Document Analysis: John Hunt Morgan’s Recruitment Handbill

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized


By David W. Locke, Monmouth Regional High School, Tinton Falls, NJ

By the spring and summer of 1863, the year commonly known as the turning point of the Civil War, John Hunt Morgan, against orders, determined to strike north, bringing fear and dread of his hand-picked, horse mounted raiders to the other side of the Ohio River. Timing mirrored that of Robert E. Lee’s bold invasion above the Mason-Dixon Line, which witnessed the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” The Battle of Gettysburg, the biggest of the war, July 1, 2 and 3, 1863, culminated with the Union repulse of the famed Pickett’s Charge on day three. Virginians briefly broke through the line at Cemetery Ridge but were soon overwhelmed by superior numbers. Lee’s battered, but not beaten, Army of Northern Virginia withdrew across the Potomac to safety in the Old Dominion. There the brutal struggle continued nearly two more bloody years. Later in July, Morgan and most of his men were captured in what became known as “The Great Raid,” but not before wreaking havoc, attacking the furthest north of any Confederate force and, most significantly, contributing to a standard employed effectively in later wars, guerilla style tactics; stealth, speed & deception. (Bailey)

Grant’s siege of Vicksburg ended with Confederate surrender on Independence Day, 1863. The victory secured the mighty Mississippi for the Union and split the South in two. The “Anaconda Plan” squeezed the Confederacy, but there was still considerable fight left in the Rebel elite­—those remaining lean and mean battle hardened veterans. While national attention was focused on Gettysburg and Vicksburg, General Morgan was about to make some headlines himself.

John Hun Morgan was born in the heart of Dixie, in Huntsville, Alabama, on June 1, 1825.  The Morgan’s moved to Lexington, Kentucky while John was still young. In 1846, the Manifest Destiny President, James K. Polk, provoked the Mexican War, and Morgan enthusiastically enlisted in a cavalry unit. His service earned him a promotion to 1st Lieutenant. Morgan’s contribution to victory at the Battle of Buena Vista ignited a military mindset that continued after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the conflict. He then entered and established a thriving hemp manufacturing business, but martial matters excited him more, motivating him to form a volunteer militia company, the “Lexington Rifles.” These were Kentucky men who, like Morgan, saw growing division between North and South in the turbulent 1850s. The increasing influence of abolitionism, evidenced in the wildly popular novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a virtual civil war in “Bleeding Kansas,” and the emerging Republican Party were like darkening clouds to the southern way of life.

Kentucky was a conflicted state positioned literally in the middle of the country. As one of four border slave states, Kentucky’s commercial connections were seemingly everywhere. The state had critical links to both the agricultural South and industrial North. Both regions desired the commonwealth’s horses, tobacco, cattle, corn and wheat. The Bluegrass state was also a thoroughfare for the slave trade between the upper and lower South. Young Abraham Lincoln likely saw the many manacled suffering souls, heading south and west, shuffling in front of his boyhood Hodgenville log cabin, destined for large plantations down river. Most likely it was here he first witnessed the “peculiar institution.” (7/17/2013 personal notes)

Lincoln’s “beau ideal,” fellow Kentuckian Henry Clay, Sr., labored intensively for decades to keep the diverse interests and drifting regions together with a federal program known as the “American System,” consisting of internal improvements, a strong national bank, and protective tariffs for the nation’s industries. He also sponsored critical compromise legislation in 1820, 1833, and 1850, each averting possible conflict, hence his moniker, “The Great Pacificator.” After Clay’s death in 1852, as well as that of fellow nationalist, epic orator and fellow Whig, Daniel Webster, there was a dearth of those placing the interest of the nation as a whole first, and the slide toward civil war accelerated.

Regarding context of the recruiting document, like most Kentuckians, John Hunt Morgan initially hoped war could be avoided. After his wife died in 1861—perhaps restraining himself till then (her family being Union supporters)— Morgan raised a Confederate flag over his hemp factory in Lexington. Kentucky officially remained neutral, but he galloped south to the Volunteer State and joined the Confederates at Camp Boone. Colonel Morgan of the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry soon was respected as a daring and fierce fighter. After action at Shiloh, Morgan’s cavalry led raids like lightning against Union forces in Kentucky and Tennessee, earning the nickname, “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy.” He and his men captured supplies and prisoners. When he captured 1200 Union soldiers in a July 1862 raid, he quickly became a nemesis of the North. The “Thunderbolt” struck and disappeared before much could be done, leaving a bewildered foe and devastation in his wake. Applause and praise rose throughout the South.

“I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game,” lamented Lincoln, so, in 1862, to keep the state in the Union fold, like Maryland, the writ of habeas corpus was suspended. Besides holding suspected Rebels in prison, others were exiled to the South, even women and children (Harris, 114). One “tyrant” Kentuckians needed “liberation” from, was “despot” (Morgan Handbill) Union general Jeremiah T. Boyle, determined by the Union state military board to have made “indiscriminate arrests” and produced “a dangerous state of things.” (Harris, 115-116)

In this atmosphere of July 1862 the handbill was printed and posted in Georgetown and Scott counties. Morgan had become a rising Confederate star, and thus magnet for recruits. Through the summer and fall of 1862 Morgan’s troops swelled to 4,000, as the promoted “General” Morgan was commissioned for the “Christmas Raid;” his most successful. Thwarting among others, Union General William Rosecrans and fellow Kentuckian John Marshall Harlan, in this dramatic, daring and deadly raid, the “Thunderbolt” and his men “captured and paroled over 1,800 prisoners, inflicted 150 casualties, burned a total of 2,290 feet of railroad bridgework, destroyed 35 miles of track and telegraph line, and trashed three depots, three water stations, several culverts and cattle guards, and large quantities of Federal stores. In doing this, Morgan suffered 26 casualties: 2 dead and 24 wounded. The railroad was closed for five weeks from December 26, when Morgan burned the bridge over Bacon Creek to February 1, when the damage was repaired and the tracks were reopened.” (Asher)

With Morgan’s stellar success, Confederate general Braxton Bragg authorized another raid into Kentucky in the summer of 1863. The goal was to draw Union troops away from their upcoming campaign for Tennessee and continued siege of Vicksburg. However, knowing Morgan’s daring and aggressive nature, Bragg forbade crossing the Ohio. Flying high with victory in several small Kentucky battles, Morgan defied orders and began raiding throughout Indiana and Ohio, covering about 1,000 miles before being surrounded and surrendering at Salineville, Ohio. One thousandalso represents the heavy toll of those who answered the call of his handbill to ride and raid, but were captured. The Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus could not keep him though. Morgan and six officers tunneled to freedom. Upon his return to the South, not trusted by Bragg for disobeying orders, Morgan was given command of the Trans-Allegheny. He did some raiding, but was killed in a skirmish less than a year later in Greeneville, Tennessee. (Hickman & Warren)

Sadly today, as the increasing size, scope, and abuse of federal power is happening regularly, the spirit of John Hunt Morgan’s resistance to tyranny resonates with many in the North as well as in the South. 21st Century “Handbills” in the form of constant online and television news, websites, emails, and smartphones inform aggrieved citizens they can rally, organize and take action, to counter threats to liberty. But perhaps through Biblical, Christ centered prayer and example (II Chronicles 7:14), “the land will be healed,” true positive change can occur, and Constitutional government reestablished.


Sources Consulted:

Asher, Tim, “John Hunt Morgan’s Christmas Raid.”

Bailey, J. Lee, May 2013 Civil War News Book Review, David L. Mowery, Morgan’s Great Raid: The Remarkable Expedition from Kentucky to Ohio, 2013, History Press.

Harris, William C., Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union, University Press of Kansas, 2011.

Hickman, Kennedy, American Civil War – John Hunt Morgan.

July 17, 2013 personal notes taken at Lincoln Boyhood Historic Site, Hodgenville, KY.

Kentucky Historical Society Digital Collections, John Hunt Morgan Handbill.

Timeline of the Civil War in Kentucky. -

Warren, Rich, “Ohio’s New John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail.”

