, Bill Marion, and 11 guerrillas made on the 40-man rear guard of a government cattle drive to Louisville.

Davison, a Union Captain turned rebel; George Jesse and his troops; Lee Sypert, to whom Davison was attached; Walker Taylor’s partisans, coupled with incursions into Kentucky by Generals Hylon Lyons and Nathan Forest became a military force, likely extending the Civil War for a year. In early January of 1865, this eclectic group of well-trained, battle-hardened veterans was augmented by William Clarke Quantrill’s 47-man force of Missouri fighters.
Isaiah Coulter is referenced belonging to Co. F Fifth Kentucky Cavalry, CSA. That unit was under Basil Duke’s brigade in Morgan’s Cavalry. The Fifth Kentucky crossed the Ohio River at Brandenburg, Kentucky, with John Morgan on July 6, 1865, into Indiana. The Fifth Kentucky Cavalry fought in the battle of Corydon, Indiana, attacking the center of the Indiana defensive line with the Eighth Cavalry. They engaged the Sixth Indiana Legion and a group of volunteers. When Morgan surrendered at Buffington Island, a Josiah Coulter of Co. H, Fifth Kentucky Cavalry was taken prisoner and sent to Camp Douglas prison camp in August of 1863. The name Josiah was another variation on Coalter’s given name that was either misunderstood or misspelled. Likely Coalter escaped imprisonment or was exchanged sometime between late July of 1863 and August of 1864. In late August he was riding as a guerrilla with another Anderson County partisan, Captain Foreman.

The first mention of Coalter in the newspapers is a Louisville Daily Journal story dated September 1, 1864, reporting on an August 30th incident when a party of 25 guerrillas surrounded three members of the 11th Kentucky Cavalry. Captain Foreman of Anderson County was leading the guerrillas when a…..


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