My Chief Fear: Race as Catalyst in Civil War Kentucky

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

WallaceBy Jonathan McClintock, Henry Clay High School, Lexington, KY

The diary of Ellen Wallace is a well-known primary source to historians of the Civil War in the Kentucky, to scholars of women’s’ studies, and recently to scholars of race.[1] In her diary, the wealthy slave-owning citizen of Hopkinsville reveals personal feelings that exemplify an important aspect of Kentucky’s unique position during the Civil War; like many Kentuckians, Mrs. Wallace begins the war conditionally pro-Union and over the course of time becomes clearly pro-Confederate. What happened over these four years of war to cause such a shift? The answer is her fear of racial equality. The mere idea of black equality was enough to make many white faces sneer, but in Southern climes, the idea of black freedom terrified whites and, ultimately, led to Kentucky’s shift toward the Confederacy.

Up until the end of 1862, Wallace did not express strong feelings against the Union. Though initially preoccupied with the war’s disruption of society and economics, it was on Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that Wallace began to waver in her support of the Union. She believed the proclamation would release not only the bodies of the slaves, but their depraved nature as well: “Ky. filled with hostile armies[,] war and blood shed on every hand and from every quarter, with Lincolns emancipation proclamation to add new horrors to the scene.”[2] Wallace saw the Proclamation as, “not a military necessity, but [something that] procedes from the vileness[,] weakness & corruption, of this, base, contemptible, negro equality, negro loving administration.”[3] Wallace, like most Kentuckians, feared the Proclamation because it would completely rearrange the political, economic, and social setting of her hometown, her state, the region, and the nation in general.

Ellen Wallace was a keen observer of the shift in political power. She indignantly noted that the Emancipation Proclamation was “the protection the Federal government extends to, Kentucky, the only border state that did not pass the ordinance of secession,” and calls it, “a burning Shame to Lincoln, the cabinet, and officers of the army.”[4] Naturally, “servile insurrection will be the consequence unless the strong arm of the nation prevents it, and the blood of helpless women and children will flow in torrents, if his [Lincoln’s] wicked and fanatical policy is not over ruled.”[5] On many occasions Wallace described the humiliation whites, and particularly slave-owners, felt as they perceived their political power slowly being given to blacks: “The president and his cabinet think of nothing but the negro, negro, negro”, “the interests of the white man is nothing compared to that of the Negro. There seems to be but one thing in the head of Lincoln and his cabinet and that is the liberation of the slaves, at the cost of every thing held sacred by the white race. All must give way to the superior rights of the Negro.”[6] Wallace believed by giving blacks some power to control their own lives, that Lincoln had “made the negro master of the white man, as far as his power allows putting arms in their hands, stationing negro pickets at the toll gates, and bridges, where they defy their former masters to pass on peril of their lives. The white man has to turn his horses head and obey Lincolns negro troops with clenched teeth.”[7]

Economically speaking, the way the Emancipation Proclamation was interpreted by both blacks and whites had a noticeable impact. Wallace noted the downturn in production as many slaves fled their plantations for freedom: “what few slaves remain do just as they please[,] fine grain fields given up…Mr. Wallace’ negroes with the escalation of two, are still with him & have planted a large crop of tobaco but we are looking for them to leave daily not that they wish to go if left to themselves…but the pressure from the abolitionist is so strong that I fear they cannot resist it long.”[8] A few months later she noted, “What we have so much dreaded has at last occured. Hopkinsville is now a recruiting rendezvous for negroes a number enlisted to day coming in from the plantations leaving the tobaco crop to take care of its self.”[9]

The social consequences of emancipation were Ellen Wallace’s primary concern during the war. In the beginning, Wallace feared the violence of slave uprising: “The patrols has to be very vigilant and watchful in the country. And if it were not that there is several militia companies stationed here at this time none of us could lay down at night with out a shudder at what might happen before many St. Domingo over again.”[10] Or, “all the U.S. forces left to day for Boling Green except one company and the sick. The forces left are scarcely enough left for a town guard or to protect the citizens against gurillar or servile insurrection. There is news here this evening of an insurrection of the slaves in South Carolina which we hope is false.”[11] These fears expanded once blacks were admitted into the Union army. Wallace was dyspeptic: “this negro insolence is the effect of Lincoln’s damnable black republican policy. I think if affairs go on as they have been doing, the white women in town and country will find it necessary to carry daggers and revolvers in their girdles in place of pin cushions & scissors…as I walk through the street I could easily imagine that I was in some foreign country…Negroes passing on horse back in squads of three or four yelling and laughing as they prance along on fine horses, as if they had in reality changed places with the white man.”[12]

Wallace was convinced emancipation would be harmful to blacks. She believed the old social order was better: “two [Union] soldier[s] came in for breakfast, they were for freeing all the slaves, poor ignorant wretches, they know not what they do. The great mass of negroes are better provided for and happier than the poorer classes of Yankydom or Europe.”[13] Furthermore, she believed, “the poor Negro is the innocent victim of this war. They are departed from their homes by promises of freedom and then left to starve and die with out shelter or any earthly comfort in the most miserable manner by thousands and tens of thousands. This is the effect of Lincoln [‘s] infamous proclamation…its effect at the present time on that race are deplorable indeed.”[14] She thought blacks misunderstood and would not be able to handle their transition to freedom: “their idea of freedom is to have all the luxuries & comforts of the wealthy whites & no work. They scorn the lot of the poor laboring white man.”[15]

To conclude, in Wallace’s eyes the end of slavery was a politically, economically, and socially catastrophic event. It was too much for Kentuckians like her to bear when Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation destroyed “that confidence and trust that formerly existed between master and slave while it creates suspicion  on the part of the owner, and insolence on the part of the servant[.]”[16] This kind of thinking allowed Kentucky to side with the rest of the South on issues of race, before, during, and long after the Civil War.

[1] Anne E. Marshall, Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010); Amber C. Nicholson, “Border State, Divided Loyalties: The Politics of Ellen Wallace, Kentucky Slave owner, During the Civil War” (Masters Thesis, University of New Orleans, 2011).; Jack Glazer, Been Coming Through Some Hard Times: Race, History, and Memory in Western Kentucky (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2013).

[2] Ellen Wallace diary, Oct. 10, 1862, Ellen Wallace and Annie Starling Diaries, MSS 52, Kentucky Historical Society.

[3] July 3, 1864.

[4] October 3, 1862, underlining is original.

[5] December 14, 1862.

[6] February 17, 1863.

[7] December 25, 1863, underlining is original.

[8] July 3, 1864.

[9] September 18, 1864.

[10] January 1, 1863.

[11] February 14, 1863.

[12] January 28, 1864.

[13] November 9, 1862.

[14] November 12, 1863.

[15] February 20, 1864.

[16] November 18, 1863.

What Emancipation? A Look at the Status of Kentucky’s Freed Children in the Immediate Post-Civil War Period

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

ApprenticeBy Robert L. Breckenridge, Lincoln Academy, Newcastle, ME

The first of the three great Reconstruction amendments to the United States Constitution, the Thirteenth, proclaimed as having been ratified by Secretary of State William H. Seward on December 18, 1865, famously declares that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude … shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Less famously, the Union-loyal border state of Kentucky resisted the movement toward emancipation, voted largely against the amendment when it was under consideration in Congress and both houses of the state legislature voted against ratification when it was initially considered in 1865.1  In fact, the Thirteenth Amendment was not ratified by the Kentucky state legislature until another, more symbolic, vote was taken in 1976.2  It is a fascinating and complex history but the upshot was that Kentucky was among the last places in the nation to grant freedom to its slaves.

U.S. history survey teachers in our nation’s high schools, perhaps pressed for time and inclined, for whatever reason, to move quickly into more contemporary history, might be tempted to give short shrift to the Reconstruction period that follows the Civil War.  This period, however, is one of critical importance for teaching students the nature of the fragile and imperfect peace that came with the Confederacy’s defeat and the imposition of a new and, to many, alien view of social and political cohesion, economic restructuring, and interracial relations, yielding, as it did, another century of racial violence and the systematic deprivation of African-American civil rights and economic opportunity.  One very helpful path for teachers wanting to lead their students quickly and memorably into the Reconstruction period will be found in the use of primary sources.

The Library of the Kentucky Historical Society contains a goldmine of such sources and it was recently my pleasure to explore some of its vast holdings at the invitation of the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop for Teachers entitled “Torn Within, Threatened Without: Kentucky and the Border States in the Civil War.” Interested in the pedagogical dynamic briefly described above, I chose to look at the issue of what emancipation meant for some freed children in the Reconstruction era.

Among the documents of interest I examined were four contracts of “Indenture of Apprentice” with children living in Bourbon County (digital copies appended).3   All of the indentures were issued under the auspices of the Kentucky Freedmen’s Bureau and date from April-July of 1866.  They are all illustrative of the colossal issues the citizens of Kentucky – and by extension, the citizens of other states with large populations of newly freed persons – confronted as slavery was abolished nationally.  Although Kentucky did not enter into rebellion against the federal government, it had a large slave population and, with the end of slavery, it quickly followed the other former slave-holding states in enacting “black codes” of laws which attempted to control social and economic activities of the freedpeople.  Kentuckians attempted to cope with the social changes brought by war with mostly the same tools that, say, Mississippians or Louisianans, for example, relied on.

