Richard Sparkman is a man from Kentucky that we know very little about. What we do know has been provided by his descendants who are still alive today. Sparkman was born in 1836*, in Perry County, Kentucky. From his enlistment and roll papers, we can assume that he later lived in Letcher County, Kentucky, and was probably from the Whitesburg area.
He enlisted in Company B of the 13th Kentucky Cavalry—a Confederate Army Unit on September 29, 1862, during the Civil War, and was on contract with the Confederate Army for three years. However, on September 30, he was reported “deserted”, which means he left the Army without being authorized to do so. Sparkman did not want to fight in the Civil War, and so he left the camp, did not report for duty, and tried to escape the war. However, he was caught and punished sometime later, and forced to fight for the Confederate Army.
Nearly two years later—on May 31, 1864—near Johnson County, Kentucky, Sparkman became a prisoner of war by the Union Army. He was sent to Rock Island Prison Barracks where he held. He later died and was buried on January 24, 1865. He was 28 or 29 years old. The Rock Island prison camp was notorious for its poor conditions, so it is likely—because of his young age when he died—that he developed some sort of disease, like smallpox, which eventually led him to his death.1
According to some records, Sparkman may have enlisted in the Union Army for “frontier service”, which is a group of men who explored or patrolled the uncivilized, unknown Western parts of the United States at the time.
Before being enlisted, he had a wife and four children. He married Sarah Owens and together they had Uriah, Nancy, Elizabeth Ann, and John. After the war, and after hearing of Sparkman’s death, Sarah remarried.2
Richard Sparkman may be lost to history, however from what we do know, we can see that Sparkman was a man of integrity: he did not want to fight in the Civil War, and so he deserted the Confederate Army. He faced prison just so he could escape the fighting. Desertion did not—and still doesn’t—come with a light punishment, and so this act can be considered very brave in and of itself. Sparkman was clearly a brave man and his story—while brief—is not one that should be forgotten.
*Sparkman’s birthdate is listed as 01/01/1836 for sorting in the Veterans Legacy database, however his exact date of birth is unrecorded