Daniel Noble (1838 – 1903)
Confederate Mounted Infantryman and Naval Hero

Manton Ray Cornett

On Thursday, October 25, 2012, a small gathering took place on a hillside near Gilmore in Wolfe County, KY. The group consisted of three members of the Ben Caudill Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans; Faron Sparkman, Lawrence Cook and Manton Ray Cornett. Sparkman and Cornett had arrived from Hazard while Lawrence and his wife had travelled from Pike County. The group had come together to place a very special marker on the grave of a man who lived an incredible young life.

Daniel Noble’s Medal of Honor Grave Marker

Daniel Noble was born in Breathitt County in 1838, the son of Hiram and Sarah “Sally” Francis Noble. Like most young men in the area, he considered himself a farmer. Still single when the ‘war between the states’ began, he and two of his older brothers, John Whorton and William Palmer, joined the Confederate Army. From September 23, 1862 until July 7, 1863, Daniel would serve as a Private in Company G of Colonel Ben Caudill’s Confederate 13th Kentucky Cavalry (designated as the 10th Kentucky Mounted Infantry in 1863). For months, they rode throughout southeastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia. Then, Daniel’s life would take an almost unbelievable turn.

While in Gladeville, VA, the town now called Wise, Daniel, and about 120 of his Confederate comrades, including his commanding officer, were captured. A Union force, led by Major John Mason Brown, had pushed through Pound Gap and caught them by surprise. From Gladeville, the prisoners of war were taken back through Kentucky to the Ohio River. On July 18th, 1863, they arrived at Kemper Barracks in Cincinnati. Two days later, most of the men were transferred to Camp Chase Prison in Columbus, Ohio. After nearly five weeks, Daniel was transferred again; this time to the appalling Union prison in Chicago, Illinois known as Camp Douglas. There were very few ways to leave Camp Douglas. Many Southern men would die there from disease, deprivation and exposure; tragically, their remains are still there today.

In December of 1863, part of the U.S. Navy’s fleet visited Chicago. One reason for being there was to round up as many new recruits as possible. Daniel, and many others who were healthy enough to be chosen, realized that harsh weather was in store, their shelter was inadequate, food was in short supply, and that this might be their best chance for survival. From December 22 to December 26, eighty Confederate prisoners of war from Camp Douglas were selected to become ‘landsmen’ in the United States Navy. A ‘landsman’ is an inexperienced seaman; in today’s terms, they might be called ‘landlubbers’. Daniel’s official date of enlistment was December 23, 1863. On that day, he was described as 23 years of age; a 5’ 8 1/2” citizen of Breathitt County, KY with blue eyes, light hair, fair complexion, and having two small scars on his left thigh.

Daniel’s first naval assignment was aboard the U. S. S. South Carolina, which was part of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, stationed off the coast of Charlestown, SC. The screw-propelled steamer was capable of 12 knots and carried four 8-inch guns and one 32-pounder. Prior to Daniel joining her crew, the South Carolina had seen service from Boston to Mosquito Inlet, Florida. Daniel would remain with the U.S.S. South Carolina until January 25, 1864. While life aboard the South Carolina may have been relatively mundane, Daniel’s naval experience was about to become both exceptional and unforgettable. On January 26, 1864, he was transferred to and became a crew member of the U.S.S. Metacomet. This new ship was a side-wheeled steam-powered gunboat, assigned to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron near Mobile Bay, Alabama. She could run at 12 ½ knots and carried four 9-pound guns, one 12-pound gun, two 24-pound guns and two 100-pound guns. (These sizes refer to the weight of the projectiles, not to the weight of the weapon.)

U.S.S. Metacomet

On June 6, 1864 the Metacomet captured the British blockade-runner Donegal, and on June 30, helped destroy another blockade-runner, the Ivanhoe. On August 5, Union Admiral David Farragut led his 17-ship fleet, including the Metacomet, into Mobile Bay, intent on destroying or capturing the two Confederate forts and the ships protecting them. The Battle of Mobile Bay was about to begin.

Upon entering Mobile Bay, the lead ship, the U.S.S. Tecumseh, struck a ‘torpedo’, better known today as a mine, and began to sink. This prompted Admiral Farragut to encourage his ships’ captains to continue the attack by uttering those now-famous words, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead”.

As the battle ensued, the Metacomet helped capture the Confederate gunboat C.S.S. Tennessee and the C.S.S. Selma. The crew of the Metacomet was also directed to rescue the crew of the ill-fated Tecumseh. Six crewmen, including Landsman Daniel Noble, were dispatched from the Metacomet in a small boat. Their goal was to rescue as many crewmen from the Tecumseh as possible. Through their heroic efforts, they were able to save ten Union sailors from an almost certain death. For their daring deed, all six crewmen of the Metacomet were later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Soon after the Battle of Mobile Bay, the Metacomet was sent to the coast of Texas, where the crew captured a blockade-runner named Susanna on November 28 and the schooner Sea Witch on December 31. While in New Orleans on January 1, 1865, Daniel deserted the U. S. Navy and began making his way back to Kentucky.

On January 15, 1866, Daniel Noble was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The citation reads: “For the President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Landsman Daniel Noble, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving as Landsman on board the U.S.S. Metacomet. Landsman Noble served among the boat’s crew which went to the rescue of the U. S. Monitor Tecumseh when that vessel was struck by a torpedo in passing enemy forts in Mobile Bay, Alabama, 5 August 1864. Landsman Noble braved the enemy fire which was said by the admiral to be ‘one of the most galling’ he had ever seen and aided in rescuing from death ten of the crew of the Tecumseh, thereby eliciting the admiration of both friend and foe.”

We know little about Daniel’s life after the war. Since he didn’t exactly leave the U. S. Navy on friendly terms, and since he was living in a remote area, making communication with the ‘outside world’ difficult, it is very likely that he never knew about the Medal of Honor award. We do know that he applied for a Union pension, which was ‘Rejected’ in 1890. We know that his two marriages produced eight children, and that the family spent most of the post-war years in Wolfe County, near Campton. And finally, we know that Daniel died in 1903 and is buried in the Childers Cemetery at Gilmore, in Wolfe County, KY.

We also know that Daniel received an upright Confederate headstone from Veterans’ Affairs in 2007. At that time, local researchers were totally unaware of his experiences beyond Camp Douglas and his enlistment in the U.S. Navy. That new information first surfaced in February, 2012, when Mr. Don Morfe, a member of the Medal of Honor Society, contacted Faron Sparkman, one of the researchers who had completed the process that led to Daniel’s Confederate headstone being placed on his grave. The Society had attempted to obtain a Union headstone with Medal of Honor recognition, and had been refused. The Veterans’ Administration informed the Society that the only way they would grant their request would be for the Confederate marker to be removed from Daniel’s grave. This seemed undesirable, even unacceptable, to all parties concerned. The only other alternative would be to use private funds to purchase a reasonable facsimile from a private monument company. That option was explored, and eventually, a marker was purchased by the Noble Family Association, produced by Appalachian Monument in Mayking, KY, and placed by members or the Ben Caudill Camp, S.C.V.

Cornett, Sparkman and Cook at Daniel Noble’s Grave

Daniel’s grave, with his unique combination of headstones, is located on a wooded hillside, east of Highway 1419 in Wolfe County, just north of Lindon Drive. The GPS coordinates are 37º 44.877’N and 83º 21.992’W.