Last Tuesday evening on February 21st, at the Paul Sawyier Public Library, here in Frankfort, I had the opportunity to sit in on a very special presentation. As part of their Civil War Revisited series, running through April 20th, the library invited Robert Bell of the Kentucky Chautauqua program to present his moving portrayal of the Reverend Newton Bush entitled, Freedom at a Terrible Price. Reverend Newton Bush was a Private in the Union Army with the 5thRegiment, Company E, United States Colored Cavalry (USCC). His story was vaguely familiar to me as I had heard mention of it years before, but after listening to the full account of Newton Bush and his struggles, I knew our acquaintance was just beginning.
I found out about this event through an ad in the Sunday paper. The Bush name was one I had heard before as my Mom spoke often of our Bush cousins. Our family used to travel over to Shelby County, somewhere along U.S. 60 to visit relatives living on a farm. According to the family stories, my Great Grandmother was a Bush who married a Miller. It was within her side of the family that we heard some stories about Reverend Bush, but we all wondered how much of them were true. To be quite honest, I tried not to care about family history and the importance of who, where and why. Some of the information was tragic and not pleasant to discuss, but all in all, we need to know in order to be able to move forward.
Robert Bell’s performance was very educational! I describe it as a ‘performance’ because that is the nature of a Chautauqua presentation. Even though the presenter has conducted an enormous amount of research about their historical figure, the information is presented in a manner that is more performance or story-telling based. Through this event, Robert Bell taught me so much about Reverend Bush and how his courage, loyalty, unwavering patriotism and struggles made a path for the next generations. If it wasn’t for the sacrifices of his generation, we would not be the Country we are today.
Reverend Newton Bush’s story is a poignant one. He was born a slave in 1845 Franklin County and owned by Nicholas Green. When President Lincoln finally allowed Kentucky slaves the opportunity to join the Union Army, Newton bided his time and then escaped, traveling down to Jessamine County to join the forces stationed at Camp Nelson. At the age of 18, he enlisted in 1864 and served until May 1866. During his three years of service, he experienced much hardship and discrimination which did not cease after the War ended. Robert Bell was very thorough in his portrayal of the struggles Bush and his family endured after the War while bringing up his family Frankfort. It is significant to my family’s history that Newton Bush had 13 children, one of whom was my Great Grandmother, which meant Reverend Newton Bush was my Great Great Grandfather.
My brother Reggie Collins and I attended Tuesday’s event and knew immediately that we wanted to learn much more about this amazing ancestor of ours. We now realize how interesting our family history is and how much more we have to learn as well as document correctly for the next generation. One event that we want to learn more about is the Skirmish Near Simpsonville, or the Simpsonville Massacre. According to Robert Bell, Newton Bush was in the unit that was attacked from behind by a small band of Confederate guerillas while transporting cattle for the Union Army. Many of the victims were supposedly buried there, and the effort to find their mass grave is an ongoing project. You can learn more about this historical event through our Historical Marker Program. Just search the database for marker number 2283. I will include a link for searching at the end of this post.
For now, my family and I have a lot of inspiration to get us going on a genealogy quest to learn more. My first step was looking for Newton Bush in Fold3.com. We have access to this database here in the KHS library. Guess what? We found him! His muster roll records and pension payment card are digitized and available. Next on my list of scouting? Trying to find out which Church the Reverend was affiliated with in his later years. That will take some further digging in local records. Wish me luck – I’ll keep you posted if I discover anything new. If any of you have more information about Reverend Bush, feel free to contact the reference desk here in the library!
For further research:
The Civil War Revisited: Series presented by the Paul Sawyier Public Library
The Kentucky Humanities Council: Chautauqua Series
The Kentucky Historical Marker Program
Fold3.com (Subscription site, but available for free to Library visitors and KHS members!)
Camp Nelson, Civil War Heritage Park
--Pam Reaves, KHS Library Staff