Post-War Slavery

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

McRobertsBy Jacqueline Katz, Wellesley High School, Wellesley Hills, MA, and Melissa Katz, PS 73X, Bronx, NY

The adoption of the 13th amendment marked the official end of legal slavery in the United States, yet because the freedmen were subjected to a labor system that favored whites, an institution remained in Kentucky and the rest of the South that was remarkably similar to slavery. The “Estate of Andrew McRoberts slave sale document” from the Kentucky Historical Society archives reveals the practice of selling enslaved persons to resolve debts through a public auction.  

Undersigned Executors of Andrew McRoberts Dec’d would make the following report to the Lincoln County Court of the sale of two slaves which fell into their hands after the death of Margaret McRoberts.  The sale of said slaves was made at public auction before the Court House door in Stanford on Monday 2nd day of Jany 1865 as follows 1st Moses to Geo McRoberts at $360.00 2nd Thomas to John McRoberts at $75.00 Hire of Moses for part of the year 1864 $105.00 $540.00 Which amounts in the aggregate To the sum of $540. remaining in their hands as Executors aforesaid, and now ready for distribution amongst the Heirs of said decedent.  All of which is respectfully reported March 10th 1865 John McRoberts Exec William M. Higgins Exec [1]

Though the sale of the slaves represented in this document was legal at the time, the practice of selling African-Americans in public places to pay debts continued after 1865. Florida

This image [2] from the Library of Congress could easily be a pictorial representation of the McRoberts slave sale document. It is important to note, however, that the image is from 1867 and depicts a freedman, not a slave, being sold to pay his fines in Monticello, Florida. The similarity between a slave sale document and Reconstruction image is actually not so surprising. The former slave states like Kentucky, where many citizens felt betrayed by a government that had stated it would not abolish slavery, protected and maintained their former way of life, i.e. controlling black labor, despite the passage of the 13th amendment. As historian David Oshinsky posits, “[e]mancipation had ended slavery but had not destroyed the assumptions upon which slavery was based.”[3]

While some freedmen moved north, most remained in the South to farm, particularly where it seemed the Freedman’s Bureau would oversee contracts for sharecropping, tenant farming or purchasing land. While the Bureau did help with negotiating these contracts, its main prerogative was to ensure the freedmen became self-supporting rather than to get them fair contracts.  Even then, some residents in the eastern half of Kentucky refused to hire freedmen who registered with the bureau.[4] By the 1870s, the role of the Freedman’s Bureau was dissolved and freedmen negotiated contracts without any aid, leading to further unjust treatment of whites towards blacks. As one plantation owner said, “’Let everything proceed as formerly, the contractual relation being substituted for that of master and slave.’”[5] Groups in Kentucky assembled to plan out the new labor system and favored contracts lasting one year.[6]  In practice, these contracts worked to the disadvantage of blacks, as they could not testify against planters when planters broke the contract and furthermore, could be dismissed from the contract for minor infractions.[7] 

The aforementioned minor infractions put many former slaves in the position of the freedman in Monticello, Florida.  Blacks who violated contracts were sold to pay off the rest of their contract or, worse, were entered into the prison labor system.  Violating contracts was not the only reason that freedmen could be forced into labor.  The emergence of “pig laws” (based on a Mississippi law), where black perpetrators of minor thefts received sentences of years in prison, became a way to create a labor system that was not only cheaper than slavery (convicts were more replaceable than slaves), but also legal; it did not violate the 13th amendment because involuntary servitude was a punishment for crime.  Vagrancy laws were also established, forcing freedmen into signing contracts, even if they knew they were unfair, to avoid arrest for being “idle.”[8] Once sentenced to jail, these freedmen were forced into plantation labor systems or fined. If they could not pay their fine, they were sold to the highest bidder for forced work.  These workers comprised the new forced labor system of Kentucky and the rest of the South. A black freedman noted, “It looks to me, that the white people are putting in prison all that they can get their hands on.”[9] By the 1870s, jails became full of freedmen who had violated their contracts, minor laws or arrested for vagrancy.

By the end beginning of the 20th century, however, the convict leasing system was largely limited to the Deep South. The states “authorized the hiring out of virtually every convict in the state […] after dismantling its penitentiary.  Railroads, mining and lumber companies, and planters competed for this new form of involuntary labor.”[10] As the numbers of convicts rose, measures were taken to ensure the obedience of the convicts and so convict labor came to resemble the plantation system strongly.  Upon entry, through a justice system that worked against freedmen, the inmates were characterized similarly to the fugitive slave ads that ran in newspapers across the country prior to the Civil War.  An ad from the Frankfort Tri-Weekly Commonwealth in March 1863, described “a negro man calling himself Nelson […], about 21 years of age, 5 feet 2 inches high, weighing 140 pounds, dark brown skin, think break, full round face, thick lips, flat nose, and high forehead, scar on back of right hand.”[11] Over 30 years after the 13th amendment, a register from Parchman Farm, a convict labor camp, printed a similar description for a convict: “Age, 38 years; height 5 feet, 8 inches; weight, 139 lbs; nativity, TN; complexion, mulatto; hair, black; eyes, brown; mole on stomach; narrow face; narrow head; black mole on cheek near nose; has deep scowl between eyes.”[12]  African-Americans, as part of a new forced labor system, were seen and characterized in a similar way as to when they were enslaved. Living conditions were also comparable to those of slaves. At Parchman Farm, convicts slept in communal cabins surrounded by barred windows that resembled slave quarter cabins. White overseers monitored their labor and had drivers to discipline and regulate the workforce. Furthermore, on the camps, corporal punishment was common. This included whipping, which of course had strong racial overtones after having been used against slaves for centuries.[13] While corporal punishment was outlawed by states outside the South by 1900, this practice remained common in the South through the 1950s.

Clearly the passage of the 13th amendment did not guarantee freedom for the freedmen. For a variety of economic, political and social reasons, documents produced prior to the passage of the 13th amendment strongly resemble documents produced as late as 1900.  While slavery was outlawed by 1865, features of the slave system continued to be prevalent for decades afterward and arguments could be made that its effects are still felt today.

[4] Howard, 97.

[5] Foner,  61.

[6] Howard, 95.

[7] Howard, 96.

[8] Foner 93.

[9] Foner, 250.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Frankfort Tri-Weekly Commonwealth, March 23rd, 1863.

[12] Oshinsky, 138.

[13] Oshinsky, 149.

Works Cited:

Foner, Eric. A Short History of Reconstruction. New York: Harper Perennial, 1990. Print.

Howard, Victor B. Black Liberation in Kentucky: Emancipation and Freedom, 1862-1884. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1983. Print.

Oshinsky, David M. Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Print.

Taylor, James E.  Selling a Freedman to Pay His Fine, at Monticello , Florida. 1867. Wood engraving. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

Just Call Me Switzerland! Kentucky’s “Neutrality” During the Civil War

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

SmithBy Heather MacKenzie, Eagle’s Landing Middle School, McDonough, Georgia

In the years, months, and weeks leading up to the fateful attack on Ft. Sumter, when the threat of war was no longer probable, but imminent, lines were drawn in our nation, our states, and in our homes. Sectionalism led way to secession and following the cannon fire that echoed from the Charleston Harbor, compromise was no longer an option.  For many the decision to fight was personal and an effort to maintain a certain way of life, and for others a sense of duty and honor.  Regardless of reasons for enlistment, as early as April 1861 the United States of America enlisted tens of thousands of young men prepared to “preserve the Union.”  The positions appeared to be as clear as the divisions on a map: Union, Confederate, or a Border State.  Individuals with a basic understanding of American history can easily decipher the differences between the Union and the Confederacy, however many are often confused by the role of the Border States in this American conflict.  Physically and emotionally, these states were essentially in the middle. As the meeting grounds between two warring nations, Border States would undoubtedly face physical and economic destruction when battle erupted. As slaveholding states, with their allegiance lying strongly in the grasp of the United States, these Border States were an anomaly. Among these contradicting areas, was the state of Kentucky.

