Discovering Together: Kentucky’s Civil War Landscapes

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Dr. James M. McPherson summarized Kentucky’s role during the American Civil War (1861-1865): “It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the Confederacy would have won the war if it could have gained Kentucky, and, conversely, that the Union’s success in retaining Kentucky as a base for invasions of the Confederate heartland brought eventual Union victory.”

Today, the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS), administrator of the Kentucky Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, is working to highlight the Bluegrass State’s importance during America’s most significant conflict. Working with many partners, KHS is creating Civil War heritage tourism development opportunities, educating students, training teachers, developing initiatives for new scholarship and encouraging events and activities across the commonwealth.

Some current initiatives include:

  • Working to ensure a statewide commemoration. KHS is supporting community-based projects, including exhibits, seminars, and events. Examples include a Civil War exhibit in Paris at the Hopewell Museum (opens February 2011), a Civil War seminar in Winchester (April 2011), a United States Colored Troops grave marker dedication in Simpsonville (April 2011), multiple events at several museums and historic sites in Bowling Green (September 2011) and a Civil War music festival in Frankfort (September 2012).
  • Taking KHS programs to communities. Using existing grant funds, KHS is creating a new HistoryMobile exhibition and Museums-to-Go traveling exhibits. KHS will also work with local entities to install new Civil War historical markers.
  • Encouraging educational initiatives in Kentucky schools. KHS is creating a Civil War traveling trunk for students; developing web-based resources for teachers; instituting teacher professional development opportunities; and encouraging programming at colleges and universities. The Society will also push Civil War programs for the Kentucky Junior Historical Society and National History Day, and will highlight KHS collections that have a Civil War focus.
  • Developing educational programs for the KHS campus, including a new Civil War experience at the Old State Capitol; new Museum Theatre performances; on-site speakers, seminars, and other programs; and Civil War articles for The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society and Kentucky Ancestors.
  • Creating a statewide Civil War Trail that will link Kentucky’s Civil War sites and expand interpretation in many Kentucky communities. Through this trail, many areas that have never been interpreted will tell their Civil War story for the first time, and new websites and smart phone applications will direct the traveling public to discover Kentucky’s unique story.
  • Developing new scholarship through the creation of The Papers of the Kentucky Civil War Governors, Digital Edition. This transcribed, annotated, and searchable online documentary collection of the Civil War governors’ papers will encourage scholarship and shed new light on Kentucky’s importance during the Civil War.
  • Continuing to work with partners to ensure broad participation, including the Kentucky Arts Council, the Kentucky Department of Parks, the Kentucky Heritage Council, the Kentucky Humanities Council, the Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism, the Kentucky Civil War Sites Association, local history organizations, Lincoln sites, the Kentucky Museum and Heritage Alliance, libraries, Civil War Round Tables and more.

When Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear signed an executive order naming KHS as the administrator of the Sesquicentennial Commission, he said, “This will be a four-year commemoration and not a celebration. We don’t want to glorify war. We want to remember the Kentuckians who fought and died in the conflict, the suffering of its people and the changes brought by the war, especially the freedom of African-American slaves.”

Focusing on these themes, and following up on the success of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial, KHS hopes to connect with those interested in Kentucky’s past in order to share the commonwealth’s Civil War history.