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Mike Watson writes of 3rd Adair 'Medal of Honor' winner

Strictly speaking, Adair County native George Hector Burton didn't receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. But the Confederate Warrior named to the equivalent Southern military list, the Roll of Honor. Still, it is a noteworthy honor, especially as Veterans Day 2011 approaches, that two of the 57 Medal of Honor recipients from Kentucky are Adair County natives: Sgt. Dakota Meyer and Brig. Gen. James Alexander Williamson, and that this third native son, George Hector Burton, received an equivalent CSA military honor. George Hector Burton became a minister after the war, and returned from his post Civil War home in South Carolina to Adair County to preach, at Fairplay, on at least one occasion.

By Mike Watson

Burton, George Hector, born 10 July 1839 in Columbia, Adair County, Kentucky, a son of Joseph Burton and Mary Owen Burton, died 2 February 1922 in South Carolina, with burial in Bethany Baptist Church Cemetery, McCormick, SC. He was long a resident of Troy, SC.


"Heck" Burton, as he was commonly known here in Adair County, served in the Confederate Army as a Lieutenant in Company F, 4th Infantry, the nationally known "Orphan Brigade". He enlisted on 17 August 1861 at Camp Burnett, was elected 3rd Sergeant on 1 May 1862, and promoted to Brevet 2nd Lieutenant on 1 April 1863. He fought at Shiloh, Vicksburg, Baton Rouge, Murfreesboro, Jackson, Chickamauga, and Missionary Ridge. Burton was placed in command of the "Kentucky Brigade Sharpshooters" at Dalton, Georgia, and throughout the Atlanta Campaign, and fought in the mounted infantry engagements in Georgia and South Carolina. He was awarded a medal for gallant and meritorious conduct while in command of the sharpshooters. Burton married Sally Bushnell, of South Carolina, on 11 January 1866, moved to Georgia, and later South Carolina where he a Baptist minister of considerable note.The Confederate States intended to create a medal that would be the equivalent of the United States' Medal of Honor; however this did not come to pass. Instead, the CS Congress created the Roll of Honor, which listed soldiers recognized for valor during battle.

*****The following article abstract comes from the Adair County News, 22 September 1915, written in the style of the day, by the noted Orphan Brigade historian, Ed. Porter Thompson, once of Metcalfe County.

"A War Record--Report from Ed. Porter Thompson's History of the First Kentucky Brigade Infantry.

"In the winter of 1863-64 Gen. Breckenridge received eleven guns, known as the Kerr Rifles, which he allotted to his old brigade...It was not likely to effective except in the hands of cool, composed men. There was a prolonged target practice in which more of the brigade engaged, and from them eleven men who had proved to be the best shots and were known to be otherwise reliable, were chosen. Lieut. George Hector Burton, Co. F, 4th Kentucky Regiment, who was not only a superior marksman, but a dare devil fighter, one of the few men known to any except braggadocios and closet romancers, who experienced what the Romans pretended to feel, "The joy of battle."

"He (Burton) added to this...cool judgment, quick apprehension of whatever could give him advantage of position, and dogged resolution that made him proof against sore discomfort and unshaken by disaster. He was put in command and given such orders as were so general in their nature that a large discretion was allowed him...

"This corps of sharpshooters was actively engaged every day of the one hundred and twenty of the retreat from Dalton to Atlanta, and at one time it spent thirty-three consecutive days between two armies with an allowance of one canteen of water per day to each man...

"When Gen. Polk was killed on Pine Mountain this corps of sharpshooters quickly located the battery that fired the fatal shot, and in less than half an hour drove it from its position..."

*****

"N. Frank Smith's Report of Lieut. George Hector Burton and his sharpshooters.

"I believe that this officer took more pleasure in a fight than any other man I ever knew. He was never wounded, but he exposed himself recklessly. When one of his sharpshooters fell, either killed or disabled, and a new one volunteered to take his place, Burton would take that man and exposed him, with himself, to the severest fire of the enemy--generally artillery firing. If the new man stayed with him without hunting cover, that would be the last time he would put him in danger unless it was absolutely necessary, but if he flinched he was sent right back to his company...Burton's indifference to danger was conspicuously shown..."

*****

It is interesting to note that George H. Burton became a minister after the War. In July 1907 he was visiting in Adair County and preached a sermon in the Fairplay community. He also visited with his old comrade in arms, Gaither Bryant.

Mary Jane Owen Burton, mother of George Hector Burton, was a daughter of William Owen, often called Owens. William Owen was born in Virginia in 1773 and was a nephew of the famous pioneer long hunter and explorer, Simon Kenton. William lived for some time at Danville, now Boyle County, and studied law.

He was accepted by the Green County bar and began practice in Green and Adair Counties at an early date, moving to Columbia in 1807. He went on to represent Adair and Green Counties in the Kentucky Legislature as both senator and representative and made a valiant run for the US Congress in 1826 against Buckner. Mary Jane Burton died in Columbia in 1902 and was buried with her family in the Columbia Cemetery.

-MIKE WATSON

A bibliography of author Mike Watson is to be published shortly, well in time for purchase as Christmas presents in 2011. -CM


This story was posted on 2011-11-06 07:23:32
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