Admitted to the union in 1792 as the fifteenth state, Kentucky rapidly grew into a successful state with a stable economy. In 1860, Kentucky was ranked ninth in the country in regards to population, with Louisville as the third largest city south of the Mason and Dixon line (Klotter & Klotter, 2008).  The value of Kentucky’s farmlands and agriculture was seventh in the nation, and fifth in livestock (Harrison, 1975).  Additionally, Kentucky had a good transportation and educational systems, with leading universities like Transylvania University (Klotter & Klotter, 2008).  Kentucky was economically and geographically important to both the North and South.  For decades, Kentucky relied on her southern borders and river access to supply the southeastern region of the United States with hemp, tobacco, cotton, and various grains (Harrison, 1975).  Historically, Kentucky also played a significant role in the Civil War era.  Kentucky was the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States during the Civil War, as well as the home of the “great compromiser,” Henry Clay.

It would be fair to say that Kentucky could not quite get its head to agree with its heart, or in most cases, its heart to align with its wallet.  At the outbreak of war, one in five Kentuckians was a slave (Klotter & Klotter, 2008).  As states began falling like dominoes to one side or the other, Kentucky remained steadily unsure of the direction it needed to take.  Like the southern states, much of its thriving economy was rooted in agriculture and slave labor.  However, Kentuckians maintained a strong desire to stay part of and maintain the Union (Shortridge, 1923).  For those in northern Kentucky, the economy differed nearly as much as the ideology. To Kentucky, it was neither nationalism nor states’ rights – she wanted both.  Was this not a conflict of interest?  Dr. Brian McKnight (2006) contends that it might have been easy to confidently stand as an abolitionist or Unionist in a city such as New York, or a staunch secessionist in the Carolinas, but it was not easy to be either in Kentucky.  Inevitably, the question arose; “how do you choose sides?”  The Kirby Smith recruiting handbill (Kentucky Historical Society, 1862) is one example of the political propaganda that painted the towns of Kentucky in this period.  How would it be possible to be pro-Union and pro-slavery?  In short, it would not be. Therefore, in a time when society equated inaction with cowardice, Kentucky, initially, chose to remain neutral.  On May 20, 1861, Governor Beriah Magoffin declared a state of neutrality and insisted to both the United and Confederate States that should an army from either side choose to invade Kentucky they would be met with the same means of defense (Finck, 2012). The May 22, 1861 publication of the New York Times quoted the proclamation: “I hereby notify and warn all other States separate and united, especially the United States and Confederate States, that I solemnly forbid any movement upon Kentucky soil, or occupation of any port or place therein for any purpose whatever, until authorized by invitation or permission of the legislative and executive authorities.” For the time being, the line was drawn in the sand.

Through September 1861, as a state, Kentucky remained free of battle and imposing armies. Union leaders viewed this move as being provided with additional planning time. Author Christopher Phillips (2013) explains that Lincoln’s view on neutrality was that it was not a sign of loyalty; that one could not claim to be neutral and be fully supportive of the Union.  Radical Republicans from Lincoln’s camp viewed the move as an act of treason (Harris, 2011) and yet Lincoln refused to push or dissuade Kentucky in any way. The allowance of this from either side speaks volumes as to the importance of Kentucky to the North and the South as the Border States held a large amount of control over the waterways.

The citizens however, did not necessarily agree with this position and many young men began leaving their home state to enlist in others. This is similar to the men who joined the British military at the outbreak of World War II, despite America’s isolationist stance. Furthermore, remaining neutral did not ease the burden of division among the citizens of Kentucky. State leaders may have desired to simply stay out of it but that is seldom possible in the land of public opinion. Embattled, it was difficult to decide who was for what side. In the few short months of claimed neutrality, Kentucky experienced large numbers of soldiers who fled to Tennessee or north to Ohio to join the army. In this sense, Kentucky was neutral in name alone. It is questionable what state leaders truly believed would be accomplished by committing to a position of neutrality but as history has taught us, earliest perceptions of the war’s extent and reach was underestimated at best.

The decision to remain neutral essentially likened Kentucky to the most desirable girl in school during prom season.  Strategically, Presidents Lincoln and Davis eagerly sought to gain the favor of this Border State. The courtship lasted a few months until when in Sepember 1861, Union and Confederate forces converged upon Kentucky, immediately forcing her hand and changing the land, the economy, and its people permanently. Following the war Kentucky became overwhelmed by its population, which now consisted of freed slaves. In addition to all southern economies reliant upon slave labor, they took a financial hit and also like the South, had lost their livestock that was once declared fifth in the nation. Twenty-thousand Kentucky men did not return from the war and an unintended consequence of this was the decline of the once honored education system, because at the time, most teachers were male. Therefore, it begs the question – was it worth it? Would Kentucky have endured had they committed to either side earlier on? Historians continue to debate this point and as a learner, I look at Kentucky the way I do at my cheerleading captain – back in the day, she was kind of a big deal.



Finck, J. W. (2012).  Divided loyalties: Kentucky’s struggle for armed neutrality in the Civil War. El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie.

Gov. Magoffin’s Proclamation of Neutrality (May, 1861). The New York Times. Retrieved from

Harris, W. C. (2011).   Lincoln and the border states: Preserving the union. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

Harrison, L. (1975). The Civil War in Kentucky. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky.

Kentucky Historical Society (n.d.). Kirby Smith recruiting handbill (1862);  FF1.36 Kirby Smith recruiting handbill. Retrieved from

Klotter, J. C. (2013, week two session). Torn Within, Threatened Without: Kentucky and the Border States in the Civil War. Class Lecture. Kentucky Historical Society.

Klotter, J. C. & Klotter, F. C. (2008). A concise history of Kentucky. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky.

McKnight, B. (2006). Contested borderland. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky.

Phillips, C. (2013, week two session). Torn Within, Threatened Without: Kentucky and the Border States in the Civil War. Class Lecture. Kentucky Historical Society.

Shortridge, W. P. (1923). Kentucky neutrality in 1861.  The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 9(4), Bloomington, IN: Organization of American Historians, 283-301.

Confederate Prisoners of War in Illinois Prison Camps

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

StoneBy Jason Hill, Whittier Elementary School, Harvey, IL

Being a pro-slavery Union state, Kentucky played a pivotal role in the Civil War. Throughout the fighting thousands of Confederate soldiers were taken prisoner. The Union needed to create a series of camps to house the prisoners far enough from the front to prevent escape. The federal government commissioned a series of camps north of the Ohio River. Illinois hosted four such camps. The smallest was in Alton, a town on the Mississippi River. Another, named CampButler was located a few miles outside Springfield, the capital of the state. The Rock Island POW camp was located on an island in the Mississippi River between Illinois and Iowa. The fourth was created on land owned by Senator Stephen Douglas. Prime real estate was available along Lake Michigan for the construction of the largest POW camp in the state. This camp would go on to hold over 20,000 prisoners.

Camp Douglas – from Union training facility to Confederate P.O.W. camp

Camp Douglas was created in September 1861. It started out as a military training and recruitment center. At the time, Chicago was a major rail city and an ideal location for a camp. According to records, over thirty-one regiments totaling 25,000 troops would pass through the facility.[1] The capture of Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in 1862, created the impetus to change the purpose of the camp. General U.S. Grant sent between 8,000 and 9,000 captured soldiers to Camp Douglas. Chicago was much farther away from the fort and initially the prisoners were going to be sent to Camp Butler. They were sent a longer distance due to the problem of housing so many Confederate troops near Springfield, which seemed to have some secessionist sympathies.[2]

Many residents of the city of Chicago took sympathy with the men incarcerated at Camp Douglas and organized a “Relief Committee of Citizens”.[3] This committee worked to send medicine and clothing to the camp. There is evidence that conditions of the camp were deplorable for some soldiers, but not quite so desperate for others. In a letter found in the Kentucky State Historical Society archives, Henry Stone wrote, “I have everything I need, except my freedom”.[4] Many famous Southerners would end up calling Camp Douglas home, at least for a while. Sam Houston, Jr., Magruder Magoffin, the son of the Kentucky governor, and members of John Hunt Morgan’s crew all served sentences at Camp Douglas.[5]

With so many people cramped into a mere sixty-acre campus, disease was rampant at Camp Douglas. In just a few years, typhus, dysentery, and smallpox claimed thousands of lives. The city had to decide how to properly dispose of the bodies. A site was chosen on the north side of Chicago to bury the dead, but they were later moved to a location in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood on the south side.

