1719: Mary Hamilton, lady in waiting 1677: Thomas Sadler and William Johnson, mace thieves

1865: Marcellus Jerome Clarke, “Sue Mundy”

March 15th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1865, Marcellus Jerome Clarke rode a carriage to a scaffold on Broadway Ave. in Louisville, Ky., where he addressed the multitude thus:

I am a regular Confederate soldier, and have served in the Confederate army four years … I could prove that I am a regular Confederate soldier, and I hope to die for the Confederate cause.

And then he did.

Clarke‘s last remarks were a protest against Kentucky’s military government. Having captured Clarke just three days before, it refused him prisoner-of-war status; regarding him rather as a franc-tireur, it gave him a pro forma secret trial even while throwing up the gallows for the preordained hanging.

This border region between North and South had seen bitter guerrilla war. As one indicator: the Northern effort in the Bluegrass State to suppress Confederate irregulars had been led by a general who earned the nickname “Butcher of Kentucky” for his ruthless exertions.

Stubbornly eluding those exertions (the Butcher was gone by March 1865) was Clarke, an elfin captain of 20 years with a band of cavalry raiders (in)famous for its hit-and run raids on Union men and supplies. (And on one infamous occasion, 30 African-American cattle-drivers.)

It was during this time that stories began circulating of a daring female commando, a “she-devil in pantaloons,” and the picturesque character — perfectly calibrated to twist the Butcher’s tail — seized popular imagination and moved newspapers.

While the honor is disputed by another Kentucky irregular hanged later in 1865, this “Sue Mundy” (or Munday) character soon came to be identified with the androgynous, just-old-enough-for-his-riding-license Clarke.

The Louisville Journal fantastically embroidered the Mundy legend and its alleged connection to Clarke — editorializing, for instance, that Clarke cross-dressed for amusement and advantage and could pull off his female alter ego thanks to his

“fair [complexion], long dark hair, which touched his shoulders, and a beautifully shaped mouth” (Mar. 16, 1865)

and his

“medium female statue, small feet and hands, face beardless and quite handsome, voice soft and feminine — all together making a counterfeit so perfect that even John Morgan, on a certain occasion, mistook him for a female.” (Jan. 14, 1865)


A captured Clarke would eventually complain that “he was not guilty for one-tenth of the outrages that he had been charged with and that the Louisville Journal had done him a great injustice.” Maybe he’d never heard that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

The publicity this afternoon, of course, was of the very worst variety, albeit not exactly inimical to the celebrity racket.

“The fall was not more than three feet, and did not break his neck; he choked to death. We have seen a great many persons hung, but never before did we witness such hard struggles and convulsions. It was feared for a time that he would break the lashings. His sufferings, however, were of short duration. Thus ended the career of the notorious Sue Mundy.”

Several historical markers in Kentucky still commemorate that notorious career.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Confederates,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Kentucky,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Separatists,Soldiers,Terrorists,U.S. Military,USA,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

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5 thoughts on “1865: Marcellus Jerome Clarke, “Sue Mundy””

  1. Thomas S. Watson says:

    Marcellus Jerome Clarke never dressed as a female. He had a girl friend whose photos appear in my book “Confederate Guerrilla Sue Mundy.” Capt. William Clarke Quantrill was a Confederate soldier, a better-than-average poet and courted a Nelson County, Ky. girl, but the family said she wasn’t interested in him. Her photo is also in the Sue Mundy book.
    Thomas Shelby Watson watsontom96@yahoo.com

  2. I wrote Confederate Guerrilla Sue Mundy, published by McFarland, with Perry A. Brantley. I helped Frank Rankin with the wording of the historical marker near the site of Clarke’s hanging. I disagreed with some of the wording, but it is basically correct. I think about all the people who read the marker but have no idea what it means or how important it is. Clarke was a bad boy, but he was a dedicated Confederate soldier. Too bad he never knew that he was being made a scapegoat by George Prentice of the Louisville Journal. Prentice picked Clarke to be the object of the “Sue Mundy” tale at random from several former men of Morgan. Clarke never dressed in women’s clothing.
    Thomas Shelby Watson

    1. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

      Hi Thomas,

      I’m a writer as well; mostly true crime but some history (2 books on Custer). I’m also from Louisville Kentucky and am very familiar with the location where “Mundy” was hanged.

      I haven’t read your book, but I’m sure you know that William Clarke Quantrill died just a few blocks up Broadway from the hanging site, at the military prison/ hospital at 10th and Broadway. And it may be that Mundy was being housed there as well.

      Quantrill was buried at the cemetery at 26th Street and Duncan. His skeleton was later moved but some of the bones crumbled and remained in the grave.

      Anyway, I’ll probably be picking up a copy of your book.

      Kevin Sullivan

  3. Helen Cawyer says:

    I am researching a Samuel Beale of Jefferson County, KY. He may have been the son or adopted son (nephew) of Norborne Beale of Spring Station, KY. I read under a list of Confederate prisoners that Samuel Beale was a “rebel aider” (possibly a Rebel Raider like “Sue Munday” Clarke?)

    My question is: Is there a list of the men who helped Marcellus Jerome Clarke?

    Samuel Beale married Elizabeth DuVal of Bardstown, KY on Oct. 2, 1833 (according to KY marriage records). There is a Confederate monument in Bardstown that lists solders who died from there, and there are 17 buried by the monument who were unable to be identified. Could Samuel Beale have been one of these men? I have been unable to find any burial site for him.

  4. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    The location where Mundy was housed before he was dispatched from this mortal coil, was the military prison on the north side of Broadway at 10th Street. And while the military did conduct some executions at this site, Mundy was taken by wagon to a field at 18th Street and Broadway, and hanged on a newly-built scaffold.

    This 10th and Broadway location was also the site of the military prison hospital, and so when the infamous William Clarke Quantrill was wounded in May of 1865 near Taylorsville, KY, he was taken by wagon to this prison where Mundy had been kept, and placed within the prison hospital, where he languished in pain until he died on June 6, 1865.

    Today, the site of this once military prison/hospital is a large, empty paved parking lot. And because there isn’t a building getting in the way, as it were, it’s easy to envision what it all looked like at the close of the Civil War. Most folks passing this spot have no idea what happened here, but I can’t pass it without thinking about it.

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