By Hillary Delaney
As every Kentuckian knows, Abraham Lincoln belongs to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Indiana and Illinois would like to claim him, but the 16th President’s birthplace was in the bluegrass. Beyond his childhood roots, Kentucky’s place in Lincoln’s daily thoughts, however may have been limited to our pivotal position in the Civil War, and his effort to keep the Union intact. During the war, Lincoln was quoted as saying, “I’d like to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.”
Here in our area, we did have our links to President Lincoln, however tenuous. The grandparents of Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, were once the owners of the land upon which the Gaines Tavern was built, but that’s a bit of a stretch. There is some indication that one of our earliest families, the Parkers, may also have been related to Lincoln, also through the Todds, but this is also indirect. What we do have, however, is a posthumous link to Lincoln, both direct and significant. Jacob Klopp, a longtime resident of Belleview, played a role in the execution of Lincoln’s assassination conspirators.
Klopp, a native of Germany, was living in Cincinnati before the war, and joined the 4th Ohio Independent Light Artillery, enlisting in 1861. He mustered out in August of 1864, in Cincinnati. He reenlisted in the 6th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry at Columbus on 8 April, 1865: one week before Lincoln’s assassination. Jacob’s regiment was tasked for duty in Washington D. C., where they were given a most serious assignment: guarding the recently arrested conspirators in the assassination of the President.
The regiment was assigned to the old capitol prison where the accused were held until the public hanging of four of them, including Mary Surratt, the landlady of the boarding house in which the plot was hatched. This was riveting for the public, as the Civil War was barely over, and Surratt would have the dubious distinction of becoming the first woman ever executed by the federal government. This was especially difficult for the men who were tasked with judging the accused. Five of the nine men on the military tribunal petitioned for clemency for Surratt; none was granted.
The day was hot, and even the executioner himself was made physically ill by the combination of temperature and circumstance. Many of the guards gave detailed interviews about their experience, but none attributed to Klopp has come to light His service and witness to the execution are mentioned in the Boone County Recorder in 1897; presumably, he told someone of his experience. Klopp settled in Belleview after his 1869 marriage, and lived there until his death in 1903. His death was covered in several area papers.