The documents in question all reveal cases in which minors are indentured for multiple years, boys to the age of twenty-one or twenty-two and girls to the age of eighteen.  Three of the four children indentured are seven years old or younger, the fourth being seventeen years of age.  Both girls are to be instructed in the “art, trade and mystery” of housekeeping; one of the boys was to learn how to farm and the other to make wagons.  In all cases, it is specified that the individuals to whom the apprentices are bound must show them “humane treatment” and “teach [them] to read, write and cipher.” Finally, the indentures conclude with promises of specific material rewards at the conclusion of the period of apprenticeship, usually new clothing and an exact quantity of money, always fifty dollars or less.  In the case of the young man apprenticed for wagon-making, he is to receive a “sett [sic] of tools suitable for” his acquired trade.

By themselves, the documents reveal what, by today’s standards, we would consider fairly harsh treatment of children, that is, multiple years of service and labor in return for personal maintenance and a degree of education with a fairly small bonus at the end of the term of indenture.  Still, it was an arrangement by which Kentuckians dealt with the threat of social disorder, the ominous presence of a large number of uneducated and mostly unskilled freedmen and their children, and provided themselves with a source of labor needed for the revival of their local economies.  These judgments obviously provide excellent inroads on a number of historical, social and ethical topics for classroom discussion.

On the other hand, there is a lot that the documents do not reveal, which fact can also be very instructive for high school students.  There is, for example, no mention of the parents of these minors. There is no reference to consent to the apprenticeship from any relative.4  In one case, the surname of the minor girl is the same as the person to whom she is being bound over, and one wonders about the possible relation of the two.5  Who were the individuals who contracted with these minors?

There is also a bevy of questions that might be posed about how Kentucky perceived the function of and implemented the Freedmen’s Bureau.  It enjoys a mixed historical reputation today, and in these documents are demonstrated both its strengths and some of its weaknesses.6  The Bourbon County instantiation of the Bureau is seen here as both an agency that saw to the care and education of freed children and an agency that consented to the re-imposition of control on freed children by individuals of private wealth and power, probably former slave masters.  Was the Bureau consenting to a sort of charitable adoption of unclaimed minors, or was it agreeing to a legal arrangement by which freedmen were deprived of members of their families and children were forced to return to labor for their former exploiters?  More of the complexities of the history of the Reconstruction era are evident here for the teacher and students willing to look critically at these documents and others like them.

In conclusion, we find in these few old contracts a lot to pique the curiosity of students who want to know something about the lives of the freedmen and their families.  Like so many primary sources, these documents – accessible to almost all high school readers – are windows on the past which not only cast light of the lives of our antecedents but also produce in us a desire to view farther and more comprehensively.  Successful teachers of American history will lead their students into an awareness of the mixed results of the Reconstruction era, but for a deeper appreciation of the existential realities that confronted both the freedmen and their families and the propertied classes who were faced with economic ruin and social chaos a healthy pause over documents such as these will surely profit any learner.



1  William C. Harris, Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union, (University of Kansas Press: Lawrence, 2011), pp. 263-264.

 2     Ann E. Marshall, Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State, (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, 2010), p. 187.

3     Special Collections, Martin F. Schmidt Research Library, Kentucky Historical Society (Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, Frankfort, KY), library catalogue nos. SC 1044 (“Freedmen’s Bureau Apprentice Indentures for Frank and Mina Harris”)  and SC1065 (“Freedmen’s Bureau Apprentice Indentures”).  These documents are available digitally as: Mina Harris, Frank Harris, Sally Allison, and William Arnold.

4     Paul A. Cimbala writes, “Also, Bureau men could not grasp the freedpeople’s conception of family connections and the rights free people believed grew from them.  There were Bureau officials, for example, who failed to acknowledge the custody claims of relatives other than parents over apprenticed children; in such situations orphans legally apprenticed were likely to remain so even if grandparents or uncles or aunts tried to claim them.” See Cimbala, The Freedmen’s Bureau: Reconstructing the American South after the Civil War (Anvil Series, Hans L. Trefousse, series ed.), (Kruger Publishing: Malabar, FL, 2005), p. 93.

5     See the “Indenture of Apprentice” for Sally Allison.

6     Cf. the judgments of W. E. B. DuBois and James M. McPherson in “Afterword” (pp. 343-347) in Paul A. Cimbala and Randall M. Miller, eds., The Freedmen’s Bureau and Reconstruction: Reconsiderations, (Fordham University Press: NY, 1999).  McPherson cites DuBois’s judgments from The Souls of Black Folk, Signet Classic edn., 1969, pp. 74 and 70.  His own judgment is somewhat more positive.  See also Barry A. Crouch, “To Enslave the Rising Generation: The Freedmen’s Bureau and the Texas Black Code,” in Cimbala and Miller, pp. 261-287, wherein he devotes ten pages (263-274) to issues stemming from apprenticeship, which he calls as one of the three major features of the black codes (labor and vagrancy being the other two) and which focuses on the freedmen’s experience in Texas.  Another good introduction to the Bureau and its services to the freedmen can be found in Elizabeth Ann Regosin, Freedom’s Promise: Ex-Slave Families and Citizenship in the Age of Emancipation (University Press of Virginia: Charlottesville, 2002), chapter 1.

Railways and the River – A Look at Economics in the Border States during the Civil War

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

BucknerBy Jessica Elliott, Henry County Middle School, New Castle, KY

Historians, scholars and many families often refer to the American Civil War as the darkest, bloodiest and most politically tense chapter in American history. The American Civil War, also known as the War between the States, was fought from 1861 to 1865 in the United States after Southern slave holding states declared independence from the United States of America and became the Confederate States of America. The states that did not declare secession were known as the Union States. These four years of battles and raids left over 600,000 soldiers dead, destroyed much of the Southern states’ infrastructure, saw slavery abolished, and the start of the Reconstruction process. It was a dark period to be sure. Brother against Brother was a slogan often used to describe what was happening in the Border States of Kentucky, Delaware, Missouri and Maryland. These were areas that often saw military loyalties divided with some male members of the family joining the Union army and some joining the Confederate Army. Kentucky’s Crittenden brothers are noted examples of this with George Bibb Crittenden with the Confederacy and Thomas Leonidas Crittenden throwing his lot in with the Union. Both became Brigadier Generals. These brothers were lucky enough to have survived the battlefields but not everyone was so lucky. President Abraham Lincoln, born in Kentucky himself, reportedly wept when he learned of the death of a favorite brother-in-law, Ben Hardin Helm, as a Confederate general in the Battle of Chickamauga.

Grim tales were not limited to the battlefield either. This period in time leaves behind a rich treasure trove of diaries, papers and letters that details what could happen to women whose loyalties didn’t match those in power around them. Lizzie Hardin, her mother and sister were arrested and tried for waving handkerchiefs and cheering John Hunt Morgan’s men as they passed through Harrodsburg, Kentucky. When the ladies refused to take the Oath of Allegiance they were banished from the state and eventually settled in Georgia.1  Another Kentucky lady, Josie Underwood, saw her family home in Bowling Green occupied by Confederate Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner. After forcing the family with their Union loyalties to leave, the confederates eventually had to retreat themselves and abandon the farm, but not before setting fire and destroying it.2

But what about everyday necessities of life as war flared between the states? What about getting goods and supplies from one place to another? Life continued to go on for families, whether they were touched by loss or even touched by fame. How did commerce continue and even thrive? It was a dark period for American history, but it was also an exciting and innovative one, as common border merchants, businessmen and simple tradesmen continued the everyday process of living. The war saw big changes in the fortunes of these people.

This was an era that utilized the Ohio River as a river of commerce.  In an 1861 federal survey, it was reported that the Ohio had 250 steamboats, 100 freight barges and 200 coal barges in service. 3 For the people who made their living along its banks, the issues of North, South, slavery and politics faded into the background. Border states are ever regarded as being populated by pragmatic people. Loyalty for those people not directly involved with the army might often come down to with whom they were doing business.  As long as trade continued, the river did not act as a natural barrier dividing the Union and the Confederacy. “The Ohio River was not a border for these people. It was a crossroads. These were cousin states.”(Astor, Aaron , Professional Development Speaker,  June 29, 2013)

What was traded up and down the length of the Ohio? An obvious answer would be fish. “Fish was food. Fish was barter stock. Fish was money.” 4 Meat production and trade along the Ohio, especially in Kentucky and Illinois, began to boom as Texas cattle and beef began to get cut off during the war. Fish was only one of these protein sources. Sheep and hog farmers soon saw record profits as their meat and wool was shipped off. It became so profitable that some less than scrupulous people became involved. The Great Hog Swindle happened in Kentucky during November of 1964. 5 Chickens and eggs continued to be a steady source of income as well, though not as profitable because of much of the poultry trade had gone towards the Southern states.

