Christian County, Kentucky Biographies

Col. Erskine Birch Bassett

COL. ERSKINE BIRCH BASSETT was born in Stephensport, Ky., June 23, 1867, a son of James Hervey and Georgia (Houston) Bassett. His paternal grandparents were Jeremiah and Tryfenia (Birch) Bassett. His mother's parents were Dr. Robert and Mary (Frank) Houston. Col. Bassett bears an unique genealogy, tracing his ancestry back to Thurston Bassett, who was one of the trusted knights of William the Conqueror, at the battle of Hastings, in 1066, and became grand falconer under this king. Two of his ancestors were among the barons who forced King John at the signing of the famous Magna Charta, and this document bears their sign and seal. William Bassett came to America in the ship Fortune, which followed the Mayflower by a few months, and landed also at Plymouth. Richard Bassett was one of the makers and signers of the Constitution of the United States. Colonel Burwell Bassett married a sister of George Washington, and their daughter, Elizabeth, married Benjamin Harrison, and was the mother of William Henry Harrison, ninth President of the United States, and the great-grandmother of Benjamin Harrison, twenty-third President of the United States. Colonel Bassett's ancestors came to Kentucky shortly after the War of the Revolution, and settled at Bassett's Ridge in bracken County, and thus, as they were among the first settlers of America, they were also among the first settlers of Kentucky.

Though born in a country town, Col. Bassett early in life removed with his parents to Louisville, and was educated in that city, and was preparing for an army career through West Point when circumstances caused him to enter a mercantile life, and to satisfy his military inclinations, he joined the famous Louisville Legion in 1883 and saw active duty with them and participated in the many prize drills of that famous organization.

In 1887 he removed to Hopkinsville and was soon after made Second Lieutenant of Company D, Third Kentucky Infantry, and afterwards promoted to First Lieutenant of that organization.

After his Spanish War services, he was appointed by Governor Beckham to the rank of Major in the Third Kentucky Infantry, and from that time was called upon by the Governors of the State, upon every occasion of danger or disorder, and repeatedly received the thanks of the Chief Executive and the judges of the courts for the delicacy and tact, as well as forceful firmness, with which he handled troops upon occasions of public danger.

He was in command of troops during the coal strike in Hopkins and Webster counties, Kentucky, in 1901; again in civil disturbances at Russellville, Ky., in 1905; Greenville, 1906, and in Mayfield, Ky., in 1906, with only fifty men he successfully defended a prisoner against the repeated attacks of a mob of several thousand fighting hand to hand through the streets of that city, accomplishing the end of maintaining the supremacy of the law without serious injury to any but a few of the leaders of the mob.

During the great "Night Rider" troubles in Kentucky (in which almost the entire State was involved) he was called into active service, remaining in the field for a year. The troubles culminated in a raid on Hopkinsville by armed men, at one o'clock in the night. Warehouses were burned, and in less than an hour the night riders had marched out on foot, as they had marched in, leaving their horses hitched two miles from town. Though the city was guarded, Col. Bassett responded to a riot call, organized a posse of ten men, and went in pursuit and in a pitched battle, when the night riders were overtaken, several of them were killed and others, including the leader, were wounded. Col. Bassett was then placed in command of all the troops called out to suppress the reign of terror, to break up the conspiracy and restore conditions of safety and peace; for these services, he received the thanks of the governor by public proclamation, was promoted to Lieutenant - Colonel, and called to the adjutant General's office, as the Adjutant General of Kentucky. Immediately there came into this office such a rattling of dry bones and such live action as it had never known before or since, for in a few months he must accomplish his dream of a life time to put the Kentucky Guard upon such a footing that a call to the firing line would meet with quick and effective response; how it was accomplished in triumphant enthusiasm is one of the wonders of psychological efficiently, a new first regiment was organized, recruited, and equipped at Louisville, the Second and Third Regiments were strengthened and increased to twelve companies and put upon efficient basis, and the First Kentucky brigade was completed and put upon a war footing, and to crown it all, a great school for officers and non-commissioned officers was held in the great armory at Louisville, under the direction of Captain (now General) Paul B. Malone, who was noted as being the best and most enthusiastic and efficient instructor in the Regular Army.

He was called into the Federal service, with his regiment (Third Kentucky ), in June, 1916, and trained and hardened the regiment for border service in which it participated from September, 1916, until March 1917.

In January, 1918, he was promoted to rank of Colonel, for efficiency, and assigned to the 150th Infantry.

In August, 1917, while in camp, at Lexington, Ky., disorders incident to a coal strike in Webster County, Kentucky, reached such a state as to get beyond control of the Governor, and he requested Federal intervention, whereupon Colonel Bassett was sent to take charge of the situation. Such prompt and efficient measures were taken that within a week after Colonel Bassett's arrival upon the scene, the strike was declared off, the lesser offenders had fled, and the leaders were in confinement under the jurisdiction of the Federal court.

Soon after arrival overseas, the 38th Division, of which Colonel Bassett's regiment was a part, was broken up for replacements, that is, to supply units that had been depleted by war losses, and Colonel Bassett was assigned to the 367th infantry of the 92nd Division. At the signing of the Armistice, it was in the front line after considerable advance, with the first battalion in the firing line, and the two other battalions in support and reserve. He received a Croix de guerre, and was recommended for promotion to a generalship by the French. Colonel Bassett continued in command of this regiment during the difficult days succeeding the armistice.

Upon the closing of the war, Colonel Bassett returned to his mercantile pursuits, and now owns and conducts one of Hopkinsville's most beautiful stores, proving that:

"There's but the twinkling of a star
Between the man of peace and war."

Col. Bassett was married to Miss Hallie E. Brown, and to them were born James Stanley, Estell (Mrs. Morton), Walter Cross, Margaret and Elizabeth ( Mrs. Radford). In addition to the military positions he has filled, Colonel Bassett has been a Commissioner of the Western State Hospital, Regent Western State Normal College, and Adjutant General of Kentucky. he has been an influential leader of the Republican party, and a member of the Methodist Church.

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