With the risk of death from disease and exposure to the harsh Chicago winters, it is not surprising that there are many stories of prisoners attempting to escape. Some, like Henry Stone of Kentucky, were successful. After venturing to Canada, Henry Stone returned to Kentucky and joined up with John Hunt Morgan. There are stories of soldiers attempting to tunnel, bribe, breakout, and disguise their way to freedom.[6] It is estimated that 500 prisoners were successful in escape.[7] For those soldiers that did perish, a movement after the war commenced to memorialize their sacrifice. Led by Confederate veterans, the resulting monument would become the largest monument to Confederate dead in the North.

Oak Woods Cemetery & Confederate Monument

Oak Woods Cemetery is located on the south side of the city of Chicago, near the present day campus of the University of Chicago. Currently home to thousands of graves, monuments, and memorials, Oak Woods became the final resting place for many famous Chicagoans. Chicago’s first African-American mayor, Harold Washington, is buried there. Oak Woods was one of only three non-sectarian cemeteries located in the city of Chicago, and serves with distinction as the oldest.[8] Created by the Illinois legislature in 1853 the cemetery is protected land and the inhabitants can not be displaced.

A monument to the Confederate solders buried in the mass grave was erected in the cemetery in 1893.  It was dedicated in 1895, on Memorial Day, in a ceremony attended by President Grover Cleveland and his entire cabinet.[9] Credit for building the memorial went to General John C. Underwood. Underwood was the head of the United Veterans division and a POW from 1863 to 1865. His father served as a member of Congress from Kentucky. Underwood would go on to serve as the mayor of Bowling Green from 1870 to 1872, and from 1875 to 1879, as the lieutenant governor of the state of Kentucky. Money for the construction of the monument came from not only Confederate Veterans’ Organizations, but also from well-known Chicago businessmen and philanthropists like Potter Palmer, Marshall Field, and George Pullman.[10] The monument stands forty feet tall, and rests on a platform base of granite from the state of Georgia. Of the 6,000 Confederate men buried in the cemetery, only the names of 4,275 are known. Also buried alongside their Confederate brethren are twelve Union soldiers that died of disease at Camp Douglas.[11] In researching the names of the known dead, at least 281 soldiers from Kentucky are known to be buried at Confederate Mound. This total does not include those that were identified, and then reinterred back to their home state.


The Confederate Mound Monument is the biggest burial location for Confederate solders in the former Union States.[12] Soldiers from all of the states in the Confederacy are buried there. At the conclusion of the war, there was no further need for Camp Douglas and it closed. Over a century later work is progressing on the restoration of the camp. Historians and archeologists are working to uncover the camp and find evidence of the people who lived there. Further information can be found at the Camp Douglas Restoration Project.

[1] Dennis, Kelly.  A History of CampDouglasIllinois, Union Prison, 1861-1865. August, 1989.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid

[4] Henry L. Stone letter, Kentucky Historical Society

[5] Dennis Kelly.  A History of CampDouglasIllinois, Union Prison, 1861-1865. August, 1989

[6] Ibid

[7] Author Unknown. Confederate Soldiers, Sailors, and Civilians Who Died as Prisoners of War at CampDouglas, Chicago, IL. 1862-1865.

[8] Ibid

[9]ConfederateMoundMonument. Preliminary Staff Summary of Information Submitted to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. November, 1991

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

Evidence of Consequences of the Civil War on Kentucky

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

ShackleBy Maureen Vanderhoof, Overlook Middle School, Ashburnham, MA

My curiosity about the role of guerillas in the Civil War has led me in a couple of directions.  Fortunately, the Kentucky Historical Society has multiple resources which help shed valuable light on this subject and time period. 

The KHS collections contain a four-page Civil War account written by Charlton G. Duke about his capture and the capture and imprisonment of his comrades by Union forces in Kentucky.  His arrest and incarceration was due to his participation in guerilla activities, and his imminent execution was ordered by Gen. Stephen G. Burbridge in retaliation for the guerilla actions of the notorious Sue Mundy [Marcellus Jerome Clark] during raids in Kentucky.  In addition, another perspective is offered in the later entries of the diary of Ellen Wallace.  In her written thoughts she clearly expressed the havoc brought upon the citizens of Kentucky by these guerilla bands.  Her words make their arrests and imprisonments seem justified.

In Charlton’s diary entries-written while imprisoned-he explains the way Kentucky was torn apart during the conflict.  According to Charlton’s account, he had been sent back into Kentucky by Col. Lylypint to gather some of the men who had not been able to escape Kentucky.  In trying to do so, he found the whole area overrun with federal soldiers, and while trying to return to their command they were captured and sent to Louisville “called Slaughterhouse Place.”1   Charlton described how there were “many indignations heaped upon the men in the prison.”2  After being at the prison for some three to four weeks Charlton learned that Gen. Burbridge had ordered the execution of Charlton, Captain Lindsay Buckner, K. F. Wallace, and John Duke, due to a band of guerillas having killed a mail carrier, supposed to be the Sue Mundy  gang.  Speaking to the pride men felt in serving their cause, Charlton expressed his unwillingness to die at the hands of the enemy in a controlled execution rather than in “the glory of the battle field.”3

As the story turns out, Charlton was spared execution due to Gen. Burbridge allowing the men to take an oath of allegiance and return home.  However, Charlton opted to be sent to a northern prison camp rather than take the oath of allegiance.  One of Charlton’s comrades, Captain Leily, was released because his mother had paid $1700.00 in cash to Louisville authoities.4   Unfortunately, one of the men was put to death because money for his release did not arrive in time.  Charlton mentioned four men who were taken out to the Jeffersontown Road and shot to death.  Charlton was sent to Johnson’s Island and his brother to Camp Douglass where they remained until the end of the war.

The diary of Ellen Wallace also sheds light on the struggles of the Kentuckians during the War. Ellen wrote on May 7, 1861, of her feeling that Union and peace would soon be restored.  However, she expressed concern that “if the Republican party continues in power and carries out their wicked designs in opposition to the conservative men North and South then indeed the country will be shattered into fragments.”5 These words are proof that raw emotion was playing out throughout the countryside.   On May 14, 1861, she wrote in her diary about raiding bands tearing up railroads, and preparations on both sides for a terrible conflict.  She went on to pray for her family and the suffering country.  Mention was made of flames of Civil War again threatening to devastate Kentucky.  Ellen noted how the Federal Army was repulsed at Richmond and asked where the horrors would end.6

In August of 1862, Ellen wrote about feeding the Federal troops.7  Later, she talked about how the people of her town were aroused from their slumber by guerillas invading the town.  She mentioned Morgan and how he had torn up the railroad tracks and had taken 200 prisoners, and also that a “desperado” named Moodard was demanding unconditional surrender of the town.  Ellen’s husband was arrested by a band of guerillas, but by the influence of a friend, he was released.

Ellen discussed her feelings about President Lincoln by stating that he and his cabinet were a disgrace, and that their operations were dictated by a mean, low party spirit.8  Confederate soldiers had marched into Clarksville, Tennessee, and convinced the Federal soldiers to surrender.  Kentucky’s governor Magoffin had resigned.  Ellen also expressed it was her wish that it had been the President of the United States who resigned. 

In Ellen’s entries of October 1862, it is apparent that she was totally opposed to the policies of Pres. Lincoln and the direct impact it was having on Kentucky.  On October 3 she wrote, “the state of affairs here is deplorable, courts are not allowed to act, murderers are turned out of jail and permitted to roam at large.”  Her wrath turned to Lincoln when she said that his proclamation liberating the slaves in January was the finishing stroke to all the horrors that had taken place.  Ellen questioned if this was the only protection the federal government extends to Kentucky, a border state that did not pass an ordinance of secession.  She stated bluntly that it was a “burning shame to Lincoln, the cabinet and officers of the army.”9

After reading through the countless pages of entries made by Ellen during this critical time of our nation’s history, it is evident how the country and the people were torn apart.  Passions ran high, and many were disillusioned by the consequences of the war. 