Coal moved up and down the river from mines all along Kentucky. The Kentucky Coal Company and The Mulford Mines, both located in the aptly named Union County, Kentucky, made many sales to the Union Army and were heavy suppliers of their coal. Their shipments moved along the Ohio in barges and made them sizeable profits. 6

Steamboats often hauled cattle, grains, hay, horses and mules. Other staples might include salt, iron, whiskey and flour. Freight such as pianos and lace would be shipped along with passengers. As more and more trade became cut off during the ongoing war, river industries began to suffer. Some enterprising steamboat captains turned their ships into floating stores, providing a little bit of everything to towns up and down the Ohio.7 But inland, an upcoming contender in the shape of railroads soon caused the river system of commerce to slow down to an almost stand still.

The 1860′s became a banner decade for the railroads in the border states and beyond. In many cases, the railways began to outpace river trade. Keeping in mind that it was not until the 1850s that railroads were able to offer long distance service at reasonable rates, it was no wonder so many business kept to the water for so long.  “A railway journey from Philadelphia to Charleston involved eight different gauges, which meant that passengers and freight had to change trains seven times. Only at places like Bowling Green, Kentucky, the railroads were connected to one another.” 8  At the onset of the war, most military shipping was done by chartered steamboats. When fighting broke out between the North and South in 1861, the United States had railway tracks stretching over 30,000 miles, mostly concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest regions, an unfortunate oversight for the Southern states. During the Civil War, railroad owners and operators continued to improve the speed at which people and goods could be moved. President Lincoln himself signed the Pacific Railway Bill on July 1, 1961 which created the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads.

While the war was very hard on the country’s populations and society, it proved to be beneficial for expansion and growth westward after the conflict and railroads were there leading the way.  War is hell as they say, but it also became a great stimulus for trade and innovation.


Works Cited:

1. Marshall, Anne. “A “Sisters’ War”: Kentucky Women and Their Civil War Diaries.” Trans. Array The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. . Vol 110, NOS 3&4Kentucky Historical Society, 2012. 481-482. Print.

2. Marshall, Anne. “A “Sisters’ War”: Kentucky Women and Their Civil War Diaries.” Trans. Array The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. . Vol 110, NOS 3&4Kentucky Historical Society, 2012. 485. Print.

3. Jacobsen, James E. Caught in the Middle: The Civil War Years on the Lower Ohio River. Kentucky Heritage Council, 1998. 286. Print.

4.  Schrage, Robert, and Donald Clare. Along the Ohio River : Cincinnati to Louisville. Charleston SC, Chicago IL, Portsmouth NH, San Francisco CA : Arcadia Publishing, 2006. 36. Print.

5. Jacobsen, James E. Caught in the Middle: The Civil War Years on the Lower Ohio River. Kentucky Heritage Council, 1998. 282. Print.

6. Jacobsen, James E. Caught in the Middle: The Civil War Years on the Lower Ohio River. Kentucky Heritage Council, 1998. 302. Print.

7. Gruenwald, Kim M. . River of Enterprise. 1st Ed. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002. 82. Print.

8. Jacobsen, James E. Caught in the Middle: The Civil War Years on the Lower Ohio River. Kentucky Heritage Council, 1998. 297. Print.

Kentucky’s Neutrality during the Civil War

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

CrittendenBy Laura Forde, Bismarck High School, Bismarck, ND

As the Civil War started, states chose sides, North or South.  Kentucky was the one true exception, they chose neutrality.  As Lowell H. Harrison wrote, to an outside observer the United States may have looked like it “had become three countries: the Union, the Confederacy and Kentucky.” [1]  Kentucky tried to take a neutral path in order to bring the United States back together and protect itself from the horrors of war.  The experiment of neutrality ultimately failed, but Kentucky did what it could to achieve its goals of peace and security through neutrality.  

Kentucky’s history prior to the Civil War consisted of leadership at the national level.  Though it was a frontier state many political and economic leaders emerged from Kentucky.  Through the political leadership of the likes of Henry Clay and John Crittenden, Kentucky tried to keep the nation together through the early 1800s as slavery and sectional conflicts threatened to tear the nation apart.  Clay and Crittenden both worked to resolve the sectional conflicts over the issue of slavery.  When the Civil War began, it seemed that Kentucky again would try the road of compromise.  

Governor Magoffin and the state legislature issued a proclamation of state neutrality in the spring of 1861. According to the Kentucky Senate resolution “Kentucky ought, at least, to remain neutral till the end of the controversy; neither hindering the National Government in the exercise of its authority, nor furnishing men, as a State, to either the belligerents; nor asking aid from either to maintain her position.”[2]   Within that same document Kentucky assured its fellow members of the nation that is would “be ready and anxious to mediate between the belligerents.”[3]    As a state, they were following in the footsteps of their political leaders, Clay and Crittenden.  They hoped to avoid conflict and unite the nation again as one through their own mediation.

John Crittenden made a last ditch effort to avoid war in the US Congress, by proposing what became known as the Crittenden Compromise.  The essence of this compromise was to extend the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific Ocean and prohibit Congress from abolishing or interfering with slavery in those states and territories which it now existed and would extend.[4] Many supported the Crittenden Compromise, but it was too late.  Several states had already seceded and there was no looking back.

One may wonder why Kentucky would take the stance of neutrality during such an impassioned time when it seemed everyone was taking sides in the war.  The stance of neutrality was not completely original to Kentucky, but they made a formal declaration and tried desperately to stay out of the war.  Kentucky had a unique situation; they were tied to the South with slavery, located next to three Free states and at the crossroads of economic ties to both sides through its extensive river systems and network of railroads[5]

Choosing either side in the war could be a lose, lose situation.   They felt that siding with the North or the South had its potential benefits and pitfalls.  They could not fully side with the North because Kentucky was a slaveholding state with sympathies and connections to the South, both economic and personal.  Much of Kentucky was settled by former Virginians, so the roots in slavery and family relations were strong for the state.  However, the people of the state also strongly believed in and supported the nation the Founding Fathers created and did not want to destroy the nation they had been given.  

As a Border State, Kentucky knew that the state would be right in the middle of the fighting.  Both armies would have to invade or march through their state to fight the other.  Governor Magoffin warned the citizens of the state, “We are a border state; we have the brunt of the battle.”[6] Neutrality was a move to potentially avoid skirmishes on their own land. However, being neutral would prove difficult for the very reason that they were in the middle of both sides of the Civil War, both geographically and ideologically.

Kentucky was also a strong Unionist state.  They believed in the Constitution and the nation that the Founding Fathers left to them.  In a letter to the Editor, Governor Magoffin directed part of his statement to the Southern States which had seceded or were considering it.  He stated that he was appealing to “all the sacred memories which brought the government into existence, and all the ties which should be preserved and strengthened to keep us together.” [7] In that same letter to the editor, he stated that Kentucky would “take her position calmly, fearlessly, wisely, with her whole heart beating for the Union and her whole soul overflowing with patriotism and loyalty to that Union under the compact of the Constitution.”[8] This strong sentiment toward the Union was shared by many Kentuckians and helped keep Kentucky neutral and later in the Union.  

Kentuckians also believed that staying in the Union would better protect their right to own slaves.  They believed the constitution protected slavery and pointed to the Dred Scott decision, authored by Chief Justice Taney of the Supreme Court as evidence.  In that case, the court ruled that slaves were property and all property was protected by the Due Process clause of the 5th Amendment.  Therefore, the government could not deprive citizens of slaves, which were considered property.[9]  This belief is illustrated by Governor Magoffin who stated that Kentucky “will keep her present status upon the slavery question believing the laws, the constitution and the courts afford her adequate protection.”[10] Kentuckians from the Border Slave States Convention issued a statement explaining their belief that “Congress, with a majority in opposition to the Republicans, could have controlled the ‘sectional President, Lincoln, and obtained redress for southern grievance.’”[11]  In the period leading up to the Civil War, the United States Congress had not been able to pass any amendments abolishing slavery, which was essentially the only way to truly get rid of the institution in the country.  In order to pass an amendment, it takes 2/3 of Congress and 3/4 of the states to ratify it.[12]  Those proportions would have been impossible to reach in 1861 Therefore, the constitution would have protected slavery and Kentucky was relying on that fact. 

Within Kentucky there was strong support for neutrality even though individuals often favored one side or the other in the war.  However, the reaction outside the state was not as supportive.  The Northern states which bordered Kentucky were concerned that neutrality would make their states the battlegrounds of the war and tried to push Lincoln to be more assertive with Kentucky.[13] Though many were pushing Lincoln to act with more force against Kentucky, Lincoln realized he needed to be patient.  Acting too quickly or aggressively could send Kentucky to the side of the Confederacy, which he was desperately trying to avoid.  Lincoln’s inaction, however, did not mean he supported neutrality.  In a speech to Congress in June of 1860, he called neutrality “‘treason in effect’”[14] meaning that though neutrality did not bear the same name as treason, staying neutral had the same effect as siding with the rebels.  However, Lincoln tolerated neutrality to ensure he did not have another state leave the Union.

