Civil War Governors of Kentucky

A Research Collection for the Digital Age

The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition is a multi-year documentary-editing project dedicated to locating, imaging, transcribing, annotating and publishing documents associated with all five of the state’s Civil War governors, including the three Union governors, Beriah Magoffin (1859-62), James F. Robinson (1862-63) and Thomas E. Bramlette (1863-67), and the two provisional Confederate governors, George W. Johnson (1861-62) and Richard Hawes (1862-65). This edition will focus on the period between November 1860, the date of Lincoln’s election as president, and the end of December 1865, roughly corresponding with the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery. Each of these national milestones signaled a pivotal change in Kentucky’s political and social order. Groundbreaking in its conceptualization, Civil War Governors of Kentucky will provide new ways to look at the society of this era.

The systematic approach of the projects will immediately place it alongside leading National Historical Publications and Records Commission- and National Endowment for the Humanities-funded documentary edition projects such as:

  • The Papers of Abraham Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum)
  • The Dolley Madison Digital Edition (University of Virginia)
  • The Freedmen and Southern Society Project (University of Maryland)


The Civil War Governors of Kentucky will not only be a fitting legacy of the Civil War Sesquicentennial but also help fulfill the Kentucky Historical Society’s mission to advance new scholarship in Kentucky, regional and national history.

Building a Unique and Groundbreaking Documentary Edition

Kentucky’s chief executives stood at the intersection of public and private life. Therefore, the documents that will be included in the Civil War Governors of Kentucky do much more than reveal the governors’ views on the most pressing matters of the day. They open a new window on essential but relatively unexplored issues that will advance the social, legal, military, political and cultural history of this era in U.S. history. Civil War Governors of Kentucky will make it possible to better understand the ordeal of the Civil War on the local, regional and national level. It will become a required source for any serious researcher investigating this society and its history in this era and it will provide an opportunity to transform and enrich the presentation of the history of the commonwealth to students in our schools. This research collection is scalable both chronologically and geographically. The model produced for Civil War Governors of Kentucky is intended to be replicable for other projects. In short, project directors expect it to become a template for the construction of online documentary editions in the 21st century.

The documents in this edition will:

  • Breathe new life into current debates over Kentucky’s role as a key western border state in the Civil War and promote knowledge of the commonwealth’s history nationally and internationally.
  • Reshape the terms of debate over the diverse, often conflicting meanings that Americans attributed to the war and the changes it wrought in their daily lives.
  • Uncover patterns and previously unavailable insights into the development of state authority and sociopolitical dynamics and structures and reveal the contingent nature of Unionist sentiment and local violence throughout the commonwealth.
  • Provide the basis for more in-depth studies of the destruction of slavery in Kentucky and the state’s transition to a post-emancipation society, offering glimpses into the actions of enslaved people as the peculiar institution began to erode.
  • Enable historians, political scientists, historical sociologists, anthropologists, linguists and scholars working in related disciplines to produce scholarship of greater depth and nuance, while charting courses altogether new for this region and perhaps others.


Building Digital Humanities Infrastructure for the 21st Century

While upholding the standards of the traditional scholarly documentary edition, editors will seek out and incorporate the most useful existing digital technologies to develop an electronic interface that both opens new analytical possibilities and conforms to the new ways scholars actually work in the digital age. Editors will make available online  a beta version of the site which will allow for rigorous testing. Editors will work in collaboration with researchers in various fields who will provide feedback for improvement. To produce the web interface, project staff are consulting with leading historians, documentary editors and recognized leaders in the emerging field of digital humanities, such as the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

The web interface of this documentary edition will:

• Include annotated document transcripts connected to readable lower-resolution digital images of each page of each document online.
• Be fully searchable to the word level.
• Allow users to query the documents in open-ended ways.
• Enable the integration of analytical and digital tools that provide researchers different ways to reach new conclusions and achieve new insights.

 Building Partnerships

Initial planning for the Civil War Governors of Kentucky was made possible by generous support provided by the James Graham Brown Foundation of Louisville. The project also has been awarded a $25,000 grant from the Gheens Foundation, also of Louisville. In June and July 2011, respectively, the project received the official endorsement of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and a $210,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Civil War Governors of Kentucky already has attracted the support of leading historians and institutional partners. Editors are collaborating with leading content experts, documentary editors and digital humanities specialists in order to develop the best possible research collection for the digital age.

Editorial Advisory Board

  • Edward L. Ayers, President, University of Richmond
  • Douglas A. Boyd, Director, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky
  • Lynda L. Crist, Project director and editor, Papers of Jefferson Davis, Rice University
  • A. Glenn Crothers, Associate professor of history, University of Louisville, and director of research, The Filson Historical Society
  • John E. Kleber, Professor Emeritus, Morehead State University
  • James C. Klotter, Professor of history and State Historian of Kentucky, Georgetown College
  • Mark L. Kornbluh, Dean, College of Arts & Sciences and professor of history, University of Kentucky
  • Glenn W. LaFantasie, Richard Frockt Family Professor of Civil War History and director, Institute for Civil War Studies, Western Kentucky University
  • Thomas C. Mackey, Professor of history, University of Louisville
  • Stephanie McCurry, Professor of history, University of Pennsylvania
  • Leslie Rowland, Associate professor of history and director, Freedmen and Southern Society Project, University of Maryland
  • John David Smith, Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Daniel W. Stowell, Director and editor, Papers of Abraham Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
  • Amy Murrell Taylor, Associate professor of history, University of Kentucky

Institutional Partners

  • Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives
  • Documents Compass (Virginia Foundation for the Humanities)
  • University of Kentucky, College of Arts & Sciences
  • University of Kentucky Libraries
  • National Endowment for the Humanities
  • National Historical Publications and Records Commission