1. Charlton G. Duke Civil War Account, SC695, Kentucky Historical Society        

2. Charlton G. Duke                                                                                                                                               

3. Chartlon G. Duke

4. Ellen Wallace Diary, MSS52_Box2 _F2_0, Kentucky Historical Society                                                              

5. Ellen Wallace Diary, MSS52_Box2_F2_0, Kentucky Historical Society                                                                                                                                        

6. Ellen Wallace Diary, MSS52_Box2_F2_0, Kentucky Historical Society                                                                                                                                                

7. Ellen Wallace Diary, MSS52_Box2_F2_0, Kentucky Historical Society                                                                                                                                          

8. Ellen Wallace Diary, MSS52_Box2_F2_0, Kentucky Historical Society 

9. Ellen Wallace Diar,y MSS52_Box2_F2_0, Kentucky Historical Society

A Soldier’s Life: Jesse Hyde’s Story

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

HydeBy Emily Farley, Sacopee Valley Middle School, Hiram, ME

The Civil War brought death, destruction, tragedy, and confusion to Kentucky. While Kentucky remained a Union state during the war, many citizens also fought for the Confederacy. Although the horrors of battles during the war are known and present in the minds of people as they tour battle fields such as Perryville, the hardships of camp life are not as recognized. In a diary written by Jesse Hyde, a Union soldier from Kentucky during the Civil War, one can see the hardships endured by soldiers off the battlefield.

Food was certainly a concern during a soldier’s time spent in the camp. On March 12, 1862, Hyde reported that a baker put arsenic in the bread he was baking for the troops but luckily it wouldn’t rise and they were able to catch him.[1] In The Life of Billy Yank, Bell Irvin Wiley reported that food was a major cause of illness for the troops in the North. He stated that many soldiers bought pies and cakes from sutlers during their time in camp so there was a deficiency in fruits and vegetables.[2]  Government issued food was usually always in short supply and many soldiers wrote home to talk about the hunger they felt.[3]

The physical condition of the actual camp was another concern among soldiers. In his diary, Hyde talks about the environment of his camp as  being muddy from rain. On February 4, 1863 Hyde discussed how the camp received a considerable amount of snow and the night was very cold. In Soldiers Blue and Gray, James I. Robertson, Jr. writes, “When mud was not reducing the status of the camp to a swamp, dust was stifling.” This indicates that the troubles Hyde wrote about are similar to other soldiers in the North and even in the South. He goes on to talk about how when soldiers walked around camp their mouths would completely fill with dust. On the contrary, Robertson talked about how when soldiers had to march in the rain many men would fall and were unable to get up. The loads they carried were so wet it made the men extremely tired.[4] Hyde reported in his diary on June 25, 1863, that his unit marched six miles through rain and mud and were not able to make it to camp[5]. This was between battles.

Another major concern for soldiers off the battlefield was disease. In the Life of Billy Yank, Wiley says there were no inspections at camps so sanitation remained very poor. There was a major lack of personal hygiene, which caused sicknesses.[6] Clothing and shelter also played a role in the poor health of soldiers. Dysentery ran wild through the camps, often causing soldiers to miss battles. Whiskey, which was often given to soldiers to “cure” them, further irritated their bowel system and made it worse.[7] The average soldier was sick two and a half times a year.  A smallpox vaccine was known but not required of a soldier.[8] In Soldiers Blue and Gray, Robertson talks about how improper clothing, along with exposure to the elements like snow and rain, contributed to disease. Fleas and lice were also very common occurrence in camp life[9].

Soldiers of the Civil War suffered immensely. Much is written about the horrors of battle, which were unmistakably nightmares that no man ever wishes to experience. However, camp life in itself was quite a hardship, especially after being promised the glorious luxuries of the war. In his diary, Jesse Hyde consistently talked more about his time in camp and the hardships he endured more than he talked about what happened on the battlefield. It is possible that what happened on the battlefield was at times too difficult to write about, but historians have corroborated Hyde’s writing that camp life was indeed a worse existence than even the poorest man’s own household and the family he left behind.

[1] Jesse Hyde Diary, 12 March, 1863, Kentucky Historical Society, SC1274.

[2] Bell Irvin Wiley, The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008, 127.

[3] James I. Robertson, Soldiers Blue and Gray. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, 1988, 71.

[4] Ibid, 61.

[5] Jesse Hyde Diary, 25 June, 1863.

[6] Wiley, 127.

[7] Ibid, 137.

[8] Ibid, 133.

[9] Robertson, 155.

The Forgotten Ones

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

Morgan RaidBy Nichole Caskey, Harrison County High School, Cynthiana, KY

Stories of war tend to expound the tales of the soldiers battling on the front lines, facing death head on.  Journals, letters, poetry—a plethora of sources can be found describing the grief of watching a fellow soldier die, the fear as bullets sound through the night, the loneliness of war.  But these stories are just one side of the picture.  What about the stories of the souls that are left behind to wonder about their loved ones? These stories often do not make it into the history books.  However, these stories help to paint a clearer picture of the war and its effects, especially in Kentucky during the Civil War.

The Bluegrass State in the Civil War was a hotbed of conflict and chaos.  Although Kentucky declared its neutrality at the beginning of the war, it was unable to hold on to this status.  Kentucky’s politicians attempted to keep their beloved state out of the war but failed to do so, eventually declaring it to be with the Union.  Kentucky’s slave status and its ties to the Confederacy kept it from being wholly Union, but nor was it wholly Confederate.  The state, like the country was ripped in two.  And in the middle of it all were the citizens—the inhabitants who were forced to continue to live some semblance of a normal life while loved ones were fighting and dying in their backyards.

“Normal” is a relative term in the border state of Kentucky.  Citizens who had not joined a side and were not soldiers often found themselves in a position where they were fighting for their towns and farms against guerrilla attacks.  The citizens of Kentucky tell stories of troubled economic times, illness, and fear of raids by the infamous John Hunt Morgan.  The Civil War raged in their back yards and on their streets.  The illustration of townspeople preparing for a raid by John Hunt Morgan captures the hardship and fear of Kentucky’s citizens left to defend their livelihood against the man who in his own words had “come to liberate [them]  from the despotism of a tyrannical faction …”[1] 

Guerrilla warfare was common in Kentucky.  Although there were some major battles fought in the Bluegrass State, most of the fighting was small-scale guerrilla attacks that reaped large consequences.  This is evident in the image as Kentuckians prepare to meet Morgan’s forces with armed militia (drawn in the background of the photo).  The fear in the women’s faces, although an illustration, paints an eerie picture of how life was for those left behind during the War Between the States.  Several journal entries and letters, including that of J.M. Douglass to Mrs. Maggie Harris also document the troublesome raids by Morgan and the impact on the town’s economy.   J.M. Douglass writes in his letter of April 11, 1865, “…all but two stores is burned the loss was estimated at 90,000 dollars.”[2]  Another letter from D.C. Humphreys to Alexander John “Alec” Alexander on July 20, 1864 describes a low turnout for buyers of horses due to the Covington Railway being disrupted by Morgan’s men.[3]  Morgan’s raids took their toll on the courthouses of several cities including Olive Hill, Morehead, Cynthiana and Frankfort, destroying records and wreaking havoc on the people of those quiet towns. 

Morgan and the Rebels were not the only threat to the citizens of Kentucky though.  Union soldiers were also known for atrocities.  One account comes from Rowan County, Kentucky where Ray Smedley writes of his grandfather, Samuel Smedley’s, demise.  The men [Union soldiers] come to the house and asked for food. They were fed good.  They then shot Samuel in the hip and his wife Mary ran over to help him and they ran a bayonet thru her belly.”[4]  It is not known if the Smedleys supported the Confederacy or the Union; the account does not divulge that information.  But one thing is clear, the government that was supposed to protect them, in this case, did not.  With both sides attacking the citizens and pillaging property, it seems that Kentucky did not seem to belong to either side (indicative of its border state status).            