Neutrality ends when the Confederates invaded Kentucky in the early fall of 1861.  The Confederates believed they needed to take strategic locations in Kentucky along the rivers before the Union army did.  General Gideon Pillow was convinced the Union was about to make a move on those strategic locations so he beat them to it by taking Columbus.[15]  The Union army then made a counter move taking Paducah and Kentucky was forced to take a side in the war.[16]  Due to the South invading the state and being the first to break Kentucky’s neutrality, Kentucky joined the Union.  

The fears of Kentuckians as secession began unfortunately came true.  The Civil War was fought on their land, with the blood of their kin, and created chaos and division in the state beyond which most other states experienced.  The experiment in neutrality was a noble effort to save not only their state, but in their minds, the Union.  Unfortunately, neutrality failed and the human and economic cost to the state of Kentucky was immense.

[1] Harrison, Lowell Hayes. The Civil War in Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 2009. Print. p. 9

[2] Preamble and Resolutions offered by John B Brunder in the Senate of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.” Journal of the Called Session of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Begun and Held in the Town of Frankfort on Monday the Sixth day of May, in the Year of our Lord 1861, and of the Commonwealth the Sixty-Ninth (Frankfort: Printed at the Kentucky Yeoman Office, John B. Major, State Printer, 1861), 143-145

[3] Ibid.

[4] Crittenden, John “Proposal by Senator John Crittenden December 18,1860” Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 2nd Session pp. 114 (Joint Resolution No. 50)

[5] Harrison

[6] Magoffin, B. “Letter to the Editor of the Yeomen” Journal of the Called Session of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Begun and Held in the Town of Frankfort on Thursday the Seventeenth day of January, in the Year of our Lord 1861, and of the Commonwealth the Sixty-Ninth (Frankfort: Printed at the Kentucky Yeoman Office, John B. Major, State Printer, 1861), 12-18

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9]Schwartz, Bernard. A History of the Supreme Court. New York: Oxford UP, 1993. Print.

[10] Ibid

[11] Harris, William C. Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union. Lawrence, Kan.: University of Kansas, 2011. Print. p. 85

[12] The United States Constitution, Article 5.

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid, 93.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

Friend or Foe? John Hunt Morgan and a Kentucky Perspective

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

MorganBy Patt Owen, Beaumont Middle School, Lexington, KY

“I come to liberate you from the despotism of a tyrannical faction …” Famous words from Samuel Adams?  Or part of a speech given by Patrick Henry to the Virginia House of Burgesses?  Actually, those words were found on a handbill in Georgetown, Kentucky, 1862 and signed by Gen. John Hunt Morgan of the Confederate States of America. [1] For Morgan and many other Southerners, Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 was just that, a “tyrannical faction.”  And in Kentucky’s quest to remain neutral in a civil war that soon followed that election, Morgan was anything but neutral, instead choosing to “liberate” his state from the clutches of a tyrant.  The Georgetown handbill was not the only time Morgan petitioned his fellow Kentuckians to his cause – another broadside printed in August of 1862 again tries to rally Kentuckians and reminds them of their deprivation by these “Northern Despots.” [2] But was Morgan a friend or foe or Kentucky?

For some Kentuckians, Morgan was considered a “friend.”  According to Randolph Hollingsworth’s Lexington: Queen Of The Bluegrass, Kentucky children often recited a poem in Morgan’s honor during the war: “I want to be a cavalryman, and with John Hunt Morgan ride/A Colt revolver in my belt, a saber by my side./I want a pair of epaulets to match my suit of gray,/The uniform my mother made and lettered C.S.A.” [3] The memorial statue of Morgan would also indicate that he was “friend.”  Placed on the courthouse lawn in Lexington, Kentucky by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1911, Morgan’s memory is held in high esteem in the Lexington area, if not the state itself.  When the UDC could not come up with the funds to purchase the monument, the state of Kentucky contributed $7,500 or half the cost. [4] On that day in October, Morgan’s brother in-law, General Basil Duke (CSA), was the master of ceremonies and more than 10,000 people were in attendance at its dedication. [5]

However, hindsight can color the vision of “friend or foe,” as in the dedication ceremony that took place almost half a century after the end of the war.  But one particular letter, written from Lexington during Morgan’s first raid of 1862, would also make him out to be a friend.  According to the letter writer, the people of Lexington were gathering on the street and excited about the possibility of seeing John Hunt Morgan ride through town. “Somewhere along the street a band picked up their cadence and marched out in from of them.  Confederate sympathizers now crowded into the streets, cheering, waving, reaching out, touching.” [6]  And according to Gary Robert Matthews book, Basil Wilson Duke, CSA, when Morgan’s men were sent out on raids, they were given “strict orders from Morgan not to steal anything from the local residences” [7] endearing him to pro-Confederates while taking the sting out of how some Kentuckians who refused to take sides saw him. 

But there were many who did not see Morgan as a friend and even rejoiced when they heard of any of Morgan’s misfortunes during his Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio raids.  Kentucky resident Matthew Wood wrote a letter to his wife Sarah claiming that there were rumors that Morgan had been captured, saying, “the news is splendid from all quarters.” [8]  Union private Lysander Wheeler writes home in 1863 and mentions that he hopes Morgan will “get massacred himself and all his crew.”[9]

While not considered friend by many, Morgan and his raids are in no way to be confused with the likes of William Quantrill, the Missouri raider and Confederate officer.  Quantrill, according to Jay Winik’s April 1865, was a savage beast.  Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas sparked a slaughterfield.  Over 150 men and boys, “murdered in cold blood.” [10]  What followed was no better, as General Orders Number 11, issued by the Union, forced 10,000 Missouri citizens to become refuges, “their crops and their forage were destroyed.  So were their homes, which were burned.  There is no final list of how many innocent people died in the process.” [11]  And from there, Quantrill and his men retaliated with a fury that left even Confederate authorities finding the “guerrillas’ methods distasteful.” [12]  Not so with General Morgan and his men. 

While the Kentucky raider sought to disrupt Union lines, destroy Union communication and supplies, disturb Union troops, he did not resort to savagery to accomplish these goals. While he was not in a league with Quantrill (not even close), Morgan’s raids on Kentucky did inflict damage to the civilian population.  His 1864 raid into central Kentucky included the destruction by fire of several warehouses in Lexington, a fire in a livery stable in Cynthiana that “spread rapidly through much of the business area, destroying several commercial buildings along with about twenty-five residences before it could be brought under control,” [13] and large amounts of missing money from the Farmer’s Bank of Kentucky in Montgomery County and the Branch Bank of Kentucky in Lexington.

So, was Morgan a friend or a foe to Kentucky?  His propaganda wording found on his handbills would have you believe that he was rescuing his fellow Kentuckians from the despotism of the Lincoln government.  But a loss of one’s business, one’s home, or one’s savings from the bank would have you believe that the Kentuckian himself was a despot.  While he was careful to control his own actions and those of his men early in the war when it came to the civilian population, war has a way of changing attitudes and behaviors the longer it is fought.  Deciding his status as friend or foe is strictly based on one’s perspective but it certainly is worth a discussion.


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

[2] “Morgan, John Hunt (1825-1864), Proclamation. To the Inhabitants of Kentucky! | The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.” Morgan, John Hunt (1825-1864), Proclamation. To the Inhabitants of Kentucky! | The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. N.p., n.d

[3] Hollingsworth, Randolph. Lexington, Queen of the Bluegrass. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2004. 74-75. Print

[4] National Park Service. National Registry of Historic Places Listings

[5] The dedication ceremony for the John Hunt Morgan statue on Oct. 18, 1911- Photo courtesy of the R. Burl McCoy Collection, Lexington History Museum

[6] Thomas, Edison H. John Hunt Morgan and His Raiders. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1975. pg. 53

[7] Matthews, Gary Robert. Basil Wilson Duke, CSA: The Right Man in the Right Place. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 2005. 40-41. Print

[8] Wood, Matthew (fl. 1862-1865), to Sarah Wood | The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.  Wood, Matthew (fl. 1862-1865), to Sarah Wood | The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

[9] Wheeler, Lysander (fl. 1837-1903), to His Parents, [brother-in-law], and Sister | The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Wheeler, Lysander (fl. 1837-1903), to His Parents, [brother-in-law], and Sister | The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

[10] Winik, Jay. April 1865: The Month That Saved America. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. eBook, Kindle Edition.

