Col. Sidney Barnes

Family Information

Provided by Ralph Barnes and the Estill County Kentucky GENWEB site.


Colonel Sidney M Barnes

Most Estill County residents are unaware of a native born son who came within a whisker of becoming Governor of Kentucky, is enshrined on a mountain top in Tennessee and earned national recognition for his work on the Federal Courts. Sidney Madison Barnes is arguabley the most notable individual ever born within the boundaries of Estill County. In addition to his military and national achievements, he was a leading citizen during the county's critical formative years and deserves to be remembered.

Sidney was born in 1821 to John Harris Barnes and Lucy Grubbs. John and Lucy Barnes, while still in their twenties, died when one of the frequent Typhoid Fever epidemics struck Irvine in 1823/24. At the death of their parents, Sidney and his younger brother Thomas Barnes, were sent to live with an uncle in Montgomery County. Thomas Grubbs was a wealthy plantation owner and insisted that his eldest nephew become a farmer. However Sidney was interested in following his father into the legal profession. When he reached the age of eighteen he rebelled against his uncle and returned to Irvine to pursue a career in law. His net assets when he arrived in his native county were a horse, a dollar and a watch. Sidney did odd jobs around the courthouse while his father's old friend, Judge Burnham, tutored him in law. After completing his legal training, he became one of Estill County's most successful attorneys for the next three decades.

Sidney married Elizabeth Mize in 1841, daughter of Isaac and Elizabeth Mize. The couple had six children, several of which became prominent in their own right. Their eldest son, Thomas Harris Barnes, left Centre College to become one of the youngest persons ever promoted to the rank of Major in the U S Army. In later life he was appointed Prosecuting Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas by President McKinley. Another son, James Keith Barnes served as Postmaster of Fort Smith, Arkansas.

When the Civil War erupted Sidney rallied to the side of the Union. He was the prime force in the formation of the famous Eighth Kentucky Infantry Regiment. The regiment was comprised mostly of men from Estill and her neighboring counties. The soldiers earned national acclaim for their heroic efforts in capturing the crest of Lookout Mountain in that celebrated battle. The names of Sidney and several of his subordinates are enshrined on a plaque atop the precipice. Sidney's plantation at Estill Springs became the training base for the Eighth Infantry while the regiment was being assembled. Sidney had acquired the estate from his father-in-law just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. Barnes was given a Colonel's commission and assumed command of the regiment. As commanding officer he is credited for much of the success achieved by the unit.

Colonel Barnes paid a heavy price for his allegiance to the Union. John Hunt Morgan, who had been a comrade of Thomas H Barnes during the Mexican-American War, occupied Estill Springs briefly in 1863. Morgan permitted his troops to ravage the estate during the occupation. The sensless destruction is confirmation of the animosity that developed between former friends due to the war. When Sidney marched off to fight the Rebels he turned his law practice over to a local attorney named Robert Friend. He entrusted his financial affairs to his brother who was then an attorney in Madison County. Thomas Barnes was holding money to make mortgage payments on his brother's plantation when he died suddenly and Sidney's money became tied up in Thomas's estate. In addition the government failed to keep its promise to reimburse Sidney for his expenses in forming and training the Eighth Infantry Regiment. As a result Barnes lost Estill Springs and somehow Robert Friend acquired the estate earning the enmity of his benefactor. When the Colonel returned to his law practice after the War his health as well as his financial holdings were greatly deteriorated. His son, Thomas Harris Barnes, joined his father's law office in Irvine. Things were not quite the same for the Barnes family after the war and they soon left Irvine and moved to Somerset where Sidney again became active in politics.

Sidney Barnes first ventured into politics in 1848 when he won a seat to the Kentucky General Assembly as the Representative from Estill County. In 1867, the returning war hero became a candidate for Governor on the Radical Union ticket and ran second to John L Helm in a three man race. The following year he ran for a seat in the United States Congress. He lost in a closely contested race that eventually was decided in the House of Representatives. Kentucky remained in the Union during the Civil War but public sympathy shifted to favor the South after the war. The former Colonel's lack of political success reflects the population's bias against Northern war heroes at that time.

The family left Somerset after a brief time and moved to Arkansas where Sidney became a prominent member of the Little Rock community. He served as a delegate to the Arkansas Constitutional Convention in 1874.

In 1878 President Hays appointed him Prosecuting Attorney for the territory of New Mexico. It was in New Mexico that he became good friends with Lew Wallace, author of Ben Hur. Sidney had another literary connection through his cousin, Joel Chandler Harris, who wrote the Uncle Remus stories.

Sidney M. Barnes died in May of 1890 and was buried with honors in the National Cemetery at Fort Smith, Arkansas. The Federal Courts were closed on the day of his funeral; an indication of the high esteem in which this Estill County native was held.