Citizens in Kentucky were left to defend themselves against groups of wandering rascals.  Families could not visit one another out of fear of guerrilla bands.  J.M. Douglass writes, “we don’t know when we lie down at night but what we will be killed by Gurrilles before the Sun rises next morning.”[5]  Thus was the life in a border state.  The economy was impacted by guerrilla destruction and theft, people’s lives were ended although they were not on a battlefield and the citizens lived in fear of their towns/homes being burned and pillaged.  Even after the war was over, the divisiveness in Kentucky did not end.  The feelings of the people that persisted after the war were manifested in family feuds like the Stamper-Underwood Feud in Carter County, KY and the Martin-Tolliver Feud in Rowan County, KY.  These stories are the forgotten pieces of the Civil War much like the state itself has become a forgotten, yet once integral, piece of the Civil War.



[1] “John Hunt Morgan Handbill, 1863.” KHS Digital Collections. Special Collections 763. SC763_DM.tif

[2] “Letter from J.M. Douglass to Mrs. Maggie Harris, April 11, 1865.” KHS Digital Collections. SC1069, pg 3.

[3] Letter from D.C. Humphreys to Alexander John “Alec” Alexander 20 July, 1864.” KHS Digital Collections MSS93, pg 1.

[4] Blair, Juanita and Brown, Fred. Days of Anger, Days of Tears: The History of the Rowan County War. Wind Publications, 2007. Pg 17.

[5] “Letter from J.M. Douglass to Mrs. Maggie Harris, April 11, 1865.”, KHS Digital Collections. SC1069. pg 3.

“These Are the Times that Try Men’s Souls”

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

Bilbo womenBy Lisa Woodruff, The Frankfort Christian Academy, Frankfort, KY

Life in a border state during the Civil War was a trying time for those in Kentucky.  Much has been written about the experience of men in Kentucky during this conflict.  Although often overlooked, women in Kentucky struggled through the Civil War, facing their own unique and challenging experiences.  Kentucky women dealt with the daily threat of guerilla activity, struggling to care for family members who had been exposed to new illnesses and adjusting to the changes brought about by the occupying armies in their home towns.

Many women in Kentucky lived in the uncertainty of the constant upheaval of guerillas roaming through the land they called home.  Ellen Wallace, who lived in Hopkinsville, KY, tells of her husband being arrested by a “party of guerilla” where he was held until a family friend could “influence his release.”1  Many women felt trapped by the constant fear of guerilla activity in Kentucky. Josie Underwood, from Bowling Green, KY, was afraid to travel to visit family for fear that “John Morgan might make one of his daring raids and tear up the railroad tracks and something happen that I couldn’t get back home.”2 

Stories abound of women whose lives were forever changed by guerilla attack.  Esther Frogg became a widow after the Confederate sympathizer and guerilla troop leader, Champ Ferguson stopped by her one room cabin in Clinton County, KY.  Ferguson arrived at the family home, finding Esther’s husband lying in his sick bed beside the couple’s five month old child.  Ferguson accused William, Esther’s husband of having supported the Union by “visiting Camp Dick Robinson”.  He then turned toward William and shot him twice in the chest.3 Following the attack on Frogg, Ferguson then searched the cabin for weapons and valuables before he rode off on his horse.4  

A large percentage of Kentucky women spent the duration of the war caring for their families.  Many women spent hours nursing for family members who were exposed to sickness or wounded in conflict.  The Wallace family was exposed to sickness, possibly as a result of Confederate hospital being set up at the Baptist Seminary “not being one hundred yards from our backyard, this is very disagreeable”.5 During the next few months, Ellen Wallace cared for her family and slaves who are ill from fevers and the measles.  Mrs. Wallace worried because “this winter they [the fevers and measles] have been very fatal, terminating in pneumonia or typhoid fever”.6

Josie Underwood felt blessed that her family was able to care for her brother, Warner, who was shot through the arm at Shiloh. 7 Josie was left to care for her brother while her family was gone, she struggled to nurse and bandage his wounds which were “dirty bandages-maggots fell out and the wound itself was full of them and stunk so”.8  Josie admitted that “I had hard work to keep from fainting”. 9

Women in Kentucky were also faced with the upheaval caused by the occupation of troops during the war.  Many women faced both Confederate and Union troop occupation during the duration of the war.  Frances Peter, from Lexington, recalls that her family “kept our house shut and door locked from the day Morgan came in, afraid of the house being searched.”10  Ms. Peter’s father was arrested three times and her family’s mill was seized by the Confederates. 

When the Confederates occupied Hopkinsville, Mrs. Ellen Wallace wrote in her diary, “There are at least one thousand Confederate troops in town.  There is great fear of conscription act being forced up on the people.  Private rights are not in the least regarded. The soldiers walk into any store or house and take whatever they need…There are great many armies of both sides now trying to out general each other in Kentucky.”11   Mrs. Wallace summarized occupation by writing, “In our little town the bayonet rules.” 12

Josie Underwood, a Union sympathizer, was shocked by the treatment of her family by the Union troops which were “going to various houses demanding food and in one or two instances treating Union women with a great deal of rudeness calling them ‘Dam Rebels’ and ordering them to them something to eat ‘damn quick’.”  Ms. Underwood stated that “they (Union troops) destroyed in a few days more Union sentiment than the Rebels had been able to do in six months.” 13

Despite the hardships of troop occupation, many women in Kentucky devoted themselves to providing for the occupying troops.  There are many examples of Kentucky women offering aid to both the Confederate and Union troops.  Although the Underwood family was pro-Union, they “saw three or four soldiers in gray…who reached our porch.  She (Ma) had Jake bring them cold ham and biscuits and milk and gave them fruit.”  When Mrs. Underwood spoke to these soldiers she said, “I will never refuse a hungry man food- but you must excuse me from asking into my house, men who have helped tear down our country’s flag.”14 As the war progressed, Josie wrote of her sympathy for the Confederate soldiers. “My heart goes out to them in pity.  Though all wrong from my standpoint. . . . Better for the war to be in the South for half of the soldiers have no overcoats. . . . Treason! Treason! I acknowledge my weakness.”15   After the Union soldiers took possession of Bowling Green and established a hospital for the wounded Union soldiers, Josie’s Mother helped, too. “Ma has been appointed-receiver and distributor of sanitary stores, sent by various societies throughout the north.” This effort to distribute jellies, dried fruits, wines, cordials, comforters and shirts became the primary focus of the family for the duration of the war.16

Although many women gave aid to both Union and Confederate soldiers, some Kentucky women did not feel obliged to assist those who held opposing views.  Frances Peter of Lexington told of “A lady who came here this morning stating she had lost her luggage and purse and wished to get enough money to take her home. . . . When asked if she was Union, she replied she was not anything. . . . Ma told her that in times like these people had to be very cautious how and to whom they gave money . . . and refused to give her anything.”17

By the end of the war, many women in Kentucky found that their lives were forever changed.  The Underwood family returned to Bowling Green following the Confederate occupation to find “the trees and the house were all charred and burned and that only the gable end of the house was standing . . . both orchards were cut down . . . not a fence left on the entire 1,000 acres only the barn and two cabins left of all the buildings.”18  The Underwood family was never able to fully recover from the destruction of their planation.19

Although initially pro-Union, Ellen Wallace faced changes that she appeared unable to reconcile those sentiments with the changes the war brought upon her.  As 1863 drew to an end she wrote, “Lincoln has trodden underfoot the laws of our state and usurped the entire control, he has made the negro master of the white man as far as his power [goes to] putting arms into their hands, stationing negro pickets at the toll gates and bridges where they defy their former master to pass at peril of their lives. . . . Lincoln is a greater traitor than Jeff Davis because he pretends to support the Constitution by the very means he take to destroy it.  We look upon him as a wretch only fit to rule over the most degraded part of the Negro population.”20

The Civil War changed the lives of Kentucky women.  These brave women faced challenges they had not anticipated, they learned new skills, and they showed courage that was equal to that of the soldiers of the war.  Frances Peter summed up her life in Civil War Kentucky when she wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”21


1 Wallace, Ellen. Dairy. 1861-1863, Ellen Wallace and Annie Starling Diaries MSS 52, Kentucky Historical Society Collections, August 26, 1862.