[11] ibid

[12] ibid

[13] Thomas, Edison H. John Hunt Morgan and His Raiders. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1975. pg. 99

The Necessity of War and Military Necessity – a Double Edged Sword

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

Jacob and WolfordBy John Kenney, Detroit Country Day School, Beverly Hills, MI

In March of 1861, Abraham Lincoln stood on the steps of the nation’s capital building and solemnly declared that he possessed “no lawful right” to interfere with the institution of slavery. Furthermore, he stated “and I have no inclination to do so”. [1] Many believed him and took him at his constitutional word When the southern ‘fire breathers’ advocated secession, thousands of loyal unionist  men enlisted to preserve and protect that which the American people understood was a near sacred gift from the founding brothers of our nation’s revolutionary past. Yet within a mere two years, Lincoln would, with the cunning logic of a master lawyer, begin the dismantlement of the ‘peculiar institution’.  This dissection of a 250 year old legal and culturally entrenched institution would tear at the fabric of the loyal states and challenge the fidelity of their (her) sons.

The crisis and fear of the destruction of slavery was, perhaps, most intimately experienced in Kentucky. As a border state with considerable number of slaves (estimates suggest that Kentucky possessed 225,483 slaves, roughly 20% of the entire population[2], the state could have easily drifted through a convention into secession. Despite politically toying with neutrality, the state would eventually ‘despite the continuation of important concerns about Lincoln and his party’s intention in the war…Kentucky Unionists remained determined to remain in the union, to hold Lincoln’s feet to the fire and to challenge any transgression he might attempt on slavery” .[3]  Loyal Kentuckians expected Lincoln to uphold the constitution and to honor his inaugural promises.

Despite being one of Kentucky’s leading criminal attorneys, Frank Wolford did not anticipate Lincoln’s use of the international law of war to craft a policy to emancipate and eventually recruit African American former slaves into the US Military. This anticipatory failure led to an arrest, a suspension of a writ of habeas corpus and a series of letter exchanges between Wolford, a union hero, and President Lincoln. 

At the outbreak of the war, Frank Wolford enlisted and organized the 1st Kentucky Union Cavalry known as the “Wildcats”. The Wildcats served at Wildcat Mountain, KY, Mill Springs, TN, Lebanon, TN and Perryville, KY. However, he was perhaps best known for chasing down the Confederate John Hunt Morgan, known as the ‘Thunderbolt of the Confederacy’. In early July of 1862, Morgan led an infamous raid that traversed nearly 1000 miles through Kentucky – destroying union rail and communication lines and infusing fear into the loyal Kentuckians. Not far behind the marauding Morgan was the relentless Wolford. “Astride Kentucky steeds, Morgan and Wolford, through the summer and fall of 1862, played the glamorous game of war over the fertile fields of Kentucky and Tennessee–played it as romantically and as chivalrously as did ever Coeur de Lion and Saladin in the days of the Crusades “.[4]  Eventually, Morgan would be captured and surrender to the Union forces. “The day came when General Morgan realized that further flight and resistance were humanly impossible. He stopped and sought Colonel Wolford, whom he considered the most magnanimous of the Union officers, to surrender to him as he was most likely to give the most generous terms”[5].

Wolford’s heroism was not generally acknowledged as Morgan’s was with flamboyant accounts in both Northern and Southern newspapers.  However, in the early spring of 1864, the grateful citizens of Garrard County presented Wolford with a ceremonial sword (see picture) commemorating his service to the union cause. The presentation was contemporaneous to a new initiative by the Lincoln administration to recruit African Americans as soldiers from the refugee encampment inside Camp Nelson Kentucky.  Wolford uses this opportunity to criticize the Administration’s policy.  According to one witness in attendance, Wolford accused Lincoln of…

wantonly trampling upon the Constitution and crushing under the iron heel of military power the rights guaranteed by that instrument.” He charged the President with violating his solemn pledge that he had repeatedly enunciated at the commencement of his administration as to the purposes of the war. He charged the President, further, with a “violation of the rules of civilized warfare in the indiscriminate, widespread ruin which he was sowing broadcast throughout the South.” And, finally, he bitterly resented the recruiting of Negro Soldiers “[6]

For his military insubordination, Wolford was arrested and for a time held without writ of Habeas Corpus.  Eventually he was charged and dishonorably discharged from his Military service.  Upon his discharge Lincoln attempted a ‘benign’ attempt to pardon Wolford for his remarks. On July 7, 1864 President Lincoln sent Wolford a parole request that read in part:

            “I hereby give my parole of honor, that if allowed, I will forthwith proceed to
             Louisville Kentucky, and then remain, until the court for my trial shall arrive, 
             when I will report myself to their charge, and that in the mean time I will abstain
             from public speaking, and everything intended or calculated to produce


Col. Wolford  is allowed to go on the above conditions.


Wolford apparently did not sign the parole request. Several days later, Lincoln sent Joshua Speed, a long time friend of Lincoln from his initial Springfield days and now a prominent resident of Louisville, KY, a parole letter intended for Wolford. Speed was instructed to encourage Wolford to sign the parole.

“Hon. James Speed Executive Mansion,
My dear Sir: Washington, July 17th, 1864.

Herewith is a blank parole, in duplicate, for Col. Wolford to sign. Please present them to him, and if he sign them, fill in the proper date to the parole, and to my endorsement; and leave one of the papers with him, and return the other to me. Yours truly


Responding to what Wolford believed was an unreasonable arrest, discharge and intimidating pressure to comply with an unconstitutional edict, Wolford would write Lincoln noting his vehement displeasure with the new recruitment policy.
On July 30  Wolford answered: “I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter proposing to me a discharge from an arrest in many ways vexatious and inconvenient, upon my signing a parole, whereby I am to pledge my honor that I will neither do nor say anything which will either directly or indirectly tend to hinder, delay, or embarrass the employment and use of colored persons as soldiers, seamen, or otherwise in the suppression of the rebellion. . . . In answer to this proposal, I have frankly to say that I cannot bargain for my liberty, and the exercise of my rights as a freeman, on any such terms. I have committed no crime. I have broken no law. . . . You, Mr. President, if you will excuse the bluntness of a soldier, by an exercise of arbitrary power have caused me to be arrested and held in confinement contrary to law, not for the good of our common country, but to increase the chances of your re-election . . . and otherwise to serve the purposes of the political party whose candidate you are. And now, you ask me to stultify myself by signing a pledge whereby I shall virtually admit, your right to arrest me—and virtually support you in deterring other men from criticising [sic] the policy of your Administration. No Sir! much as I love liberty, I will fester in a prison, or die on a gibbet, before I will agree to any terms that do not abandon all charges against me, and fully acknowledge my innocence.”[9]

It is unknown if Wolford ever signed the requested parole. Lincoln is thought to have provided for his release based on his military service and a desire not to press the parole issue further. It is known, however, that he continued to speak against Lincoln’s policies. In September of 1864, Wolford would give a speech in Richmond, Ky. in which he echoed the same sentiments he held in his remarks upon presentation of the Garrard County Ceremonial Sword. The Oct 4, 1864 edition of the Louisville Journal recorded the principal portion of Wolford’s Richmond (KY) speech in which he further articulated his concerns regarding Lincoln’s Emancipation actions. He castigated Lincoln’s policy stating,  “ the policy he has adopted and is pursuing is not the wise and comprehensive policy of the enlightened statesman — not the policy which is calculated to preserve the Union, restore law and order, and bring back peace and harmony to the people; but that it is a narrow, selfish, and contracted policy, which is calculated to engender strife, increase confusion, prolong the war, and bring ruin and destruction to the country”[10].

Moreover, Wolford challenged the President’s military and legal strategy of emancipation and slave recruitment. In the Richmond speech Wolford, using his own legal experience accused the administration of violating “the twelve foundations on which our political Zion is built — the twelve great pillars upon which the temple of American liberty stands. And yet I shall show that Mr. Lincoln has violated and is attempting to destroy every one of them.”[11] After systematically enumerating the perceived constitutional violations, Wolford took aim on the misguided policy of “military necessity” as a strategy for winning the war. According to Wolford the war had already been won. The enemy had been defeated without emancipation and/or slave recruitment into the Union Forces. Wolford stated, “The President and his counselors [sic] and party, those who rule the Congress, have not had sense enough to see the difference between whipping an army and conquering a people. The rebel army has been often whipped, but the Southern people are not conquered. Nor are they likely to be either conquered or conciliated while the unwise and cruel policy of Mr. Lincoln prevails.”[12]  Wolford may have been out of line when he encouraged active resistance among Union loyalists to hinder recruitment of black soldiers, but he viscerally believed that Lincoln and his policies were an active violation of the Constitution.

Wolford joined the Union cause out of loyalty to the Constitution and fought valiantly, if not heroically. A native Kentuckian, like Lincoln, Wolford under stood the necessity of the war, but differed on the legal interpretation of military necessity to emancipate the slaves and to eventually recruit them into service. The commemorative sword became or becomes emblematic of troubled Kentucky and its loyal ‘sons”.  The war became a double edged sword – engaged by promises to uphold the union and its Constitution, it ended at least for Wolford as “disunion and death to all our hopes, death to the government, death to the cause of civil liberty.”[13]

[1] A. Lincoln. First Inaugural Address.  The Avalon Project. Yale University. Lillian Goldman Law Library, 2013.

[2] Civil War Census 1861. The Civil War Home Page. Accessed July 29, 2013.

[3] William Harris. Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union. University Press of Kansas, 2011. 98.

[4] Habelton Tapp, “Incidents in the Life of Frank Wolford,” 90.

[5] Ibid, 91.

[6] Ibid, 91.

[7] A. Lincoln. Collective Works of Abraham Lincoln. 431.

[8] Ibid, 432.

[9] Ibid. annotation, 432.

[10] Frank Wolford. Louisville Journal, Saturday, October 1, 1864, SPEECH OF COLONEL FRANK WOLFORD AT RICHMOND, MADISON COUNTY, KY.

[11] Frank Wolford. Louisville Journal, Saturday, October 1, 1864, SPEECH OF COLONEL FRANK WOLFORD AT RICHMOND, MADISON COUNTY, KY.

[12] Frank Wolford. Louisville Journal, Saturday, October 1, 1864, SPEECH OF COLONEL FRANK WOLFORD AT RICHMOND, MADISON COUNTY, KY.

[13] Frank Wolford. Louisville Journal, Saturday, October 1, 1864, SPEECH OF COLONEL FRANK WOLFORD AT RICHMOND, MADISON COUNTY, KY.


The Battle of Perryville

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

PerryvilleBy Jonathan Swegles, Bangor Middle School, Bangor, Michigan

The Battle of Perryville, fought on October 8, 1862, was the most intense battle fought on Kentucky’s border state soil during the Civil War. This conflict killed or wounded 7,500 soldiers, some taken by the consequences of battle, but most by sickness and disease acquired days, weeks, and months after shots were fired. While the effects were devastating on the soldiers wearing both blue and gray, one can argue that effects on the civilians and the physical surroundings were just as devastating. After the able bodied soldiers moved on to fight another day, the dead, sick, and dying were left to the towns people of Perryville. Weeks after the fighting, the sick and wounded needed to be tended to and the scores of dead needed to be accounted for. This was to be done by the innocent bystanders to war, regardless of their political allegiances. 

When General Buell’s Army of the Ohio met General Bragg’s Army of the Mississippi on the rolling hills of Perryville, the conflict would last five hours, short in terms of Civil War battles, but a major blow to the regiments on both sides. General Bragg, fighting with a force of 16,000 men, lost 532 soldiers (3%) and had another 2,641 (16.5%). Bragg’s army did not fare much better losing 894 (5%) and having another 2,911 wounded (16%).[1]Due to the terrain of undulating hills, soldiers were fighting in close proximity and the results were brutal. In one mysterious example, four Confederate soldiers looked as if they met the same fate from the same cannon ball by the peculiar way they had fallen on the battlefield. A reporter for the Louisville Journal took note saying: 

I saw this morning four dead rebels who had been killed by a single shot. The top of the head of the first was taken off, the entire head of the second was gone, the breast of the third was torn open, and the ball passed through the abdomen of the [fourth]. All had fallen in a heap, killed instantly.[2]

It was this scene, and others like it that led Captain Robert Taylor of the 32nd Kentucky Infantry to say “we started upon put mournful mission” of removing injured soldiers from the battlefield shortly after the fighting ceased. [3] While some soldiers had met their final resting place, others lay in unthinkable agony “shot in all conceivable ways and places…a sickening sight to see.”[4]

Being removed from the battlefield was not a guarantee of survival as proper care, surgeons, and supplies were limited. A soldier in the 38th Indiana infantry was “shot thought the right shoulder, the ball passing through the lower edge of the shoulder blade. It was seven days before his bloody clothes were removed and proper surgical attention given him.”[5] One thing that was not limited, however, was the large number of diseases and bacteria passing through the wounded soldiers. Typhoid fever, pneumonia, diarrhea, and dysentery affected many of the soldiers left behind at the makeshift hospitals. Measles was also very prevalent, even killing two brothers, Privates Marion and Phillip Clemens of Kentucky’s 15th Infantry fighting for the Union two months after they were both wounded in battle.[6] Andrew Phillips, the father of George Phillips, a sick soldier from the Battle of Perryville wrote in a letter home that Andrew “had become so reduced by diarhoe etc that he had to be brought in & was not able to get up alone.”[7]

While hundreds lay dead on the battlefield and thousands more suffered in homes, barns, and churches that were made into hospitals, both armies moved on leaving the people of Perryville with arduous task of caring for the wounded, burying the dead, in addition to recovering from the material losses brought on war. One such person, arguably affected the most by the events at Perryville, was Henry P. Bottom. 

Henry P. Bottom was a resident of Perryville whose home, land, and surrounding buildings were affected by the action. Due to extensive damages and confiscation of property he filed a claim to the federal government for damages in the amount of $4,800, over $108,000 in today’s dollars. He was compensated $1,715 in 1914.[8] Not only was Bottom hurt financially, but he incurred psychological damages as well, and understandably so.  Atop a hill in the Perryville battle site, Bottom, a Union supporter, buried “several hundred Confederates in two large pits” [9] and did so very meticulously and methodically. Bottom took to noting how many corpses, the location of their burial, and personal belongings to help with identification. Bottom was not alone in his efforts. The United States Sanitary Commission was not pleased with the Confederate soldiers who had yet to be buried, citizens of Perryville, many of whom were Southern sympathizers were forced to bury them.[10]

The Battle of Perryville was quick, swift, and shockingly deadly. The combatants of both sides were killed, wounded, and maimed in large numbers in a short amount of time. When they did not die a quick death on the battlefield chances are they died a slow agonizing death due to disease rather than their wounds. As much as the soldiers of war suffered the consequences of war, so too, did the civilians that were involuntary brought into it. Lost property, destruction of homes, and the psychological damaged suffered took a toll on everyday citizens equal to that of a battle tested soldier. General Sherman, speaking at a Michigan Military Academy graduation 17 years after the Battle of Perryville summed it up when he stated, “war is hell.”[11]

[1] Kenneth Noe, Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle (University Press of Kentucky) Appendix

[2] Louisville Journal, October 14, 1862

[3] Robert Taylor, Diary of Captain Robert Taylor, in addition to his writings Capt. Taylor has interesting renderings of battles, rank insignia, and the size of his rationed cracker.

[4] Stuart W. Sanders, Perryville Under Fire: The Aftermath of Kentucky’s Largest Civil War Battle (Charleston, 2012) p. 42

[5] Kurt Holman, ed., Perryville Casualty Computer Database File, Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site, Perryville, KY.

[6] Sanders, pp. 110-111

[7] Andrew Phillips, Letter by Andrew Phillips from Hospital 10, Louisville, Kentucky, October 19, 1862. 

[8] Sanders, pp. 71-72

[9] Ibid, p. 36

[10] Ibid, p. 80

[1] Source:

“Kill Them Wherever and Whenever We Can”

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

Frank JamesBy Deborah Painter-Plimley, Combs High School, San Tan Valley, AZ

Much has been made by Hollywood of the public adoration of the outlaws who perpetrated guerrilla warfare on the innocent populations of the Border States during the Civil War. The James and Younger Gang, John Hunt Morgan, Bloody Bill Anderson, and Quantrill’s Raiders wreaked havoc with impunity during the mid to late 1800’s in the regions of Kentucky, Tennessee, Kansas, and Missouri. However, popular movies and books have portrayed these desperate, ruthless men as Robin Hoods who robbed the rich and powerful and returned this ill-gotten loot back to the poor masses from whence it had come. Indeed, pictures taken during the lifetimes of these outlaws portray men who are confident and not afraid of notoriety, as shown in this picture taken of Frank James.[1] Due to this romanticized portrayal, there is a perception that these lawless gangs appear to have enjoyed widespread popularity among the common people of Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee, who refused time and again to give any information about these notorious gangs to the authorities. Because of this reluctance on the part of their victims, we have come to believe in their legends as heroes. But were they?

If there is a portrayal of their widespread regional popularity, one wonders how it came to be, especially considering there is seemingly little evidence that these outlaws actually gave the money they stole back to the poor, or assisted the less fortunate on any kind of regular basis. Indeed, beyond supporting their own families, future raids, and the occasional gesture, it seems that most of the stolen loot was kept by these gangs. Additionally, there is evidence that residents of these beleaguered Border States were living in a state of heightened alert due to the activities of these ruthless bandits who were, in reality, stealing from them and frustrating efforts to effect their own capture as illustrated in an excerpt from an 1862 letter written by Thomas F. Leech to a friend in Cumberland in which he states:

“I was sorry to hear that you all had been under great excitement previous to your writing. I am certain that you had good reason for being so while your county was infested with a band of as notorious robbers and murderers as John Morgan was. I wished from the depths of my heart that through the help of God that our men would succeed in capturing him and most of his gang…to look at it right, it is almost impossible to do anything with these guerrillas but we can to give us time clear them from our land. My policy would be to aim to never take any one of them prisoner, but kill them wherever and whenever we can.”[2]

This hardly sounds like John Morgan and his band of outlaws were considered a boon to these residents and since many of these outlaw gangs emulated one another we can surmise that the James and Younger Gang were just as unwelcome despite Hollywood’s insistence to the contrary, as illustrated in this excerpt from the biography of William “Bloody Bill” Anderson: “A sociopath who lived for spilling blood, William Anderson was one of the most fearsome leaders of Confederate guerrillas in Civil War Missouri. Jesse James joined Anderson’s group in 1864 and soon learned to emulate his leader.”[3]

How then did these legends of bands of righteous southerners who robbed the evil rich, (think Yankees), and supported the poor, and downtrodden, (think Confederates), become such popularly accepted versions of the truth that sympathetic movies and books were created? How did the James and Younger Gang members, who were tutored by and emulated a bloody sociopath, become the stuff of Hollywood legend?