2 Baird, Nancy Disher, Josie Underwood’s Civil War Diary, Lexington, KY, University of Kentucky Press, 2009. Print.  pg. 17

3 McKnight, Brian. Confederate Outlaw: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia, Baton Rouge, LA, Louisianan State University Press, 2011. Print. pg. 43

4 McKnight, Confederate Outlaw. pg. 44

5 Wallace, Diary. November 9, 1861

6 Baird, Josie Underwood Diary. Pg. 172

7 Baird, Josie Underwood Diary. pg.174

8 Baird, Josie Underwood Diary. pg. 174

9 Baird, Josie Underwood Diary pg. 175

10 Cooper, William and Smith, John David, A Union Woman in Civil War Kentucky: The Dairy of Frances Peters. Lexington, KY, University of Kentucky Press, 2000. Print.  Pg. 32

11 Wallace, Diary, September 25, 1862

12 Wallace, Diary, June 21, 1863

13 Baird, Josie Underwood Diary, pg. 162

14 Baird, Josie Underwood Diary, pg. 101

15 Baird, Josie Underwood Diary, pg. 169

16 Baird, Josie Underwood Diary, pg. 178

17 Cooper and Smith, Frances Peter Diary, pg. 155

18 Baird, Josie Underwood Diary, pg. 156

19 Baird, Josie Underwood Diary, pg. 22

20 Wallace, Diary, December 25, 1863

21Cooper and Smith, Frances Peter Diary, pg. 147

The Tribulations of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Kentucky

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

Freedmen's BureauBy Rob Knox, Holy Cross High School, Covington, KY

In July of 1868, the local agencies of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Unclaimed Lands ceased operations that were established to help Kentucky’s black population make the transition from slave to free. In an open letter to “the freed people of Kentucky,” the assistant commissioner of the bureau in Kentucky, Benjamin Runkle, celebrated the success of the Bureau and the readiness of Kentucky’s white and black population to coexist in relative harmony without continued federal involvement in the state’s affairs.  The letter states, “[t]he results of the efforts of the Bureau, since its establishment, have been eminently satisfactory…The government has liberated, protected, fed, clothed and educated you.  It is the act of a just and generous people, and the officers of the Bureau are not ashamed of their share in the work.”[1]

After establishing the Bureau’s Kentucky legacy as one of success, the letter continues on to address Kentucky’s preparedness for a fair and just biracial society.  Runkle wrote:

“[t]he Assistant Commissioner hopes that the white people of Kentucky, recognizing the fact that intelligent labor is necessary for their prosperity, will lend you a helping hand…The Assistant Commissioner trusts…that you [blacks] will cultivate friendly relations with the white people of Kentucky…and, in fine that you may continue the work of fitting yourselves to secure and enjoy the rights and privileges of American citizens.”[2]

Seemingly, at the conclusion of the Bureau’s short tenure in Kentucky most of the problems other states were facing in the midst of Reconstruction had been eradicated, but this letter was meant as an encouragement to the people who were largely being left to fend for themselves without federal support.  A closer inspection of the Bureau’s history and success rate in Kentucky reveals a much more difficult situation made worse by Bureau shortages of funds and manpower and amplified by white Kentuckians racism and disdain towards the Bureau and its activities.

Kentucky’s unique position as a Union state that was fighting to retain slavery in the Civil War’s early years draws light on its anti-federal stance during Reconstruction.  Many Kentuckians felt like the federal government was treating them as conquered territory instead of a loyal state, and at the heart of this battle between white Kentuckians and the federal government was the status of blacks and the abolition of slavery.  As blacks earned more rights throughout the Reconstruction years, Kentuckians turned further and further away from their Union identity and started to more closely align themselves with the defeated ex-Confederate states.[3]  Tellingly, it was not until 1891 that Kentucky’s Constitution was amended to recognize the abolition of slavery, and the Civil War Amendments were not ratified until 1976 during the bicentennial festivities.  Amidst the hostility the installation of local Freedmen’s Bureaus was obviously not well received and never accepted by the majority of whites across the state.  Examining the records of the local office of Covington, Kentucky reveals the difficulties for the freedmen and the impotency of the Bureau to alleviate much of the suffering of Kentucky’s newly freed blacks.

Covington, as the northernmost city in Kentucky, was linked to Ohio and the north.  To examine the Bureau’s challenges here, where more people should have seemingly supported the Union and the new federal efforts at Reconstruction, elucidates the difficulty for the Bureau and the freedmen throughout the entire state.  When the Bureau opened its Covington field office, a report of the area was compiled to take stock of the situation by Superintendent John Graham. Graham spoke of his need to move quickly and disguise his purpose as he traveled around.  He wrote that, if it became known that “I was on business connected with the Freedmen’s Bureau, I would certainly have been [sic] and killed.”[4]  Graham continued to explain the situation in the counties: in Boone County, “Rebel soldiers sport their rebel uniforms and talk traitorous talk.”[5]  He discussed the continued existence of slavery in southern Boone County, and finished this troubling report with an assessment of the Bureau’s needs: “I am now well satisfied that the affairs of the Bureau cannot be fully enforced without a military…”[6]

The records of the Covington office of the Freedmen’s Bureau make several mentions of violent mobs known as “regulators.”  The mobs “utilized mock lynchings, beatings, whippings, house wrecking or burning, rape, emasculation, and murder in their efforts to establish social, economic, and political relationships based on white supremacy.”[7]  These regulators were responsible for a significant amount of violence within the area, especially in the more rural locations. 

In a letter from May 1866, Superintendent Graham reported that he was receiving information about a “band of scoundrels styling themselves Regulators…committing a great many outrages on the Freedmen.”[8]  When these and other crimes were reported to the Bureau, it was difficult for the field agents to act because of the resistance of local governments to blacks and the activity of the Bureau.  In several letters, Graham complained that the Mayor of Covington, Cassius B. Sanford, refused to cooperate in the prosecution of perpetrators accused of crimes against blacks.  In one particular case, brought forth by Graham to the mayor, a black man was assaulted with an axe, but the only available testimony of the incident was from another black man, and the mayor refused to hear the case on those grounds.  Mayor Sanford’s behavior was in violation of the Civil Rights Act passed in 1866 by the federal government.  Graham “produced a copy of the Civil Rights Bill and requested His Honor to read it, which he declined and remarked that the laws of the State forbid colored testimony to be taken against a white man and he therefore refused to take the testimony of the colored men.”[9]  When replying to the question: “[i]f the Civil Rights Law has not been enforced what in your opinion is the reason and who are at fault?”  Graham responded, “[t]he reason the law is not enforced, is that the civil authorities with but few exceptions have refused to comply with the provisions of the law and they are the persons at fault.”[10]  This level of intransigence from the civil authorities made it almost impossible for Graham and his agents to protect blacks from violence.

Without the ability to testify, or any standing in the court, blacks were easy targets for violence because the perpetrators knew it was likely they would not be found guilty or even tried for their crimes.  Conditions for blacks in the area worsened to the point that one of Graham’s reports spoke of the general fear of reenslavement and a “reign of terror” throughout the region.[11]  For blacks in any part of Kentucky, the authorities’ refusal to prosecute violent acts perpetrated against blacks created a very dangerous living situation.  In this atmosphere of racial hatred and violence, education, the other major Freedmen’s Bureau initiative, was always going to be an uphill battle.