The explanation might come from the newspapers of the time that tended to glorify and exalt the actions of these gangs, as in this example from the Kansas City Daily Journal of Commerce, September 27, 1876, reporting on the James and Younger Gang and their latest adventure:

Their exploits all partook of a semi-military character and could only have resulted from experience. And these men were among the most noted of those half-robber, half-soldier organizations, led by Quantrell, Todd, Bill Anderson and others, on the Missouri and Kansas border. They were no common thieves or vulgar robbers, but had an ambition to make themselves famous in, as they termed it, “a fair, square and honorable” way of doing such things…[4]

Additionally, the fact that some Confederate sympathizers may have seen these former Confederate soldiers as folk heroes after the war, especially after the stinging, dishonorable defeat of the South by the North, probably contributed to their heroic legend since we know that this loss of honor was devastating to the Confederate South. The St. Louis Globe Democrat wrote about the James Gang in October of 1876:

They murdered officers sent to arrest them, and, despite their plunderings and murders, so enlisted popular sympathy in their behalf that the reward of $25,000 for their capture remained unclaimed, though their whereabouts were well known, and, in fact, instead of hiding, they paraded themselves publicly for the admiration of their fellow-Missourians. And had they remained in Missouri to the end of their lives doubtless they might with impunity have gone on with their raiding of railroad trains, and have been regarded with admiring pride by their fellow citizens of that Commonwealth.[5]

Moreover, it seems possible that Southerners, who now felt powerless since the loss of the Civil War, may have vicariously lived through the exploits of these ruthless groups of lawless men and glossed over their atrocities because these gangs of young men may have appeared to be regaining some of their honor, reputation, and power and exacting the revenge that some southern Confederate men sought and were unable to achieve.

Indeed, the reports became even more biased if the paper in question was one of Confederate sympathies such as the Kansas City Times which wrote in September of 1872, “There is a dash of tiger blood in the veins of all men; a latent disposition even in the bosom that is a stranger to nerve and daring, to admire those qualities in other men. And this penchant is always keener if there be a dash of sin in the deed to spice the enjoyment of its contemplation…”[6] Or, consider this account from the Confederate-leaning Lexington Caucasian in September of 1874:

In all the history of medieval knight-errantry and modern brigandage, there is nothing that equals the wild romance of the past few years’ career of Arthur McCoy, Frank and Jesse James and the Younger boys. Their desperate deeds during the war were sufficient to have stocked a score of ordinary novels, with facts that outstrip the strung-out flights of fantasy. Their fierce hand-to-hand encounters… their long and reckless scouts and forays, and their riotous jollity… all combined to form a chapter without a parallel in the annals of America…[7]

One wonders what the average farmer thought of these newspaper reports as he was trying to scrape out a living and rebuild what was left of his farm after a raid from one of these outlaw bands had virtually wiped him out. It gives us reason to pause and consider carefully some of the “history” that we have come to accept and to wonder just what we might find if we looked a little deeper.

[2] Letter from Thomas F. Leech 10 August 1862, KHS Digital Collections,

[3] The biography of William “Bloody Bill” Anderson,

[4] The Kansas City Daily Journal of Commerce, September 27, 1876,

“Tyrant, Usurper, and a Fool”

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

Wolford swordBy Michael Carroll, Wagner Middle School, Philadelphia, PA, and Andrew Trenkle, Maine South High School, Evanston, IL

On January 1, 1863 the President of the United States released a military document that changed the face of the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation. To some Kentuckians who fought for the Union the idea of fighting with Negro soldiers was a horrid idea and some spoke out against the President in a treasonous manner.  Enter, Lt. Governor of Kentucky Richard T. Jacob and Colonel Frank Wolford of the 1st Kentucky Union Cavalry.  These men bitterly protested the Emancipation Proclamation and the Union war policy in Kentucky.  Wolford would go on to make an inflammatory speech, calling Lincoln a “tyrant,” a “usurper,” and a “fool.”[1] 

The peculiar actions of these two Union leaders help explain, in one event, the entire complex history of Kentucky during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Simply put, Kentucky changed as the meaning of the Civil War changed. 

In the beginning, the war was fought for Union, Lincoln vowed not to touch slavery, and he famously promised in his First Inaugural Address, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists”, Kentucky remained decidedly pro-Union. However, as the war shifted and Lincoln became more committed to the “new birth of freedom” promised at Gettysburg; the minds of Kentuckians also began to change.  Finally, as the truly radical nature of the Civil War became apparent during Reconstruction, Kentucky finally “seceded” and white Kentuckians identified with the Confederacy for generations to come.

To better understand how this came to be and to capture the context of the Jacob and Wolford incident one must understand that Kentucky was a politically complicated state before the war and a bitterly divided one during it.  Kentucky was perhaps the best example in the country of fighting that pitted brother against brother, notably highlighted by families like the Todd’s who had sons fighting for the Confederacy while a daughter served as First Lady.   Kentucky’s problems worsened as its stance as a Union state that was pro-slavery became even more complicated with issuing of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  This revolutionary order had two radical effects that were particularly controversial in Kentucky.  First, it declared all slaves in the rebel states “henceforward and forever free”, committing the Union army to not only the preservation of the Union, but also to the destruction of slavery.  Perhaps even more importantly to Kentuckians, the Proclamation allowed for the admission of all black soldiers into the Union army regardless of their state of origin.  Kentucky had always felt that it would better control the swirling changes around slavery by remaining in the Union and that its slaves would be better protected under the Constitution.  Now Kentucky’s entire rationale for remaining in the Union seemed to be swept away and the purpose of the war altered.[2]

Such complex circumstances about the Kentucky’s place in the war and its future as a Union state with slavery provide the complex backdrop of the Wolford transgression.  Public opinion was shifting and this was further accelerated by Union martial-law-like military presence in Kentucky and constant guerilla-raid threat throughout the state, people were far from able to live without constant fear.[3] 

Wolford was to receive a sword for his valiant efforts on the battlefield from the people of Kentucky and in particular for his hounding of the Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan.  In Lexington, KY on March 10, 1864 the Colonel lambasted the President and his policy of admittance of the Negro soldier into the Union army at the very same ceremony where he was presented with his sword.  There were a number of soldiers and Kentucky dignitaries in the crowd, who therefore witnessed that Colonel Wolford had broken the law, specifically the 5th Article of War, which stated that any officer who speaks disrespectfully of the President of the United States shall be court martialed.[4]

Given the content of the Wolford speech, Wolford was arrested and sent to Tennessee for a Court Martial hearing with the President’s knowledge. Fortunately for Wolford he did have some leverage against the President, given that Lincoln was in the midst of a mighty reelection struggle against his former general, George McClellan.  Lincoln did not want to energize his enemies any further by making a Wolford into an anti-Lincoln rally symbol within the state of Kentucky, during his campaign.  Lincoln had Wolford discharged from the army and allowed him to return to Kentucky without court martial trial.[5]

Following his discharge, Wolford continued his attacks against the President, while standing side-by-side with Lt. Governor Richard T. Jacob (who was arrested later as well).  The two anti-Lincoln allies spoke widely against Lincoln’s policies, including giving a speech in Lebanon, Kentucky where Wolford said the magic words that lead to a near riot: Lincoln was “a tyrant, usurper, and fool.”[6]   An affidavit from the time given by Alfred K. Young, a citizen of Marion County, KY, states Wolford did in fact use the words “tyrant, usurper, and fool” in reference to the President as well as announce he had the permission of the governor (Bramlette) to raise a regiment of troops for the defense of the state.”[7]  Apparently this was to be a regiment to stop the recruitment of black soldiers into the Union army within the state. Shortly after this speech, given in May of 1864, Wolford was arrested once again and sent to Washington for a military trial where he eventually met Lincoln face to face.