Thus, when the evidence from just one local bureau is juxtaposed against the letter about the Bureau’s successful tenure and exit from Kentucky, the two just do not add up. The letter to the freedmen was an attempt to mask the problems that were going to be left behind due to budget restraints and a resistant population. The short-lived operations of the Bureau in Kentucky could not fix the situation caused by extreme poverty, transient black populations, and a white population that resisted any effort to create a society where blacks were viewed as equals or given anything else besides their freedom from the bonds of slavery. In short, the Bureau was too underfunded and undermanned to make much of a difference in the lives of most blacks in Kentucky because, unlike the Reconstruction districts of the deeper South, there were no federal troops to ensure enforcement of the federal government’s efforts to foster a better and more equal status for Kentucky’s black population.

Archival Primary Sources

Kentucky Historical Society: Frankfort, Kentucky

            Rare Documents Archive

                        Kentucky State Records – Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands

National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C.

            Record Group 105, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Unclaimed Lands

                        M1904 – Roll 93 – Records of the Covington Field Office

Secondary Sources

Marshall, Anne E. Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

Rhyne, Michael J. ” ‘We Are Mobed and Beat’: Regulator Violence Against Free Black Households in Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region, 1865-1867.” Ohio Valley History, 2, 1 (Spring 2002): 30-42.

[1] Benjamin Runkle, “Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands: Circular No. 8.”(Louisville, KY., July 16, 1868) Pg. 1.

[2] Ibid. Pg. 2.

[3] For additional information on Kentucky’s post-war identity see: Anne Marshall, Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

[4] John Graham, “Letter to Superior,” May 27, 1866.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7]J. Michael Rhyne, “’We are Mobed and Beat: Regulator Violence Against Free Black Households in Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region, 1865-1867”, Ohio Valley History, 2 (Spring 2002): 30.

[8] John Graham, “Letter to Superiors,” May 10, 1866.

[9] John Graham, “Letter to Superiors,” October 19, 1866. Several other letters discuss the intransigence of the mayor on this subject, and illustrate the strained relationship between Graham and the local authorities who were uncooperative at best.  A letter from July 13, 1866 complains that black testimony is refused, and yet again on September 26, 1867 Graham wrote, “The Mayor of Covington KY still persists in refusing to accept Negro testimony whereby great injustice is done the colored people.”

[10] John Graham, “The State of Kenton County,” May 20, 1867.

[11] John Graham, “Letter to Superior,” August 14, 1867.

Love and Union in an Anti-Caste Community

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

BereaBy Tim Lewis, Bronx High School of Science, Bronx, NY

In 1872, controversy erupted at Berea College. The first integrated college in the south was faced with a conundrum when a white man on campus wished to marry a black woman. Word came back to the American Missionary Association—the school’s chief funders—who did not know how to proceed.  President of the Board of Trustees John Fee wrote an open letter to the AMA to remind them that Berea College was meant to be “anti-caste” and urged them to “affirm that… [we] make no distinction on account of color.”[1]

In a later letter, though, Fee equivocated on his earlier rhetoric. In asserting the right of his cousin, John Fee Gregg, to marry a black woman, he insisted that he only asked that interracial marriage occur when both the man and woman were “of Christian character, of good family” and not of “doubtful virtue.”[2] Richard D. Sears has suggested that Fee moderated his position to try to gain support from members of the college’s staff that were hesitant to support social equality, particularly when it came to marriage.[3]

At a glance, this might not be surprising.  That many abolitionists and emancipationists were racists by modern standards is common knowledge at this point. But if Fee had been known for anything, it was that he was uncompromising against overwhelming opposition. Fee’s own father owned slaves and opposed his abolitionist beliefs. While most abolitionists published from the North, Fee bucked convention by returning to his home state, Kentucky, to preach against slavery and form Berea College. Fee fought not only for abolition, but for social equality of blacks and their full independence from the plantation elite of the South. That he equivocated on the issue of marriage, then, is a stunning moment in his career.

Fee’s response demonstrates how strong the opposition was to interracial relationships and social equality in the late 1800s. Fear of interracial relations—between black men and white women in particular—was common, as it was widely believed that wholly free and independent black men would sexually terrorize white women.

These unions were also a symbol of the loss of white male power, as they weakened the power that white men held over both black men and white women. The fight to preserve the racial hierarchy in the South, which was fought through the Democratic Party and the Ku Klux Klan, became a zero sum game.[4] 

Such racial animus was not so overt at Berea. Nevertheless, Berea’s President, Henry Fairchild, made clear to his peer that many recruits to the college were not on board with Fee’s vision of social equality, and at least one professor, left the school over this question.[5] One visitor to the school claimed to support Fee’s anti-caste vision, yet suggested that “indiscriminate mixture of the races” may not be beneficial to the school.[6]

Observers at Berea also complained that freed slaves appeared to be sexually promiscuous and “flexible” in their marriage vows.[7] It is likely that this stereotype created a great deal of fear in the strict Christian reformers, some of whom feared that Berea would turn into a free love community along the lines of the infamous Oneida community in upstate New York.[8] Finally there seemed to be a generational conflict, as visitors like John G. Hamilton feared that the youth was becoming “insubordinate” and neglecting their studies as this debate was going on.[9]

In the end the college established rules for interracial dating and marriage that allowed for dating, but also allowed the college to prohibit relationships between couples not in good standing or “when the difference in race is quite marked.” What this phrase means and how it would be enforced would be up to the board of trustees. The rules also used the language of protecting womanhood, declaring that “young ladies should be guarded against receiving habitual acts of special attention from persons whom it would clearly be undesirable for them to marry.”[10] Given the times, this rule likely focused on white women. 

Fee opposed these rules, though the board passed them. This perhaps marked the end of Fee’s radical vision for Berea. His stature in the college diminished, in part for his stubborn adherence to often controversial principles, his busy schedule of commitments across the state, his failure to train worthy successors to his cause, and the increasing racial conservatism of a state and a nation that had lost interest in quests for equality.[11] By all indications, Fee maintained his radicalism until his death in 1901, though interestingly he made no mention of this controversy at Berea College in his autobiography. Instead, he focused on his conflict with the AMA over the organization’s increasing bias towards Congregationism, and his advocacy for non-sectarianism in religious teachings.[12] 

John Fee’s story, including this incident, is useful for high school classrooms on multiple levels. His clashes with the AMA demonstrate the widespread opposition to racial equality that was in the nation. He also can serve as an example of the type of determination, sense of ethics, and advocacy that we want our own students to aspire to. His status as a Kentuckian makes his story even more compelling.

Moreover, the issues that drove Fee’s objections are still with us. A majority of American citizens did not support interracial marriage until 1997[13]. As recently as ten years ago, Will Smith was not allowed to kiss Cameron Diaz onscreen in the film Hitch, out of concern that such a kiss would alienate white filmgoers.[14] Just this year Cheerios shut down the comments section on a commercial on YouTube in response to a slew of racist comments, objecting to the casting of a black father, a white mother, and a mixed race child.[15] Opposition to interracial marriages remains an ugly undercurrent in our culture, even as it fades away. As history teachers, we must work to expose the circumstances that allowed this belief to flourish and to celebrate those who stood against it.

[1] John G. Fee to E.M. Cravath 8 June 1972, as quoted in Richard Sears, A Utopian Experiment in Kentucky Westport: Greenwood Press 1996, 131

[2] Ibid.

[3] Sears 200 n25

[4] Martha Hodes, in “The Sexualization of Reconstruction Politics: White Women and Black Men in the South after the Civil War,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 3 no. 3 (1993) p. 402

[5] Sears 131-132

[6] Sears 132

[7] Sears 128

[8] Sears 129

[9] Sears 132

[10] Sears 133

[11] Sears 141-145

[12] John G. Fee, An Autobiography. Chicago: National Christian Association 1891

[13] Jeffrey M. Jones, “Record-High 86% Approve of Black-White Marriages” Gallup, September 12, 2011. Accessed August 8, 2013.

[14] “Racism stops Will Smith from kissing Cameron Diaz” Female First, March 14, 2005. Accessed August 8, 2013.

[15] Braden Goyette, “Cheerios Commercial Featuring Mixed Race Family Gets Racist Backlash” Huffington Post, May 31, 2013. Accessed August 8, 2013.