In the end, Lincoln did everything he could to keep Wolford from becoming the anti-Lincoln symbol of Kentucky including an offer for his complete freedom in a deal where Wolford would be released in exchange for no longer public speaking to inspire those who shared his anti-negro soldier views.  Wolford would not agree to Lincoln’s terms, refusing to “bargain for my liberty” as he put it in a letter to the President.[8] He remained in jail when, after Lincoln’s reelection, sometime in 1865 Wolford was released from a prison in Covington, Kentucky where he spent much of the rest of his life active in politics getting elected to the 48th and 49th Congresses as a Democrat.[9]

Whether Lincoln liked it or not, the Wolford situation was as complex as the state of Kentucky during the Civil War.  Kentucky was a slave-holding border state nominally loyal to the Union. Wolford was a Union war hero for hunting down Confederate guerrillas; yet he spoke out against his President and Commander-in-Chief during the war in the midst of a reelection campaign. He emphatically denounced the heart of Lincoln’s war policies on slavery, emancipation, and black soldiers, issues that divided many in 1864. 

It is not surprising that during the Civil War, Kentucky itself was in a constant state of upheaval. As Colonel Nathaniel Collins Mclean wrote to his wife on April 12, 1864, “A feeling of excitement is constantly kept up by the disloyal which prevents the growth of a healthy Union sentiment and I am sorry to say that this feeling is largely aided by many officers here in our army who are of the Wolford [sic] school.”[10]  Wolford, Lincoln, Kentucky: a model of the complex political landscape of the Civil War.

Students of Kentucky history and those who wish to better understand the complex issues facing the entire nation during the Civil War and Reconstruction can learn much from this seemingly small incident.

[1] Message of the president of the United States, communicating, in compliance with a resolution of the Senate of December 20, 1864, information in relation to the arrest of Colonel Richard T. Jacobs, lieutenant governor of the State of Kentucky, and Colonel Frank Wolford, one of the presidential electors of that State, Kentucky Historical Society Pamphlet Collection, 9737_U58m_Pamphlet, Kentucky Historical Society

[2] Howard, Victor B. Black Liberation in Kentucky:  Emancipation and Freedom, 1862-1884. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2010. Print.

[3] Eleanora Williams diary, October 1, 1862, Special Collections, University of Tennessee: Smith and Cooper, eds., A Union Woman, 197, Bryan S. Bush, Butcher Burbridge; Union General Stephen Burbridge and his Reign of Terror over Kentucky (Morley, Mo., 2008) via Cooling, Benjamin Franlklin. “Bluegrass and Volunteer – Sister States or Enemy States?.” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 110, NOS 3&4 (2012): 466. Print.

[4] Tarrant, Sergeant E. The Wild Riders of the First Kentucky Cavalry: A History of the  Regiment in the Great War of the Rebellion 1861-1865.  Louisville: Press of R. H. Carothers, 1894. Print.

[5] William C. Goodloe to Green Clay Smith, May 29, 1864, Lincoln Papers via Harris, William C. Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2011. Print.

[6] Statement of Joseph Odell, June 17, 1864; statement of Captain J. Bates Dickson, n.d., U.S. Senate Executive Documents, no. 16, 38th Congress, 2d Sess., 7 24-25 via Harris, William C. Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2011. Print.

[7] Message of the president of the United States, communicating, in compliance with a resolution of the Senate of December 20, 1864, information in relation to the arrest of Colonel Richard T. Jacobs, lieutenant governor of the State of Kentucky, and Colonel Frank Wolford, one of the presidential electors of that State, Kentucky Historical Society Pamphlet Collection, 9737_U58m_Pamphlet, Kentucky Historical Society

[8] Frank Wolford to Abraham Lincoln, July 30, 1864, Lincoln Papers; Harrison, Lincoln of Kentucky, 186-187. via Harris, William C. Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2011. Print.

[9] U.S. Senate Executive documents, no. 16, 38th Cong., 2nd session.; Robert J. Breckinridge, letter to the editors, Cincinnati Daily Gazette, February 15, 1865. via Harris, William C. Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2011. Print.

[10] N.C McLean to his wife, April 12, 1864, author’s collection via Cooling, Benjamin Franlklin. “Bluegrass and Volunteer – Sister States or Enemy States?.” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 110, NOS 3&4 (2012): 466. Print.

A “Salt River Ticket” Covering the Presidential Campaign of 1864 from the Archives of the Kentucky Historical Society

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

LincolnBy Michael Gross, Kennedale Junior High School, Arlington, TX

The presidential campaign of 1864 between Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan during the Civil War was one of the most critical ones in our nation’s history. The election itself, in the midst of the Civil War, was a testament about the strength of our democracy. The election also had a profound effect on the Civil War (1). Republican (Union Party) Abraham Lincoln was in a tough fight for reelection. His opponent, Democrat George McClellan, was a Civil War general who Lincoln picked to lead the Army of the Potomac and then later fired. McClellan has been labeled by some historians as someone who was hesitant in battle (2). Lincoln said that McClellan had the “slows”(3). The 1864 election was a referendum on how the Civil War was going as well as Lincoln’s performance as president.  McClellan disagreed with Lincoln on issues of race and emancipation. Both wanted a vigorous prosecution of the war. However, the Democratic Party had created a “peace” platform calling for an immediate ceasefire and called on the states to settle their differences in a convention. The inconsistency between what the candidate said and what the platform called for would be a serious problem for McClellan in the campaign. Lincoln also had issues in the summer of 1864. The war was at a low point for the Union cause. The North was war weary and Lincoln was blamed for the high number of casualties. But then things began to go the North’s way. William Tecumseh Sherman captured Atlanta and David Farragut took Mobile Bay. The victories ensured Lincoln’s reelection.

There were many political cartoons based on the campaign. The image shown above (4) looks like a political cartoon but is actually a “ticket”. The ticket below is small, measuring only 2-½” x 3-7/8“. Tickets were handed out after the election by the victors to mock the losing opposition (5).

At the top of the ticket you have a caricature of Abraham Lincoln (Uncle Abe) and a much smaller figure of George B. McClellan (Little Mac). In the first line it points out the dilemma for McClellan being in the military and who also wanted a vigorous prosecution of the war while being hampered at the same time with a peace platform. The phrase “Up Salt River”(6) was used in many political cartoons and was a common phrase from the 1830’s through the 1860’s. “Up Salt River” means that someone is heading to political defeat and/or political oblivion. The term is thought to have originated in Kentucky. Henry Clay was allegedly going to go to Louisville via the Ohio River for a political speech. However, the captain of the ship turned into the Salt River by mistake and Clay missed his engagement. The Galena was a Union gunboat that had a reputation as a failure. It ran aground during McClellan’s unsuccessful Peninsula campaign and was later on sold as scrap (7). The bottom portion of the ticket lists undesirables and others who were capable of being disloyal to the Union cause. Among this list are the “Copperheads”. Copperheads were northerners that sympathized with the South and wanted the war to cease immediately. They also criticized Lincoln for his suspension of habeas corpus. Another group mentioned was the “Sons of Liberty” (not to be confused with the American Revolutionary group of the same name) was a group of secret Copperheads that existed primarily in the Midwest. They shared many of the beliefs of Copperheads and Peace Democrats. They also opposed the draft. They were rumored to have plotted to overthrow Union prisoner of war camps for the purpose of giving the Confederacy additional troops(8). “Canada Raiders” were those Confederates who not only plotted attacks on the United States from Canada but did actual raids into U.S. territory. The most famous raid was the St. Albans Raid in Vermont in 1864. This raid was still fresh on the minds of the voting North. The reference to the “Armistice Party” is another jab at the Democratic party and their platform.

The pilot on this trip “Up the Salt River” is “Valandingham.” Clement Vallandigham (it is misspelled on the ticket) of Ohio was probably the most famous of the Copperheads. A U.S. Representative early in the war, he was a strong proponent of states’ rights and a harsh critic of the Lincoln administration. The line, “Valandingham who once visited the South,” is in reference to Vallandigham being arrested for his violation of General Order 38 that made it illegal to declare sympathies for the South. He was convicted of the charge and as a result was banished to the South (9). He later returned.

The last sentence of the ticket “and a good captain Seymour” is in reference to Horatio Seymour, Democratic governor of New York, and another critic of Lincoln and his administration. Seymour was open to criticism because he did not support a bill that would have allowed soldiers to vote(10). Not a good position to take in a time of war. 

The ticket that is shown is a good example of tickets that were published in the era and is an excellent example of an anti-McClellan material from the 1864 campaign.



1. David E. Long’s The Jewel of Liberty (Stackpole Books, 1994) stresses the importance of maintaining free elections during wartime but also points out that the Confederacy knew their chances of success were linked to a McClellan victory. p.197

2. David Donald’s Lincoln (Simon and Schuster, 1995) is just one of many historians who claim that McClellan was a good organizer of troops but sluggish when it came to taking the offensive. p.350.

3. Mark Neely’s, The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia (Da Capo, 1982) p.201.

4. Pro-Lincoln and anti-McClellan Salt River ticket from the election of 1864. In the collection of the Kentucky Historical Society.

5. Ibid.

6. Source:

7. Richard West, Mr. Lincoln’s Navy (Longmans, 1957) p.226

8. James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (Oxford, 1998) p.782

9. Ibid. 596-598.

10. Source: